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Title: Moth and Rust - Together with Geoffrey's Wife and The Pitfall
Author: Cholmondeley, Mary, 1859-1925
Language: English
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MOTH AND RUST



  BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

    RED POTTAGE.
    DIANA TEMPEST.
    SIR CHARLES DANVERS.
    A DEVOTEE.
    THE DANVERS' JEWELS.



  MOTH AND RUST

  TOGETHER WITH GEOFFREY'S
  WIFE AND THE PITFALL


  BY MARY CHOLMONDELEY,
  AUTHOR OF "RED POTTAGE."


  "Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array."
                                   --CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.


  LONDON
  JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET
  1902



  TO

  ESSEX.

  Not chance of birth or place has made us friends.



  PREFACE


    My best thanks are due to the Editor of
    _The Graphic_ for his kind permission to
    republish "Geoffrey's Wife," which appeared
    originally in _The Graphic_.

                            MARY CHOLMONDELEY.



CONTENTS


                      PAGE
  MOTH AND RUST          1
  GEOFFREY'S WIFE      241
  THE PITFALL          267


       *       *       *       *       *



MOTH AND RUST



CHAPTER I

    "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and
    rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal."


The Vicar gave out the text, and proceeded to expound it. The little
congregation settled down peacefully to listen. Except four of their
number, the "quality" in the carved Easthope pew, none of them had much
treasure on earth. Their treasure for the greater part consisted of a
pig, that was certainly being "laid up" to meet the rent at Christmas.
But there would hardly be time for moth and rust to get into it before
its secluded life should migrate into flitches and pork pies. Not that
the poorest of Mr Long's parishioners had any fear of such an event, for
they never associated his sermons with anything to do with themselves,
except on one occasion when the good man had preached earnestly against
drunkenness, and a respectable widow had ceased to attend divine service
in consequence, because, as she observed, she was not going to be spoken
against like that by any one, be they who they may, after all the years
she had been "on the teetotal."

Perhaps the two farmers who had driven over resplendent wives in
dog-carts had treasure on earth. They certainly had money in the bank at
Mudbury, for they were to be seen striding in in gaiters on market-day
to draw it out. But then it was well known that thieves did not break
through into banks and steal. Banks sometimes broke of themselves, but
not often.

On the whole, the congregation was at its ease. It felt that the text
was well chosen, and that it applied exclusively to the four occupants
of "the Squire's" pew.

The hard-worked Vicar certainly had no treasure on earth, if you
excepted his principal possessions, namely, his pale wife and little
flock of rosy children, and these, of course, were only encumbrances.
Had they not proved to be so? For his cousin had promised him the family
living, and would certainly have kept that promise when it became
vacant, if the wife he had married in the interval had not held such
strong views as to a celibate clergy.

The Vicar was a conscientious man, and the conscientious are seldom
concise.

    "He held with all his tedious might,
      The mirror to the mind of God."

There was no doubt he was tedious, and it was to be hoped that the
portion of the Divine mind not reflected in the clerical mirror would
compensate somewhat for His more gloomy attributes as shown therein.

Mrs Trefusis, "Squire's" mother, an old woman with a thin, knotted face
like worn-out elastic, sat erect throughout the service. She had the
tight-lipped, bitter look of one who has coldly appropriated as her due
all the good things of life, who has fiercely rebelled against every
untoward event, and who now in old age offers a passive, impotent
resistance to anything that suggests a change. She had had an easy,
comfortable existence, but her life had gone hard with her, and her face
showed it.

Near her were the two guests who were staying at Easthope. The villagers
looked at the two girls with deep interest. They had made up their minds
that "the old lady had got 'em in to see if Squire could fancy one of
'em."

Lady Anne Varney, who sat next to Mrs Trefusis, was a graceful,
small-headed woman of seven-and-twenty, delicately featured, pale,
exquisitely dressed, with the indefinable air of a finished woman of the
world, and with the reserved, disciplined manner of a woman accustomed
to conceal her feelings from a world in which she has lived too much, in
which she has been knocked about too much, and which has not gone too
well with her. If Anne attended to the sermon--and she appeared to do
so--she was the only person in the Easthope pew who did.

No; the other girl, Janet Black, was listening too now and then,
catching disjointed sentences with no sense in them, as one hears a few
shouted words in a high wind.

Ah me! Janet was beautiful. Even Mrs Trefusis was obliged to own it,
though she did so grudgingly, and added bitterly that the girl had no
breeding. It was true. Janet had none. But beauty rested upon her as it
rests on a dove's neck, varying with every movement, every turn of the
head. She was quite motionless now, her rather large, ill-gloved hands
in her lap. Janet was a still woman. She had no nervous movements. She
did not twine her muff-chain round her fingers as Anne did. Anne looked
at her now and then, and wondered whether she--Anne--would have been
more successful in life if she had entered the arena armed with such
beauty as Janet's.

There was a portrait of Janet in the Academy several years later, which
has made her beauty known to the world. We have all seen that celebrated
picture of the calm Madonna face, with the mark of suffering so plainly
stamped upon the white brow and in the unfathomable eyes. But the young
girl sitting in the Easthope pew hardly resembled, except in feature,
the portrait that, later on, took the artistic world by storm. Janet was
perhaps even more beautiful in this her first youth than her picture
proved her afterwards to be; but the beauty was expressionless, opaque.
The soul had not yet illumined the fair face. She looked what she was--a
little dull, without a grain of imagination. Was it the dulness of want
of ability, or only the dulness of an uneducated mind, of powers unused,
still dormant?

Without her transcendent beauty she would have appeared uninteresting
and commonplace.

    "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth."

The Vicar had a habit of repeating his text several times in the course
of his sermon. Janet heard it the third time, and it forced the entrance
of her mind.

Her treasure was certainly on earth. It consisted of the heavy,
sleek-haired young man with the sunburnt complexion and the reddish
moustache at the end of the pew--in short, "the Squire."

After a short and ardent courtship she had accepted him, and then she
herself had been accepted, not without groans, by his family. The groans
had not been audible, but she was vaguely aware that she was not
received with enthusiasm by the family of her hero, her wonderful fairy
prince who had ridden into her life on a golden chestnut. George
Trefusis was heavily built, but in Janet's eyes he was slender. His
taciturn dulness was in her eyes a most dignified and becoming reserve.
His inveterate unsociability proved to her--not that it needed
proving--his mental superiority. She could not be surprised at the
coldness of her reception as his betrothed, for she acutely felt her own
great unworthiness of being the consort of this resplendent personage,
who could have married any one. Why had he honoured her among all
women?

The answer was sufficiently obvious to every one except herself. The
fairy prince had fallen heavily in love with her beauty; so heavily
that, after a secret but stubborn resistance, he had been vanquished by
it. Marry her he must and would, whatever his mother might say. And she
had said a good deal. She had not kept silence.

And now Janet was staying for the first time at Easthope, which was one
day to be her home--the old Tudor house standing among its terraced
gardens, which had belonged to a Trefusis since a Trefusis built it in
Henry the Seventh's time.



CHAPTER II

    "On peut choisir ses amitiés, mais on subit l'amour."

                                             --PRINCESS KARADJA.


After luncheon George offered to take Janet round the gardens. Janet
looked timidly at Mrs Trefusis. She did not know whether she ought to
accept or not. There might be etiquettes connected with afternoon walks
of which she was not aware. For even since her arrival at Easthope
yesterday it had been borne in upon her that there were many things of
which she was not aware.

"Pray let my son show you the gardens," said Mrs Trefusis, with
impatient formality. "The roses are in great beauty just now."

Janet went to put on her hat, and Mrs Trefusis lay down on the sofa in
the drawing-room with a little groan. Anne sat down by her. The eyes of
both women followed Janet's tall, magnificent figure as she joined
George on the terrace.

"She dresses like a shop-girl," said Mrs Trefusis. "And what a hat!
Exactly what one sees on the top of omnibuses."

Anne did not defend the hat. It was beyond defence. She supposed, with a
tinge of compassion, what was indeed the case, that Janet had made a
special pilgrimage to Mudbury to acquire it, in order the better to meet
the eyes of her future mother-in-law.

All Anne said was, "Very respectable people go on the top of omnibuses
nowadays."

"I am not saying anything against her respectability," said poor Mrs
Trefusis. "Heaven knows if there had been anything against it I should
have said so before now. It would have been my duty."

Anne smiled faintly. "A painful duty."

"I'm not so sure," said Mrs Trefusis grimly. She never posed before
Anne, nor, for that matter, did any one else. "But from all I can make
out this girl is a model of middle-class respectability. Yet she comes
of a bad stock. One can't tell how she will turn out. What is bred in
the bone will come out in the flesh."

"There are worse things than middle-class respectability. George might
have presented you with an actress with a past. Lord Lossiemouth married
his daughter's maid last week."

"I don't know what I've done," said Mrs Trefusis, "that my only son
should marry a pretty horse-breaker."

"I thought it was her brother who was a horse-breaker."

"So he is, and so is she. It was riding to hounds that my poor boy first
met her."

"She rides magnificently. I saw her out cub-hunting last autumn, and
asked who she was."

"Her brother is disreputable. He was mixed up with that case of drugging
some horse or other. I forget about it, but I know it was disgraceful.
He is quite an impossible person, but I suppose we shall have to know
him now. The place will be overrun with her relations, whom I have
avoided for years. Things like that always happen to me."

This was a favourite expression of Mrs Trefusis'. She invariably spoke
as if a curse had hung over her since her birth.

"What does it matter who one knows?" said Anne.

Mrs Trefusis did not answer. The knots in her face moved a little. She
knew what country life and country society were better than Anne. She
had all her life lived in the upper of the two sets which may be found
in every country neighbourhood. She did what she considered to be her
duty by the secondary set, but she belonged by birth and by inclination
to the upper class. It was at first with bewildered surprise, and later
on with cold anger, that she observed that her only son, bone of her
bone, very son of herself and her kind dead husband, showed a natural
tendency to gravitate towards the second-rate among their neighbours.

Why did he do it? Why did he bring strange, loud-voiced, vulgar men to
Easthope, the kind of men whom Mr Trefusis would not have tolerated? She
might have known that her husband would die of pneumonia just when her
son needed him most. She had not expected it, but she ought to have
expected it. Did not everything in her lot go crooked, while the lives
of all those around her went straight? What was the matter with her son,
that he was more at ease with these undesirable companions than with the
sons of his father's old friends? Why would he never accompany her on
her annual pilgrimage to London?

George was one of those lethargic, vain men who say they hate London.
Catch them going to London! Perhaps if efforts were made to catch them
there, they might repair thither. But in London they are nobodies;
consequently to London they do not go. And the same man who eschews
London will generally be found to gravitate in the country to a society
in which he is the chief personage. It had been so with George. Fred
Black, the disreputable horse-breaker, and his companions, had
sedulously paid court to him. George, who had a deep-rooted love of
horse-flesh, was often at Fred's training stables. There he met Janet,
and fell in love with her, as did most of Fred's associates. But unlike
them, George had withdrawn. He knew he should "do" for himself with "the
county" if he married Janet. And he could not face his mother. So he
sulked like a fish under the bank, half suspicious that he is being
angled for. So ignorant of his fellow-creatures was George that there
actually had been a moment when he suspected Janet of trying to "land
him," and he did not think any the worse of her.

Then, after months of sullen indecision, he suddenly rushed upon his
fate. That was a week ago.

Anne left her chair as Mrs Trefusis did not answer, and knelt down by
the old woman.

"Dear Mrs Trefusis," she said, "the girl is a nice girl, innocent and
good, and without a vestige of conceit."

"She has nothing to be conceited about that I can see."

"Oh! yes. She might be conceited about marrying George. It is an amazing
match for her. And she might be conceited about her beauty. I should be
if I had that face."

"My dear, you are twenty times as good-looking, because you look what
you are--a lady. She looks what she is--a----" Something in Anne's
steady eyes disconcerted Mrs Trefusis, and she did not finish the
sentence. She twitched her hands restlessly, and then went on: "And she
can't come into a room. She sticks in the door. And she always calls you
'Lady Varney.' She hasn't called a girl a 'gurl' yet, but I know she
will. I had thought my son's wife might make up to me a little for all
I've gone through--might be a comfort to me--and then I am asked to put
up with a vulgarian."

Anne went on in a level voice: "Janet is not in the least vulgar,
because she is unpretentious. Middle-class she may be, and is: so was my
grandmother; but vulgar she is not. And she is absolutely devoted to
George. He is in love with her, but she really loves him."

"So she ought. He is making a great sacrifice for her, and, as I
constantly tell him, one he will regret to his dying day."

"On the contrary, he is only sacrificing his own pride and yours
to--himself. He is considering only himself. He is marrying only to
please himself, not----" Anne hesitated--"not to please Janet."

"Now you are talking nonsense."

"Yes, I think I am. It felt like sense, but by the time I had put it
into words, it turned into nonsense. The little things you notice in
Janet's dress and manner can be mitigated, if she is willing to learn."

"She won't be," said Mrs Trefusis, with decision. "Because she is
stupid. She will be offended directly she is spoken to. All stupid
people are. Now come, Anne! Don't try and make black white. It doesn't
help matters. You must admit the girl is stupid."

Anne's gentle, limpid eyes looked deprecatingly into the elder woman's
hard, miserable ones.

"I am afraid she is," she said at last, and she coloured painfully.

"And obstinate."

"Are not stupid people always obstinate?"

"No," said Mrs Trefusis. "I am obstinate, but no one could call me
stupid."

"It does not prevent stupid people being always obstinate, because
obstinate people are not always stupid."

"You think me very obstinate, Anne?" There were tears in the stern old
eyes.

"I think, dear, you have got to give way, and as you must, I want you to
do it with a good grace, before you estrange George from you, and before
that unsuspecting girl has found out that you loathe the marriage."

"If she were not as dense as a rhinoceros, she would see that now."

"How fortunate, in that case, that she is dense. It gives you a better
chance with her. Make her like you. You can, you know. She is worth
liking."

"All my life," said Mrs Trefusis, "be they who they may, I have hated
stupid people."

"Oh! no. That is an hallucination. You don't hate George."

Mrs Trefusis shot a lightning glance at her companion, and then smiled
grimly. "You are the only person who would dare to say such a thing to
me."

"Besides," continued Anne meditatively, "is it so certain that Janet is
stupid? She appears so because she is unformed, ignorant, and because
she has never reflected, or been thrown with educated people. She has
not come to herself. She will never learn anything by imagination or
perception, for she seems quite devoid of them. But I think she might
learn by trouble or happiness, or both. She can feel. Strong feeling
would be the turning-point with her, if she has sufficient ability to
take advantage of it. Perhaps she has not, and happiness or trouble may
leave her as they found her. But she gives me the impression that she
_might_ alter considerably if she were once thoroughly aroused."

"I can't rouse her. I was not sent into the world to rouse pretty
horse-breakers."

If Anne was doubtful as to what Mrs Trefusis had been sent into this
imperfect world for, she did not show it.

"I don't want you to rouse her. All I want is that you should be kind to
her." Anne took Mrs Trefusis' ringed, claw-like hand between both hers.
"I do want that very much."

"Well," said Mrs Trefusis, blinking her eyes, "I won't say I won't try.
You can always get round me, Anne. Oh! my dear, dear child, if it might
only have been you. But of course, just because I had set my heart upon
it, I was not to have it. That has been my life from first to last. If I
might only have had you. You think me a cross, bitter old woman, and so
I am: God knows I have had enough to make me so. But I should not have
been so to you."

"You never are so to me. But you see my affections are--is not that the
correct expression?--engaged."

"But you are not."

"No. I am as free as air. That is where the difficulty comes in."

"Where is the creature now?"

"In Paris. The _World_ chronicles his movements. That is why I take in
the _World_. If he had been in London this week, I should not--be here
at this moment."

"I suppose he is enormously run after?"

"Oh yes! By others as well as by me; by tons of others younger and
better looking than I am."

"Now, Anne, I am absolutely certain that you have never run a yard after
him."

"I have never appeared to do so," said Anne, with her faint, enigmatical
smile. "The proprieties have been observed. At least by me they have.
But I have covered a good deal of ground, nevertheless."

"I don't know what he is made of."

"Well, he is made of money for one thing, and I have not a shilling. He
knows that."

"He ought to be only too honoured by your being willing to think of him.
In my young days a man of his class would not have had a chance."

"Millionaires get their chance nowadays."

"Then why doesn't he take it?"

"Because," said Anne, her lip quivering, "he thinks I like him for his
money. He has got that firmly screwed into his head."

"As if a woman like you would do such a thing."

"Women extremely like me are doing such things all the time. How is he
to know I am different?"

"He must be a fool."

"He does not look like one."

"No," said Mrs Trefusis meditatively, "I must own he does not. He has a
bullet head. I saw him once at the Duchess of Dundee's last summer. He
was pointed out to me as the biggest thing in millionaires since
Barnato. But I must confess he was the very last person in the world
whom I should have thought you would have looked at--for himself, I
mean."

"That is what he thinks."

"He is so very unattractive."

"He is an ugly, forbidding-looking man of forty," said Anne, who had
become very pale.

"I should not go as far as that," said Mrs Trefusis, somewhat
disconcerted.

"Oh! I can for you!" said Anne, her quiet eyes flashing. "He is all
these things. He is exactly what I would rather not have married. And I
think he knows that instinctively, poor man! But in spite of all that,
in spite of everything that repels me, I know that we belong to each
other. He did not choose to like me, or I to like him. I never had any
choice in the matter. When I first saw him I recognised him. I had known
him all my life. I had been waiting for him always without knowing it. I
never really understood anything till he came. I did not fall in love
with him; at least, not in the way I see others do, and as I once did
myself years ago. I am not attracted towards him. I am him. And he is
me. One can't fall in love with oneself. He is my other self. We are
one. We may live painfully apart as we are doing now--he may marry some
one else: but the fact remains the same."

Mrs Trefusis did not answer. Love is so rare that when we meet it we
realise that we are on holy ground.

"You and he will marry some day," she said at last.

Her thoughts went back to her own youth, and its romantic love and
marriage. There was no romance here as she understood it, nothing but a
grim reality. But it almost seemed as if love could go deeper without
romance.

"I do not see how a misunderstanding can hold together between you."

"You forget mother," said Anne.

Mrs Trefusis had momentarily forgotten her closest friend, the Duchess
of Quorn, that notorious match-making mother of a quartette of pretty,
well-drilled daughters, all of whom were now advantageously married
except Anne--the eldest. And if Anne was not at this moment wedded to
George Trefusis it was not owing to want of zeal on the part of both
mothers. Mrs Trefusis was irrevocably behind the scenes in Anne's
family.

"Mother ought by nature to have been a man and a cricketer," said Anne,
"instead of the mother of many daughters. She is 'game' to the last,
she is a hard hitter, and she will run till she drops on the chance of
any catch. But her bowling is her strong point. Young men have not a
chance with her. Her style may not be dignified, but her eye is
extraordinary. Harry Lestrange did his silly, panic-stricken best,
but--he is married to Cecily now."

"Did he really try to get out of it?"

"He did. He liked Cecily a little; he had certainly flirted with her
when she came in his way, but he never made the least effort to meet
her, and he did not want to marry her."

"And Cecily?"

"Cecily did not dislike him. She was only nineteen, and she had--so she
told me--always hoped for curly hair; and of course Harry's is quite
straight, what little there is of it. She shed a few tears about that,
but she did as she was told. They are a nice-looking young couple. They
write quite happily. I daresay it will do very well. But, you see,
unfortunately, Harry was a friend of Mr Vanbrunt's, and I know Harry
consulted him as to how to get out of it. Well, directly mother's
attention was off Harry, she found out about Mr Vanbrunt; how I don't
know, but she did. Poor mother! she has a heart somewhere. It is her
sporting instincts which are too strong for her. When she found out, she
came into my room and kissed me, and cried, and said love was
everything, and what did looks matter, and, for her part, if a man was a
good man, she thought it was of no importance if he had not had a
father. Think of mother's saying that, after marrying poor father? But
she was quite sincere. Mother never minds contradicting herself. There
is nothing petty about her. She cried, and I cried too. We seemed to be
nearer to each other than we had been for years. I was the last daughter
left at home, and she actually said she did not want to part with me. I
think she felt it just for the moment, for she had had a good deal of
worry with some of the sons-in-law, especially Harry. But after a
little bit she came to herself, and she gave me such advice. Oh, such
advice! Some of it was excellent--that was the worst of it--but it was
all from the standpoint of the woman stalking the man. And she asked me
several gimlet questions about Mr Vanbrunt. She said I had not made any
mistake so far, but that I must be very careful. She was like a tiger
that has tasted blood. She said it was almost like marrying
royalty--marrying such wealth as that. I believe he has a property in
Africa rather larger than England. But she said that I was her dear
child, and she thought it might be done. I implored her not to do
anything--to leave him alone. But the truth is, mother had been so
successful that she had got rather beyond herself, and she fancied she
could do anything. Father had often prophesied that some day she would
overreach herself. However, nothing would stop her. So she settled down
to it. You know what mother's bowling is. It did for Harry--but this
time it did for me."

"Mr Vanbrunt saw through it?"

"From the first moment. He saw he was being hunted down. He bore it at
first, and then he withdrew. I can't prove it, but I am morally certain
that mother cornered him and had a talk with him one day, and told him I
cared for him, and thought him very handsome. Mother sticks at nothing.
After that he went away."

"Poor man!"

"She asked him in May to stay with us in Scotland in September, but he
has refused. I found she had given a little message from me which I
never sent. Poor, poor mother, and poor me!"

"And poor millionaire! Surely if he has any sense he must see that it is
your mother and not you who is hunting him."

"He is aware that Cecily did as she was told. He probably thinks I could
be coerced into marrying him. He may know a great deal about finance,
and stocks, and all those weary things, but he knows very little about
women. He has not taken much account of them so far."

"His day will come," said Mrs Trefusis. "What a nuisance men are! I wish
they were all at the bottom of the sea."

"If they were," said Anne, with her rueful little smile, "mother would
order a diving-bell at once."



CHAPTER III

    "O mighty love, O passion and desire,
        That bound the cord."

                                             --_The Heptameron._


Janet's mother had died when Janet was a toddling child. It is
observable in the natural history of heroines that their mothers almost
invariably do die when the heroines to whom they have given birth are
toddling children. Had Di Vernon a mother, or Evelina, or Jane Eyre, or
Diana of the Crossways, or Aurora Leigh? Dear Elizabeth Bennett
certainly had one whom we shall not quickly forget--but Elizabeth is an
exception. She only proves the rule for the majority of heroines.
Fathers they have sometimes, generally of a feeble or callous
temperament, never of any use in extricating their daughters from the
entanglements that early beset them. And occasionally they have
chivalrous or disreputable brothers.

So it is with a modest confidence in the equipment of my heroine that I
now present her to the reader denuded of both parents, and domiciled
under the roof of a brother who was not only disreputable in the
imagination of Mrs Trefusis, but, as I hate half measures, was so in
reality.

If Janet had been an introspective person, if she had ever asked herself
whence she came and whither she was going, if the cruelty of life and
nature had ever forced themselves upon her notice, if the apparent
incompleteness of this pretty world had ever daunted her, I think she
must have been a very unhappy woman. Her surroundings were vulgar,
coarse, without a redeeming gleam of culture, even in its crudest
forms, without a spark of refined affection. Nevertheless her life grew
up white and clean in it, as a hyacinth will build its fragrant bell
tower in the window of a tavern, in a stale atmosphere of smoke and beer
and alcohol. Janet was self-contained as a hyacinth. She unfolded from
within. She asked no questions of life. That she had had a happy,
contented existence was obvious; an existence spent much in the open
air, in which tranquil, practical duties well within her reach had been
all that had been required of her. Her brother Fred, several years older
than herself, had one redeeming point. He was fond of her and proud of
her. He did not understand her, but she was what he called "a good
sort."

Janet was one of those blessed women--whose number seems to diminish,
while that of her highly-strung sisters painfully increases--who make no
large demand on life, or on their fellow-creatures. She took both as
they came. Her uprightness and integrity were her own, as was the
simple religion which she followed blindfold. She expected little of
others, and exacted nothing. She had, of course, had lovers in plenty.
She wished to be married and to have children--many children. In her
quiet ruminating mind she had names ready for a family of ten. But until
George came she had always said "No." When pressed by her brother as to
why some particularly eligible _parti_--such as Mr Gorst, the successful
trainer--had been refused, she could never put forward any adequate
reason, and would say at last that she was very happy as she was.

Then George came, a different kind of man from any she had
known, at least different from any in his class who had offered
marriage. He represented to her all that was absent from her own
surroundings--refinement, culture. I don't know what Janet can have
meant by culture, but years later, when she had picked up words like
"culture" and "development," and scattered them across her conversation,
she told me he had represented all these glories to her. And he was a
little straighter than the business men she associated with, a good deal
straighter than her brother. Perhaps, after all, that was the first
attraction he had for her. Janet was straight herself. She fell in love
with George.

"L'amour est une source naïve." It was a very naïve spring in Janet's
heart, though it welled up from a considerable depth; a spring not even
to be poisoned by her brother's outrageous delight at the engagement, or
his congratulations on the wisdom of her previous steadfast refusal of
the eligible Mr Gorst.

"This beats all," he said; "I never thought you would pull it off,
Janet. I thought he was too big a fish to land. And to think you will
queen it at Easthope Park."

Janet was not in the least perturbed by her brother's remarks. She was
accustomed to them. He always talked like that. She vaguely supposed she
should some day "queen it" at Easthope. The expression did not offend
her. The reflection in her mind was: "George must love me very much to
have chosen me, when all the most splendid ladies in the land would be
glad to have him."

And now, as she walked on this Sunday afternoon in the long, quiet
gardens of Easthope, she felt her cup was full. She looked at her
affianced George with shy adoration from under the brim of her violent
new hat, and made soft answers to him when he spoke.

George was not a great talker. He trusted mainly to an occasional
ejaculation, his meaning aided by pointing with a stick.

A covey of partridges ran with one consent across the smooth lawn at a
little distance.

"Jolly little beggars," said George, with explanatory stick.

She liked the flowers best, but he did not, so he took her down to the
pool below the rose garden, where the eager brook ran through a grating,
making a little water prison in which solemn, portly personages might be
seen moving.

"See 'em?" said George, pointing as usual.

"Yes," said Janet.

"That's a three-pounder."

"Yes."

That was all the stream said to them.

She lingered once more in the rose-garden when he would have drawn her
onwards towards the ferrets, and George, willing to humour her, got out
his knife and chose a rose for her. Has any woman really lived who has
not stood once in silence in the June sunshine with her lover, and
watched him pick for her a red rose which is not as other roses, a rose
which understands? Amid all the world of roses, did the raiment of God
touch just that one, as He walked in His garden in the cool of the
evening? And did the Divine love imprisoned in it reach forth towards
the human love of the two lovers, and blend them for a moment with
itself?

"You are my rose," said George, and he put his arm round her, and drew
her to him with a rough tenderness.

"Yes," said Janet, not knowing to what she said "yes," but vaguely
assenting to him in everything. And they leaned together by the
sun-dial, soft cheek against tanned cheek, soft hand in hard hand.

Could anything in life be more commonplace than two lovers and a rose?
Have we not seen such groups portrayed on lozenge-boxes, and on the
wrappers of French plums?

And yet, what remains commonplace if Love but touch it as he passes?

Let Memory open her worn picture-book, where it opens of itself, and
make answer.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anne saw the lovers, but they did not see her, as she ran down the steps
cut in the turf to the little bridge across the trout stream. She had
left Mrs Trefusis composed into a resigned nap, and she felt at liberty
to carry her aching spirit to seek comfort and patience by the brook.

Anne, the restrained, disciplined, dignified woman of the world, threw
herself down on her face in the short, sun-warm grass.

Is the heart ever really tamed? As the years pass we learn to keep it
behind bolts and bars. We marshal it forth on set occasions, to work
manacled under our eyes, and then goad it back to its cell again. But is
it ever anything but a caged Arab of the desert, a wild fierce prisoner
in chains, a captive Samson with shorn locks which grow again, who may
one day snap his fetters, and pull down the house over our heads.

Anne set her teeth. Her passionate heart beat hard against the kind
bosom of the earth. How we return to her, our Mother Earth, when life is
too difficult or too beautiful for us! How we fling ourselves upon her
breast, upon her solitude, finding courage to encounter joy, insight to
bear sorrow. First faint foreshadowing of the time when we, "short-lived
as fire, and fading as the dew," shall go back to her entirely.

Anne lay very still. She did not cry. She knew better than that. Tears
are for the young. She hid her convulsed face in her hands, and
shuddered violently from time to time.

How long was she to bear it? How long was she to drag herself by sheer
force through the days, endless hour by hour? How long was she to hate
the dawn? How long was she to endure this intermittent agony, which
released her only to return? Was there to be no reprieve from the
invasion of this one thought? Was there no escape from this man? Was not
her old friend the robin on his side? The meadowsweet feathered the
hedgerow. The white clover was in the grass, together with the little
purple orchid. Were they not all his confederates? Had he bribed the
robin to sing of him, and the scent in the white clover against her
cheek to goad her back to acute remembrance of him, and the pine-trees
to speak continually of him?

"He is rich enough," said poor Anne to herself, with something between a
laugh and a sob.

But he had not bribed the brook. Tormented spirits ere now have walked
in dry places, seeking rest and finding none. But has any outcast from
happiness sought rest by running water, and found it not?



CHAPTER IV

    "I have not sinned against the God of Love."

                                                 --EDMUND GOSSE.


When Anne returned to the house an hour or two later she heard an alien
voice and strident laugh through the open door of the drawing-room as
she crossed the hall, and she crept noiselessly upstairs towards her own
room. She felt as if she were quite unable to bear so soon again the
strain of that small family party. But halfway up the stairs her
conscience pricked her. Was all well in the drawing-room? She sighed,
and went slowly downstairs again.

All was not well there.

Mrs Trefusis was sitting frozen upright in her high-backed chair,
listening with congealed civility to the would-be-easy conversation,
streaked with nervous laughter, of a young man. Anne saw at a glance
that he must be Janet's brother, and she instinctively divined that, on
the strength of his sister's engagement, he was now making, unasked, his
first call on Mrs Trefusis.

Fred Black was a tall, sufficiently handsome man seen apart from Janet.
He could look quite distinguished striding about in well-made breeches
among a group of farmers and dealers on market-day. But taken away from
his appropriate setting, and inserted suddenly into the Easthope
drawing-room, in Janet's proximity, he changed like a chameleon, and
appeared dilapidated, in spite of being over-dressed, irretrievably
second-rate, and unwholesome-looking. He was so like his sister that a
certain indefinable commonness, not of breeding but of character, and a
suggestion of cunning and insolence observable in him, were thrown into
high relief by the strong superficial resemblance of feature between
them.

Janet was sitting motionless and embarrassed before the tea-table,
waiting for the tea to become of brandied strength. Mrs Trefusis,
possibly mindful of Anne's appeal, had evidently asked her future
daughter-in-law to pour out tea for her. And Janet, to the instant
annoyance of the elder woman, had carefully poured cream into each empty
cup as a preliminary measure.

George was standing in sullen silence by the tea-table, vaguely aware
that something was wrong, and wishing that Fred had not called.

The strain relaxed as Anne entered.

Anne came in quickly, with a gentle expectancy of pleasure in her grave
face. She gave the impression of one who has hastened back to congenial
society.

If this be hypocrisy, Anne was certainly a hypocrite. There are some
natures, simple and patient, who quickly perceive and gladly meet the
small occasions of life. Anne had come into the world willing to serve,
and she did not mind whom she served. She did gracefully, even gaily,
the things that others did not think worth while. This was, of course,
no credit to her. She was made so. Just as some of us are so
fastidiously, so artistically constituted as to make the poor souls who
have to live with us old before their time.

Mrs Trefusis' face became less knotted. Janet gave a sigh of relief.
George said: "Hi, Ponto! How are ye?" and affably stirred up his
sleeping retriever with his foot.

Anne sat down by Janet, advised her that Mrs Trefusis did not like
cream, and then, while she swallowed a cup of tea sweetened to nausea,
devoted herself to Fred.

His nervous laugh became less strident, his conversation less pendulous
between a paralysed constraint and a galvanized familiarity. Anne loved
horses, but she did not talk of them to Fred, though, from his
appearance, it seemed as if no other subject had ever occupied his
attention.

Why is it that a passion for horses writes itself as plainly as a
craving for alcohol on the faces of the men and women who live for them?

Anne spoke of the Boer war in its most obvious aspects, mentioned a few
of its best-known incidents, of which even he could not be ignorant.
Janet glanced with fond pride at her brother, as he declaimed against
the Government for its refusal to buy thousands of hypothetical Kaffir
ponies, and as he posted Anne in the private workings of the mind of her
cousin, the Prime Minister. Fred had even heard of certain scandals
respecting the hospitals for the wounded, and opined with decision that
war could not be conducted on rose-water principles, with a bottle of
eau-de-Cologne at each man's pillow.

"Fine woman that!" said Fred to Janet afterwards, as she walked a few
steps with him on his homeward way. "Woman of the world. Knows her way
about. And how she holds herself! A little thin perhaps, and not much
colour, but shows her breeding. Who is she?"

"Lady Varney."

"Married?"

"N--no."

"H'm! Look here, Janet. You suck up to her. And you look how she does
things, and notice the way she talks. She reads the papers, takes an
interest in politics. That's what a man likes. You do the same. And
don't you knock under to that old bag of bones too much. Hold your own.
We are as good as she is."

"Oh, no, Fred; we're not."

"Oh! it's all rot about family. It's not worth a rush. We are just the
same as them. A gentleman's a gentleman whether he lives in a large
house or a small one, and the real snobs are the people who think
different. Does it make you less of a lady because you live in an
unpretentious way? Not a bit of it. Don't talk to me."

Janet remained silent. She felt there was some hitch in her brother's
reasoning, which, until to-day, had appeared to her irrefutable, but she
could not see where the hitch lay.

"You must stand up to the old woman, I tell you. I don't want you to be
rude, but you let her know that she is the dowager. Don't give way.
Didn't you see how I tackled her?"

"I'm not clever like you."

"Well, you are a long sight prettier," said her brother proudly. "And
I've brought some dollars with me for the trousseau. You go to the
Brands to-morrow, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Well, don't pay for anything you can help. Tell them to put it down.
Get this Lady Varney or Mrs Brand to recommend the shops and
dressmakers, and then they will not dun us for money."

"Oh, Fred! Are you so hard up?"

"Hard up!" said Fred, his face becoming suddenly pinched and old. "Hard
up!" He drew in his breath. "Oh! I'm all right. At least, yes, just for
the moment I'm a bit pressed. Look here, Janet. You and Mrs Brand are
old pals. Get Brand," his voice became hoarse, "get Brand to wait a bit.
He has my I O U, and he has waited once, but he warned me he would not
again. He said it was against his rules; as if rules matter between
gentlemen. He's as hard as nails. The I O U falls due next week, and I
can't meet it. I don't want any bother till after you are spliced. You
and Mrs Brand lay your heads together, and persuade him to wait till you
are married, at any rate. He hates me, but he won't want to stand in
your light."

"I'll ask him," said Janet, looking earnestly at her brother, but only
half understanding why his face was so white and set. "But why don't you
take my two thousand and pay him back? I said you could borrow it. I
think that would be better than speaking again to Mr Brand, who will
never listen."

"No, it wouldn't," said Fred, his hand shaking so violently that he gave
up attempting to light a cigarette. He knew that that two thousand,
Janet's little fortune, existed only in her imagination. It had existed
once; he had had charge of it, but it was gone.

"Ask Brand," he said again. "A man with any gentlemanly feeling cannot
refuse a pretty woman anything. I can't. You ask Brand--as if it was to
please you. You're pretty enough to wheedle anything out of men. He'll
do it."

"I'll ask him," said Janet again, and she sighed as she went back alone
to the great house which was one day to be hers. She did not think of
that as she looked up at the long lines of stone-mullioned windows. She
thought only of her George, and wondered, with a blush of shame, whether
Fred had yet borrowed money from him.

Then, as she saw a white figure move past the gallery windows, she
remembered Anne, and her brother's advice to her to make a friend of
"Lady Varney." Janet had been greatly drawn towards Anne, after she had
got over a certain stolid preliminary impression that Anne was "fine."
And Janet had immediately mistaken Anne's tactful kindness to herself
for an overture of friendship. Perhaps that is a mistake which many
gentle, commonplace souls make, who go through life disillusioned as to
the sincerity of certain other attractive, brilliant creatures with whom
they have come in momentary contact, to whom they can give nothing, but
from whom they have received a generous measure of delicate sympathy and
kindness, which they mistook for the prelude of friendship; a friendship
which never arrived. It is well for us when we learn the difference
between the donations and the subscriptions of those richer than
ourselves, when we realize how broad is the way towards a person's
kindness, and how many surprisingly inferior individuals are to be met
therein; and how strait is the gate, how hard to find, and how doubly
hard, when found, to force it, of that same person's friendship.

Janet supposed that Anne liked her as much as she herself liked Anne,
and, being a simple soul, she said to herself, "I think I will go and
sit with her a little."

A more experienced person than my poor heroine would have felt that
there was not marked encouragement in the civil "Come in" which answered
her knock at Anne's door.

But Janet came in smiling, sure of her welcome. Every one was sure of
their welcome with Anne.

She was sitting in a low chair by the open window. She had taken off
what Janet would have called her "Sunday gown," and had wrapped round
her a long, diaphanous white garment, the like of which Janet had never
seen. It was held at the neck by a pale green ribbon, cunningly drawn
through lace insertion, and at the waist by another wider green ribbon,
which fell to the feet. The spreading lace-edged hem showed the point of
a green morocco slipper.

Janet looked with respectful wonder at Anne's dressing-gown, and a
momentary doubt as to whether her presence was urgently needed vanished.
Anne must have been expecting her. She would not have put on that
exquisite garment to sit by herself in.

Janet's eyes travelled to Anne's face.

Even the faint, reassuring smile, which did not come the first moment it
was summoned, could not disguise the fatigue of that pale face, though
it effaced a momentary impatience.

"You are very tired," said Janet. "I wish you were as strong as me."

Janet's beautiful eyes had an admiring devotion in them, and also a
certain wistfulness, which appealed to Anne.

"Sit down," she said cordially. "That is a comfortable chair."

"You were reading. Shan't I interrupt you?" said Janet, sitting down
nevertheless, and feeling that tact could no further go.

"It does not matter," said Anne, closing the book, but keeping one
slender finger in the place.

"What is your book called?"

"'Inasmuch.'"

"Who wrote it?"

"Hester Gresley."

"I think I've heard of her," said Janet cautiously. "Mrs Smith, our
Rector's wife, says that Mr Smith does not approve of her books; they
have such a low tone. I think Fred read one of them on a visit once. I
haven't time myself for much reading."

Silence.

"I should like," said Janet, turning her clear, wide gaze upon Anne, "I
should like to read the books you read, and know the things you know. I
should like to--to be like you."

A delicate colour came into Anne's face, and she looked down embarrassed
at the volume in her hand.

"Would you read me a little bit?" said Janet. "Not beginning at the
beginning, but just going on where you left off."

"I am afraid you might not care for it any more than Mr Smith does."

"Oh! I'm not deeply read like Mr Smith. Is it poetry?"

"No."

"I'm glad it isn't poetry. Is it about love?"

"Yes."

"I used not to care to read about love, but now I think I should like it
very much."

A swift emotion passed over Anne's face. She took up the book, and
slowly opened it. Janet looked with admiration at her slender hands.

"I wish mine were white like hers," she thought, as she looked at her
own far more beautiful but slightly tanned hands, folded together in her
lap in an attitude of attention.

Anne hesitated a moment, and then began to read:

       *       *       *       *       *

"I had journeyed some way in life, I was travel-stained and weary, when
I met Love. In the empty, glaring highway I met him, and we walked in
it together. I had not thought he fared in such steep places, having
heard he was a dweller in the sheltered gardens, which were not for me.
Nevertheless he went with me. I never stopped for him, or turned aside
out of my path to seek him, for I had met his counterfeit when I was
young, and I distrusted strangers afterwards. And I prayed to God to
turn my heart wholly to Himself, and to send Love away, lest he should
come between me and Him. But when did God hearken to any prayer of mine?

"And Love was grave and stern. And as we walked he showed me the dew
upon the grass, and the fire in the dew, the things I had seen all my
life and had never understood. And he drew the rainbow through his hand.
I was one with the snowdrop and with the thunderstorm. And we went
together upon the sea, swiftly up its hurrying mountains, swiftly down
into its rushing valleys. And I was one with the sea. And all fear
ceased out of my life, and a great awe dwelt with me instead. And Love
wore a human face. But I knew that was for a moment only. Did not Christ
the same?

"And Love showed me the hearts of my brothers in the crowd. And, last of
all, he showed me myself, with whom I had lived in ignorance. And I was
humbled.

"And then Love, who had given me all, asked for all. And I gave
reverence, and patience, and faith, and hope, and intuition, and
service. I even gave him truth. I put my hands under his feet. But he
said it was not enough. So I gave him my heart. That was the last I had
to give.

"And Love took it in a great tenderness and smote it. And in the anguish
the human face of Love vanished away.

"And afterwards, long years afterwards, when I was first able to move
and look up, I saw Love, who, as I thought, was gone, keeping watch
beside me. And I saw his face clear, without the human veil between me
and it. And it was the Face of God. And I saw that Love and God are
one, and that, because of His exceeding glory, He had been constrained
to take flesh even as Christ took it, so that my dim eyes might be able
to apprehend Him. And I saw that it was He and He only who had walked
with me from the first."

       *       *       *       *       *

Anne laid down the book. She looked fixedly out across the quiet
gardens, with their long shadows, to the still, sun-lit woods beyond.
Her face changed, as the face of one who, in patient endurance, has long
rowed against the stream, and who at last lets the benign, constraining
current take her whither it will. The look of awed surrender seldom seen
on a living face, seldom absent from the faces of the newly dead, rested
for a moment on Anne's.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I don't think," said Janet, "I quite understand what it means, because
I was not sure whether it was a lady or a gentleman that was speaking."

Anne started violently, and turned her colourless face towards the
voice. It seemed to recall her from a great distance. She had forgotten
Janet. She had been too far off to hear what she had said.

"I like the bit about giving Love our hearts," said Janet tentatively.
"It means something the same as the sermon did this morning, doesn't it,
about not laying up our treasure upon earth?"

There was a silence.

"Yes," said Anne gently, her voice and face quivering a little, "perhaps
it does. I had not thought of it in that way till you mentioned it, but
I see what you mean."

"That we ought to put religion first."

"Y-yes."

"I am so glad you read that to me," continued Janet comfortably,
"because I had an idea that you and I should feel the same about"--she
hesitated--"about love. I mean," she corrected herself, "you would, if
you were engaged."

"I have never been engaged," said Anne, in the tone of one who gently
but firmly closes a subject.

"When you are," said Janet, peacefully pursuing the topic, and looking
at her with tender confidence, "you will feel like me, that it's--just
everything."

"Shall I?"

"I don't know any poetry, except two lines that George copied out for
me--

    'Don't love me at all,
    Or love me all in all.'"

Anne winced, but recovered herself instantly.

"It's like that with me," continued Janet. "It's all in all. And then I
am afraid that _is_ laying up treasures on earth, isn't it?"

"Not if you love God more because you love George."

Janet ruminated. You could almost hear her mind at work upon the
suggestion, as you hear a coffee-mill respond to a handful of coffee
berries.

"I think I do," she said at last, and she added below her breath, "I
thank God all the time for sending George, and I pray I may be worthy
of him."

Anne's eyes filled with sudden tears--not for herself.

"I hope you will be very happy," she said, laying her hand on Janet's.
It seemed to Anne a somewhat forlorn hope.

Janet's hand closed slowly over Anne's.

"I think we shall," she said. "And yet I sometimes doubt, when I
remember that I am not his equal. I knew that in a way from the first,
but I see it more and more since I came here. I don't wonder Mrs
Trefusis doesn't think me good enough."

"Mrs Trefusis does not take fancies quickly."

"It is not that," said Janet. "There's two ways of not being good
enough. Till now I have only thought of one way, of not being good
enough _in myself_, like such things as temper. I'm not often angry, but
if I am I stay angry. I don't alter. I was once angry with Fred for a
year. I've thought a great deal about that since I've cared for George.
And sometimes I fancy I'm rather slow. I daresay you haven't noticed
it, but Mrs Smith often remarks upon it. She always has something to say
on any subject, just like you have; but somehow I haven't."

"I don't know Mrs Smith."

"I wish you did. She's wonderful. She says she learnt it when she went
out so much in the West End before her marriage."

"Indeed!"

"But since I've been here I see there's another way I'm not good enough,
which sets Mrs Trefusis against me. I don't think she would mind if I
told lies and had a bad temper, and couldn't talk like Mrs Smith, if I
was good enough in _her_ way--I mean if I was high-born like you."

The conversation seemed to contain as many pins as a well-stocked
pincushion. The expression "high-born" certainly had a sharp point, but
Anne made no sign as it was driven in. She considered a moment, and then
said, as if she had decided to risk something: "You are right. Mrs
Trefusis would have been pleased if you had been my sister. You perhaps
think that very worldly. I think it is very natural."

"I wish I were your sister," said Janet, who might be reckoned on for
remaining half a field behind.

Anne sighed, and leaned back in her chair.

"If I were your sister," continued Janet, wholly engrossed in getting
her slow barge heavily under way, "you would have told me a number of
little things which--I don't seem to know."

"You could easily learn some of them," said Anne, "and that would
greatly please Mrs Trefusis."

"Could you tell me of anything in especial?"

"Well! For instance--I don't mind myself in the least--but it would be
better not to call me 'Lady Varney.'"

"I did not know you would like me to call you 'Anne.'"

"You are quite right. We do not know each other well enough."

"Then what ought I to call you?"

"My friends call me 'Lady Anne.'"

"Dear me!" said Janet, astonished. "There's Lady Alice Thornton. She
married Mr Thornton, our member. Fred sold him a hunter. And she is
sometimes called 'Lady Alice Thornton' and sometimes 'Lady Thornton.'
Mrs Smith says----"

"Then," continued Anne, who seemed indisposed to linger on the subject,
"it would please Mrs Trefusis if you came into a room with more
courage."

Janet stared at her adviser round-eyed.

"It is shy work, isn't it?" said Anne. "I always had a great difficulty
in getting into a room myself when I was your age. (O Anne! Anne!) I
mean, in getting well into the middle. But I saw I ought to try, and not
to hesitate near the door, because, you see, it obliges old ladies, and
people like Mrs Trefusis, who is rather lame, to come nearly to the door
to meet us. And we young ones ought to go up to them, even if it makes
us feel shy."

"I never thought of that," said Janet. "I will remember those two things
always. Mrs Smith always comes in very slow, but then she's a married
woman, and she says she likes to give people time to realise her. I will
watch how you come in. I will try and copy you in everything. And if I
am in doubt, may I ask you?"

Anne laughed, and rose lightly.

"Do," she said, "if you think I could be of any use on these trivial
matters. I live among trivialities. But remember always that they _are_
trivial. The only thing that is of any real importance in this uphill
world is to love and be loved. You will know that when you are my age."

And Anne put her arm round the tall young figure for a moment, and
kissed her. And then suddenly, why she knew not, Janet discovered, even
while Anne stood smiling at her, that the interview was over.

It seemed a pity, for, when Janet had reached her own room, she
remembered that she had intended to consult Anne as to the advisability
of cutting her glorious hair into a fringe, like Mrs Smith's.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anne and Janet travelled together to London next day, and on the journey
Janet laid before Anne, in all its bearings, the momentous question of
her hair. Fred had said she would never look up to date till she cut a
fringe. George had opined that her hair looked very nice as it was,
while Mrs Smith had asseverated that it was impossible to mix in good
society, or find a hat to suit the face, without one.

Anne settled once and for all that Janet's hair, parted and waving
naturally, like the Venus of Milo's, was not to be touched. She became
solemnly severe on the subject, as she saw Janet was still wavering. And
she even offered to help Janet with her trousseau, to take her to
Vernon, her own tailor, and to her own hatter and dressmaker. Janet
had no conception what a sacrifice of time that offer meant to a person
of endless social engagements like Anne, who was considered one of the
best-dressed women in London.

But to Anne's secret amusement and thankfulness, this offer was
gratefully declined in an embarrassed manner.

Janet's great friend, Mrs Macalpine Brand, to whose flat in Lowndes
Mansions she was now on her way, had offered to help her with her
trousseau. Did Lady Var--Anne know Mrs Macalpine Brand? She went out a
great deal in London, so perhaps she might have met her. And she was
always beautifully dressed.

Anne remembered vaguely a certain over-dressed, would-be-smart,
insufferable Mrs Brand, who had made bare-faced but fruitless attempts
to scrape acquaintance with herself when she and Anne had been on the
same committee.

"I have met a very pretty Mrs Brand," she said, "when I was working with
Mrs Forrester. She had an excellent head for business--and had she not
rather a peculiar Christian name?"

"Cuckoo."

"Yes, that was it. She helped Mrs Forrester's charity most generously
when it was in debt."

"She is my greatest friend," said Janet, beaming. "I shall be staying
with her all this next fortnight. May I bring her with me when I come to
tea with you?"

Anne hesitated half a second before she said, "Do."

She was glad afterwards that she had said it, for it pleased Janet, and
poor little Mrs Macalpine Brand never took advantage of it. Even at that
moment as they spoke of her, she was absorbed, to the shutting out even
of plans for social advancement, in more pressing subjects.

The two girls parted at Victoria, and the last time Anne saw Janet's
face, in its halo of happiness, was as Janet nodded to her through the
window of the four-wheeler, which bore her away to her friend Mrs
Brand.



CHAPTER V

     "Tous les hommes sont menteurs, inconstants, faux, bavards,
     hypocrites, orgueilleux, ou lâches, méprisables et sensuels:
     toutes les femmes sont perfides, artificieuses, vaniteuses,
     curieuses et dépravées: ... mais il y a au monde une chose
     sainte et sublime, c'est l'union de deux de ces êtres si
     imparfaits et si affreux."

                                             --ALFRED DE MUSSET.


As the four-wheeler neared Lowndes Square the traffic became blocked,
not by carriages, but by large numbers of people on foot. At last the
cabman drew to the side, uncorked himself from the box, and came to the
window.

"Is it Lowndes Mansions as you're a-asking for?" he said.

"Yes," said Janet.

"Why, it's there as the fire was yesterday."

"The fire!"

"Yes! The top floors is mostly burnt out. You can't get a wehicle near
it."

"Were any lives lost?" said Janet. The Brands lived on one of the upper
floors.

"No, miss," said a policeman, approaching, urbane, helpful, not averse
to imparting information.

Janet explained that she was on her way to stay in the Mansions, and the
policeman, who said that other "parties" had already arrived with the
same object but could not be taken in, advised her to turn back and go
with her luggage to one of the private hotels in Sloane Street, until
she could, as he expressed it, "turn round."

Janet did as she was bid, and half an hour later made her way on foot
through the crowd to the entrance of Lowndes Mansions.

The hall porter recognised her, for she had frequently stayed with the
Brands, and Janet's face was not quickly forgotten. He bade the
policeman who barred the entrance let her pass.

The central hall, with its Oriental hangings and sham palms, was crowded
with people. Idle, demoralized housemaids belonging to the upper
floors, whose sphere of work was gone, stood together in whispering
groups watching the spectacle. Grave men in high hats and over-long
buttoned-up frock-coats greeted each other silently, and then produced
passes which admitted them to the jealously guarded iron staircase. The
other staircase was burnt out at the top, though from the hall it showed
no trace of anything but of the water which yesterday had flowed down it
in waves, and which still oozed from the heavy pile stair-carpet, which
the salvage men were beginning to take up.

The hall porter and the unemployed lift man stood together, silent,
stupefied, broken with fatigue, worn out with answering questions.

"Are Mr and Mrs Brand all right?" gasped Janet, thrilled by the
magnitude of the unseen disaster above, which seemed to strike roots of
horror down to the basement.

"Every one is all right," said the lift man automatically.
"No lives lost. Two residents shook. One leg broke hamong the
hemployees--compound fracture."

"Mrs Brand was shook," said the hall porter callously. "She had a fall."

"Where is she now?" enquired Janet.

The hall porter looked at her apathetically, and continued: "Mr Brand
was taking 'orse exercise in the Park. Mrs Brand was still in her
bedroom. The fire broke out, cause unbeknownst, at ten o'clock yesterday
morning precisely. Ten by the barracks clock it was. The hemployees
worked the hose until the first hingine arrived at quarter past."

"Twenty past," corrected the lift man.

"And Mrs Brand?" said Janet again.

"Mrs Brand must 'ave been dressing, for she was in her dressing-gown,
and she must ha' run down the main staircase afore it got well alight;
at least, she was found unconscious-like three flights down. Some say as
she was mazed by the smoke, and some say as she fell over the
banisters."

"The banisters is gone," said the lift man.

"Where is she now? Where is Mr Brand? I must see him at once," said
Janet, at last realizing that the history of the fire would go on for
ever.

"Mrs Brand was took into the billiard-room," said the lift man. "Mr
Brand is with her, and the doctor. There! The doctor is coming out now."

A grey-haired man shot out through the crowd, ran down the steps, and
disappeared into a brougham privileged to remain at the entrance.

"Take me to Mr Brand this instant," said Janet, shaking the hall porter
by the arm.

The man looked as if he would have been surprised at her vehemence if
there were any spring of surprise left in him, but it had obviously run
down from overwinding. He slowly led the way through a swing door, and
down a dark passage lit by electric light. At a large ground-glass door
with "Billiard-Room" on it he stopped, and tapped.

There was no answer.

Janet opened the door, went in, and closed it behind her.

She almost stumbled against Mr Brand, who was standing with his back
towards her, his face to the wall, in the tiny antechamber, bristling
with empty pegs, which led into the billiard-room.

It was dark save for the electric light in the passage, which shone
feebly through the ground-glass door.

Mr Brand turned slowly as Janet almost touched him. His death-white face
was the only thing visible. He did not speak. Janet gazed at him
horror-struck.

Gradually, as her eyes became accustomed to the dim light, she saw the
little dapper, familiar figure, with its immaculate frock-coat, and
corseted waist, and the lean, sallow, wrinkled face, with its retreating
forehead and dyed hair, and waxed, turned-up moustaches. One of the
waxed ends had been bent, and drooped forlornly, grotesquely. It was
perhaps inevitable that the money-lender should be nicknamed "Monkey
Brand," a name pronounced by many with a sneer not devoid of fear.

"How is she?" said Janet at last.

"She is dying," said Monkey Brand, his chin shaking. "Her back is
broken."

A nurse in cap and apron silently opened the inner door into the
billiard-room.

"Mrs Brand is asking for you, sir," she said gently.

"I will come," he said, and he went back into the billiard-room.

The nurse looked enquiringly at Janet.

"I am Mrs Brand's friend," said Janet. "She is expecting me."

"She takes it very hard now, poor thing," said the nurse; "and she was
so brave at first."

And they both went into the billiard-room, and remained standing at the
further end of it.

It was a large, gaudily-decorated room, adorned with sporting prints,
and lit by a skylight, on to which opaque bodies, evidently fallen from
a height, lay in blots, starring the glass.

The billiard-table was littered with doctors' appliances, and at the end
near the door the nurse had methodically arranged a line of towels and
basins, with a tin can of hot water and a bucket swathed in flannel with
ice in it.

The large room, with its glaring upper light, was hot and still, and
smelt of stale smoke and chloroform.

At the further end, on an improvised bed of mattresses and striped sofa
cushions, a white, rigid figure was lying, the eyes fixed on the
skylight.

Monkey Brand knelt down by his wife, and bending over her, kissed,
without raising it, one of the pale clenched hands.

"Cuckoo," he said, and until she heard him speak it seemed to Janet that
she had never known to what heights tenderness can reach.

His wife turned her eyes slowly upon him, and looked at him. In her
eyes, dark with coming death, there was a great yearning towards her
husband, and behind the yearning an anguish unspeakable. Janet shrank
before it. The fear of death never cut so deep as that.

A cry, uncouth, terrible, as of one pushed past the last outpost of
endurance to the extremity of agony, rent the quiet room.

"I cannot bear it," she wailed. And she, who could not raise her hands,
to which death had come already, raised them once above her head.

They fell heavily, lifelessly, striking her husband's face.

"I would die for you if I might," said Monkey Brand, and he hid his face
against the hand that had struck him.

Cuckoo looked at the bowed, blue-black head, and her wide eyes wandered
away past it, set in the vacancy of despair. They fell on Janet.

"Who is that?" she said suddenly.

The nurse brought Janet forward.

"You remember me, Cuckoo?" said Janet gently, her calm smile a little
tremulous, her face white and beautiful as that of an angel.

"It is Janet. Thank God!" said Cuckoo, and she suddenly burst into
tears.

They passed quickly.

"I have no time for tears," said Cuckoo, smiling faintly at her husband,
as he wiped them away with a shaking brown hand. "Janet is come. I must
speak to her a little quite alone."

"You would not send me from you?" said Monkey Brand, his face twitching.
"You would not be so hard on me, Cuckoo?"

"Yes," she said, "I would."

The pretty, vulgar, dying face, under its crooked fringe, was
illuminated. A sort of shadow of Cuckoo's hard little domineering manner
had come back to her.

"I must be alone with Janet for a little bit, quite alone. You and the
nurse will go outside, and wait till Janet comes to you. And then," she
looked at her husband with tender love, "you will come back to me, and
stay with me to the last."

He still hesitated.

"Go now, Arthur," she said, "and take nurse with you."

The habit of obedience to her whim, her fancy, her slightest wish, was
ingrained years deep in him. He got upon his feet, signed to the nurse,
and left the room with her.

"Is the door shut?" said Cuckoo.

"Yes."

"Go and make sure."

Janet went to the door, and came back.

"It is shut."

"Kneel down by me. I can't speak loud."

Janet knelt down.

"Now listen to me. I'm dying. I'm not going to die this minute, because
I won't; but all the same it's coming. I can't hold on. There is no time
for being surprised, or for explanations. There's no time for anything,
except for you to listen to me, and do something for me quickly. Will
you do it?"

"Yes," said Janet.

Cuckoo looked for a moment at the innocent, fair face above her, and a
faint colour stained her cheek. But she remembered her husband, and
summoned her old courage. She spoke quickly, with the clearness and
precision which had made her such an excellent woman of business, so
invaluable on the committees of fashionable charities.

"I am a bad woman, Janet. I have concealed it from you, and from every
one. Arthur--has never guessed it. Don't shudder. Don't turn away.
There's not time. Keep all that for later--when I'm gone. And don't
drive me to distraction by thinking this is a dying hallucination. I
know what I am saying, and I, who have lied so often, am driven to speak
the truth at last."

"Don't," said Janet. "If it's true, don't say it, but let it die with
you. Don't break Mr Brand's heart now at the last moment."

Cuckoo's astute eyes dwelt on Janet's face. How slow she was! What a
blunt instrument had Fate vouchsafed to her.

"I speak to save him," she said. "Don't interrupt again, but listen. It
all goes back a long way. I was forced into marrying Arthur. I disliked
him, for I was in love with some one else--some one, as I see now, not
fit to black his boots. I was straight when I married Arthur, but--I did
not stay straight afterwards. Arthur is a hard man, but he was good and
tender to me always, and he trusted me absolutely. I deceived him--for
years. The child is not Arthur's. Arty is not Arthur's. I never was
really sorry until a year ago, when he--the other--left me for some one
else. He said he had fallen in love with a good woman--a snowflake."
Even now Cuckoo set her teeth at the remembrance of that speech. But she
hurried on. "That was the time I fell ill. And Arthur nursed me. You
don't know what Arthur is. I never seemed to have noticed before. Other
people fail, but Arthur never fails. And I seemed to come to myself. I
could not bear him out of my sight. And ever since I have loved him, as
I thought people only loved in poetry books. I saw he was the only one.
And I thought he would never know. If he did, it would break his heart
and mine, wherever I was."

Cuckoo waited a moment, and then went on with methodical swiftness:

"But I never burnt the--the other one's letters. I always meant to, and
I always didn't. It has been in my mind ever since I was ill to burn
them. I never thought I should die like this. I put it off. The truth
is, I could not bear to look at them, and remember how I'd--but I meant
to do it. I knew when I came to myself at the foot of the stairs that I
was dying, but I did not really mind--except for leaving Arthur, for he
told me all our flat was burnt and everything in it, and I only grieved
at leaving him. But this morning, when the place was cold enough for
people to go up, Arthur told me--he thought it would please me--that my
sitting-room, and part of the other rooms, were still standing with
everything in them, and he heard that my picture was not even touched.
It hangs over the Italian cabinet. But when I heard it I thought my
heart would break, for the letters are in the Italian cabinet, and I
knew that some day when I am gone--perhaps not for a long time, but some
day--Arthur would open that cabinet--my business papers are in it,
too--and would find the letters."

Cuckoo's weak, metallic voice weakened yet more.

"And he would see I had deceived him for years, and that Arty is not his
child. Arthur was so pleased when Arty was born."

There was an awful silence; the ice dripped in the pail.

"I don't mind what happens to me," said Cuckoo, "or what hell I go to,
if only Arthur might stay loving me when I'm gone, as he always
has--from the very first."

"What do you want me to do?" said Janet.

"I want you to go up to the flat without being seen, and burn those
letters. Try and go up by the main staircase. They may let you if you
bluff them; I could do it;--and it may not be burnt out at the top as
they say. If it really is burnt out, you must go up by the iron
staircase. If they won't let you pass, bribe the policeman: you must go
up all the same. The letters are in the lowest left-hand drawer of the
Italian cabinet. The key--O my God! The key! Where is the key?"

Cuckoo's mind, brought to bay, rose unflinching.

"The key is on the pearl chain that I wear every day. But where is the
chain? Let me think. I had it on. I know I had it on. I wear the pearls
against my neck, under my gown. I was in my dressing-gown. Then I had it
on. Look on the billiard-table."

Janet looked.

"Look on the mantelpiece. I saw the nurse put something down there which
she took off me."

Janet looked. "There is a miniature of Arty on a ribbon."

"I had it in my hand when the alarm reached me. Look on me. Perhaps I
have got it on still."

Janet unfastened the neck of the dressing-gown, which, though lacerated
by the nurse's scissors, still retained the semblance of a garment.
After an interminable moment she drew out a pearl chain.

"Thank God!" said Cuckoo. "Don't raise my head; I might die if you did,
and I can't die yet. Break the chain. There! Now the key slips off. Take
it, go up, and burn the letters. There are a good many, but you will
know them because they are tied with my hair. The lowest left-hand
drawer, remember. You will burn them--there are some matches on the
mantelpiece behind Arthur's photograph--and wait till they are really
burnt. Will you do this, Janet?"

"I will."

"And will you promise me that, whatever happens, you will never tell any
one that you have burnt anything?"

"I promise."

"You swear it?"

"I swear it."

"Let me see; you must have some reason for going, in case you are seen.
If you are asked, say I sent you to see if my picture was uninjured. I
am a vain woman. Anyone will believe that. Stick to that if you are
questioned. And now go. Go at once. And throw away the key when you have
locked up the cabinet. I shall not be able to be alone with you again,
Janet. Arthur won't leave me a second time. When you come back, stand
where I can see you; and if you have destroyed everything put your hand
against your forehead. I shall understand. I shall not be able to thank
you, but I shall thank you in my heart, and I shall die in peace. Now
go, and tell Arthur to come back to me."

Janet found Monkey Brand in the antechamber, his ashen, ravaged face
turned with dog-like expectancy towards the billiard-room door, waiting
for it to open. Without a word, he went back to his wife.



CHAPTER VI

        "... a strong man from the North,
    Light-locked, with eyes of dangerous grey."


It was a little after twelve as Janet entered the central hall, and the
salvage men were coming down for their dinner. A cord had been stretched
across the foot of the grand staircase, and a policeman guarded it. As
Janet hesitated, a young man and woman came boldly up to him, and
demanded leave to pass.

"I can't let you up, sir," said the policeman. "It ain't safe."

"I have the right to go up to my own flat on the fourth floor," said the
man. "Here is my card. You will observe my address of these Mansions is
printed on it."

"Yes, my lord; certainly, my lord," said the policeman, looking at the
card with respect. "The fire ain't touched anything lower than the fifth
floor; but we have to keep a sharp look-out, as a many strange
characters are about trying to get up, to see what they can lay hands
on."

Janet had drawn up close behind the young couple, and when the cord was
withdrawn went upstairs as if with them. They did not even see her. They
were talking eagerly to each other. When they reached the first landing
she slackened her pace, and let them go on in front.

The fire had broken out on the seventh floor of the great block of
buildings, and had raged slowly downwards to the sixth and fifth. But at
first, as Janet mounted the sodden staircase, there was hardly any trace
of the devastation save in the wet, streaked walls, and the constant
dropping of water from above.

But the fourth floor bore witness. The ceilings were scored with great
cracks. The plaster had fallen in places, and everything--walls,
ceilings, doors, and passages--was blackened as if licked by great
tongues of smoke.

The young couple were standing at the further end of a long empty
passage, trying to open a door. As Janet looked, she saw the man put his
shoulder to it. Then she turned once more to the next flight of the
staircase. It was strewn with wreckage. The bent iron banisters, from
which the lead hung in congealed drops, supported awkwardly the
contorted remains of the banisters from above, which had crashed down
upon them. The staircase had ceased to be a staircase. It was a steep,
sliding mass of fallen _débris_, down which the demon of fire had
hurled, as into a well, the ghastly entrails of the havoc of his torture
chambers above.

Janet looked carefully at the remnants of the staircase. The heat had
reached it, but not the fire. She climbed half way up it, securing a
foothold where she could among the _débris_. But, halfway, the banisters
from above blocked her passage, tilted crazily towards her,
insurmountable. She dared not touch them for fear of bringing them, and
an avalanche of piled rubbish behind them, down upon her. She turned
back a few steps, deliberately climbed, in her short country skirt, over
the still standing banisters, and, holding firmly by them, went up the
remainder of the flight, cautious step by step, as she and Fred had done
as children, finding a foothold where she could, and not allowing her
eyes to look down into the well below her. At the next landing she
climbed over the banisters again, felt them for a sickening moment give
under her weight, and stopped to take breath and look round her.

She was on the fifth floor.

Even here the fire had not actually been, but the heaps of sodden ashes,
the gaping, burst panels, the seared doors, the blackness of the
disfigured passages, the long, distraught wires of the electric
lighting, showed that heat had been here; blinding, scorching,
blistering heat.

The Brands' flat was on the sixth floor.

Janet looked up once more, and even her steady eyes were momentarily
daunted.

The staircase was gone. A raging fire had swept up its two last flights
as up a chimney, and had carried all before it. What the fire had
refused it had flung down, choking up the landing below. Nothing
remained of the staircase save the iron supports, sticking out of the
wall like irregular, jagged teeth, and marking where each step of the
stairs had been.

Higher still a zinc bath remained sticking against the charred, naked
wall. The bathroom had fallen from it. The bath and its twisted pipes
remained. And above all the blue sky peered down as into a pit's mouth.

Janet looked fixedly at the iron supports, and measured them with her
eye. Her colour did not change, nor her breath quicken. She felt her
strength in her. Then, hugging the black wall till it crumbled against
her, and shading her eyes till they could see only where to tread, she
went swiftly up those awful stairs, and reached the sixth floor.

Then her strength gave way, and she sank down upon something soft, and
shuddered. A faint sound made her look back.

One of the supports, loosened by her footstep, stirred, and then fell.
It fell a long way.

Even her marvellous inapprehensiveness was shaken. But her still courage
returned to her, the quiet confidence that enabled her to break in
nervous horses with which her recklessly foolhardy brother could do
nothing.

Janet rose slowly to her feet, catching them as she did so in something
soft. Stamped into the charred grime of the concrete floor by the feet
of the firemen were the remains of a sable cloak, which, as her foot
touched it, showed a shred of rose-coloured lining. A step further her
foot sank into a heap of black rags, evidently hastily flung down by one
in headlong flight, through the folds of which gold embroidery and a
pair of jewelled clasps gleamed faintly.

Janet stood still a moment in what had been the heart of the fire. The
blast of the furnace had roared down that once familiar passage, leaving
a charred, rent hole, half filled up and silted out of all shape by
ashes. Nevertheless her way lay down it.

She crept stumbling along it with bent head. Surely the Brands' flat was
exactly here, on the left, near the head of the staircase. But she could
recognise nothing.

She stopped short at a gaping cavity that had once been a doorway, and
looked through it into what had once been a bedroom. The fire had swept
all before it. If there had once been a floor and walls, and ceiling and
furniture, all was gone, leaving a seared, egg-shaped hole. From its
shelving sides three pieces of contorted iron had rolled into the
central puddle--all that was left of the bed.

Could _this_ be the Brands' flat?

Janet passed on, and peered through the next doorway. Here the flames
had not raged so fiercely. The blackened semblance of a room was still
there, but shrunk like a mummy, and ready to crumble at a touch. It must
have been a servant's bedroom. The chest of drawers, the bed, were still
there in outline, but all ashes. On pegs on the wall hung ghosts of
gowns and hats, as if drawn in soot. On the chest of drawers stood the
effigy of a bedroom candlestick, with the extinguisher over it.

Yes, it was the Brands' flat. The outer door and little entrance hall
had been wiped out, and she was inside it. This evidently had been the
drawing-room. Here were signs as of some frightful conflict, as if the
room had resisted its fate to the death, and had only been overpowered
after a hideous struggle.

The wall-paper hung in tatters on the wall. Remnants of furniture were
flung about in all directions. The door was gone. The windows were gone.
The bookcase was gone, leaving no trace, but the books it had contained
had been thrown all over the room in its downfall, and lay for the most
part unscorched, pell-mell, one over the other. Among the books crouched
an agonised tangle of wires--all that was left of Cuckoo's grand piano.
The pictures had leapt wildly from the walls to join in the conflict. A
few pieces of strewed gilding, as if torn asunder with pincers, showed
their fate. Horror brooded over the place as over the dead body of one
who had fought for his life, and died by torture, whom the destroyer had
not had time to mutilate past recognition.

Had the wind changed, and had the fiend of fire been forced to obey it,
and leave his havoc unfinished? Yes, the wind must have changed, for at
the next step down the passage, Janet reached Cuckoo's boudoir.

The door had fallen inward, and by some miracle the whole strength of
the flames had rushed down the passage, leaving even the door unburnt.
Janet walked over the door into the little room and stood amazed.

The fire had passed by on the other side. Everything here was untouched,
unchanged. The yellow china cat with an immensely long neck was still
seated on its plush footstool on the hearthrug. On the sofa lay an open
fashion paper, where Cuckoo had laid it down. On every table photographs
of Cuckoo smiled in different attitudes. The gaudy room, with its damask
panels, bore no trace of smoke, nor even of heat, save that the two
palms in tubs, and the hydrangeas in the fireplace, were shrivelled up,
and in the gilt bird-cage in the window was a tiny, motionless form,
with outstretched wings, that would fain have flown away.

For a moment Janet forgot everything except the bullfinch--the piping
bullfinch that Monkey Brand had given to his wife. She ran to the cage,
brushing against the palms, which made a dry rustling as she passed, and
bent over the little bird.

"Bully," she said. "Bully!" For that was the name which, after much
thought, Monkey Brand had bestowed upon it.

But "Bully" did not move. He was pressed against the bars of his Chinese
pagoda, with his head thrown back and his beak open. "Bully" had known
fear before he died.

Janet suddenly remembered the great fear which some one else was
enduring, to whom death was coming, and she turned quickly from the
window.

De Rivaz's extraordinary portrait of Cuckoo smiled at Janet from the
wall, in all its shrewd, vulgar prettiness. The hard, calculating blue
eyes, which could stare down the social ladder so mercilessly, were
mercilessly portrayed. The careful touch of rouge on the cheek and
carmine on the lip were faithfully rendered. The manicured, plebeian
hands were Cuckoo's, and none but Cuckoo's. The picture was a studied
insult, save in the eyes of Monkey Brand, who saw in it the reflection,
imperfect and inadequate, but still the reflection of the one creature
whom, in his money-getting life, he had found time to love.

Janet never could bear to look at it, and she turned her eyes away.

Directly underneath the picture stood the Italian cabinet, with its
ivory figures let into ebony. It was untouched, as Cuckoo had feared.
The mermaid was still tranquilly riding a whale on the snaffle, in the
midst of a sea with a crop of dolphins' tails sticking up through it.

Janet fitted the key into the lock, and then instinctively turned to
shut the door. But the door lay prone upon the floor. She stole into the
passage and listened.

There were voices somewhere out of sight. Human voices seemed strangely
out of place in this cindered grave. They came nearer. A tall,
heavily-built man came stooping round the corner, with another shorter,
slighter one behind him.

"The floors are concrete; it's all right," said the first man.

Janet retreated into the room again, to wait till they had passed. But
they were in no hurry. They both glanced into the room, and, seeing her,
went on.

"Here you have one of the most extraordinary effects of fire," said the
big man, stopping at the next doorway. "This was once a drawing-room. If
you want to paint a realistic picture, here is your subject."

"I would rather paint an angel in the pit's mouth," said the younger man
significantly, leaning his delicate, artist hand against the charred
doorpost. "Do you think, Vanbrunt, this is a safe place for angels
without wings to be going about alone? You say the floors are safe, but
are they?"

Stephen Vanbrunt considered a moment.

Then he turned back to the room where Janet was. He did not enter it,
but stood in the doorway, nearly filling it up--a tall,
powerfully-built, unyouthful-looking man with shaggy eyebrows and a
grim, clean-shaved face and heavy jaw. You may see such a face and
figure any day in the Yorkshire mines or in a stone-mason's yard.

The millionaire took off his hat with a large blackened hand, and said
to Janet: "I trust the salvage men have warned you that the passages on
your right are unsafe?" He pointed towards the way by which she had
come. It was evidently an effort to him to speak to her. He was a shy
man.

His voice was deep and gentle. It gave the same impression of strength
behind it that a quiet wave does of the sea. He stood with his head
thrown slightly back, an austere, massive figure, not without a certain
dignity. And as he looked at Janet, there was just room in his narrow,
near-sighted slits of eyes for a stern kindliness to shine through.
Children and dogs always made a bee-line for Stephen.

As Janet did not answer, he said again.

"I trust you will not attempt to go down the passage to your right. It
is not safe."

"No," said Janet, and she remembered her instructions. "I am only here
to see if De Rivaz' picture of Mrs Brand is safe."

"Here is De Rivaz himself," said Stephen. "May we come in a moment and
look at it? I am afraid I came in without asking last night, with the
police inspector."

"Do come in," said Janet.

The painter came in, and glanced at the picture.

"It's all right," he said indifferently. "Not even a lick of smoke.
But," he added, looking narrowly at Janet, "if Mr Brand wishes it I will
send a man I can trust to revarnish it."

"Thank you," said Janet.

"Here is my card," he continued, still looking at her.

"Thank you," said Janet again, wondering when they would go.

"You are, no doubt, a relation of the Brands?" he continued desperately.

"I am a friend."

"I will come and see Mr Brand about the picture," continued the young
man, stammering. "May I ask you to be so kind as to tell him so?"

"I will tell him," said Janet; and she became very pale. While this man
was manufacturing conversation Cuckoo was dying--was dying, waiting with
her eyes on the door. She turned instinctively to Stephen for help.

But he had forgotten her. He was looking intently at the dead bird in
the cage, was touching its sleek head with a large gentle finger.

"You are well out of it, my friend," he said below his breath. "It is
not good to be afraid, but it was a short agony. And it is over. You
will not be afraid again. You are well out of it. No more prison bars.
No more stretching of wings to fly with that may never fly. No more
years of servitude for a cruel woman's whim. You are well out of it."

He looked up and met Janet's eyes.

"We are trespassers," he said instantly. "We have taken a mean advantage
of your kindness in letting us come in. De Rivaz, I will show you a
background for your next picture a few yards further on. Mr Brand knows
me," he continued, producing a card in his turn. "We do business
together. He is my tenant here. Will you kindly tell him I ventured to
bring Mr De Rivaz into the remains of his flat to make a sketch of the
effects of fire?"

"I will tell him," said Janet, only half attending, and laying the card
beside De Rivaz'. Would they never go?

They did go immediately, Stephen peremptorily aiding the departure of
the painter.

When they were in the next room De Rivaz leaned up against the blackened
wall, and said hoarsely: "Vanbrunt, did you see her?"

"Of course I saw her."

"But I must paint her. I must know her. I shall go back and ask her to
sit to me."

"You will do no such thing. You will immediately apply yourself to this
scene of desolation, or I shall take you away. Look at this
charnel-house. What unchained devils have raged in it! It is jealousy
made visible. What is the use of a realistic painter like yourself, who
can squeeze all romance out of life till the whole of existence is as
prosaic as a string of onions; what is the use of a wretched worm like
you making one of your horrible portraits of that beautiful, innocent
face?"

"I shall paint her if I live," said De Rivaz, glaring at his friend. "I
know beauty when I see it."

"No, you don't. You see everything ugly, even beauty of a high order.
Look at your picture of me."

Both men laughed.

"I will paint her," said De Rivaz. "Half the beauty of so-called
beautiful women is loathsome to me because of the sordid or frivolous
soul behind it. But I will paint a picture of that woman which will show
to the world, and even to rhinoceros-hided sceptics like you, Vanbrunt,
that I can make the beauty of the soul shine through even a beautiful
face, as I have made mean souls shine through lovely faces. I shall fall
damnably in love with her while I do it, but that can't be helped. And
the picture will make her and me famous."



CHAPTER VII

    "Doch wenn du sagst, 'Ich liebe dich,'
      Dann muss Ich weinen bitterlich."


Janet listened to the retreating footsteps, and then flew to the
cabinet.

The key would not turn, and for one sickening moment, while she wrenched
clumsily at it, she feared she was not going to succeed in opening the
cabinet. Janet had through life a great difficulty in all that involved
delicate manipulation, except a horse's mouth. If a lock resisted, she
used force, generally shooting it; if the hinge of a door gave, she
jammed it. But in this instance, contrary to her usual experience, the
lock did turn at last, and the whole front of the cabinet, dolphins and
mermaid and all, came suddenly forwards towards her, disclosing within a
double tier of ebony drawers, all exquisitely inlaid with ivory, and
each having its tiny, silver-scrolled lock.

Some water had dripped on to the cabinet from a damp place in the
ceiling, and a few drops had penetrated down to the inner drawers,
rusting the silver of the lowest drawer--the left-hand one.

Janet fitted the key into it. It turned easily, but the drawer resisted.
It came out a little way, and then stuck. It was quite full. Janet gave
another pull, and the narrow, shallow drawer came out, with
difficulty--but still, it did come out.

On the top, methodically folded, were some hand-written directions for
fancy work. Cuckoo never did any needlework. Janet raised them, and
looked underneath. Where was the packet tied with hair? It was nowhere
to be seen. There were a quantity of letters loosely laid together.
Could these be they? Evidently they had not been touched for a long
time, for the grime of London air and fog had settled on them. Janet
wiped the topmost with her handkerchief, and a few words came clearly
out: "My darling. My treasure." Her handkerchief had touched something
loose in the corner of the drawer. Could this dim, moth-fretten lock
have once been Cuckoo's yellow hair? Even as she looked, out of it came
a moth, dragging itself slowly over the face of the letter, opening its
unused wings. It crawled up over the rusted silver scroll-work, and flew
away into the room.

Yes. These must be the letters. They had been tied once, and the moth
had eaten away the tie. She took them carefully up. There were a great
many. She gathered them all together, as she thought; looked again at
the back of the drawer to make sure, and found a few more, with a little
gilt heart rusted into them. Then she replaced the needlework
directions, pushed to the drawer--which resisted again, and then went
back into its place--locked it, extracted the key, locked the cabinet,
and threw the key out of a broken pane of the window. She saw it light
on the roof lower down, and slide into the safe keeping of the gutter.

Then she moved away the shrivelled hydrangeas which stood in the
fire-place, and put the letters into the empty grate. Once more she went
to the door and listened. All was quite still. She came back. On the
chimney-piece stood a photograph of Monkey Brand grinning smugly through
its cracked glass. Behind it was a silver match-box with a pig on it,
and "Scratch me" written on it. Cuckoo affected everything she called
"quaint."

Janet struck a match, knelt down, and held it to the pile of letters.

But love-letters never yet burned easily. Perhaps they have passed
through the flame of life, and after that no feebler fire can reach them
quickly. The fire shrank from them, and match after match went out,
flame after flame wavered, and refused to meddle with them.

After wasting time in several exactly similar attempts when one failure
would have been sufficient, Janet opened and crumpled some of them to
let the air get to them. The handwriting was strangely familiar. She
observed the fact without reasoning on it. Then she sprinkled the
remainder of the letters on the top of the crumpled ones, and again set
the pile alight.

The fire got hold now. It burned up fiercely, bringing down upon itself
the upper letters, which toppled into the heart of the miniature
conflagration much as the staircase must have toppled on to the stairs
below, in the bigger conflagration of yesterday. How familiar the
handwriting was! How some of the sentences shone out as if written in
fire on black sheets: "Love like ours can never fade." The words faded
out at once, as the dying letters gave up the ghost--the ghost of dead
love. Janet gazed fascinated. Another letter fell in, opening as it
fell, disclosing a photograph. Fred's face looked full at Janet for a
moment out of the little greedy flames that licked it up. Janet drew
back trembling, suddenly sick unto death.

Fred's face! Fred's writing!

She trembled so violently that she did not notice that the smoke was no
longer going up the chimney, but was filling the room. The chimney was
evidently blocked higher up.

She was so paralysed that she did not notice a light footfall in the
passage, and a figure in the doorway. Janet was not of those who see
behind their backs. The painter, alarmed by the smoke, stood for a
moment, brush in hand, looking fixedly at her. Then his eye fell on the
smoking papers in the grate, and he withdrew noiselessly.

It was out now. The second fire was out. What violent passions had been
consumed in it! That tiny fire in the grate seemed to Janet more black
with horror than the appalling scene of havoc in the next room. She
knelt down and parted the hot films of the little bonfire. There was no
scrap of paper left. The thing was done.

Then she noticed the smoke, and her heart stood still.

She pushed the cinders into the back of the grate with her hands,
replaced the hydrangeas in the fire-place, and ran to the window. But
the wood-work was warped by the heat. It would not open. She wasted
time trying to force it, and then broke the glass and let in the air.
But the air only blew the smoke out into the passage. It was like a bad
dream. She seized the prostrate door, and tried to raise it. But it was
too heavy for her.

She stood up panting, watching the telltale smoke curl lightly through
the doorway.

More steps in the passage.

She went swiftly into the next room, and stood in the doorway. The lift
man came cautiously down the passage, accompanied by an alert,
spectacled young man, notebook in hand. The lift man bore the
embarrassed expression of one whose sense of duty has succumbed before
too large a tip. The young man had the decided manner of one who intends
to have his money's worth.

"Where are we now?" he said, scribbling for dear life, his spectacles
turning all ways at once. "I don't like this smoke. Can the beastly
place be on fire still?"

But the lift man had caught sight of Janet, and the sight of her was
obviously unwelcome.

"The floors ain't safe here," he said confusedly. "There's a deal more
damage to be seen in the left wing."

"Is there?" said the young man drily. "We'll go there next"; and he went
on peering and scribbling.

A voice in the distance shouted imperiously, "Number Two, where does
this smoke come from?"

There was a plodding of heavy, hastening feet above.

In an instant the young man and the lift man had disappeared round the
corner.

Janet ran swiftly down the black passage along which they had come,
almost brushing against the painter in her haste, without perceiving
him. She flew on, recognising by instinct the once familiar way to the
central hall on each landing. Here it was at last. She paused a moment
by the gaping lift, and then walked slowly to the head of the iron outer
staircase.

A policeman was speaking austerely to a short, stout, shabbily-dressed
woman of determined aspect, who bore the unmistakable stamp of those
whose unquenchable desire it is to be where their presence is not
desired, where it is even deprecated.

"Only ladies and gents with passes is admitted," the policeman was
saying.

"But how can I get a pass?"

"I don't precisely know," said the policeman cautiously, "but I know it
must be signed by Mr Vanbrunt or Mr Brown."

"I am the Duchess of Quorn, and I am an intimate friend of Mr Vanbrunt."

Janet passed the couple with a beating heart. But apparently there were
no restrictions about persons going out, only about those trying to get
in. The policeman made way for her at once, and she went down
unchallenged.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the billiard-room time was waxing short; was obviously running out.

The child had arrived from the country with his nurse. Monkey Brand
took him in his arms at the door, and knelt down with him beside Cuckoo.

"Arty has come to say 'good-morning' to Mammy," he said, in a strangled,
would-be cheerful voice.

Cuckoo looked at the child wildly for a moment, as the little laughing
face came within the radius of her fading sight. She suffered the cool,
flower-like cheek to touch hers, but then she whispered to her husband,
"Take him away. I want only you."

He took Arty back to his nurse, holding him closely to him, and returned
to her.

Death seemed to have advanced a step nearer with the advent of the
child.

They both waited for it in silence.

"Don't kneel, Arthur," said Cuckoo at last. "You will be so tired."

He obediently drew up a little stool, and crouched hunched up upon it,
her cold hand between his cold hands.

"Is there any one at the door?" she asked, after an age of silence.

"No one, dearest; we are quite alone."

"I should like to see Janet to say 'good-bye.'"

"Must I go and look for her?"

"No. I sent her to see if my picture was really safe. It is all you will
have to remember me by. She will come and tell me directly."

"I do not want any picture of you, Cuckoo."

Another silence.

"I can't wait much longer," said Cuckoo below her breath; but he heard
it. "Are you sure there is no one at the door, Arthur?"

"No one."

Silence again.

"Ask God to have pity on me," said Cuckoo faintly. "Isn't there some one
coming in now?"

"No one."

"Ask God to have pity on us both," said Cuckoo again. "Pray so that I
can hear."

But apparently Monkey Brand could not pray aloud.

"Say something to make the time pass," she whispered.

"The Lord is my Shepherd," said Monkey Brand brokenly, his mind throwing
back thirty years; "I shall not want. He leadeth me beside the still
waters. He----"

"I seem to hear steps," interrupted Cuckoo.

"He leadeth me beside the still waters. Yea, though I walk"--the voice
broke down--"though I walk in the valley of the shadow of----"

"Some one is coming in now," said Cuckoo, in a faint, acute voice.

"It is Janet."

"I can't see her plainly. Tell her to come nearer."

He beckoned to Janet.

"I can see her now," said Cuckoo, the blindness of death in her wide
eyes, which stared vacantly where Janet was not; "at least, I see some
one. Isn't she holding her hand to her forehead?"

"Yes."

The last tears Cuckoo was destined to shed stood in her blind eyes.

"Good-bye, dear Janet," she gasped.

"Good-bye, Cuckoo."

"Send her away. Is she quite gone, Arthur?"

"Yes, dearest."

"I must go too. I don't know how to leave you, but I must. I cannot see
you, but you are with me in the darkness. Take me in your arms and let
me die in them. Is that your cheek against mine? How cold it is! Hold
your dear hands to my face that I may kiss them too. They have been
kind, kind hands to me. How my poor Arthur trembles! You were too good
for me, Arthur. You have been the only real friend I've ever had in the
world. More than father and mother to me. More than any one."

"You did love me, little one?"

"Yes."

"Only me?"

"Only you."

He burst into a passion of tears.

"Forgive me for having doubted you," he said hoarsely.

"Did you ever doubt me?"

"Yes, once. I ought to have known better. I can't forgive myself.
Forgive me, my wife."

Cuckoo was silent. Death was hard upon her, heavy on voice and breath.

"Say, 'Arthur, I forgive you,'" whispered her husband through the
darkness.

"Arthur, I forgive you," said Cuckoo with a sob. And her head fell
forward on his breast.



CHAPTER VIII

    "But it was even thou, my companion, my guide,
            and mine own familiar friend."


It was not until Janet was sitting alone in the room she had taken at an
hotel that her dazed mind began to recover itself. It did not recoil in
horror from the remembrance of that grim ascent to the flat. It did not
dwell on Cuckoo's death.

Janet said over and over again to herself, in tearless anguish, "Cuckoo
and Fred! Cuckoo and Fred!"

The shock had succeeded to a great strain, and she succumbed to it.

She sat on her box in the middle of the room hour after hour in the
stifling heat. The afternoon sun beat in on her, but she did not pull
down the blind. There was an armchair in the corner, but Janet
unconsciously clung to the box, as the only familiar object in an
unfamiliar world. Late in the afternoon, when Anne found her, Janet was
still sitting on it, gazing in front of her, with an untasted cup of tea
beside her, which the chambermaid had brought her.

Anne sat down on the box and put her arms round her.

"My dear," she said; "my dear."

And Janet said no word, but hid her convulsed face on Anne's shoulder.

Janet had a somewhat confused remembrance of what happened after that.
Anne ordered, and she obeyed, and there was another journey in a cab,
and presently she was sitting in a cool, white bedroom leading out of
Anne's room; at least Anne said it did. Anne came in and out now and
then, and forced her to drink a cup of milk, and smoothed her hair with
a very tender hand. But Janet made no response.

Anne was of those who do not despise the little things of life. She saw
that Janet was suffering from a great shock, and she sent for the only
child there was in the great, dreary London house--the vulgar kitchen
kitten belonging to the cook.

Anne silently held the warm, sleepy kitten against Janet's cheek. It
purred when it was touched, and then fell asleep, a little ball of
comfort against Janet's neck. The white, over-strained face relaxed.
Anne's gentle touch and presence had not achieved that, but the kitten
did. Two large tears rolled down into its fur.

The peace and comfort and physical well-being of feeling a little life
warm--asleep, pressed close against you, is perhaps not new. Perhaps it
goes back as far as the wilderness, which ceased to be a wilderness when
Eve brought forth her firstborn in it. I think she must have forgotten
all about her lost Garden of Eden when she first heard the breathing of
her sleeping child against her bosom. The brambles and the thorns would
prick very little after that.

Later on, when Anne came in softly, Janet was asleep, with the kitten on
her shoulder.

An hour later Anne came in once more in a wonderful white gown, and
stood a moment watching Janet. Anne was not excited, but a little tumult
was shaking her, as a summer wind stirs and ripples all the surface of a
deep-set pool. She knew that she would meet Stephen to-night at the
dinner-party for which she was already late, and that knowledge, though
long experience had taught her that it was useless to meet him, that he
would certainly not speak to her if he could help it, still the
knowledge that she should see him caused a faint colour to burn in her
pale cheek, a wavering light in her grave eyes, a slight tremor of her
whole delicate being. She looked, as she stood in the half-light, a
woman to whose exquisite hands even a poet might have entrusted his
difficult, double-edged love, much more a hard man of business such as
Stephen.

Janet's face, which had been so wan, was flushed a deep red. She stirred
uneasily, and began speaking hoarsely and incoherently.

"All burnt," she said, over and over again. "All burnt. Nothing left."

Anne laid down the fan she held in her hand, and drew a step nearer.

Janet suddenly sat up, opened her eyes to a horrible width, and stared
at her.

"I have burnt them all, Fred," she said, looking full at Anne.
"Everything. There is nothing left. I promised I would, and I have. But
oh! Fred, how could you do it? How could you, could you, do it?" And she
burst into a low cry of anguish.

Anne took her by the arm.

"You are dreaming, Janet," she said. "Wake up. Look! You are here with
me, Anne--your friend."

Janet winced, and her eyelids quivered. Then she looked round her
bewildered, and said in a more natural voice: "I don't know where I am.
I thought I was at home with Fred."

"I have sent for your brother, and he will come and take you home
to-morrow."

"Something dreadful has happened," said Janet. "It is like a stone on my
head. It crushes me, but I don't know what it is."

Anne looked gravely at Janet, and half unconsciously unclasped the thin
chain, with its heavy diamond pendant, from her neck. Her hand trembled
as she did it. She was not thinking of Janet at that moment. "I shall
not see him to-night," she was saying to herself. And the delicate
colour faded, the hidden tumult died down. She was calm and practical
once more. She wrote a note, sent it down to the waiting carriage to
deliver, got quickly out of the flowing white gown into a
dressing-gown, and returned to Janet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fred came to London the following day. Even his mercurial nature was
distressed at Cuckoo's sudden death, and at Janet's wan, fixed face. But
he felt that if his sister must be ill, she could not be better placed
than in that ducal household. A good many persons among Fred's
acquaintances heard of Janet's illness during the next few days, and of
the kindness of the Duke and Duchess of Quorn.

The Duke and Duchess really were kind. The benevolence of so
down-trodden and helpless a creature as the Duke--who was of no
importance except in affairs of the realm, where he was a power--his
kindness, of course, was of no account. But the Duchess rose to the
occasion. She was one of those small, square, kind-hearted, determined
women, with a long upper lip, whose faces are set on looking upwards,
who can make life vulgarly happy for struggling, middle-class men, if
they are poor enough to give their wives scope for an unceasing energy
on their behalf. She was a _femme incomprise_, misplaced. By birth she
was the equal of her gentle-mannered husband, but she was one of
Nature's vulgarians all the same, and directly the thin gilt of a
certain youthful prettiness wore off--she had been a plump, bustling
little partridge at twenty--her innate commonness came obviously to the
surface; in fact, it became the surface.

    "Age could not wither her, nor custom stale
        Her infinite vulgarity."

There was no need for her to push, but she pushed. She made embarrassing
jokes at the expense of her children. In society she was familiar where
she should have been courteous, openly curious where she should have
ignored, gratuitously confidential where she should have been reticent.
She never realized the impression she made on others. She pursued her
discomfortable objects of pursuit, namely, eligible young men and
endless charities, with the same total disregard of appearances, the
same ungainly agility, which an elderly hen will sometimes suddenly
evince in chase of a butterfly.

Some one had nicknamed her "the steam roller," and the name stuck to
her.

She was--perhaps not unnaturally--annoyed when Anne brought a stranger
back to the house with her in the height of the season, and installed
her in one of the spare rooms, while she herself was absent, talking
loudly at a little musical tea-party. But when she saw Janet next day
sitting in one of Anne's dressing-gowns in Anne's sitting-room, she
instantly took a fancy to her; one of those heavy, prodding fancies
which immediately investigate by questions--the Duchess never hesitated
to ask questions--all the past life of the victim, as regards illnesses,
illnesses of relations, especially if obscure and internal, cause of
death of parents, present financial circumstances, etc. Janet, whose
strong constitution rapidly rallied from the shock that had momentarily
prostrated her, thought these subjects of conversation natural and even
exhilarating. She was accustomed to them in her own society. The first
time the Smiths had called on her at Ivy Cottage, had they not enquired
the exact area of her little drawing-room? She found the society of the
Duchess vaguely delightful and sympathetic, a welcome relief from her
own miserable thoughts. And the Duchess told Janet in return about a
very painful ailment from which the Duke suffered, and which it
distressed him "to hear alluded to," and all about Anne's millionaire.
When, a few days later, Janet was able to travel, the Duchess parted
from her with real regret, and begged her to come and stay with them
again after her marriage.

Anne seemed to have receded from Janet during these last days. Perhaps
the Duchess had elbowed her out. Perhaps Anne divined that Janet had
been told all about her unfortunate love affair. Anne's patient dignity
had a certain remoteness in it. Her mother, whose hitherto thinly-draped
designs on Stephen were now clothed only in the recklessness of
despair, made Anne's life well-nigh unendurable to her at this time, a
constant mortification of her refinement and her pride. She withdrew
into herself. And perhaps also Anne was embarrassed by the knowledge
that she had inadvertently become aware, when Janet's mind had wandered,
of something connected with the burning of papers which Janet was
concealing, and which, as Anne could see, was distressing her more even
than the sudden death of Mrs Brand.

Fred took charge of his sister in an effusive manner when she was well
enough to travel. She was very silent all the way home. She had become
shy with her brother, depressed in his society. She had always known
that evil existed in the world, but she had somehow managed to combine
that knowledge with the comfortable conviction that the few people she
cared for were "different." She observed nothing except what happened
under her actual eyes, and then only if her eyes were forcibly turned in
that direction.

She knew Fred drank only because she had seen him drunk. The shaking
hand, and broken nerve, and weakly-violent temper, the signs of
intemperance when he was sober, were lost upon her. She dismissed them
with the reflection that Fred was like that. Cause and effect did not
exist for Janet. And those for whom they do not exist sustain heavy
shocks.

Cuckoo her friend, and Fred her brother!

The horror of that remembrance never left her during these days. She
could not think about it. She could only silently endure it.

Poor Janet did not realize even now that the sole reason why Cuckoo had
made friends with her was in order to veil the intimacy with her
brother. The hard, would-be smart woman would not, without some strong
reason, have made much of so unfashionable an individual as Janet in the
first instance, though there was no doubt that in the end Cuckoo had
grown fond of Janet for her own sake. And her genuine liking for the
sister had survived the rupture with the brother.

The dog-cart was waiting for Fred and Janet at Mudbury, and, as they
drove in the dusk through the tranquil country lanes, Janet drew a long
breath.

"You must not take on about Mrs Brand's death too much," said Fred at
last, who had also been restlessly silent for the greater part of the
journey.

Janet did not answer.

"We must all die some day," continued Fred. "It's the common lot. I did
not like Mrs Brand as much as you did, Janet. She was not my sort--but
still--when I heard the news----"

"I loved her," said Janet hoarsely. "I would have done anything for
her."

"You must cheer up," said Fred, "and try and look at the bright side.
That was what the Duke was saying only yesterday when I called to thank
him. He was in such a hurry that he hardly had a moment to spare, but I
took a great fancy to him. No airs and soft sawder, and a perfect
gentleman. I shall call again when next I am in London. I shan't forget
their kindness to you."

Again no answer.

"It is your duty to cheer up," continued Fred. "George is coming over to
see you to-morrow morning."

"I think, don't you think, Fred," said Janet suddenly, "that George is
good--really good, I mean?"

"He is all right," said Fred. "Not exactly open-handed. You must lay
your account for that, Janet. You'll find him a bit of a screw, or I'm
much mistaken."

Janet was too dazed to realize what Fred's discovery of George's
meanness betokened.

Silence again.

They were nearing home. The lights of Ivy Cottage twinkled through the
violet dusk. Janet looked at them without seeing them.

Cuckoo her friend, and Fred her brother!

"I suppose, Janet," said Fred suddenly, "you were not able to ask Mrs
Brand--no--of course not----But perhaps you were able to put in a word
for me to Brand about that--about waiting for his money?"

"I never said anything to either of them," said Janet. "I never thought
of it again. I forgot all about it."



CHAPTER IX

    "Yea, each with the other will lose and win,
    Till the very Sides of the Grave fall in."

                                                 --W. E. HENLEY.


It was a summer night, hot and still, six weeks later, towards the end
of July. Through the open windows of a house in Hamilton Gardens a
divine voice came out into the listening night:--

    "She comes not when Noon is on the roses--
          Too bright is day.
    She comes not to the Soul till it reposes
          From work and play.
    But when Night is on the hills, and the great Voices
          Roll in from Sea,
    By starlight and by candlelight and dreamlight
          She comes to me."

Stephen sat alone in Hamilton Gardens, a massive figure under a Chinese
lantern, which threw an unbecoming light on his grim face and heavy
brows, and laid on the grass a grotesque boulder of shadow of the great
capitalist.

I do not know what he was thinking about, as he sat listening to the
song, biting what could only by courtesy be entitled his little finger.
Was he undergoing a passing twinge of poetry? Did money occupy his
thoughts?

His impassive face betrayed nothing. When did it ever betray anything?

He was not left long alone. Figures were pacing in the half-lit gardens,
two and two.

Prose rushed in upon him in the shape of a small square body,
upholstered in grey satin, which trundled its way resolutely towards
him.

The Duchess feared neither God nor man, but if fear had been possible to
her, it would have been for that dignified, yet elusive, personage, whom
she panted to call her son-in-law.

She sat down by him with anxiety and determination in her eyes.

"By starlight, and by candlelight, and dreamlight she comes to me," said
Stephen to himself, with a sardonic smile. "Also by daylight, and when
noon is on the roses, and when I am at work and at play. In short, she
always comes."

"What a perfect night!" said the Duchess.

"Perfect."

"And that song--how beautiful!"

"Beautiful."

"I did not know you cared for poetry?"

"I don't."

Stephen added to other remarkable qualities that of an able and
self-possessed liar. In business he was considered straight even by
gentlemen, foolishly strait-laced by men of business. But to certain
persons, and the Duchess was one of them, he never spoke the truth. He
was wont to say that any lies he told he did not intend to account for,
in this world or the next; and that the bill, if there was one, would
never be sent in to him. He certainly had the courage of his
convictions.

"I want you to think twice of the disappointment you have given us all
by not coming to us in Scotland this autumn. The Duke was really quite
put out. He had so reckoned on your coming."

Stephen did not answer. He had a colossal power of silence when it
suited him. He had liked the Duke for several years before he had made
the acquaintance of his family. The two men had met frequently on
business, understood each other, and had almost reached friendship when
the Duchess intervened, to ply her "savage trade." Since then a shade of
distant politeness had tinged the Duke's manner towards Stephen, and the
self-made man, sensitive to anything that resembled a sense of
difference of class, instinctively drew away from him. Yet, if Stephen
had but known it, the change in the Duke's manner was only owing to the
unformulated suspicion that the father sometimes feels for the man,
however eligible, whom he suspects of filching from him his favourite
daughter.

"We are _all_ disappointed," continued the Duchess, and her power of
hitting on the raw did not fail her, for her victim winced--not
perceptibly. She went on: "Do think of it again, Mr Vanbrunt. If you
could see Larinnen in autumn--the autumn tints, you know--and no party.
Just ourselves. And I am sure from your face you are a lover of Nature."

"I hate Nature," said Stephen. "It bores me. I am very easily bored."

He was longing to get away from London, to steep his soul in the
sympathy of certain solitary woodland places he knew of, shy as himself;
where perhaps the strain on his aching spirit might relax somewhat,
where he could lie in the shade for hours, and listen to running water,
and forget that he was a plain, middle-aged millionaire, whom a
brilliant, exquisite creature could not love for himself.

"When I said no party I did not mean quite alone," said the Duchess,
breathing heavily, for a frontal attack is generally also an uphill one.
"A few cheerful friends. How right you are! One does not see enough of
one's real friends. Anne often says that. She said to me only yesterday,
when we were talking of you----"

The two liars were interrupted by the advance towards them of Anne and
De Rivaz. They came silently across the shadowy grass, into the little
ring of light thrown by the Chinese lantern.

De Rivaz was evidently excited. His worn, cynical face looked boyish in
the garish light.

"Duchess," he said, "I have only just heard by chance from Lady Anne,
that the unknown divinity whom I am turning heaven and earth to find, in
order that I may paint her, has actually been staying under your roof,
and that you intend to ask her again."

"Mr De Rivaz means Janet Black," said Anne to her mother.

"I implore you to ask me to meet her," said the painter.

"But she is just going to be married," said the Duchess, with genuine
regret. Here was an opportunity lost.

"I know it; it breaks my heart to know it," said De Rivaz. "But married
or not, maid, wife, or widow, I must paint her. Give me the chance of
making her acquaintance."

"I will do what I can," said the Duchess, gently tilting forward her
square person on to its flat white satin feet, and looking with
calculating approval at her daughter. Surely Anne had never looked so
lovely as at this obviously propitious moment.

"Take a turn with me, young man," continued the Duchess, "and I will see
what I can do. And Anne," she said with a backward glance at her
daughter, "try and persuade Mr Vanbrunt to come to us in September."

"I will do my best," said Anne, and she sat down on the bench.

Stephen, who had risen when she joined them, looked at her with shy,
angry admiration.

It was a new departure for Anne so openly to abet her mother, and it
wounded him.

"Won't you sit down again?" said Anne, meeting his eyes firmly. "I wish
to speak to you."

He sat down awkwardly. He was always awkward in her presence. Perhaps it
was only a moment, but it seemed to him an hour while she kept silence.

The same voice sang across the starlit dark:

    "Some souls have quickened, eye to eye,
    And heart to heart, and hand in hand;
    The swift fire leaps, and instantly
            They understand."

Neither heard it. Nearer than the song, close between them some mighty
enfolding presence seemed to have withdrawn them into itself. There is a
moment when Love leaves the two hearts in which He dwells, and stands
between them revealed.

So far it has been man and woman and Love--three persons met painfully
together, who cannot walk together, not being agreed. But the hour comes
when in awe the man and woman perceive, what was always so from the
beginning, that they twain are but one being, one foolish creature who,
in a great blindness, thought it was two, mistook itself for two.

Perhaps that moment of discovery of our real identity in another is the
first lowest rung of the steep ladder of love. Does God, who flung down
to us that nearest empty highway to Himself, does He wonder why so few
travellers come up by it; why we go wearily round by such bitter
sin-bogged, sorrow-smirched by-paths, to reach Him at last?

There may be much love without that sense of oneness, but when it comes
it can only come to two, it can only be born of a mutual love. Neither
can feel it without the other. Anne knew that. By her love for him she
knew he loved her. He was slower, more obtuse; yet even he, with his
limited perceptions and calculating mind, even he nearly believed,
nearly had faith, nearly asked her if she could love him.

But the old self came to his perdition, the strong, shrewd, iron-willed
self that had made him what he was, that had taught him to trust few, to
follow his own judgment, that in his strenuous life had furnished him
with certain dogged conventional ready-made convictions regarding women.
Men he could judge, and did judge. He knew who would cheat him, who
would fail him at a pinch, whom he could rely on. But of women he knew
little. He regarded them as apart from himself, and did not judge them
individually, but collectively. He knew how one of Anne's sisters,
possibly more than one of them, had been coerced into marriage. He did
not see that Anne belonged to a different class of being. His
shrewdness, his bitter knowledge of the seamy side of a society to which
he did not naturally belong, its uncouth passion for money, blinded him.

He had become very pale while he sat by her, while poor Anne vainly
racked her brain to remember what it was she wished to say to him. The
overwhelming impulse to speak, to have it out with her, the thirst for
her love was upon him. When was it not upon him? He looked at her
fixedly, and his heart sank. How could she love him--she in her
wand-like delicacy and ethereal beauty? She was not of his world, she
was not made of the same clay. No star seemed so remote as this still
dark-eyed woman beside him. How could she love him? No, the thing was
impossible.

A very ugly emotion laid violent momentary hold on him. Let him take her
whether she cared for him or not. If money could buy her, let him buy
her.

He glanced sidelong at her, and then moved nearer to her. She turned
her head, and looked full at him. She had no fear of him. The fierce,
harsh face did not daunt her. She understood him, his stubborn humility,
his blind love, this momentary hideous lapse, and knew that it was
momentary.

"Lady Anne," he said hoarsely, "will you marry me?"

It had come at last, the word her heart had ached for so long. She did
not think. She did not hesitate. She, who had so often been troubled by
the mere sight of him across a room, was calm now. She looked at him
with a certain gentle scorn.

"No, thank you," she said.

"I love you," he said, taking her hand. "I have long loved you."

It was his hand that trembled. Hers was steady as she withdrew it.

"I know," she said.

"Then could not you think of me? I implore you to marry me."

"You are speaking on impulse. We have hardly exchanged a word with each
other for the last three months. You had no intention of asking me to
marry you when you came here this evening."

"I don't care what intentions I may or may not have had," said Stephen,
his temper, always quick, rising at her self-possession. "I mean what I
say now, and I have meant it ever since I first saw you."

"Do you think I love you?"

"I love you enough for both," he said with passion. "You are in my heart
and my brain, and I can't tear you out. I can't live without you."

"In old days, when you were not quite so rich, and not quite so
worldly-wise, did you not sometimes hope to marry for love?"

"I hope to marry for love now. Do you doubt that I love you?"

"No, I don't. But have you never hoped to marry a woman who would care
for you as much as you did for her?"

"I can't expect that," said the millionaire. "I don't expect it. I'm
not--I'm not the kind of man whom women easily love."

"No," said Anne, "you're not."

"But when I care, I care with my whole heart. Will you think this over,
and give me an answer to-morrow?"

"I have already answered you."

"I beg you to reconsider it."

"Why should I reconsider it?"

"I would try to make you happy. Let me prove my devotion to you."

She looked long at him, and she saw, without the possibility of
deceiving herself, that if she told him she loved him he would not
believe it. It was the conventional answer when a millionaire offers
marriage, and he had a rooted belief in the conventional. After marriage
it would be the same. He would think duty prompted it, her kiss, her
caress. Oh! suffocating thought. She would be farther from him than ever
as his wife.

"I think we should get on together," he faltered, her refusal reaching
him gradually, like a cold tide rising round him. "I had ventured to
hope that you did not dislike me."

"I do not dislike you," said Anne deliberately. "You are quite right.
The thing I dislike is a mercenary marriage."

He became ashen white. He rose slowly to his feet, and drawing near to
her looked steadily at her, lightning in his eyes.

"Do I deserve that insult?" he said, his voice hardly human in its
suppressed rage.

He looked formidable in the uncertain light.

She confronted him unflinching.

"Yes," she said, "you do. You calmly offer me marriage while you are
firmly convinced that I don't care for you, and you are surprised--you
actually dare to be surprised--when I refuse you. Those who offer
insults must accept them."

"I intended none, as you well know," he said, drawing back a step. He
felt his strength in him, but this slight woman, whom he could break
with one hand, was stronger than he.

"Why should I marry you if I don't love you?" she went on. "Why, of
course because you are Mr Vanbrunt, the greatest millionaire in
England. Your choice has fallen on me. Let me accept with gratitude my
brilliant fate, and if I don't actually dislike you, so much the better
for both of us."

Stephen continued to look hard at her, but he said nothing. Her beauty
astonished him.

"And what do we both lose," said Anne, "in such a marriage--you as well
as I? Is it not the _one_ chance, the one hope of a mutual love? Is it
so small a thing in your eyes that you can cast the possibility from you
of a love that will meet yours and not endure it, the possibility of a
woman somewhere, who might be found for diligent seeking, who might walk
into your life without seeking, who would love you as much as"--Anne's
voice shook--"perhaps even more than you love her;--to whom you--you
yourself--stern and grim as you seem to many--might be the whole world?
Have you always been so busy making this dreadful money, which buys so
much, that you have forgotten the things that money can't buy? No; no.
Do not let us lock each other out from the only thing worth having in
this hard world. We should be companions in misfortune."

She held out her hands to him with a sudden beautiful gesture, and
smiled at him through her tears.

He took her hands in his large grasp, and in his small quick eyes there
were tears too.

"We have both something to forgive each other," she said, trembling like
a reed. "I have spoken harshly, and you unwisely. But the day will come
when you will be grateful to me that I did not shut you out from the
only love that could make you, of all men, really happy--the love that
is returned."

He kissed each hand gently, and released them. He could not speak.

She went swiftly from him through the trees.

"May God bless her," said Stephen. "May God in heaven bless her."



CHAPTER X

    "Thine were the weak, slight hands
    That might have taken this strong soul, and bent
    Its stubborn substance to thy soft intent."

                                               --WILLIAM WATSON.


It was hard on Stephen that when he walked into a certain drawing-room
the following evening he should find Anne there. It was doubly hard that
he should have to take her in to dinner. Yet so it was. There ought to
have been a decent interval before their next meeting. Some one had
arranged tactlessly, without any sense of proportion. Though he had not
slept since she left him in the garden, still it seemed only a moment
ago, and that she was back beside him in an instant, without giving him
time to draw breath.

She met him as she always met him, with the faint enigmatical smile,
with the touch of gentle respect never absent from her manner to him,
except for one moment last night. He needed it. He had fallen in his
own estimation during that sleepless night. He saw the sudden impulse
that had goaded him into an offer of marriage--the kind of offer that
how many men make in good faith--in its native brutality--as he knew she
had seen it. When he first perceived her in the dimly-lighted room, and
he was aware of her presence before he saw her, he felt he could not go
towards her, as a man may feel that he cannot go home. Home for Stephen
was wherever Anne was, even if the door were barred against him.

But after a few minutes he screwed his "courage to the sticking-place,"
and went up to her.

"I am to take you in to dinner," he said. "It is your misfortune, but
not my fault."

"I am glad," she said. "I came to you last night because I had something
urgent to say to you. I shall have an opportunity of saying it now."

The constraint and awkwardness he had of late felt in her presence fell
from him. It seemed as if they had gone back by some welcome short cut
to the simple intercourse of the halcyon days when they had first met.

He cursed himself for his mole-like obtuseness in having thought last
night that she was playing into her mother's hands. When had she ever
done so? Why had he suspected her?

In the meanwhile the world was

              "At rest with will
    And leisure to be fair."

The Duchess was not there, suddenly and mercifully laid low by that
occasional friend of society--influenza. The Duke, gay and _débonnaire_
in her absence, was beaming on his hostess whom he was to take into
dinner, and to whom he was sentimentally linked by a mild flirtation in
a past decade, a flirtation so mild that it had no real existence,
except in the imaginative remembrance of both.

Presently Anne and Stephen were walking in to dinner together. It was a
large party, and they sat together at the end of the table.

Anne did not wait this time. She began to talk at once.

"I am anxious about a friend of mine," she said, "who is, I am afraid,
becoming entangled in a far greater difficulty than she is aware. But it
is a long story. Do you mind long stories?"

"No."

Stephen turned towards her, becoming a solid block of attention.

"My friend is a Miss Black, a very beautiful woman, whom Mr De Rivaz is
dying to paint. You may recollect having seen her where he saw her
first, the day after the fire in Lowndes Mansions, in the burnt-out flat
of that unfortunate Mrs Brand."

"I saw her. I remember her perfectly. I spoke to her about the dangerous
state of the passages. I thought her the most beautiful creature, bar
none, I had ever seen."

Stephen pulled himself up. He knew it was most impolitic to praise one
woman to another. They did not like it. It was against the code. He
must be more careful, or he should offend her again.

Anne looked at him very pleasantly. Her eyes were good to meet. She was
evidently not offended. Dear me! Mysterious creatures, women! It struck
him, not for the first time, that Anne was an exception to the whole of
her sex.

"Isn't she beautiful!" said the exception warmly. "But I am afraid she
is not quite as wise as she is beautiful. She is in a great difficulty."

"What about?"

"It seems she burned something when she was alone in the flat. At least
she is accused by Mr Brand of burning something. A very valuable
paper--an I O U for a large sum which her brother owed Mr Brand, and
which became due a month ago--is missing."

"She did burn something," said Stephen. "I was on the floor above at the
time, and smelt smoke, and came down, and De Rivaz told me it was
nothing; only the divinity burning some papers. He was alarmed, and
left his sketch to find where the smoke came from. He saw her burn
them."

"He said that to you," said Anne, "but to no one else. I talked over the
matter with him last night, and directly he heard Miss Black was in
trouble, he assured me that he had thoughtlessly burnt a sheet of
drawing-paper himself. That was what caused the smoke. And he said he
would tell Mr Brand so."

"H'm! Brand is not made up of credulity."

"No. He seems convinced Miss Black destroyed that paper."

"And does she deny it?"

"Of course."

"She can't deny that she burned something."

"Yes, she does. She sticks to it that she burned nothing."

"Then she must be a fool, because three of us know she did. De Rivaz
knows it, I know it, and I see you know it."

"And it turns out the lift man knows it; at least he was reprimanded for
being on the upper floors without leave, and he said he only went there
because there was a smoke, and he was anxious; and the smoke came from
the Brands' sitting-room, which Miss Black left as he came up. He told
Mr Brand this, who put what he thought was two and two together. Fred
Black, it seems, would have been ruined if Mr Brand had enforced
payment, and he believes Miss Black got hold of the paper at her
brother's instigation and destroyed it."

"Well! I suppose she did," said Stephen.

"If you knew her you would know that that is impossible."

Stephen looked incredulous.

"I've known a good many unlikely things happen about money," he said
slowly. "I daresay she did it to save her brother."

"She did not do it," said Anne.

"If she didn't, why doesn't she say what she did burn, and why? What's
the use of sticking to it that she burned nothing when Brand knows
that's a lie? A lie is a deadly stupid thing unless it's uncommonly well
done."

"She has had very little practice in lying. I fancy this is her first."

"The only possible course left for her to take is to admit that she
burned something, and to say what it was. Why doesn't she see that?"

"Because she is a stupid woman, and she does not see the consequences of
her insane denial, and the conclusions that must inevitably be drawn
from it. When the room was examined, ashes were found in the grate that
had been paper."

"How does she explain that?"

"She does not explain it. She explains nothing. She just sets her teeth
and repeats her wretched formula that she burned nothing."

"What took her up to the flat at all then, just when her friend was
dying?"

"She says Mrs Brand sent her up to see if her portrait was safe. But Mr
Brand does not believe that either, as he says he had already told his
wife that it was uninjured."

"This Miss Black is a strong liar," said Stephen. "I should not have
guessed it from her face. She looked as straight and innocent as a
child; but one never can tell."

"I imagine I do not look like a liar. But would you say if I also were
accused of lying that you never can tell?"

Stephen was taken aback. He bit his little finger and frowned at the
wonderful roses in front of him.

"I know you speak the truth," he said, "because you have spoken it to
me. I should believe what you said--always--under any circumstances."

"You believe in my truthfulness from experience. Do you never believe by
intuition?"

"Not often."

"When first I saw Miss Black I perceived that she was a perfectly
honest, upright woman. I did not wait till she had given me any proof of
it. I saw it."

"I certainly thought the same. To say the truth, I am surprised at her
duplicity."

"In my case you judged by experience. In her case I want you to go by
intuition, by your first impression, which I know is the true one. I
would stake my life upon it."

"I don't see how my intuitions would help her."

"Oh! yes, they will. Mr Brand is aware from the lift man, who saw you,
that you were on the spot directly before he smelt smoke. Mr Brand will
probably write to you."

"He has written already. He has asked me to see him on business
to-morrow morning. He does not say what business."

"He is certain to try and find out from you what Miss Black was doing
when you saw her in his flat. It seems you and Mr De Rivaz both left
your cards on the table--why I can't think--but it shows you were both
there. He came up himself next day and found them."

"We both sent messages to Brand by Miss Black."

"It seems she never gave them. She says now she forgot all about them."

Stephen shook his head.

"If Brand comes I shall be obliged to tell him the truth," he said.

"That was why I was so bent on seeing you. I am anxious you _should_
tell him the truth."

Stephen looked steadily at her.

"What truth?" he said.

"Whatever you consider will disabuse his mind of the suspicion that she
burned her brother's I O U. Mr De Rivaz' view of the truth is that the
smoke came from a burnt sheet of his own drawing-paper."

"I am not accountable for De Rivaz. He can invent what he likes. That is
hardly my line."

He coloured darkly. It was incredible to him that Anne could be goading
him to support her friend's fabric of lies by another lie. He would not
do it, come what might. But he felt that Fate was hard on him. He would
have done almost anything at that moment to please her. But a lie--no.

"I fear your line would naturally be to tell the blackest lie that has
ever been told yet, by repeating the damaging facts exactly as they are.
If you do--to a man like him--not only will you help to ruin Miss Black,
but you will give weight to this frightful falsehood which is being
circulated against her. And if you, by your near-sighted truthfulness,
give weight to a lie, it is just the same as telling one. No, I think
it's worse."

Stephen smiled grimly. This was straight talk. Plain speaking always
appealed to him even when, as now, it was at his expense.

"Are you certain that your friend did not burn her brother's I O U?" he
said after a pause.

"I am absolutely certain. Remember her face. Now, Mr Vanbrunt, think.
Don't confuse your mind with ideas of what women generally are. Think of
her. Are not you certain too?"

"Yes," he said slowly, "I am. She is concealing something. She has done
some folly, and is bolstering it up by a stupid lie. But the other,
that's swindling--no, she did not do that."

"Then help the side of truth," said Anne. "My own conviction is that she
burned something compromising Mrs Brand, at Mrs Brand's dying request,
under an oath of secrecy. And that is why her mouth is shut. But this is
only a supposition. I ask you not to repeat it. I only mention it
because you are so----" she shot a glance at him unlike any, in its
gentle raillery, that had fallen to his lot for many a long day--"so
stubborn."

He was unreasonably pleased.

"I should still be in a dry goods warehouse in Hull if I had not been
what you call stubborn," he said, smiling at her.

"May I ask you a small favour for myself?" she said. "So far I have only
asked for my friend."

"It seems hardly necessary to ask it. Only mention it."

"If my mother talks to you, and she talks to you a great deal, do not
mention to her our--our conversation of last night. It would be kinder
to me."

Stephen bowed gravely. He was surprised. It had not struck him that Anne
had not told her mother. A brand-new idea occurred to him, namely that
Anne and her mother were not in each other's confidence. H'm! That
luminous idea required further thought.

"And now," said Anne, "having got out of you all I want, I will
immediately desert you for my other neighbour." And she spoke no more to
Stephen that night.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My dear," said the Duke of Quorn to Anne as they drove home, "it
appeared to me that you and Vanbrunt were on uncommonly good terms
to-night. Is there any understanding between you?"

"I think he is beginning to have a kind of glimmering of one."

"Really! Understandings don't as a rule lead to marriage.
Misunderstandings generally bring about those painful dislocations of
life. But the idea struck me this evening--I hope needlessly--that I
might after all have to take that richly gilt personage to my bosom as
my son-in-law."

"Mr Vanbrunt asked me to marry him yesterday, and I refused him."

The Duke experienced a slight shock, tinged with relief.

"Does your mother know?" he said at last in an awed voice.

"Need you ask?"

"Well, if she ever finds out, for goodness' sake let her inform me of
the fact. Don't give me away, Anne, by letting out that I knew at the
time. If she thought I was an accomplice of the crime--your
refusal--really if she once got that idea into her head---- But next
time she tackles Vanbrunt, perhaps he will tell her himself. Oh,
heavens!"

"I asked him not to mention it to her."

The Duke sighed.

"And so he really did propose at last. I thought your mother had choked
him off. Most men would have been. Well, Anne, I'm glad you did not
accept him. I don't hold with mixed marriages. In these days people talk
as if class were nothing, and the fact of being well-born of no account.
And, of course, it's a subject one can't discuss, because certain
things, if put into words, sound snobbish at once. But they are true all
the same. The middle classes have got it screwed into their cultivated
heads that education levels class differences. It doesn't, but one can't
say so. Not that Vanbrunt is educated, as I once told him."

"Oh! come, father. I am sure you did not."

"You are right, my dear. I did not. He said himself one day, in a moment
of expansion, that he regretted that he had never had the chance of
going to a public school, or the University, and I said the sort of life
he had led was an education of a high order. So it is. That man has
lived. Really when I come to think of it, I almost--no, I don't--Ahem!
Associate freely with all classes, but marry in your own. That is what
I say when no one is listening. By no one I mean of course yourself, my
dear."

Anne was silent. There had been days when she had felt that difference
keenly though silently. Those days were past.

"Vanbrunt is a Yorkshire dalesman, with Dutch trading blood in him. It
is extraordinary how Dutch the people look near Goole and Hull. I shall
like him better now. I always have liked him till--the last few months.
You would never say Vanbrunt was a gentleman, but you would never say he
wasn't. He seems apart from all class. There is no hall-mark upon him.
He is himself. So you would not have him, my little Anne? That's over.
It's the very devil to be refused, I can tell you. I was refused once.
It was some time ago, as you may imagine, but--I have not forgotten it.
I learned what London looks like in the dawn, after walking the streets
all night. So it's his turn to wear out the pavement now, is it! Poor
man! He'll take it hard in a bottled-up way. When next I see him I
shall say: 'Aha! money can't buy everything, Vanbrunt.'"

"Oh! no, father. You won't be so brutal."

"No, my dear, I daresay I shall not. I shall pretend not to know. Really
I have a sort of regard for him. Poor Vanbrunt!"



CHAPTER XI

    "C'est son ignorance qui fixe son malheur."

                                                  --MAETERLINCK.


Did you ever, as a child, see ink made? Did you ever watch, with
wondering intentness, the mixing of one little bottle of colourless
fluid--which you imagined to be pure water--with another equally
colourless? No change. Then at last, into the cup of clear water, the
omnipotent parent hand pours out of another tiny phial two or three
crystal drops.

The latent ink rushes into being at the contact of those few drops. The
whole cup is black with it, transfused with impenetrable darkness,
terrible to look upon.

We are awed, partly owing to the exceeding glory of the magician with
the Vandyke hand, who knows everything, and who can work miracles at
will, and partly because we did not see the change coming. We were
warned that it would come by that voice of incarnate wisdom. We were all
eyes. But it was there before we knew. Some of us, as older children,
watch with our ignorant eyes the mysterious alchemy in our little cup of
life. We are warned, but we see not. We somehow miss the sign. The water
is clear, quite clear. Something more is coming, straight from the same
Hand. In a moment all is darkness.

A wiser woman than Janet would perhaps have known, would at any rate
have feared, that a certain small cloud on her horizon, no larger than a
man's hand, meant a great storm. But until it broke she did not realize
that that ever-increasing ominous pageant had any connection with the
hurricane that at last fell upon her: just as some of us see the rosary
of life only as separate beads, not noticing the divine constraining
thread, and are taken by surprise when we come to the cross.

       *       *       *       *       *

The cloud first showed itself, or rather Janet first caught sight of it,
on a hot evening towards the end of June, when Fred returned from
London, whither he had been summoned by Mr Brand, a fortnight after his
wife's death.

The days which had passed since Cuckoo's death had not had power to numb
the pain at Janet's heart. The shock had only so far had the effect of
shifting the furniture of her mind into unfamiliar, jostling positions.
She did not know where to put her hand on anything, like a woman who
enters her familiar room after an earthquake, and finds the contents
still there, but all huddled together or thrown asunder.

Her deep affection for her brother, and her friend Cuckoo, were wrenched
out of place, leaving horrible gaps. She had always felt a vague
repulsion to Monkey Brand, with his dyed hair and habit of staring too
hard at her. The repulsion towards him had shifted, and had crashed up
against her love for Fred, and Monkey Brand had acquired a kind of
dignity, even radiance. Even her love for George had altered in the
general dislocation. Its halo had been jerked off. Who was true? Who was
good? She looked at him wistfully, and with a certain diffidence. She
felt a new tenderness for him. George had noticed the change in her
manner towards him since her return from London, and, not being an
expert diver into the recesses of human nature, he had at first
anxiously inquired whether she still loved him the same. Janet looked
slowly into her own heart before she made reply. Then she turned her
grave gaze upon him. "More," she said, as every woman, whose love is
acquainted with grief must answer if she speaks the truth.

It was nearly dark when Janet caught the sounds of Fred's dog-cart,
driving swiftly along the lanes, too swiftly considering the darkness.
He drove straight to the stables, and then came out into the garden,
where she was walking up and down waiting for him. It was such a small
garden, merely a strip out of the field in front of the house, that he
could not miss her.

He came quickly towards her, and even in the starlight she saw how white
his face was. Her heart sank. She knew Fred had gone to London in
compliance with a request from Mr Brand. Had Mr Brand refused to renew
his bond, or to wait?

Fred took her suddenly in his arms, and held her closely to him. He was
trembling with emotion. His tears fell upon her face. She could feel the
violent beating of his heart. She could not speak. She was terrified.
She had never known him like this.

"You have saved me," he stammered, kissing her hair and forehead. "Oh!
my God! Janet, I will never forget this, never while I live. I was
ruined, and you have saved me."

She did not understand. She led him to the garden seat, and they sat
down together. She thought he had been drinking. He generally cried when
he was drunk. But she saw in the next moment that he was sober.

"Will Mr Brand renew?" she said, though she knew he would not. Monkey
Brand never renewed.

Fred laughed. It was the nervous laugh of a shallow nature, after a
hairbreadth escape.

"Brand will not renew, and he will not wait," he said. "You know that as
well as I do. Janet, I misjudged you. All these awful days, while I have
been expecting the blow to fall--it meant ruin, sheer ruin, for you as
well as me--all this time I thought you did not care what became of me.
You seemed so different lately, so cold."

"I did care."

"I know. I know now. You are a brave woman. It was the only thing to do.
If you had not burnt it he would have foreclosed. And of course I shall
pay him back when I can. I said so. He knows I'm a gentleman. He has my
word for it. A gentleman's word is as good as his bond. I shall repay
him gradually."

"I don't understand," said Janet, who felt as if a cold hand had been
laid upon her heart.

"Oh! You can speak freely to me. And to think of your keeping silence
all this time--even to me. You always were one to keep things to
yourself, but you might have just given me a hint. My I O U is not
forthcoming, and Brand as good as knows you burned it. He knows you went
up to his flat and burned something when his wife was dying. He wasn't
exactly angry; he was too far gone for that, as if he couldn't care for
anything one way or the other. He looks ten years older. But, of course,
he's a business man, whether his wife is alive or dead, and I could see
he was forcing himself to attend to business to keep himself from
thinking. He said very little. He was very distant. Infernally distant
he was. He is no gentleman, and he doesn't understand the feelings of
one. If it hadn't been that he was in trouble, and well--for the fact
that I had borrowed money of him--I would not have stood it for a
moment. I'm not going to allow any cad to hector over me, be he who he
may. He mentioned the facts. He said he had always had a high opinion of
you, and that he should come down and see you on the subject next week.
You must think what to say, Janet."

"I never burned your I O U," said Janet in a whisper, becoming cold all
over. It was a revelation to her that Fred could imagine she was capable
of such a dishonourable action.

"Why, Fred," she said, deeply wounded, "you know I could not do such a
thing. It would be the same as stealing."

"No, it wouldn't," said Fred, with instant irritation, "because you know
I should pay him back. And so I will--only I can't at present. And, of
course, you knew too, you must have guessed, that your two thousand----
And as you are going to be married, that is important too. I should have
been ruined, sold up, if that I O U had turned up, and you yourself
would have been in a fix. You knew that when you got hold of it and
burned it. Come, Janet, you can own to me you burned it--between
ourselves."

"I burnt nothing."

Fred peered at her open-mouthed.

"Janet, that's too thin. You must go one better than that when Brand
comes. He knows you burnt something when you went up to his flat."

"I burnt nothing," said Janet again. It was too dark to see her face.

Did she realise that the first heavy drops were falling round her of the
storm that was to wreck so much?

"Well," said Fred, after a pause, "I take my cue from you. You burnt
nothing then. I don't see how you are going to work it, but that's your
affair.... But oh, Janet, if that cursed paper had remained! If you had
known what I've been going through since you came home a fortnight ago,
when my last shred of hope left me when I found you had not spoken to
the Brands. It wasn't only the money--that was bad enough--it wasn't
only that--but----"

And Fred actually broke down, and sobbed with his head in his hands.
Presently, when he recovered himself, he told her, in stammering,
difficult words, that he had something on his conscience, that his life
had not been what it should have been, but that a year ago he had come
to a turning-point; he had met some one--even his light voice had a
graver ring in it--some one who had made him feel how--in short, he had
fallen in love, with a woman like herself, like his dear Janet--good and
innocent, a snowflake; and for a long time he feared she could never
think of him, but how at last she seemed less indifferent, but how her
father was a strict man and averse to him from the first. And if he had
been sold up, all hope--what little hope there was--would have been
gone.

"But, please God, now," said Fred, "I will make a fresh start. I've had
a shock lately, Janet. I did not talk about it, but I've had a shock.
I've thought of a good many things. I mean to turn round and do better
in future. There are things I've done, that lots of men do and think
nothing of them, that I won't do again. I mean to try from this day
forward to be worthy of her, to put the past behind me; and if I ever do
win her--if she'll take me in the end--I shall not forget, Janet, that I
owe it to you."

He kissed her again with tears.

She was too much overcome to speak. Cuckoo had repented, and now Fred
was sorry too. It was the first drop of healing balm which had fallen on
that deep wound which Cuckoo's dying voice had inflicted how many
endless days ago.

"It is Venetia Ford," said Fred shyly, but not without triumph. "You
remember her? She is Archdeacon Ford's eldest daughter."

A recollection rose before Janet's mind of the eldest Miss Ford, with
the pretty pink and white empty face, and the demure, if slightly
supercilious, manner that befits one conscious of being an Archdeacon's
daughter. Janet knew her slightly, and admired her much. The eldest Miss
Ford's conversation was always markedly suitable. Her sense of propriety
was only equalled by her desire to impart information. Her slightly
clerical manner resembled the full-blown Archidiaconal deportment of her
parent, as home-made marmalade resembles an orange. Archdeacon Ford was
a pompous, much-respected prelate, with private means. Mrs Smith was
distantly related to the Fords, and very proud of the connection. She
seldom alluded to the eldest Miss Ford without remarking that Venetia
was her ideal of what a perfect lady should be.

"O Fred, I am so glad!" said Janet, momentarily forgetting everything
else in her rejoicing that Fred should have attached himself seriously
at last, and to a woman for whom she felt respectful admiration, who
had always treated herself with the cold civility that was, in Janet's
eyes, the hall-mark of social and mental superiority.

"And does she like you?" she said, with pride. She could not see Fred
any longer, but her mind's eye saw him--handsome, gay, irresistible. Of
course she adored him.

"Sometimes I think she does," said Fred, "and sometimes I'm afraid she
doesn't." And he expounded at great length, garnished with abundant
detail, his various meetings with her; how on one occasion she had
hardly looked at him; on another she had spoken to him of Browning--that
was the time when he had bought Browning's works; on a third, how there
had been another man there--a curate--a beast, but thinking a lot of
himself; on a fourth she had said that balls--the Mudbury ball where he
had danced with her--were an innocent form of recreation, etc., etc.

Janet drank in every word. It reminded her, she said, of "her and
George." Indeed, there were many salient points of resemblance between
the two courtships. The brother and sister sat long together hand in
hand in the soft summer night. Only when she got up at last did the
thought of the missing I O U return to Janet.

"O Fred!" she said, as they walked towards the house, "supposing after
all your I O U turns up? How dreadful! What would happen?"

"It won't turn up," said Fred, with a laugh.

When Janet was alone in her room she remembered again, with pained
bewilderment, that Fred had actually believed that she had destroyed
that missing paper. It did not distress her that Monkey Brand evidently
believed the same. She would, of course, tell him that he was mistaken.
_But Fred!_ He ought to have known better. Her thoughts returned
speedily to her brother's future. He would settle down now, and be a
good man, and marry the eldest Miss Ford. She felt happier about him
than she had done since Cuckoo's death. Her constant prayer, that he
might repent and lead a new life, had evidently been heard.

As she closed her eyes she said to herself, "I daresay Fred and Venetia
will be married the same day as George and me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Monkey Brand appeared at Ivy Cottage a few days later. Janet was in the
field with Fred, taking the setter puppies for a run, when the "Trefusis
Arms" dog-cart from Mudbury drove up, and Nemesis, in the shape of
Monkey Brand, got slowly down from it, wrong leg first. Even in the
extreme heat Monkey Brand wore a high hat and a long buttoned-up
frock-coat and varnished boots. As he came towards them in the sunshine,
there was a rigid, controlled desolation in his yellow lined face, which
made Janet feel suddenly ashamed of her happiness in her own love.

"I had better go," said Fred hurriedly. "I don't want to be uncivil to
the brute in my own house."

"Go!" said Janet. "But, of course, you must stop. Mr Brand has come
down on purpose to see us."

She went forward to meet him, and, as he took her hand somewhat stiffly,
he met the tender sympathy in her clear eyes, and winced under it.

His face became a shade less rigid. He looked shrunk and exhausted, as
if he had undergone the extreme rigour of a biting frost. Perhaps he
had.

"I have come to see you on business," he said to Janet, hardly returning
Fred's half nervous, half defiant greeting.

Janet led the way into the little parlour, and they sat down in silence.
Fred sat down near the door, and began picking at the rose in his
buttonhole.

Monkey Brand held his hat in his hand. He took off one black glove,
dropped it into his hat, and looked fixedly at it.

The cloud on Janet's horizon lay heavy over her whole sky. A single
petal, loosened by a shaking hand, fell from Fred's rose on to the
floor.

"I am sure, Miss Black," said Monkey Brand, "that you will offer me an
explanation respecting your visit to my flat when my wife was dying."

"I went up at her wish," said Janet, breathing hard. She seemed to see
again Cuckoo's anguished fading eyes fixed upon her.

"Why?"

"She asked me to go and see if her picture was safe."

"I had already told her it was safe."

Janet did not answer.

The rose in Fred's buttonhole fell petal by petal.

Monkey Brand's voice had hardened when he spoke again.

"I am sure," he said, and for a moment he fixed his dull sinister eyes
upon her, "that you will see the advisability, the necessity, of telling
me why you burnt some papers when you clandestinely visited my flat."

"I burnt nothing."

He looked into his hat. Janet's bewildered eyes followed the direction
of his, and looked into his hat too. There was nothing in it but a
glove.

"There were ashes of burnt papers in the grate," he continued. "The lift
man saw you leave the room, which had smoke in it. A valuable paper,
your brother's I O U is missing. I merely state established facts, which
it is useless, which it is prejudicial, to you to contradict."

"I burnt nothing," said Janet again, but there was a break in her voice.
Her heart began to struggle like some shy woodland animal, which
suddenly sees itself surrounded.

Monkey Brand looked again at her. His wife had loved her. Across the
material, merciless face of the money-lender a flicker passed of some
other feeling besides the business of the moment; as if, almost as if he
would not have been averse to help her if she would deal
straightforwardly with him.

"You were my wife's friend," he said after a moment's pause. "She often
spoke of you with affection. I also regarded you with high esteem. A
few days before you came to stay with us I was looking over my papers
one evening, and I mentioned that your brother's I O U would fall due
almost immediately. She said she believed it would ruin him if I called
in the money then. I said I should do so, for I had waited once already
against my known rules of business. I never wait. I should not be in the
position which I occupy to-day if I had ever waited. She said, 'Wait at
least till after Janet's wedding. It might tell against her if her
brother went smash just before.' I replied that I should foreclose,
wedding or none. She came across to me, and, by a sudden movement, took
the I O U out of my hand before I could stop her. 'I won't have Janet
distressed,' she said. 'I shall keep it myself till after the wedding,'
and she locked it up before my eyes in a cabinet I had given her, in
which she kept her own papers. I seldom yield to sentiment, but she--she
recalled to me my own wedding--and in this instance I did so. It was the
last evening we spent at home alone together. She went much to the
theatre and into society, and I seldom had time to accompany her."

Monkey Brand stopped a moment. Then he went on:

"My wife saw you alone when she was dying. She was evidently anxious to
see you alone. It was like her, even then, to think of others. If you
tell me, on your word of honour, that she asked you to go up to the flat
and burn that I O U, and that she told you where to find it--No; if she
even gave you leave, as you were no doubt anxious on the subject,--if
you assure me that she yielded to your entreaties, and that she even
gave you leave to destroy it,--I will believe it. I will accept your
statement. The last wish of my wife--if you say it _was_ her wish--is
enough for me." Monkey Brand looked out of the window at the still
noonday sunshine. "I would abide by it," he said, and his face worked.

"She never spoke to me on the subject of the I O U," said Janet, two
large tears rolling down her quivering cheeks. "She never gave me leave
to burn it. I didn't burn it. I burnt nothing."

"Janet," almost shrieked Fred, nearly beside himself. "Janet, don't you
see that--that---- Confess. Tell him you did it. We both know you did
it. Own the truth."

Janet looked from one to the other.

"I burnt nothing," she said, but her eyes fell. Her word had never been
doubted before.

Both men saw she was lying.

Monkey Brand's face changed. It became once again as many poor wretches
had seen it, whose hard-wrung money had gone to buy his wife's gowns and
diamonds.

He got up. He took his glove out of the crown of his hat, put on his hat
in the room, and walked slowly out of the house. In the doorway he
looked back at Janet, and she saw, directed at her for the first time,
the expression with which she was to grow familiar, that which meets the
swindler and the liar.

The brother and sister watched in silence the rigid little departing
figure, as it climbed back wrong leg first into the dog-cart and drove
away.

Then Fred burst out.

"Oh! you fool, you fool!" he stammered, shaking from head to foot. "Why
didn't you say Mrs Brand told you to burn it? His wife was his soft
side. Oh! my God! what a chance, and you didn't take it. That man will
ruin us yet. I saw it in his face."

"But she didn't tell me to burn it."

Janet looked like a bewildered, distressed child, who suddenly finds
herself in a room full of machinery of which she understands nothing,
and whose inadvertent touch, as she tries to creep away, has set great
malevolent wheels whirring all round her.

"I daresay she didn't," said Fred fiercely, and he flung out of the
room.

He went and stood a long time leaning over the fence into the paddock
where his yearlings were.

"It's an awful thing to be a fool," he said to himself.



CHAPTER XII

    "Il n'est aucun mal qui ne naisse, en dernière analyse--d'une
    pensée étroite, ou d'un sentiment mediocre."

                                                  --MAETERLINCK.


The storm had fallen on Janet at last. She saw it was a storm, and met
it with courage and patience, and without apprehension as to what so
fierce a hurricane might ultimately destroy, what foundations its rising
floods might sweep away. She suffered dumbly under the knowledge that
Monkey Brand and Fred both firmly believed her to be guilty, suffered
dumbly the gradual alienation of her brother, who never forgave her her
obtuseness when a way of escape had been offered her, and who shivered
under an acute anxiety as to what Monkey Brand would do next, together
with a gnawing suspense respecting the eldest Miss Ford, who had become
the object of marked attentions on the part of a colonial Bishop.

Janet said to herself constantly in these days, "Truth will prevail."
She did not believe in the principle, but in her version of it. Her
belief in the power of truth became severely shaken as the endless July
days dragged themselves along, each slower than the last. Truth did not
prevail. The storm prevailed instead. Foundations began to crumble.

How it came about it would be difficult to say, but the damning evidence
against Janet, the suspicion, the almost certainty of her duplicity,
reached Easthope.

Mrs Trefusis seized upon it to urge her son to break with Janet. He
resisted with stubbornness his mother's frenzied entreaties.
Nevertheless after a time his fixity of purpose was undermined by a
sullen, growing suspicion that Janet was guilty. Fred had hinted as
much. Fred's evident conviction of Janet's action, and inability to see
that it was criminal, his confidential assertion that the money would be
repaid, pushed George slowly to the conclusion that Janet had been her
brother's catspaw--perhaps not for the first time. George felt with deep
if silent indignation, that with him, her future husband if with any
one, Janet ought to be open, truthful. But she was not. She repeated her
obvious lie even to him when at last he forced himself to speak to her
on the subject. His narrow, upright nature abhorred crookedness, and,
according to his feeble searchlight, he deemed Janet crooked.

His mother's admonitions began to work in him like leaven. How often she
had said to him, "She has lied to others. The day will come when she
will lie to you." That day had already come. Perhaps his mother was
right after all. He had heard men say the same thing. "What is bred in
the bone will come out in the flesh." "Take a bird out of a good nest,"
etc., etc.

And George who, in other circumstances, would have defended Janet to the
last drop of his blood, who would have carried her over burning deserts
till he fell dead from thirst--George, who was capable of heroism on her
behalf--weakened towards her.

She had fallen in love with him in the beginning, partly because he was
"straighter" than the men she associated with. Yet this very rectitude
which had attracted her was now alienating her lover from her, as
perhaps nothing else could have done. Strange back-blow of Fate, that
the cord which had drawn her towards him should tighten to a noose round
her neck.

George weakened towards her.

It seems to be the miserable fate of certain upright, closed natures,
who take their bearings from without, always to fail when the pinch
comes; to disbelieve in those whom they obtusely love when suspicion
falls on them, to be alienated from them by their success, to be
discouraged by their faults, incredulous of their higher motives,
repelled by their enthusiasms.

George would not have failed if the pinch had not come. Like many
another man, found faithful because his faith had not been put to the
test, he would have made Janet an excellent and loving husband, and they
would probably have spent many happy years together--if only the pinch
had not come. Anne early divined, from Janet's not very luminous
letters, that George was becoming estranged from her. Anne came down for
a Sunday to Easthope early in July, and quickly discovered the cause of
this estrangement (which Janet had not mentioned) in the voluble
denunciations of Mrs Trefusis, and the sullen unhappiness of her son.

Mrs Trefusis had wormed out all the most damning evidence against Janet,
partly from Fred's confidence to George, and partly from Monkey Brand,
with whom she had had money dealings, and to whom she applied direct.
She showed Anne the money-lender's answer, in its admirable restrained
conciseness, with its ordered sequence of inexorable facts. Anne's heart
sank as she read it, and she suddenly remembered Janet's words in
delirium. "I have burnt them all. Everything. There is nothing left."

The letter fell from her nerveless hand. She looked at it, momentarily
stunned.

"And this is the woman," said Mrs Trefusis, scratching the letter
towards her with her stick, and regaining possession of it, "this is
the woman whom you pressed me, only a month ago, to receive as my
daughter-in-law. Didn't I say she came of a bad stock? Didn't I say that
what was bred in the bone would come out in the flesh? George would not
listen to me then, but my poor deluded boy is beginning to see now that
I was right."

Mrs Trefusis wiped away two small tears with her trembling claw-like
hand. Anne could not but see that she was invincibly convinced of
Janet's guilt.

"You think I am vindictive, Anne," she said. "You may be right; I know I
was at first, and perhaps I am still. I always hated the connection, and
I always hated her. But--but it's not _only_ that now. It's my boy's
happiness. I must think of him. He is my only son, and I can't sit still
and see his life wrecked."

"I am certain Janet did not do it," said Anne suddenly, her pale face
flaming. "George and you may believe she did, if you like. I don't."

Anne walked over to Ivy Cottage the same afternoon, and Janet saw her in
the distance, and fled out to her across the fields and fell upon her
neck. But even Anne's tender entreaties and exhortations were of no
avail. Janet understood at last that her mechanically-repeated formula
was ruining her with her lover. But she had promised Cuckoo to say it,
and she stuck to it.

"Why does not George believe in me even if appearances are against me?"
said Janet at last. "I would believe in him."

"That is different."

"How different?"

"Because you are made like that, and he isn't. It's a question of
temperament. You have a trustful nature. He has not. You must take
George's character into consideration. It is foolish to love a person
who is easily suspicious, and then allow him to become suspicious. You
have no right to perplex him. Just as some people who care for us must
have it made easy to them all the time to go on caring for us. If there
is any strain or difficulty, or if they are put to inconvenience, they
will leave us."

Janet was silent.

"As you and George both love each other," continued Anne, "can't you say
something to him? Don't you see it would be only right to say a few
words to him, which will show him--what I am sure is the truth--that you
are concealing something, which has led to this false suspicion falling
on you?"

Janet shook her head. "He ought to know it's false," she said.

"Could not you say to _him_, even though you cannot say so to your
brother or Mr Brand--that you burnt some compromising papers at Mrs
Brand's dying request? He might believe that, for it is known that you
_did_ burn papers, dearest, and it is also obvious that you must have
burnt a good many. That one I O U does not account for the quantity of
ashes."

"I could not say that," said Janet, whitening. "And besides," she added
hastily, "I have said so many times" (and indeed she had) "that I burnt
nothing, that George would not know what to believe if I say first one
thing and then another."

"He does not know what to believe now. Unless you can say something to
reassure his mind, you will lose your George."

"You believe in me?"

"Implicitly."

"Then why doesn't George?" continued Janet, with the feminine talent for
reasoning in a circle. "That is the only thing that is necessary. Not
that I should say things I can't say, but that he should trust me. I
don't care what other people think so long as he believes in me."

She, who had never exacted anything heretofore, whose one object had
been to please her George, now made one demand upon him. It was the
first and last which she ever made upon her lover. And he could not meet
it.

"His belief is shaken."

"Truth will prevail," said Janet stubbornly.

"It will no doubt in the end, but in the meanwhile? And how if the
truth is masked by a lie?"

Janet did not answer. Perhaps she did not fully understand. She saw only
two things in these days: one, that George ought to believe in her; and
the other, that, come what might, she would keep the promise made to
Cuckoo on her death-bed. She constantly remembered the rigid dying face,
the difficult whisper: "Promise me that whatever happens you will never
tell anyone that you have burnt anything."

"I promise."

"You swear it."

"I swear it."

That oath she would keep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anne returned to London with a heavy heart. She left no stone unturned.
She interviewed De Rivaz and Stephen on the subject, as we have seen.
But her efforts were unavailing, as far as George was concerned. The
affair of the burning of papers was hushed up, but it had reached the
only person who had the power to wreck Janet's happiness.

Some weeks after Anne's visit Janet one day descried the large figure of
Stephen stalking slowly up across the fields. Janet tired her eyes daily
in scanning the fields in the direction of Easthope, but a certain
person came no more by that much frequented way.

The millionaire had a long interview with Janet, but his valuable time
was wasted. He could not move her. He told her that he firmly believed
the missing I O U would turn up, and that in the meanwhile he had paid
Mr Brand, and that she might repay him at her convenience. He could
wait. For a moment she was frightened, but a glance at Stephen's
austere, quick eyes, bent searchingly upon her, reassured her. She
trusted him at once. It was never known what he had said to Monkey
Brand, as to his having seen Janet in the burnt flat, but Monkey Brand
gained nothing from the discussion of that compromising fact--except his
money.

Fred was awed by the visit of Stephen, and by the amazing fact that he
had paid Monkey Brand. Fred said repeatedly that it was the action of a
perfect gentleman, exactly what he should have done if he had been in
Stephen's place. He let George hear of it at the first opportunity. But
the information had no effect on George's mind, except that it was
vaguely prejudicial to Janet.

Why had she accepted such a large sum from a man of whom she knew next
to nothing, whom she had only seen once before for a moment, and that an
equivocal one? Women should not accept money from men. _And why did he
offer it?_

He asked these questions of himself. To Fred he only vouchsafed a nod,
to show that he had heard what Fred had waylaid him to say.

Some weeks later still, in August, De Rivaz came to Ivy Cottage, hat in
hand, stammering, deferential, to ask Janet to allow him to paint her.
He would do anything, take rooms in the neighbourhood, make his
convenience entirely subservient to hers if she would only sit to him.
He saw with a pang that she was not conscious that they had met before.
She had forgotten him, and he did not remind her of their first meeting.
He knew that hour had brought trouble upon her. Her face showed it. The
patient, enduring spirit was beginning to look through the exquisite
face. Her beauty overwhelmed him. He trembled before it. He pleaded
hard, but she would not listen to him. She said apathetically that she
did not wish to be painted. She was evidently quite unaware of the
distinction which he was offering her. His name had conveyed nothing to
her. He had to take his leave at last, but, as he walked away in the
rain, he turned and looked back at the house.

"I will come back," he said, his thin face quivering.

It was a wet August, and the harvest rotted on the ground. No one came
to Ivy Cottage along the sodden footpath from Easthope. A slow anger was
rising in Janet's heart against her lover, the anger that will invade
at last the hearts of humble sincere natures, when they find that love
and trust have not gone together.

George never openly broke with Janet, never could be induced to write
the note to her which, his mother told him, it was his duty to write.
No. He simply stayed away from her, week after week, month after month.
When his mother urged him to break off his engagement formally, he said
doggedly that Janet could see for herself that all was over between
them.

The day came at last when Janet met him suddenly in the streets of
Mudbury, on market day. He took off his hat in answer to her timid
greeting, and passed on looking straight in front of him.

Perhaps he had his evil hour that night, for Janet was very fair. Seen
suddenly, unexpectedly, she seemed more beautiful than ever. And she was
to have been his wife.

After that blighting moment, when even Janet perceived that George was
determined not to speak to her; after that Janet began to see that when
foundations are undermined that which is built upon them will one day
totter and--fall.



CHAPTER XIII

    "The heart asks pleasure first,
      And then, excuse from pain;
    And then, those little anodynes
      That deaden suffering;

    And then, to go to sleep;
      And then if it should be
    The will of its Inquisitor,
      The liberty to die."

                                              --EMILY DICKINSON.


There are long periods in the journey of life when "the road winds
uphill all the way." There are also long periods when the dim plain
holds us, endless day after day, till the last bivouac fires of our
youth are quenched in its rains.

But when we look back across our journey, do we not forget alike the
hill and the plain? Do we not rather remember that one turn, exceeding
sharp, of the narrow inevitable way, what time the light failed, and the
ground yawned beneath our feet, and we knew fear?

There is a slow descent, awful, step by step, into a growing darkness,
which those know who have strength to make it. Only the strong are
broken on certain wheels. Only the strong know the dim landscape of
Hades, that world which underlies the lives of all of us.

I cannot follow Janet down into it. I can only see her as a shadow,
moving among shadows; going down unconsciously with tears in her eyes,
taking, poor thing, her brave, loving unselfish heart with her, to meet
anguish, desolation, desertion, and at last despair. If we needs must go
down that steep stair we go alone, and who shall say how it fared with
us? Nature has some appalling beneficent processes, of which it is not
well to speak. Life has been taught at the same knee, out of the same
book, and when her inexorable disintegrating hand closes over us, the
abhorrent darkness, from which we have shrunk with loathing, becomes
our only friend.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the following autumn and winter Janet slowly descended, inch by inch,
step by step, that steep stair. She reached at last the death of love.
She thought she reached it many times before she actually touched it.
She believed she reached it when the news of George's engagement
penetrated to her. But she did not in reality. No, she hoped against
hope to the last day, to the morning of his wedding. She did not know
she hoped. She supposed she had long since given up all thought of a
reconciliation between her and her lover. But when the wedding was over,
when he was really gone, then something broke within her--the last
string of the lyre over which blind Hope leans.

There are those who tell us that we have not suffered till we have known
jealousy. Janet's foot reached that lowest step, and was scorched upon
it.

Only then she realised that she had never, never believed that he could
really leave her. Even on his wedding morning she had looked out across
the fields, by which she had so often seen him come, which had been so
long empty of that familiar figure. She knew he was far away at the
house of the bride, but nevertheless she expected that he would come to
her, and hold her to his heart, and say: "But, Janet, I could never
marry anyone but you. You know such a thing could never be. What other
woman could part you and me, who cannot part?" And then the evil dream
would fall from her, and she and George would look gravely at each
other, and the endless, endless pain would pass away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wrapt close against the anguish of love there is always a word such as
this with which human nature sustains its aching heart--poor human
nature which believes that, come what come may, Love can never die.

"Some day," the woman says to herself, half knowing that that day can
never dawn, "some day I shall tell him of these awful months, full of
days like years, and nights like nothing, please God, which shall ever
be endured again. Some day--it may be a long time off--but some day I
shall say to him: 'Why did you leave me?' And he will tell me his
foolish reasons, and we shall lean together in tears. And surely some
day I shall say to him: 'I always burnt your letters for fear I might
die suddenly and others should read them. But see, here are the
envelopes, every one. That envelope is nearly worn out. Do you remember
what you said inside it? That one is still new. I only read the letter
it had in it once. How could you--could you write it?'"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Some day," the man says to himself, when the work of the day is
done--"some day my hour will come. She thinks me harsh and cold, but
some day, when these evil days are past, and she understands, I will
wrap her round with a tenderness such as she has never dreamed of. I
will show her what a lover can be. She finds the world hard, and its
ways a weariness--let her; but some day she shall own to me, to me here
in this room, that she did not know what life was, what joy and peace
were, until she let my love take her."

Yet he half knows she will never come, that woman whose coming seems
inevitable as spring. So the heart comforts itself, telling itself fairy
stories until the day dawns when Reality's stern, beneficent figure
enters our dwelling, and we know at last that not one word of all we
have spoken in imagination will ever be said. What we have suffered we
have suffered. The one for whom it was borne will hear no further word
from us.

The moth and the rust have corrupted.

The thieves have broken through and stolen.

Then rise up, lay hold of your pilgrim's staff, and take up life with a
will.



CHAPTER XIV

    "My river runs to thee:
    Blue sea, wilt welcome me?"

                                              --EMILY DICKINSON.


The winter, that dealt so sternly with Janet, smiled on Anne. She spent
Christmas in London, for the Duke was, or at least he said he was, in
too delicate a state of health to go to his ancestral halls in the
country, where the Duchess had repaired alone, believing herself to be
but the herald of the rest of her family; and where she was expending
her fearful energy on Christmas trees, magic-lanterns, ventriloquists,
entertainments of all kinds for children and adults, tenants, inmates of
workhouses, country neighbours, Sunday School teachers, Mothers' Unions,
Ladies' Working Guilds, Bands of Hope, etc., etc. She was in her
element.

Anne and her father were in theirs. The Duke did not shirk the constant
inevitable duties of his position, but by nature he was a recluse, and
at Christmas-time he yielded to his natural bias. Anne also lived too
much on the highway of life. She knew too many people, her sympathy had
drawn towards her too many insolvent natures. She was glad to be for a
time out of the pressure of the crowd. She and her father spent a
peaceful Christmas and New Year together, only momentarily disturbed by
the frantic telegrams of the Duchess, commanding Anne to despatch five
hundred presents at one shilling suitable for schoolgirls, or forty
ditto at half-a-crown for young catechists.

The New Year came in in snow and fog. But it was none the worse for
that. On this particular morning Anne stood a long time at the window of
her sitting-room, looking out at the impenetrable blanket of the fog.
The newsboys were crying something in the streets, but she could hear
nothing distinctive except the word "city."

Presently she took out of her pocket two letters, and read them slowly.
There was no need for her to read them. Not only did she know them by
heart, but she knew exactly where each word came on the paper. "Martial
law" was on the left-hand corner of the top line of the second sheet.
"Dependent on Kaffir labour" was in the middle of the third page. They
were dilapidated-looking letters, possibly owing to the fact that they
were read last thing every night and first thing every morning, and that
they were kept under Anne's pillow at night, so that if she waked she
could touch them. It is hardly necessary to add that they were in
Stephen's small, cramped, mercantile handwriting.

Stephen had been recalled to South Africa on urgent business early in
the autumn. He had been there for nearly three months. During that time,
after intense cogitation, he had written twice to Anne. I am under the
impression that he was under the impression that those two documents
were love letters. At any rate, they were the only two letters which
Stephen ever composed which could possibly be classed under that
heading. And their composition cost him much thought. In them he was so
good as to inform Anne of the population of the town he wrote from, its
principal industries, its present distress under martial law. He also
described the climate. His nearest approach to an impulsive outburst was
a polite expression of hope that she and her parents were well, and that
he expected to be in England again by Christmas. Anne kissed the
signature, and then laughed till she cried over the letter. Stephen did,
as a matter of fact, indite a third letter, but it was of so bold a
nature--it expressed a wish to see her again--that, after reading it
over about twenty times, he decided not to risk sending it.

When Anne was an old woman she still remembered the population of two
distracted little towns in South Africa, and their respective
industries.

Stephen was as good as his word. His large foot was once more planted on
English soil a day or two before Christmas. In spite of an overwhelming
pressure of business, he had found time to dine with Anne and her father
several times since he arrived. The Duke had met him at a directors'
meeting, and quite oblivious of Anne's refusal of him, had pressed him
to come back with him to dinner. The Duke asked him constantly to dine
after that. The old attraction between the two men renewed its hold.

These quiet evenings round the fire seemed to Stephen to contain the
pith of life. The Duke talked well, but on occasion Stephen talked
better. Anne listened. The kitchen cat, now alas! grown large and
vulgar, with an unmodulated purr, was allowed to make a fourth in these
peaceful gatherings, and had coffee out of Anne's saucer, sugared by
Stephen, every evening.

Then, for no apparent reason, Stephen ceased to come.

Anne, who had endured so much suspense about him, could surely endure a
little more. But it seemed she could not. For a week he did not come. In
that one week she aged perceptibly. The old pain took her again, the
old anger and resentment at being made to suffer, the old fierceness,
"which from tenderness is never far." She had thought that she had
conquered these enemies so often, that she had routed them so entirely,
that they could never confront her again. But they did. In the ranks of
her old foes a new one had enlisted--Hope; and Hope, if he forces his
way into the heart where he has been long a stranger, knows how to
reopen many a deep and barely healed wound, which will bleed long after
he is gone.

And where were Anne's patience, her old steadfastness and fortitude?
Could they be worn out?

As she stood by the window, trying to summon her faithless allies to her
aid, her father came in, with a newspaper in his hand.

"This is serious," he said, "about Vanbrunt."

She turned upon him like lightning.

The Duke tapped the paper.

"I knew Vanbrunt was in difficulties," he said. "A week ago, when he
was last here, he advised me sell out certain shares. It seems he would
not sell out himself. He said he would see it through, and now the smash
has come. I'm afraid he's ruined."

A beautiful colour rose to Anne's face. Her eyes shone. She felt a
sudden inrush of life. She became young, strong, alert.

Her father was too much preoccupied to notice her.

"Vanbrunt is a fine man," he said. "He had ample time to get out. But he
stuck to the ship, and he has gone down with it. I'm sorry. I liked
him."

"Are you sure he is really ruined?"

"The papers say so. They also say he can meet his liabilities." The Duke
read aloud a paragraph which Anne did not understand. "That spells ruin
even for him," he said.

He took several turns across the room.

"He has been working day and night for the last week," he said, "to
avoid this crash. It might have been avoided. He told me a little when
he was last here, but in confidence. He is straight, but others weren't.
He has not been backed. He has been let in by his partners."

The Duke sighed, and went back to his study on the ground floor.

Anne opened the window with a trembling hand, and peered out into the
fog.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stephen was sitting in his inner room at his office in the City, biting
an already sufficiently bitten little finger. His face bore the mark of
the incessant toil of the last week. His eyes were fixed absently on the
electric light. His mind was concentrated with unabated strength on his
affairs, as a magnifying glass may focus its light into flame on a given
point. He had fought strenuously, and he had been beaten--not by fair
means. He could meet the claims upon him. He could, in his own language,
"stand the racket;" but in the eyes of the financial world he was
ruined. In his own eyes he was on the verge of ruin. But a man with an
iron nerve can find a foothold on precipices where another turns giddy
and loses his head. Stephen's courage rose to the occasion. He felt
equal to it. His strong, acute, alert mind worked indefatigably hour
after hour, while he sat apparently idle. He was not perturbed. He saw
his way through.

He heard the newsboys in the streets crying out his bankruptcy, and
smiled. At last he drew a sheet of paper towards him, and became
absorbed in figures.

He was never visible to anyone when he was in this inner chamber. His
head clerk knew that he must not on any pretext be disturbed. And those
who knew Stephen discovered that he was not to be disturbed with
impunity.

He looked up at last, and rose to his feet, shaking himself like a dog.

"I can carry through," he said. "They think I can't, but I can. But if
the worst comes to the worst--which it shall not--I doubt if I shall
have a shilling left."

He took a turn in the room.

"Wait a bit, you fools," he said half aloud; "if your cowardice does
ruin me, wait a bit. I have made money not once, nor twice,--and I can
make it again."

A tap came to the door.

He reddened with sudden anger. Did not Jones know that he was not to be
interrupted till two, when he must meet, and, if possible, pacify
certain half frantic, stampeding shareholders?

The door opened with decision, and Anne came in. For a moment Stephen
saw the aghast face of his head clerk behind her. Then Anne shut the
door and confronted him.

The image of Anne was so constantly with Stephen, her every little trick
of manner, from the way she turned her head, to the way she folded her
hands, was all so carefully registered in his memory, had become so
entirely a part of himself, that it was no surprise to him to see her.
Did he not see her always! Nevertheless, as he looked at her, all power
of going forward to meet her, of speaking to her, left him. The blood
seemed to ebb slowly from his heart, and his grim face blanched.

"How did you come here?" he stammered at last, his voice sounding harsh
and unfamiliar.

"On foot."

"In this fog?"

"Yes."

"Who came with you?"

"I came alone. I wished to speak to you. I hear you are ruined."

"I can meet my liabilities," he said proudly.

"Is it true that you have lost two millions?"

"It is--possibly more."

A moment of terror seemed to pass over Anne. The lovely colour in her
cheek faded suddenly. She supported herself against the table, with a
shaking gloved hand. Then she drew herself up, and said in a firm voice:

"Do you remember that night in Hamilton Gardens when you asked me to
marry you?"

Stephen bowed. He could not speak. Even his great strength was only just
enough.

"I refused you because I saw you were convinced that I did not care for
you. If I had told you I loved you then you would not have believed it."

Stephen's hand gripped the mantelpiece. He was trembling from head to
foot. His eyes never left her.

"But now the money is gone," she said, becoming paler than ever,
"perhaps, now the dreadful money is gone, you will believe me if I tell
you that I love you."

And so Stephen and Anne came home to each other at last--at last.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My dear," said the Duke to Anne the following day, "this is a very
extraordinary proceeding of yours. You refuse Vanbrunt when he is rich,
and accept him when he is tottering on the verge of ruin. It seems a
reversal of the usual order of things. What will your mother say?"

"I have already had a letter from her, thanking Heaven that I was not
engaged to him. She says a good deal about how there is a Higher Power
which rules things for the best."

"I wish you would allow it freer scope," said the Duke. "All the same, I
should be thankful if she were here. It will be my horrid, vulgar duty
to ask Vanbrunt what he has got; what small remains there are of his
enormous fortune. I hear on good authority that he is almost penniless.
One is not a parent for nothing. I wish to goodness your mother were in
town. She always did this sort of thing herself with a dreadful relish
on previous occasions. You must push him into my study, my dear, after
his interview with you. I will endeavour to act the heavy father. That
is his bell. I will depart. I have letters to write."

The Duke left the room, and then put his head in again.

"It may interest you to know, Anne," he said, "that I've seen handsomer
men, and I've seen better dressed men, and I've even seen men of rather
lighter build, but I've not seen any man I like better than your
ex-millionaire."

Two hours later, after Stephen's departure, the Duke returned to his
daughter's sitting-room, and sank exhausted into a chair.

"Really I can't do this sort of thing twice in a lifetime," he said
faintly. "Have you any salts handy? No--you--need not fetch them. I'm
not seriously indisposed. How heartlessly blooming you are looking,
Anne, while your parent is suffering. Now remember, if ever you want to
marry again, don't send your second husband to interview me, for I won't
have it."

"Come, come, father. Didn't you tell me to push him into your study? And
I thought you looked so impressive and dignified when I brought him in.
Quite a model father."

"I took a firm attitude with him," continued the Duke. "I saw he was
nervous. That made it easier for me. Vanbrunt is a shy man. I was in the
superior position. Hateful thing to ask a man for his daughter. I said,
'Now look here, Vanbrunt, I understand you wish to marry my daughter. I
don't wish it myself, but----'"

"Oh! father, you never said that?"

"Well, not exactly. I owned to him that I could put up with him better
than with most, but that I could not let you marry to poverty. He asked
me what I considered poverty. That rather stumped me. In fact, I did not
know what to say. It was not his place to ask questions."

"Father, you did promise me you would let me marry him on eight hundred
a year."

"Well, yes, I did. I don't like it, but I did say so. In short, I told
him you had worked me up to that point."

"And what did he say?"

"He said he did not think in that case that any real difficulty about
money need arise; that at one moment he had stood to lose all he had,
and he had lost two millions, but that his affairs had taken an
unexpected turn during the last twenty-four hours, and he believed he
could count on an odd million or so, certainly on half a million. I
collapsed, Anne. My attitude fell to pieces. It was Vanbrunt who scored.
He had had a perfectly grave face till then. Then he smiled grimly, and
we shook hands. He did not say much, but what he did say was to the
point. I think, my dear, that while Vanbrunt lasts, his love for you
will last. He has got it very firmly screwed into him. But these
interviews annihilate me."

The Duke raised the kitchen cat to his knee, and rubbed it behind the
ears.

"I made the match, Anne," he said; "you owe it all to me. I asked him to
dinner when I met him at that first directors' meeting a fortnight ago.
I had it in my mind then."

"Father! You _know_ you had not."

"Well, no. I had not. I did not think of it! I can't say I did. But
still, I was a sort of bulwark to the whole thing. You had my moral
support. I shall tell your mother so."



CONCLUSION

    "So passes, all confusedly
    As lights that hurry, shapes that flee
    About some brink we dimly see,
        The trivial, great,
    Squalid, majestic tragedy
        Of human fate."

                                                --WILLIAM WATSON


I wish life were more like the stories one reads, the beautiful stories,
which, whether they are grave or gay, still have picturesque endings.
The hero marries the heroine, after insuperable difficulties, which in
real life he would never have overcome: or the heroine creeps down into
a romantic grave, watered by our scalding tears. At any rate, the story
is gracefully wound up. There is an ornamental conclusion to it. But
life, for some inexplicable reason, does not lend itself with docility
to the requirements of the lending libraries, and only too frequently
fails to grasp the dramatic moment for an impressive close. None of us
reach middle age without having watched several violent melodramas,
whose main interest lies further apart from their moral than we were
led, in our tender youth, to anticipate. We have seen better plays off
the stage than even Shakespeare ever put on. But Shakespeare finished
his, and pulled down the curtain on them; while, with those we watch in
life, we have time to grow grey between the acts; and we only know the
end has come, when at last it does come, because the lights have been
going out all the time, one by one, and we find ourselves at last alone
in the dark.

Janet's sweet melancholy face rises up before me as I think of these
things, and I could almost feel impatient with her, when I remember how
the one dramatic incident in her uneventful life never seemed to get
itself wound up. The consequences went on, and on, and on, till all
novelty and interest dropped inevitably from them and from her.

Some of us come to turning-points in life, and don't turn. We become
warped instead. It was so with Janet.

Is there any turning-point in life like our first real encounter with
anguish, loneliness, despair?

I do not pity those who meet open-eyed these stern angels of God, and
wrestle with them through the night, until the day breaks, extorting
from them the blessings that they waylaid us to bestow. But is it
possible to withhold awed compassion for those who, like Janet, go down
blind into Hades, and struggle impotently with God's angels as with
enemies? Janet endured with dumb, uncomplaining dignity she knew not
what, she knew not why; and came up out of her agony, as she had gone
down into it--with clenched empty hands. The greater hope, the deeper
love, the wider faith, the tenderer sympathy--these she brought not back
with her. She returned gradually to her normal life with her
conventional ideas crystallised, her small crude beliefs in love and her
fellow-creatures withered.

That was all George did for her.

The virtues of narrow natures such as George's seem of no use to anyone
except possibly to their owner. They are as great a stumbling-block to
their weaker brethren, they cause as much pain, they choke the spiritual
life as mercilessly, they engender as much scepticism in unreasoning
minds, as certain gross vices. If we are unjust, it matters little to
our victim what makes us so, or whether we have prayed to see aright, if
for long years we have closed our eyes to unpalatable truths.

George's disbelief in Janet's rectitude, which grew out of a deep sense
of rectitude, had the same effect on her mind as if he had deliberately
seduced and deserted her. The executioner reached the gallows of his
victim by a clean path. That was the only difference. So much the better
for him. The running noose for her was the same. Unreasoning belief in
love and her fellow-creatures was followed by an equally unreasoning
disbelief in both.

Janet kept her promise. She held firm. Amid all the promises of the
world, made only to be broken, kept only till the temptation to break
them punctually arrived, amid all that débris one foolish promise
remained intact, Janet's promise to Cuckoo.

George married. Then, shortly afterwards, Fred married the eldest Miss
Ford, and found great happiness. His bliss was at first painfully
streaked with total abstinence, but he gradually eradicated this
depressing element from his new home life. And in time his slight
insolvent nature reached a kind of stability, through the love of the
virtuous female prig, the "perfect lady," to whom he was all in all.
Fred changed greatly for the better after his marriage, and in the end
he actually repaid Stephen part of the money the latter had advanced to
Monkey Brand, for Janet's sake.

Janet lived with the young couple at first, but Mrs Fred did not like
her. She knew vaguely, as did half the neighbourhood, that Janet had
been mixed up in something discreditable, and that her engagement had
been broken off on that account. Mrs Fred was, as we know, a person of
the highest principles; and high principles naturally shrink from
contact with any less exalted. Several months after the situation
between the two women had become untenable, Janet decided to leave home.
She had nowhere to go, and no money; so, like thousands of other women
in a similar predicament, she decided to support herself by education.
She had received no education herself, but that was not in her mind any
bar to imparting it. Anne, who had kept in touch with her, interfered
peremptorily at this point, and when Janet did finally leave home, it
was to go to Anne's house in London, till "something turned up."

It was a sunny day in June when Janet arrived in London, for the first
time since her ill-fated visit there a year ago. She looked up at
Lowndes Mansions, as her four-wheeler plodded past them, towards Anne's
house in Park Lane. Even now, a year after the great fire, scaffoldings
were still pricking up against the central tower of the larger block of
building. The damage caused by the fire was not even yet quite
repaired. Perhaps some of it would never be repaired.

Mrs Trefusis was sitting with Anne on this particular afternoon,
confiding to her some discomfortable characteristics of her new
daughter-in-law, the wife whom she had herself chosen for her son.

"I am an old woman," said Mrs Trefusis, "and of course I don't march
with the times, the world is for the young, I know that very well; but I
must own, Anne, I had imagined that affection still counted for
something in marriage."

"I wonder what makes you think that."

"Well, not the marriages I see around me, my dear, that is just what I
say, though what has made you so cynical all at once, I don't know. But
I ask you--look at Gertrude. She does not know what the word 'love'
means."

"I'm not so sure of that."

"I am. She has been married to George three months, and it might be
thirty years by the way they behave. And she seemed such a particularly
nice girl, and exceedingly sensible, and well brought up. I should have
thought she would at any rate _try_ to make my boy happy, after all the
sorrow he has gone through. But they don't seem to have any real link to
each other. It isn't that they don't get on. They do in a way. She is
sharp enough for that. She does her duty by him. She is nice to him, but
all her interests, and she has interests, seem to lie apart from
anything to do with him."

"Does he mind?"

"I never really know what George minds or doesn't mind," said Mrs
Trefusis. "It has been the heaviest cross of the many crosses I have had
to bear in life, that he never confides in me. George has always been
extremely reticent. Thoughtful natures often are. He will sit for hours
without saying a word, looking----"

"_Glum_ is the word she wants," said Anne to herself, as Mrs Trefusis
hesitated.

"Reserved," said Mrs Trefusis. "He does not seem to care to be with
Gertrude. And yet you know Gertrude is very taking, and there is no
doubt she is good-looking. And she sings charmingly. Unfortunately
George does not care for music."

"She is really musical."

"They make a very handsome couple," said Mrs Trefusis plaintively. "When
I saw them come down the aisle together I felt happier about him than I
had done for years. It seemed as if I had been rewarded at last. And I
never saw a bride smile and look as bright as she did. But somehow it
all seems to have fallen flat. She didn't even care to see the
photographs of George when he was a child, when I got them out the other
day. She said she would like to see them, and then forgot to look at
them."

Anne was silent.

"Well," said Mrs Trefusis, rising slowly, "I suppose the truth is that
in these days young people don't fall in love as they did in my time. I
must own Gertrude has disappointed me."

"I daresay she will make him a good wife."

"Oh! my dear, she does. She is an extremely practical woman, but one
wants more for one's son than a person who will make him a good wife. If
she were a less good wife, and cared a little more about him, I should
feel less miserable about the whole affair."

Mrs Trefusis sighed heavily.

"I must go," she said, in the voice of one who might be persuaded to
remain.

But Anne did not try to detain her, for she was expecting Janet every
moment, though she did not warn Mrs Trefusis of the fact, for the name
of Janet was never mentioned between Anne and Mrs Trefusis. Mrs Trefusis
had once diffidently endeavoured to reopen the subject with Anne, but
found it instantly and decisively closed. If Janet had existed in a
novel, she would certainly have been coming up Anne's wide white
staircase at the exact moment that Mrs Trefusis was going down them,
but, as a matter of fact, Mrs Trefusis was packed into her carriage, and
drove away, quite half a minute before Janet's four-wheeler came round
the corner.

Anne's heart ached for Janet when she appeared in the doorway. She
almost wished that Mrs Trefusis had been confronted with the worn white
face of the only woman who had loved her son.

Janet and Anne kissed each other.

Then Janet looked at the wedding ring on Anne's finger, and smiled at
her in silence.

Anne looked down tremulously, for fear lest the joy in her eyes should
make Janet's heart ache, as her own heart had ached one little year ago,
when she had seen Janet and George together in the rose garden.

"I am so glad," said Janet. "I did so wish that time at Easthope--do you
remember?--that you could be happy too. It's just a year ago."

"Just a year," said Anne.

"I suppose you cared for him then," said Janet. "But I expect it was in
a more sensible way than I did. You were always so much wiser than me.
One lives and learns."

"I cared for him then," said Anne, busying herself making tea for her
friend. When she had made it she went to a side table, and took from it
a splendid satin tea cosy, which she placed over the teapot. It had been
Janet's wedding present to her.

Janet's eyes lighted on it with pleasure.

"I am glad you use it every day," she said. "I was so afraid you would
only use it when you had company."

Anne stroked it with her slender white hand. There was a kind of tender
radiance about her which Janet had never observed in her before.

"It makes me happy that you are happy," said Janet. "I only hope it will
last. I felt last year that you were in trouble. Since then it has been
my turn."

"I wish happiness could have come to both of us," said Anne.

"Do you remember our talk together," said Janet, spreading out a clean
pocket-handkerchief on her knee, and stirring her tea, "and how
sentimental I was? I daresay you thought at the time how silly I was
about George. I see now what a fool I was."

Anne did not answer. She was looking earnestly at Janet, and there was
no need for her now to veil the still gladness in her eyes. They held
only pained love and surprise.

"And do you remember how the clergyman preached about not laying up our
treasure on earth?"

"I remember everything."

"I've often thought of that since," said Janet, with a quiver in her
voice, which brought back once more to Anne the childlike innocent
creature of a year ago, whom she now almost failed to recognise, in her
new ill-fitting array of cheap cynicism.

"I did lay up my treasure upon earth," continued Janet, drawn
momentarily back into her old simplicity by the presence of Anne. "I
didn't seem able to help it. George was my treasure. I mustn't think of
him any more because he's married. But I cared too much. That was where
I was wrong."

"One cannot love too much," said Anne, her fingers closing over her
wedding ring.

"Perhaps not," said Janet, "but then the other person must love too.
George did not love me enough to carry through. When the other person
cares, but doesn't care strong enough, I think that's the worst. It's
like what the Bible says. The moth and rust corrupting. George did care,
but not enough. Men are like that."

"Some one else cares," said Anne diffidently--"poor Mr de Rivaz. He
cares enough."

"Yes," said Janet apathetically. "I daresay he does. We've all got to
fall in love some time or other. But I don't care for him. I told him so
months ago. I don't mean to care for any one again. I've thought a great
deal about things this winter, Anne. It's all very well for you to
believe in love. I did once, but I don't now."

Janet got up, and, as she turned, her eyes fixed suddenly.

"Why, that's the cabinet," she said below her breath. "Cuckoo's
cabinet!" Her face quivered. She saw again the scorched room, the pile
of smoking papers on the hearth, the flame which had burnt up her
happiness with them.

Anne did not understand.

"Stephen gave me that cabinet a few days ago," she said.

"It was Cuckoo's. It used to stand under her picture."

"Don't you think it may be a replica?"

"No, it is the same," said Janet, passing her hand over the mermaid and
her whale. "There is the little chip out of the dolphin's tail."

Then she shrank suddenly away from it, as if its touch scorched her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Where did you get the Italian cabinet?" said Anne to Stephen that
evening, as he and De Rivaz joined her and Janet after dinner in her
sitting-room.

"At Brand's sale. He sold some of his things when he gave up his flat in
Lowndes Mansions. He has gone to South Africa for his boy's health."

Stephen opened it. Janet drew near.

"I had to have a new key made for it," he said, letting the front fall
forward on his careful hand. "Look, Anne! how beautifully the drawers
are inlaid."

He pulled out one or two of them.

Janet slowly put out her hand, and pulled out the lowest drawer on the
left-hand side. It stuck, and then came out. It was empty like all the
rest.

Stephen closed it, and then drew it forward again.

"Why does it stick?" he said.

He got the drawer entirely out, and looked into the aperture. Then he
put in his hand, and pulled out something wedged against the slip of
wood which supported the upper drawer, without reaching quite to the
back of the cabinet. It was a crumpled, dirty sheet of paper. He tore it
as he forced it out.

"It must have been in the lowest drawer but one," he said, "and fallen
between the drawer and its support."

Janet was the first to see her brother's signature, and she pointed to
it with a cry.

It was the missing I O U.

"I always said it would turn up," said Stephen gently.

"But it's too late," said Janet hoarsely, "too late! too late! Oh! why
didn't George believe in me!"

"He will believe now."

"It doesn't matter what he believes now. Why didn't he _know_ I had not
burnt it?"

"I believed in you," said De Rivaz, his voice shaking. "I knew you had
not burnt it, though I saw you burning papers. Though I saw you with my
own eyes, I did not believe."

There was a moment's pause. Her three faithful friends looked at Janet.

"I burnt nothing," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Janet married De Rivaz at last, but not until she had nearly worn him
out. It was after their marriage that he painted his marvellous portrait
of her, a picture that was the outcome of a deep love, wed with genius.

She made him a good wife, as wives go, and bore him beautiful children,
but she never cared for him as she had done for George. Later on her
daughters carried their love affairs, not to their mother, but--to
Anne.


       *       *       *       *       *



GEOFFREY'S WIFE

     "Oh, how this spring of love resembleth
     Th' uncertain glory of an April day."


Every one felt an interest in them. The mob-capped servants hung over
the banisters to watch them go downstairs. Alphonse reserved for them
the little round table in the window, which commanded the best view of
the court, with its dusty flower-pots grouped round an intermittent
squirt of water. Even the landlord, Monsieur Leroux, found himself often
in the gateway when they passed in or out, in order to bow and receive a
merry word and glance.

Even the _concierge_, who dwelt retired, aloof from the contact of the
outer world in his narrow, key-adorned shrine, even he unbent to them
and smiled back when they smiled. It was a queer little old-fashioned
hotel, rather out of the way. Nevertheless, young married couples _had_
stayed there before. Their name, indeed, at certain periods of the year
was Legion. There were other young married couples staying there at that
very moment, but everybody felt that a peculiar interest attached to
this young married couple. For one thing, they were so absurdly, so
overwhelmingly happy. People, Monsieur Leroux himself, and others, had
been happy in an early portion of their married lives, but not like this
couple. People had had honeymoons before, but never one like this
couple. Although they were English, they were so handsome and so sunny.
And he was so well made and devoted, the chambermaids whispered. And,
ah! how she was _piquante_, the waiters agreed.

They had a little sitting-room. It was not the best sitting-room,
because they were not very rich; but Geoffrey (she considered Geoffrey
such a lovely name, and so uncommon) thought it the most delightful
little sitting-room in the world when she was in it. And Mrs Geoffrey
also liked it very much; oh! very much indeed.

He had had hard work to win her. Sometimes, when he watched her tangling
many-coloured wools over the mahogany back of one of the tight horsehair
chairs, he could hardly believe that she was really his wife, that they
were actually on that honeymoon for which he had toiled and waited so
long. Beneath the gaiety and the elastic spirit of youth there was a
depth of earnestness in Geoffrey which his little wife vaguely wondered
at and valued as something beyond her ken, but infinitely heroic. He
looked upon her with reverence and thanked God for her. He had never had
much to do with womankind, and he felt a respectful tenderness for
everything of hers, from her prim maid to her foolish little shoelace,
which was never tired of coming undone, and which he was never tired of
doing up. The awful responsibility of guarding such a treasure, and an
overpowering sense of its fragility, were ever before his mind. He
laughed and was gay with her, but in his heart of hearts there was an
acute joy nigh to pain--a wonder that he should have been singled out
from among the sons of men to have the one pearl of great price bestowed
upon him.

They had come to Paris, and to Paris only, partly because it was the
year of the Exhibition, and partly because she was not very strong, and
was not to be dragged through snow and shaken in _diligences_ like other
ordinary brides. The bare idea of Eva in a _diligence_, or tramping in
Switzerland, was not to be thought of. No; Geoffrey knew better than
that. A quiet fortnight in Paris, the Opera, the Exhibition, Versailles,
St Cloud, Notre Dame--these were dissipations calculated not to disturb
the exquisite poise of a health of such inestimable value. He knew Paris
well. He had seen it all in those foolish bachelor days, when he had
rushed across the water with men companions, knowing no better, and
enjoying himself in a way even then.

And so he took her to St Cloud, and showed her the wrecked palace; and
they wandered by the fountains and bought _gaufre_ cake, which he told
her was called "_plaisir_," only he was wrong--but what did that matter?
And they went down to Versailles, and saw everything that every one else
had seen, only they saw it glorified--at least he did. And they sat very
quietly in Notre Dame, and listened to a half divine organ and a wholly
divine choir, and Geoffrey looked at the sweet, awed face beside him,
and wondered whether he could ever in all his life prove himself worthy
of her. And though of course, being a Protestant, he did not like to
pray in a Roman Catholic Church, still he came very near it, and was
perhaps none the worse.

And now the fortnight was nearly over. Geoffrey reflected with pride
that Eva was still quite well. Her mother, of whom he stood in great
awe--her mother, who had an avowed disbelief in the moral qualities of
second sons--even her mother would not be able to find any fault. Why,
James himself, his eldest brother, whom she had always openly preferred,
could not have done better than he had done. He who had so longed to
take her away was now almost longing to take her back home, just for
five minutes, to show her family how blooming she was, how trustworthy
he had proved himself to be.

The fortnight was over on Saturday, but at the last moment they decided
to stay till Monday. Was it not Sunday, the night of the great
illuminations? suggested Alphonse reproachfully. Were not the Champs
Elysées to present a spectacle? Were not fires of joy and artifice to
mount from the Bois de Boulogne? Surely Monsieur and Madame would stay
for the illuminations! Was not the stranger coming from unknown
distances to witness the illuminations? Were not the illuminations in
honour of the Exhibition? It could not be that Monsieur would suffer
Madame to miss the illuminations.

Eva was all eagerness to stay. Two more nights in Paris. To go out in
the summer evening, and see Paris _en fête_! Delightful! Geoffrey was
not to say a single word! He did not want to! Well, never mind, he was
not to say one; and she was going instantly, that very moment, to stop
Grabham packing up, and he was to go instantly, that very moment, to let
Monsieur Leroux know they intended to stay on.

And they both went instantly, that very moment, and they stayed on. And
he was very severe in consequence, and refused to allow her to tire
herself on Saturday, and insisted on her resting all Sunday afternoon,
as a preparation for the dissipation of the evening. They had met some
English friends on Sunday morning, who had invited them to their house
in the Champ Elysées in the course of the evening to see the
illuminations from their balcony. And then towards night Geoffrey
became more autocratic than ever, and insisted on a woollen gown instead
of a muslin, because he felt certain that it would not be so hot towards
the middle of the night as it then was. She said a great many very
unkind things to him, and they sallied forth together at nine o'clock as
happy as two pleasure-seeking children.

"You will not be of return till the early morning. I see it well," said
Monsieur Leroux, bowing to them. "Monsieur does well to take the little
_châle_ for Madame for fear later she should feel herself fresh. But as
for rain, will not Madame leave her umbrella with the _concierge_? No?
Monsieur prefers? _Eh bien! Bon soir!_"

It was a perfect night. It had been fiercely hot all day, but it was
cooler now. The streets were already full of people, all bearing the
same way toward the Champ Elysées. With some difficulty Geoffrey
procured a little carriage, and in a few minutes they were swept into
the chattering, idle, busy throng, and slowly making their way toward
the Langtons' house. Every building was gay with coloured lanterns. The
Place de la Concorde shone afar like a belt of jewelled light. The great
stone lions glowed upon their pedestals. Clear as in noonday sunshine,
the rocking sea of merry faces met Eva's delighted gaze; she beaming
with the rest.

And now they were driving down the Champs Elysées. The fountains leaped
in coloured flame. The Palais de l'Industrie gleamed from roof to
basement, built in fire. The Arc de Triomphe, crowned with light, stood
out against the dark of the moonless sky, flecked by its insignificant
stars.

"Beautiful! Beautiful!" and Eva clapped her hands and laughed.

And now it was the painful, the desolating duty of the driver to tell
them he could take them no further. Carriages were not allowed beyond a
certain hour, and either he must take them back or put them down.
Geoffrey demurred. Not so Mrs Geoffrey. In a moment she had sprung out
of the carriage, and was laughing at the novel idea of walking in a
crowd. Geoffrey paid his man and followed. There was plenty of room to
walk in comfort, and Eva, on her husband's arm, wished the Langtons'
house miles away, instead of a few hundred yards. She said she must and
would walk home. Geoffrey must relent a little, or she on her side might
not be so agreeable as she had hitherto shown herself. She was quite
certain that she should catch a cold if she drove home in the night air
in an open carriage. What was that he was mumbling? That if he had known
_that_ he would not have brought her? But she was equally certain that
it would not hurt her to walk home. Walking was a very different thing
from driving in open carriages late at night. An ignorant creature like
him might not think so, but her mother would not have allowed her to do
such a thing for an instant. Geoffrey quailed, and gave utterance to
that sure forerunner of masculine defeat, that "he would see."

It was very delightful on the Langtons' balcony, with its constellation
of swinging Chinese lanterns. Eva leaned over and watched the people,
and chatted to her friends, and was altogether enchanting--at least
Geoffrey thought so.

The night is darkening now. The streets blaze bright and brighter. The
crowd below rocks and thickens and shifts without ceasing. Long lines of
flame burn red along the Seine, and mark its windings as with a hand of
fire. The great electric light from the Trocadéro casts heavy shadows
against the sky. Jets of fire and wild vagaries of leaping stars rush up
out of the Bois de Boulogne.

And now there is a contrary motion in the crowd, and a low murmur
swells, and echoes, and dies, and rises again. The torchlight procession
is coming. That square of fire, moving slowly down from the Arc de
Triomphe through the heart of the crowd, is a troop of mounted soldiers
carrying torches. Hark! Listen to the low, sullen growl of the
multitude, like a wild beast half aroused.

The army is very unpopular in Paris just now. See, as the soldiers come
nearer, how the crowd sweeps and presses round them, tossing like an
angry sea. Look how the soldiers rear their horses against the people to
keep them back. Hark again to that fierce roar that rises to the balcony
and makes little Eva tremble; the inarticulate voice of a great
multitude raised in anger.

They have passed now, and the crowd moves with them. Look down the
Champs Elysées, right down to the cobweb of light which is the Place de
la Concorde. One moving mass of heads! Look up toward the Arc de
Triomphe. They are pouring down from it on their way back from the Bois
in one continuous black stream, good-humoured and light-hearted again as
ever, now the soldiers have passed.

It is long past midnight. Ices and lemonade and sugared cakes have
played their part. It is time to go home. The summer night is soft and
warm, without a touch of chill. The other guests on the Langtons'
balcony are beginning to disperse. The Langtons look as if they would
like to go to bed. The crowd below is melting away every moment. The
play is over.

Eva is charmed when she hears that a carriage is not to be had in all
Paris for love or money. To walk home through the lighted streets with
Geoffrey! Delightful! A few cheerful leave-takings, and they are in the
street again, with another English couple who are going part of the way
with them.

"Come, wife, arm-in-arm," says the elder man; adding to Geoffrey, "I
advise you to do the same. The crowd is as harmless as an infant, but it
will probably have a little animal spirits to get rid of, and it won't
do to be separated."

So arm-in-arm they went, walking with the multitude, which was not dense
enough to hamper them. From time to time little groups of _gamins_ would
wave their hats in front of magisterial buildings and sing the
prohibited Marseillaise, while other bands of _gamins_, equally
good-humoured, but more hot-headed, would charge through the crowd with
Chinese lanterns and drums and whistles.

"Not tired?" asked Geoffrey regularly every five minutes, drawing the
little hand further through his arm.

Not a bit tired, and Geoffrey was a foolish, tiresome creature to be
always thinking of such things. She should say she _was_ tired next time
if he did not take care. In fact, now she came to think of it, she was
_rather_ tired by having to walk in such a heavy woollen gown.

"Don't say that, for Heaven's sake, if it is not true!" said the
long-suffering husband, "for we have a mile in front of us yet."

The other couple wished them good-night and turned off down a side
street. Everywhere the houses were putting out their lights. Night was
gaining the upper hand at last. As they entered the Place de la
Concorde, Geoffrey saw a small body of mounted soldiers crossing the
Place. Instantly there was a hastening and pushing in the crowd, and the
low, deep growl arose again, more ominous than ever. Geoffrey caught a
glimpse of a sudden upraised arm, he heard a cry of defiance, and
then--in a moment there was a roar and shout from a thousand tongues,
and an infuriated mob was pressing in from every quarter, was elbowing
past, was struggling to the front. In another second the whole Place de
la Concorde was one seething mass of excited people, one hoarse jangle
of tongues, one frantic effort to push in the direction the soldiers had
taken.

Geoffrey, a tall, athletic Englishman, looked over the surging sea of
French heads, and looked in vain for a quarter to which he could beat a
retreat. He had not room to put his arm round his wife. She had given a
little laugh, but she was frightened, he knew, for she trembled in the
grasp he tightened on her arm. One rapid glance showed him there was no
escape. The very lions at the corners were covered with human figures.
They were in the heart of the crowd. Its faint, sickening smell was in
their nostrils.

"No, Eva," he said, answering her imploring glance, "we can't get out of
this yet. We must just move quietly, with the rest, and wait till we get
a chance of edging off. Lean on me as much as you can."

She was frightened and silent, and nestled close to him, being very
small and slight of stature, and by nature timid.

Another deep roar, and a sudden rush from behind, which sent them all
forward. How the people pushed and elbowed! Bah! The smell of a crowd!
Who that has been in one has ever forgotten it?

This was a dreadful ordeal for his hothouse flower.

"How are you getting on?" he asked with a sharp anxiety, which he vainly
imagined did not betray itself in his voice.

She was getting on very well, only--only could not they get out?

Geoffrey looked round yet again in despair. Would it be possible to edge
a little to the left, to the right, anywhere? He looked in vain. A
vague, undefined fear took hold on him. "We must have patience, little
one," he said. "Lean on me, and be brave."

His voice was cheerful, but he felt a sudden horrible sinking of the
heart. How should he ever get her out of this jostling, angry crowd
before she was quite tired out? What mad folly it had been to think of
walking home! Poor Geoffrey forgot that there had been no other way of
getting home, and that even his mother-in-law could not hold him
responsible for a disagreement between the soldiers and the citizens.

Another ten minutes! Geoffrey cursed within himself the illumination and
the soldiers and his own folly, and the rough men and rougher women,
whom, do what he would, he could not prevent pressing upon her.

She did not speak again for some time, only held fast by his arm.
Suddenly her little hands tightened convulsively on it, and a face pale
to the lips was raised to his.

"Geoffrey, I'm very sorry," with a half sob, "but I'm afraid I'm going
to faint."

The words came like a blow, and drove the blood from his face. The vague
undefined fear had suddenly become a hideous reality. He steadied his
voice and spoke quietly, almost sternly.

"Listen to me, Eva," he said. "Make an effort and attend, and do as I
tell you. The crowd will move again in a moment. I see a movement in
front already. Directly the move comes the press will loosen for an
instant. I shall push in front of you and stoop down. You will instantly
get on my back. I insist upon it. I will do my best to help you up, but
I can't get hold of you in any other way. The faintness will pass off
directly you are higher up and can get a breath of air. Now do you
understand?"

She did not answer, but nodded.

There was a moment's pause, and the movement came. Geoffrey flung down
his stick, drew his wife firmly behind him, and pressing suddenly with
all his might upon those in front, made room to stoop down. Two nervous
hands were laid on his coat. Good God! she hesitated. A moment more, and
the crowd behind would force him down, and they would both be lost.
"Quick! Quick!" he shouted; but before the words had left his lips the
trembling arms were clasped convulsively round his neck, and with a
supreme effort he was on his legs again, shaking like a leaf with the
long horror of that moment's suspense.

But the tight clasp of the hands round his neck, the burden on his
strong shoulders, nerved him afresh. He felt all his vitality and
resolution return tenfold. He could endure anything which he had to
endure alone, now that horrible anxiety for her was over. He could no
longer tell where he was. He was bent too much to endeavour to do
anything except keep on his feet. A long wait! Would the crowd never
disperse? Moving, stopping, pushing, pressing, stopping again. Another
pause, which seemed as if it would never end. A contrary motion now, and
he had not room to turn! No. Thank Heaven! A tremor through the crowd,
and then a fierce snarl and a rush. A violent push from behind. A
plunge. Down on one knee. Good God! A blow on the mouth from some one's
elbow. A wild struggle. A foot on his hand. Another blow. Up again. Up,
only to strike his foot against a curbstone, and to throw all his weight
away from a sudden pool of water on his left, into which he is being
edged.

The great drops are on his brow, and his breath comes short and thick.
He staggers again. The weight on him and his fall are beginning to tell.
But as his strength wanes a dogged determination takes its place. He
steels his nerves and pulls himself together. It is only a question of
time. He will and must hold out. His whole soul is centred on one thing,
to keep his feet. Once down--and--he clenches his teeth. He will not
suffer himself to think. He is bruised and aching in every limb with the
friction of the crowd. Drums begin to beat in his temples, and his mouth
is bleeding. There is a mist of blood and dust before his eyes. But he
holds on with the fierce energy of despair. Another push. God in Heaven!
almost down again! He can see nothing. A frantic struggle in the dark.
The arms round his neck tremble, and he hears a sharp-drawn gasp of
terror. Hands from out of the darkness clutch him up, and he regains his
footing once more. "Courage, Monsieur," says a kind voice, and the hands
are swept out of his. He tries to move his lips in thanks, but no words
come. There is a noise in the crowd, but it is as a feeble murmur to the
roar and sweep and tumult of many waters that is sounding in his ears.
He cannot last much longer now. He is spent. But the crowd is thinning.
If he can only keep his feet a few minutes more! The crowd is thinning.
He catches a glimpse of ground in front of him. But it sways before him
like the waves of the sea. One moment more. He stumbles aside where he
feels there is space about him.

There is a sudden hush and absence of pressure. _He is out of the
crowd._ He is faintly conscious that the tramp of many feet is passing
but not following him. The pavement suddenly rises up and strikes him
down upon it. He cannot rise again. But it matters little, it matters
little. It is all over. The fight is won, and she is safe. He tries to
lift his leaden hand to unloose the locked fingers that hurt his neck.
At his touch they unclasp, trembling. She has not fainted then. He
almost thought she had. He raises himself on his elbow, and tries to
wipe the red mist from his eyes that he may see her the more clearly.
She slips to the ground, and he draws her to him with his nerveless
arms. The street lamps gleam dull and yellow in the first wan light of
dawn, and as his haggard eyes look into hers, her face becomes clear
even to his darkening vision--and--_it is another woman!_ Another woman!
A poor creature with a tawdry hat and paint upon her cheek, who tries to
laugh, and then, dimly conscious of the sudden agony of the gray,
blood-stained face, whimpers for mercy, and limps away into a doorway,
to shiver and hide her worn face from the growing light.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was one of the English acquaintances of the night before who found
him later in the day, still seeking, still wandering from street to
street.

His old friend Langton came to him and took him away from the hotel to
his own house. Alphonse wept and the _concierge_ could not restrain a
tear.

"And have they found _her_ yet?" asked Mrs Langton that night of her
husband when he came in late.

His face was very white.

"Yes," he said, and turned his head away. "I've been to--I've seen--no
one could have told--you would not have known who it was. And all her
little things, her watch and rings--they were all gone. But the maid
knew by the dress. And--and I wanted to save a lock of hair, but"--his
voice broke down.--"So I got one of the little gloves for him. It was
the only thing I could."

He pulled out a half-worn tan glove, cut and dusty with the tramp of
many feet, which the new wedding ring had worn ever so slightly on the
third finger. He laid it reverently on the table and hid his face in his
hands.

"If he could only break down," he said at last. "He sits and sits, and
never speaks or looks up."

"Take him the little glove," said his wife softly. And Langton took it.

The sharpness of death had cut too deep for tears, but Geoffrey kept the
little glove, and--he has it still.


       *       *       *       *       *



THE PITFALL



PART I

    "Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
    Beset the Road I was to wander in."

                                                 --OMAR KHAYYÁM.


Lady Mary Carden sat near the open window of her blue and white boudoir
looking out intently, fixedly across Park Lane at the shimmer of the
trees in Hyde Park. It was June. It was sunny. The false gaiety of the
season was all around her; flickering swiftly past her in the crush of
carriages below her window; dawdling past her in the walking and riding
crowds in the park. She looked at it without seeing it. Perhaps she had
had enough of it, this strange conglomeration of alien elements and
foreign bodies, this _bouille-à-baisse_ which is called "The Season."
She had seen it all year after year for twelve years, varying as little
as the bedding out of the flowers behind the railings. Perhaps she was
as weary of society as most people become who take it seriously. She
certainly often said that it was rotten to the core.

She hardly moved. She sat with an open letter in her hand, thinking,
thinking.

The house was very still. Her aunt, with whom she lived, had gone early
into the country for the day. The only sound, the monotonous whirr of
the great machine of London, came from without.

Mary was thirty, an age at which many women are still young, an age at
which some who have heads under their hair are still rising towards the
zenith of their charm. But Mary was not one of these. Her youth was
clearly on the wane. She bore the imprint of that which ages--because if
unduly prolonged it enfeebles--the sheltered life, a life centred in
conventional ideas, dwarfed by a conventional religious code, a life
feebly nourished on cut and dried charities sandwiched between petty
interests and pettier pleasures. She showed the mark of her twelve
seasons, and of what she had made of life, in the slight fading of her
delicate complexion, the fatigued discontent of her blue eyes, the faint
dignified dejection of her manner, which was the reflection of an
unconscious veiled surprise that she of all women--she the gentle, the
good, the religious, the pretty Mary Carden was still--in short was
still Mary Carden.

The onlooker would perhaps have shared that surprise. She was
indubitably pretty, indubitably well bred, graceful, slender, with a
delicate manicured hand, and fair waved hair. Her fringe, which seemed
inclined to grow somewhat larger with the years, was nearly all her own.
She possessed the art of dress to perfection. You could catalogue her
good points. But somehow she remained without attraction. She lacked
vitality, and those who lack vitality seldom seem to get or keep what
they want, at any rate in this world.

She was the kind of woman whom a man marries to please his mother, or
because she is an heiress, or because he has been jilted and wishes to
show how little he feels it. She was not a first choice.

She was one of that legion of perfectly appointed women who at seventeen
deplore the rapacity of the older girls in ruthlessly clutching up all
the attention of the simpler sex; and who at thirty acidly remark that
men care only for a pink cheek and a baby face.

Poor Mary was thinking of a man now, of a certain light-hearted
simpleton of a soldier with a slashed scar across his hand, which a
Dervish had given him at Omdurman, the man as commonplace as herself, on
whom for no particular reason she had glued her demure, obstinate,
adhesive affections twelve years ago.

Our touching faithfulness to an early love is often only owing to the
fact that we have never had an adequate temptation to be unfaithful.
Certainly with Mary it was so. The temptations had been pitiably
inadequate. She had never swerved from that long-ago mild flirtation of
a boy and girl in their teens, studiously thrown together by their
parents. She had taken an unwearying interest in him. She had petitioned
Heaven that he might pass for the Army, and he did just squeeze in. By
the aid of fervent prayer she had drawn him safely through the Egyptian
campaign, while other women's husbands and lovers fell right and left.
He had not said anything definite before he went out, but Mary had found
ample reasons for his silence. He could not bear to overshadow her life
in case, etc., etc. But now he had been safely back a year, two years,
and still he had said nothing. This was more difficult to account for.
He was fond of her. There was no doubt about that. They had always been
fond of each other. Every one had expected them to marry. His parents
had wished it. Her aunt had favoured the idea with heavy-footed zeal.
Her brother, Lord Rollington, when he had a moment to spare from his
training-stable, had jovially opined that "Maimie" would be wise to
book Jos Carstairs while she could, as if she was not careful she might
outstand her market.

Mary, who had for many years dreamed of gracefully yielding to Jos's
repeated and urgent entreaties, had even begun to wonder whether it
would not be advisable if one of her men relations were to "speak to
Jos." Such things were done. As she had said to her aunt with dignity,
"This sort of thing can't go on for ever," when her aunt--who yearned
for the rest which, according to their own account, seems to elude stout
persons--pleaded that difficulties clustered round such a course.

The course was not taken, for Jos suddenly engaged himself to a girl of
seventeen, a new girl whom London knew not, the only child of one of
those ruinous unions which had been swallowed up in a flame of scandal
seventeen years ago, which had been forgotten for seventeen years all
but nine days.

It was sedulously raked up again now. People whispered that Elsa Grey
came of a bad stock; that Jos Carstairs was a bold man to marry a woman
with such antecedents; a woman whose mother had slipped away out of her
intolerable home years ago for another where apparently life had not
been more tolerable.

Jos brought his Elsa to see Mary, for he was only fit to wave his sword
and say, "Come on, boys." He did not understand anything about anything.
He only remembered that Mary was a tender, loving soul. Had she not
shown herself so to him for years? So he actually besought Mary to be a
friend to the beautiful young sombre creature whom he had elected to
marry.

Mary behaved admirably according to her code, touched Elsa's hand,
civilly offered the address of a good dressmaker (not her best one), and
hoped they should meet frequently. The girl looked at her once,
wistfully, intently, with unfathomable lustrous eyes, as of some
untamed, prisoned, woodland creature, and then took no further notice of
her.

That was a fortnight ago. They were to be married in three weeks.

Mary sighed, and looked once again for the twentieth time at the letter
in her hand. It was a long epistle from her bosom friend, Lady Francis
Bethune, the electric tramways heiress, joylessly married to the
handsomest man in London, the notorious Lord Francis Bethune.

"My dear," said the letter, "men are always like that. They are brutes,
and it is no good thinking otherwise. They will throw over the woman
they have loved for years for a flower-girl. You are too good for him. I
have always thought so. (So had Mary.) But the game is not up yet. I
could tell him things about his Elsa that would surprise him, not that
he ought to be surprised at anything in her mother's daughter. He is
coming to me this afternoon to tea. He said he was busy; but I told him
he must come as it was on urgent business, and so it is. He is my
trustee, you know, and there really is something wrong. Francis has been
at it again. After the business is over I shall tell him a few things
very nicely about that girl. Now, my advice to you is--chuck the
Lestrange's water-party this afternoon, and come in as if casually to
see me. I shall leave you alone together, and you must do the rest
yourself. You may pull it off yet, after what I shall say about Elsa,
for Jos has a great idea of you. Wire your reply by code before midday."

Mary got up slowly, and walked to the writing-table. Should she go and
meet him? Should she not? She would go. She wrote a telegram quickly in
code form. She knew the code so well that she did not stop to refer to
it. She and Jos had played at code telegrams when he was cramming for
the Army. She rang for the servant and sent out the telegram. Then she
sat down and took up a book. It was nearly midday, and too hot to go
out.

But after a few minutes she cast it suddenly aside, and began to move
restlessly about the room. What was the use of going, after all? What
could she say to Jos if she did see him? How could she touch his heart?
Like many another woman when she thinks of a man, Mary stopped before a
small mirror, and looked fixedly at herself. Was she not pretty? Had she
not gentle, appealing eyes? See her little hand raised to put back a
strand of fair hair. Was not everything about her pretty, and refined,
and good? The vision of Elsa rose suddenly before her, with her dark,
mysterious beauty and her formidable youth. Mary's heart contracted
painfully. "I love him, and she doesn't," she said to herself, with
bitterness. But Jos would never give up Elsa. She would make him
miserable, but--he would marry her. Oh! what was the use of going to
waylay him to-day? Why had she lent herself to Lady Francis's idiotic
plan? Why had she accepted from her help that was no help? She would
telegraph again to say she would not come after all. No. She would
follow up her own telegram, and tell her friend that on second thoughts
she did not care to see Jos.

She ran upstairs, put on her hat, and in a few minutes was driving in a
hansom to Bruton Street. The Bethunes' footman knew her and admitted
her, though Lady Francis was technically "not at home."

Yes, her ladyship was in, but she was engaged with the doctor at the
moment in the drawing-room. The footman hesitated. "They were a-tuning
of the piano in her ladyship's boudoir," he said, and he tentatively
opened the door of a room on the ground floor. It was Lord Francis'
sitting-room.

"Was his lordship in?"

"No, his lordship had gone out early."

"Then I will wait here," said Mary, "if you will let her ladyship know
that I am here."

The man withdrew.

Mary's face reddened with annoyance. She disliked the idea of telling
Lady Francis she had changed her mind, and the discussion of the
subject. Oh! why had she ever spoken of the subject at all? Why had she
telegraphed that she would come?

The painful, reiterated stammering of the piano came to her from above.
It seemed of a piece with her own indecision, her own monotonous
jealousy.

Suddenly the front door bell rang, and an instant later the footman came
in with a telegram, put it on the writing-table, and went out again.

Her telegram! Then she was not too late to stop it. She need not explain
after all.

The drawing-room door opened, and Lady Francis' high metallic voice
sounded on the landing.

Mary seized up the pink envelope and crushed it in her hand! What? The
drawing-room door closed again. The conference with the doctor was not
quite over after all. She tore open the telegram and looked again at her
foolish words before destroying them.

Then her colour faded, and the room went round with her. Who had changed
what she had said? Why was it signed "Elsa"?

She looked at the envelope. It was plainly addressed--"Lord Francis
Bethune." She had never glanced at the address till this moment. The
contents were in code as hers had been, but it was the same code, and
before she knew she had done so, she had read it.

What did it mean? What _could_ it mean? Why should Elsa promise to meet
him after the Speaker's Stairs--to-day--at Waterloo main entrance?

Mary was not quick-witted, but after a few dazed moments she suddenly
understood. Elsa was about to go away with Lord Francis. But what Elsa?
Her heart beat so hard that she could hardly breathe. Could it be Elsa
Grey?

As we piece together all at once a puzzle that has been too simple for
us, so Mary remembered in a flash Elsa's enigmatical face, and a certain
ball where she had seen--only for a moment as she passed--- Lord Francis
and Elsa sitting out together. Elsa had looked quite different then. It
_was_ Elsa Grey. She knew it. Degraded creature, not fit to be an honest
man's wife.

Mary shook from head to foot under a climbing, devastating emotion,
which seemed to rend her whole being. The rival was gone from her path.
Jos would come back to her.

As she stood stunned, half blind, trembling, a hansom dashed up to the
door, and in a moment Lord Francis' voice was in the hall speaking to
the footman.

"Any letters or telegrams?"

"One telegram on your writing-table, my lord."

The servant went on to explain something, Lady Mary Carden, etc., but
his master did not hear him. He was in the room in a second, and had
closed the door behind him. Lord Francis' beautiful, thin, reckless face
was pinched and haggard. He seemed possessed by some fierce passion
which had hold of him and drove him before it as a storm holds and spins
a leaf.

Mary was frightened, paralysed. She had not known that men could be so
moved. He did not even see her. He rushed to the writing-table, and
swept his eye over it. Then he gave a sharp, low, hardly human cry of
rage and anguish, and turned to ring the bell. As he turned he saw her.

"I beg your pardon. I don't understand," he said hoarsely. "Why did my
fool of a servant bring you in here?"

Then he saw the open telegram in her hand, and his face changed. It
became alert, cold, implacable. There was a deadly pause. From the room
above came the acute, persistent stammer of the piano.

He took the telegram from her nerveless hand, read it, and put it in his
pocket. He picked up the envelope from the floor, and threw it into the
waste-paper basket. Then he came close up to her, and looked her in the
eyes. There was murder in his.

"It was in cypher," he said.

She was incapable of speech.

"But you understood it? Answer me. By--did you understand it, or did you
not?"

"I did not." She got the words out.

"You are lying. You did, you paid spy. Now listen to me. If you dare to
say one word of this to any living soul I'll----"

The door suddenly opened, and Lady Francis hurried in.

"Sorry to keep you, my dear," said the high, unmodulated voice. "Old
Carr was such a time. What! You here, Francis? I thought you had gone
out."

"I have been doing my best to entertain Lady Mary till you appeared," he
said.

"I came to say I'm engaged this afternoon," said Mary. "I can't go with
you to your concert."

The footman appeared with another telegram.

Lord Francis opened it before it could reach his wife, and then tossed
it to her.

"For you," he said, and left the room.

"Well, my dear," said Lady Francis, "in this you say you _will_ come,
and now you say you _won't_, or am I reading it wrong? I don't
understand."

"I have changed my mind," said Mary feebly. "I mean I can't throw over
the Lestranges. I only ran in to explain. I must be going back now."

Lord Francis, who was in the hall, put her into her hansom and closed
the doors. As he did so he leaned forward and said:

"If you dare to interfere with me you will pay for it."



PART II

      "Ah! woe that youth should love to be
    Like this swift Thames that speeds so fast,
      And is so fain to find the sea,--
    That leaves this maze of shadow and sleep,
    These creeks down which blown blossoms creep,
      For breakers of the homeless deep."

                                                 --EDMUND GOSSE.


The little river steamer, with its gay awning, was hitched up to the
Speaker's Stairs. The Lestranges were standing at the gangway welcoming
their guests. There was a crowd watching along the parapet of
Westminster Bridge just above.

"Are we all here? It is past four," said Captain Lestrange to his wife.

Mrs Lestrange looked round. "Eighteen, twenty, twenty-four. Ah! Here is
Lady Mary Carden, late as usual. She is the last. No. There is one more
to come. Miss Grey."

"Which Miss Grey?"

"Why, the one Jos Carstairs is to marry. She is coming under my wing.
And now she isn't here. What on earth am I to do? We can't wait for
ever."

A tall white figure was advancing slowly, as if dragged step by step,
through the shadow of the great grey building.

"She does not hurry herself," said Mrs Lestrange indignantly, and she
did not welcome Elsa very cordially as she came on board. The youngest
of the party had made all the rest of that distinguished gathering wait
for her.

Mary, in a gown of immaculate white serge stitched with black, was
sitting under the awning when Elsa passed her on her way towards a
vacant seat lower down. The two women looked fixedly at each other for
a moment, and in that moment Mary saw that Elsa knew that she knew. Even
in that short time Lord Francis had evidently warned the girl against
her.

Do what she would, Mary could not help watching Elsa. This was the less
difficult, as no one ever talked for long together to Mary. The seat
next her was never resolutely occupied. Her gentle voice was one of
those which swell the time-honoured complaint, that in society you hear
nothing but the same vapid small talk, the same trivial remarks over and
over again. She was not neglected, but she awakened no interest. Her
china blue eyes turned more and more frequently towards that tall figure
with its lithe, panther-like grace sitting in the sun, regardless of the
glare. Mary, whose care for her own soul came second only to her care
for her complexion, wondered at her recklessness.

Mrs Lestrange introduced one or two men to Elsa, but they seemed to find
but little to say to her. She was _distraite_, indifferent to what was
going on round her. After a time she was left alone, except when Mrs
Lestrange came to sit by her for a few minutes. Yet she was a marked
feature of the party. Wherever Elsa might be she could not be
overlooked. Mysterious involuntary power which some women possess, not
necessarily young and beautiful like Elsa, of becoming wherever they go
a centre, a focus of attention whether they will or no.

Married men looked furtively at her, and whispered to their approving
wives that Carstairs was a bold man, that nothing would have induced
_them_ to marry a woman of that stamp. The unmarried men looked at her
too, but said nothing.

At seventeen Elsa's beauty was mature. It was not the thin wild-flower
beauty of the young English girl who emerges but slowly from her
chrysalis. It was the splendid pale perfection of the magnolia which
opens in a night. The body had outstripped the embryo spirit. Out of the
exquisite face, with its mysterious foreshadowing of latent emotion,
looked the grave inscrutable eyes of a child.

Elsa appeared quite unconscious of the interest she excited. She looked
fixedly at the gliding dwindling buildings, at the little alert
brown-sailed eel-boats, and the solemn low-swimming hay barges, burning
yellow in the afternoon sun, and dropping gold into the grey water as
they went. Sometimes she looked up at the overhanging bridges, and past
them to the sky. Presently a white butterfly came twinkling on toddling,
unsteady wings across the water, and settled on the awning. Elsa's eyes
followed it. "It is coming with us," she said to Captain Lestrange, who
was standing near her. The butterfly left the awning. It settled for a
moment on the white rose on Elsa's breast. Now it was off again, a
dancing baby fairy between the sunny sky and sunny river. Then all in a
moment some gust of air caught its tiny spread sails, and flung it with
wings outstretched upon the swift water.

Elsa gave a cry, and tearing the rose out of her breast, leaned far
over the railing and flung it towards the butterfly. It fell short. The
current engulfed butterfly and rose together.

Captain Lestrange caught her by the arm as she leaned too far, and held
her firmly till she recovered her balance.

"That was rather dangerous," he said, releasing her gently.

"I could not stand by and see it drown," said Elsa, shivering, and she
turned her eyes back across the river, to where in the distance the
white buildings of Greenwich stood almost in the water in the pearl
haze.

Who shall say what Elsa's thoughts were as she leaned against the
railing, white hand against white rose cheek, and watched the tide which
was sweeping them towards the sea? Did she realise that another current
was bearing her whither she knew not, was hurrying her little barque,
afloat for the first time, towards a surging line of breakers where
white sails of maiden innocence and faith and purity might perchance go
under? Did she with those wonderful melancholy eyes look across her
youth and dimly foresee, what all those who have missed love learn in
middle life, how chill is the deepening shadow in which a loveless life
stands? Did she dimly see this, and shrink from the loveless marriage
before her, which would close the door against love for ever? Did she in
her great ignorance mistake the jewelled earthen cup of passion for the
wine of love which should have brimmed it? Did she think to allay the
thirst of the soul at the dazzling empty cup which was so urgently
proffered to her? Who shall say what Elsa's thoughts were as the river
widened to the sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were coming back at last, beating up slowly, slowly against the
tide towards London, lying low and dim against an agony of sunset. To
Mary it had been an afternoon of slow torture. Ought she to speak to
Elsa? "After the Speaker's Stairs" the telegram had said. Then Elsa
meant to join Lord Francis on her return _this evening_. Ought not she,
Mary, to go to Elsa now, where she sat apart watching the sunset, and
implore her to go home? Ought she not to tell her that Lord Francis was
an evil man, who would bring great misery upon her? Ought she not to
show her that she was steeping her young soul in sin, ruining herself
upon the threshold of life? Something whispered urgently to Mary that
she ought at least to try to hold Elsa back from the precipice,
whispered urgently that perhaps Elsa, friendless as she was, might
listen to her even at the eleventh hour. And Elsa knew she knew.

Was it Mary's soul--dwarfed and starved in the suffocating bandages of
her straitened life and narrow religion--which was feebly stirring in
its shroud, was striving to speak?

Mary clenched her little blue-veined hands.

No, no. Elsa would never listen to her. Elsa knew very well what she was
doing. Any girl younger even than she knew that it was wicked to allow a
married man to make love to her. Elsa was a bad woman by temperament and
heredity, not fit to be a good man's wife. Even if Mary could persuade
her to give up her lover, still Elsa was guilty in thought, and that was
as bad as the sin itself. Did not our Saviour say so? _Elsa was lost
already._

"No, no," whispered the inner voice. "She does not know what she is
doing."

She did know very well what she was doing--Mary flushed with anger--she
was always doing things for effect, in order to attract attention. Look
how she had made eyes at Captain Lestrange about that butterfly. If
there is one thing more than another which exasperates a conventional
person it is an impulsive action. The episode of the butterfly rankled
in Mary's mind. Several silly men had been taken in by it. No. She,
Mary, would certainly speak to Elsa; she would be only too glad to save
a fellow-creature from deadly sin if it was any use speaking--but it was
not. And she did not care to mix herself up with odious, disgraceful
subjects unless she could be of use. She had always had a high standard
of refinement. She had always kept herself apart from "that sort of
thing." Perhaps, in her meagre life, she had also kept herself apart
from all that makes our fellow-creatures turn to us.

Lord Francis' last threat, spoken low and distinct across the hansom
doors, came back to her ears--"If you dare to interfere with me you will
pay for it."

The river was narrowing. The buildings and wharves pushed up close and
closer. The fretted outlines and towers of Westminster were detaching
themselves in palest violet from the glow in the west.

A river steamer passed them with a band on board. A faint music, tender
and gay, came to them across the water, bringing with it the promise of
an abiding love, making all things possible, illuminating with sudden
distinctness the vague meaning of this mysterious world of sunset sky
and sunset water, and ethereal city of amethyst and pearl; and then--as
suddenly as it came--passing away down stream, and taking all its
promises with it, leaving the twilight empty and desolate.

The sunset burned dim like a spent furnace. The day lost heart and waned
all at once. It seemed as if everything had come to an end.

And as, when evening falls, jasmine grows white and whiter in the
falling light, so Elsa's face grew pale and paler yet in the dusk.

Once she looked across at Mary, and a faint smile, tremulous, wistful,
stole across her lips. Tears shone in her eyes. "Is there any help
anywhere?" the sweet troubled eyes seemed to say. But apparently they
found none, for they wandered away again to the great buildings of
Westminster rising up within a stone's throw over the black arch of
Westminster Bridge.

The steamer slowed and stopped once more against the Speaker's Stairs.

The Lestranges put Elsa into a hansom before they hurried away in
another themselves. All the guests were in a fever to depart, for there
was barely time to dress for dinner--and they disappeared as if by
magic. Mary, whose victoria was a moment late, followed hard on the
rest. As she was delayed in the traffic she saw the hansom in front of
her turn slowly round. She saw Elsa's face inside as it turned. Then the
hansom went gaily jingling its bell over Westminster Bridge, and was
lost in the crowd.



PART III

      "Thou wilt not with Predestination round
    Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?"

                                                 --OMAR KHAYYÁM.


The scandal smouldered for a day or two, and then raged across London
like a fire. Mary stayed at home. She could not face the glare of it.
She said she was ill. Her hand shook. She started at the slightest
sound. She felt shattered in mind and body.

"I could not have stopped her," she said stubbornly to herself a hundred
times, lying wide-eyed through the long, terrifying nights. She
besieged Heaven with prayers for Elsa.

On the fourth day Jos came to her.

She went down to her little sitting-room, and found him standing at the
open window with his back to her. She came in softly, trembling a
little. She would be very gentle and sympathetic with him. She would
imply no reproach. As she entered he turned slowly and faced her. The
first moment she did not recognise him. Then she saw it was he.

Jos' face was sunk and pinched, and the grey eyes were red with tears
fiercely suppressed by day, red with hard crying by night. Now as they
met hers they were fixed, unflinching in their tearless, enduring agony,
like those of a man under the surgeon's knife.

"Oh! Jos, don't take it so hard," said Mary, laying her hand on his arm.

She had never dreamed he would feel it like this. She had thought that
he would see at once he had had a great escape.

He did not appear to hear her. He looked vacantly at her, and then
recollected himself, and sat down by her.

"You saw her last," he said, biting his lips.

Mary's heart turned sick within her.

"The Lestranges saw her last," she said hastily. He made an impatient
movement. He knew all that.

"You were with her all the afternoon on the boat?"

"Yes. But, of course, there were numbers of others. I had many friends
whom I had to----"

"Did you notice anything? Did you have any talk with her? Was she
different to usual?"

"She does not generally talk much. She was rather silent."

"You did not think she looked as if she had anything on her mind."

"I couldn't say. I know her so very slightly." Mary's voice was cold.

"She did not care for me," said Jos. "I knew that all along," and he put
his scarred hand over his mouth.

"She was not worthy of you."

He did not hear her. He took away his hand and clenched it heavily on
the other.

"I knew she didn't care," he said in a level, passionless voice. "But I
loved her. From the first go-off I saw she was different to other women.
And I thought--I know I'm only a rough fellow--but I thought perhaps in
time ... I'm not up to much, but I would have made her a good
husband--and at any rate, I would have taken her away from--her father.
He said she was willing. I--I tried to believe him. He wanted to get rid
of her--and--I wanted to have her. That was the long and the short of
it. We settled it between us.... She hadn't a chance in that house. I
thought I'd give her another--a home--where she was safe. She had never
had a mother to tell her things. She had never had any upbringing at
that French school. She had no women friends. She had never known a good
woman, except her old nurse, till I brought her to you, Mary. I told her
you were good and gentle and loving, and would be a friend to her; and
that I had known you all my life, and she might trust you."

"She never liked me," said Mary. It seemed to her that she must defend
herself. Against what? Against whom?

"If she had only confided in you," he said. "I knew she was in trouble,
but I could not make out what it was. She was such a child, and I seemed
a long way off her. I took her to plays and things after I had seen them
first, to be sure they were all right; and she would cheer up for a
little bit--she liked the performing dogs. I had thought of taking her
there again; but she always sank back into low spirits. And I knew that
sometimes young girls do feel shy about being married--it's a great
step--a lottery--that is what it is, a lottery--so I thought it would
all come right in time. I never thought. I never guessed." Jos' voice
broke. "I see now I helped to push her into it--but--I didn't know....
If only you had known that last afternoon, and could have pleaded with
her ... if only you had known, and could have held her back--my white
lamb, my little Elsa."

He ground his heel against the polished floor. There was a long silence.

Then he got up and went away.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not until the end of July that Mary saw him again. She heard
nothing of him. She only knew that he had left London. He came in one
evening late, and Mary's aunt discreetly disappeared after a few
minutes' desultory conversation.

He looked worn and aged, but he spoke calmly, and this time he noticed
Mary's existence. "You look pulled down," he said kindly. "Has the
season been too much for you?"

"It is not that," she said. "I have been distressed because an old
friend of mine is in trouble."

He looked at her and saw that she had suffered. A great compunction
seized him. He took her hand and kissed it.

"You are the best woman in the world," he said. "Don't worry your kind
heart about me. I'm not worth it." Then he moved restlessly away from
her, and began turning over the knick-knacks on the silver table.

"Bethune has been tackled," he said suddenly. "The Duke of ---- did it,
and he has promised to marry her--if--if----"

"If what?"

"If his wife will divorce him. The Duke has got his promise in black and
white."

"I don't think Lady Francis will divorce him."

"N-no. I've been with her to-day for an hour, but I couldn't move her.
She doesn't seem to see that it's--life or death--for Elsa."

"You would not expect her under the circumstances to consider Elsa."

"Yes, I should," said the simpleton. "Why should not she help her? There
are no children, and she does not care for Bethune. She never did. She
ought to release him for the sake of--others."

"I don't think she will."

"I want you to persuade her, Mary." Mary's heart swelled. This then was
what he had come about.

"Aren't you her greatest friend? Do put it before her plainly. I'm a
blundering idiot, and she seemed to think I had no right to speak to her
on the subject. Perhaps I had not. I never thought of that. I only
thought of----. But do you go to her, and bring her to a better mind."

"I will try," said Mary.

"I wish there were more women like you, Maimie," he said, using for the
first time for years the pet name which he had called her by when they
were boy and girl together.

Mary went to Lady Francis next day, but she did not make a superhuman
effort to persuade her friend. She considered that it was not desirable
that Elsa should be reinstated. If there were no punishment for such
misdemeanours, what would society come to? For the sake of others, as a
warning, it was necessary that Elsa should suffer.

All she said to Lady Francis was: "Are you going to divorce Lord
Francis?"

"No, my dear," said that lady with a harsh little laugh. "I am not. Not
that I could not get a divorce. He has been quite brute enough, but if I
did it would be forgotten in about a quarter of an hour, whether I had
divorced him or he had divorced me. I have a right to his name, and I
mean to stick to it. It's about all I've got out of my marriage. I don't
intend to go about as a divorced woman under my maiden name of Huggins.
The idea does not smile on me. Besides, I know Francis. He will come
back to me. He did--before. He has not a shilling, and he is in debt. He
can't get on without me. I was a goose to marry him; but still I am the
goose that lays the golden eggs."

Jos' parents sent Mary a pressing invitation to stay with them after the
season. Mary went, and perhaps she tasted something more like happiness
in that quiet old country house than she had known for many years. Jos'
father and mother were devoted to her, with that devotion, artificial
in its origin, but genuine in its later stages, of parents who have made
up their minds that she was "the one woman" for their son. Mary played
old Irish melodies in the evenings by the hour, and sang sweetly at
prayers. She was always ready to listen to General Carstairs' history of
the _fauna_ of Dampshire, and to take an interest in Mrs Carstairs'
Sunday School. She had a succession of the simplest white muslin gowns
(she could still wear white) and wide-brimmed garden hats. Mary in the
country was more rural than those who abide in it all the year round.

Jos was often there. There was no doubt about it. Jos was coming back to
his early allegiance. Perhaps his parents, horrified by his single
unaided attempt at matrimony, were tenderly pushing him back. Perhaps,
in the entire exhaustion and numbness that had succeeded the shock of
Elsa's defection, he hardly realised what others were planning round
him. Perhaps when a man has been heartlessly slighted he turns
unconsciously to the woman of whose undoubted love he is vaguely aware.

Jos sat at Mary's feet, not metaphorically but literally, for hours
together by the sundial in the rose-garden; hardly speaking, like a man
stunned. Still he sat there, and she did her embroidery, and looked
softly down at him now and then. The doors of the narrow, airless prison
of her love were open to receive him. They would be married presently,
and she should make him give up the Army, and become a magistrate
instead. She would never let him out of her sight. A wife's place is
beside her husband. She knew, for how many wives compact of experience
had assured her during the evening hour of feminine confidence when the
back hair is let down, that the perpetual presence of the wife was the
only safeguard for the well-being of that mysterious creature of low
instincts, that half-tamed wild animal, always liable to break away
unless held in by feminine bit and bridle, that irresponsible babe,
that slave of impulse--man. She would give him perfect freedom of
course. She should encourage him to go into the Yeomanry, and she should
certainly allow him to go out without her for the annual training. He
would be quite safe in a tent, surrounded by his own tenantry; but, on
other occasions, she, his wife, would be ever by his side. That was the
only way to keep a man good and happy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early in September Jos went away for a few days' shooting. Mary, who
generally paid rounds of visits after the season at dull country houses
(she was not greatly in request at the amusing ones), still remained
with the Carstairs, who implored her to stay on whenever she suggested
that she was paying them "a visitation."

Jos was to return that afternoon, for General Carstairs was depending on
him to help to shoot his own partridges on the morrow. But the afternoon
passed, and Jos did not come. The next day passed, and still no Jos.
And no letter or telegram. His father and mother were silently uneasy.
They said, no doubt he had been persuaded to stay on where he was, and
had forgotten the shoot at home. Mary said, "No doubt," but a reasonless
fear gathered like thin mist across her heart. Where was he? The letters
that had been forwarded to his last address all came back. A week
passed, and still no Jos, and no answers to autocratic telegrams.

Then suddenly Jos telegraphed from London saying he should return early
that afternoon, and asking to be met at the station.

When the time drew near, Mary established herself with a book in the
rose-garden. He would come to her there, as he had so often done before.
The roses were well-nigh over, but in their place the sweet white faces
of the Japanese anemones were crowding up round the old grey sundial.
The sunny windless air was full of the cawing of rooks. It was the time
and the place where a desultory love might come by chance, and linger
awhile, not where a desperate love, brought to bay, would wage one of
his pitched battles. Peace and rest were close at hand. Why had she been
fearful? Surely all was well, and he was coming back. He was coming
back.

She waited as it seemed to her for hours before she heard the faint
sound of his dog-cart. She should see him in a moment. He would speak to
his parents, and then ask where she was, and come out to her. Oh! how
she loved him; but she must appear calm, and not too glad to see him.
She heard his step--strong, light, alert, as it used to be of old, not
the slow, dragging, aimless step of the last two months.

He came quickly round the yew hedge and stood before her. She raised her
eyes slowly from her book to meet his, a smile parting her lips.

He was looking hard at her with burning scorn and contempt in his
lightning grey eyes.

The smile froze on her lips.

"I have seen Elsa," he said. "I only came back here for half-an-hour
to--speak to you."

A cold hand seemed to be pressed against Mary's heart.

"I found by chance, the merest chance, where she was," he continued. "I
went at once. She was alone, for Bethune has gone back to his wife. I
suppose you knew he had gone back. I did not. I found her----" He
stopped as if the remembrance were too acute, and then went on firmly.
"We had a long talk. She was in great trouble. She told me everything,
and how he, that devil, had made love to her from the first day she came
back from school, and how her father knew of it, and had obliged her to
accept me. And she said she knew it was wrong to run away with him, but
she thought it was more wrong to marry without love, and that the nearer
the day came the more she felt she must escape, and she seemed hemmed
in on every side, and she did love Bethune, and he had sworn to her that
he would marry her directly he got his divorce, and that his wife did
not care for him, and would be glad to be free, and that all that was
necessary was a little courage on her part. So she tried to be
brave--and--she said she did not think at the time it could be so very
wicked to marry the person she really loved, for _you_ knew, and you
never said a word to stop her. She said you had many opportunities of
speaking to her on the boat, and she knew you were so good, you would
certainly have told her if it was really so very wicked."

"I knew it was no use speaking," said Mary, hoarsely.

"You might have tried to save my wife for my sake," said Jos. "You
might have tried to save her for her own. But you didn't. I don't
care to know your reasons. I only know that--you did not do it. You
deliberately--let--her--drown." His eyes flashed. The whole quiet,
commonplace man seemed transfigured by some overmastering, ennobling
emotion. "And I have come to tell you that I think the bad women are
better than the good ones, and that I am going back to Elsa; to
Elsa--betrayed, deserted, outcast, my Elsa, who, but for you, might
still be like one of these." He touched one of the white anemones with
his scarred hand. "I am going back to her--and if--in time she can
forget the past and feel kindly towards me--I will marry her."

And he did.


THE END


       *       *       *       *       *



Mr MURRAY'S SIX SHILLING NOVELS


  =TALES OF A FAR RIDING.= By OLIVER ONIONS, Author of "The Compleat
      Bachelor."

  =LESLIE FARQUHAR.= By ROSALINE MASSON, Author of "In Our Town."

  =DANNY.= By ALFRED OLLIVANT, Author of "Owd Bob."

  =THE VALLEY OF DECISION.= By EDITH WHARTON, Author of "A Gift from the
      Grave," "Crucial Instances," etc.

  =HIGH TREASON.= A Tale of the Days of George II.

  =THE SHADOWY THIRD.= By HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL, Author of "John
      Charity," etc.

  =THE TRIAL OF MAN.= An Allegorical Romance.

  =A MODERN ANTAEUS.= By the Writer of "An Englishwoman's Love-Letters."

  =THE CAVALIER.= A Tale of Life and Adventures among the Confederates
      during the Civil War in the United States. By G. W. CABLE.

  =THE ROAD TO FRONTENAC.= A Novel of the Days of the French Occupation
      of Canada. By SAMUEL MERWIN.

  =TRISTRAM OF BLENT.= An Episode in the Story of an Ancient House. By
      ANTHONY HOPE.

  =THE SNARES OF THE WORLD.= By HAMILTON AÏDÉ.

  =THE DOMINE'S GARDEN.= A Story of Old New York. By IMOGEN CLARK.

  =ON PETER'S ISLAND.= A Story of Russian Life. By ARTHUR R. ROPES and
      MARY E. ROPES.

  =THE WOOING OF GREY EYES.= And other Stories. By RICCARDO STEPHENS.

  =JOHN CHARITY.= A Tale of the Early Part of Her Majesty's Reign. By
      HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL, Author of "The Procession of Life," etc.

  =A VIZIER'S DAUGHTER.= A Tale of the Hazara War. By LILLIAS HAMILTON,
      M.D., sometime Medical Adviser to ABDUR RAHMAN, Amir of
      Afghanistan. _With Illustrations._

  =THE HEART'S HIGHWAY.= A Romance of Virginia in the Seventeenth
      Century. By MARY E. WILKINS. With a Frontispiece by F. M. DU MOND.

  =THE WORLDLINGS.= By LEONARD MERRICK, Author of "The Actor Manager,"
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  =THE WISE MAN OF STERNCROSS.= By the Lady AUGUSTA NOEL, Author of
      "From Generation to Generation."

  =A GENTLEMAN.= By the Honble. Mrs WALTER FORBES, Author of "Blight."

  =PARSON PETER.= By ARTHUR H. NORWAY.

  =A PRINCESS OF ARCADY.= By ARTHUR HENRY.

  =ON THE WING OF OCCASIONS.= Stories of the Secret Service in America
      during the War of 1860-1. By JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS, Author of
      "Uncle Remus."

  =THE SWORD OF THE KING.= A Romance of the Time of William of Orange.
      By RONALD MACDONALD.

  =LESSER DESTINIES.= By SAMUEL GORDON, Author of "A Handful of
      Exotics," and "In Years of Transition."

  =UNDER THE SJAMBOK.= A Tale of the Transvaal. By GEORGE HANSLEY
      RUSSELL.



HALF-CROWN NET NOVELS.


  =THE INN OF THE SILVER MOON.= By HERMAN K. VIELE.

  =THE DREAM AND THE MAN.= By Mrs BAILLIE REYNOLDS. (G. M. ROBINS.)

  =ANTONIA.= A Story of the Early Settlements on the Hudson River.
      By JESSIE VAN ZILE BELDEN.

  =THE GATHERING OF BROTHER HILARIUS.= A Romance of the Time of the
      Great Pestilence in the 14th Century. By MICHAEL FAIRLESS.

  =AN EPISODE ON A DESERT ISLAND.= By the Author of "Miss Molly."

  =MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE.= By BOOTH TARKINGTON. With Illustrations and
      Typographical Ornaments.

  =MRS GREEN.= By EVELYN ELSYE RYND.

  =THE COMPLEAT BACHELOR.= By OLIVER ONIONS.

  =A GIFT FROM THE GRAVE.= By EDITH WHARTON.

  =MONICA GREY.= By the Hon. Lady HELY HUTCHINSON.



Three Shillings and Sixpence Net Novels


  =THE RESCUE.= By ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK, Author of "The Confounding of
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  =MISTRESS NELL.= A Merry Tale of a Merry Time. By GEORGE C. HAZELTON,
      Junr.



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  =LOVE IDYLLS.= By S. R. CROCKETT, Author of "The Stickit Minister."
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  =CRUCIAL INSTANCES.= By EDITH WHARTON, Author of "A Gift from the
      Grave." Crown 8vo. 5s. net.

  =AN ENGLISHWOMAN'S LOVE-LETTERS.= Small Crown 8vo. 5s. net.

  =THE PLEA OF PAN.= By HENRY W. NEVINSON. Small Crown 8vo. Ornamental
      binding, with cover design by LAURENCE HOUSMAN. 5s. net.

  =THE VOYAGE OF ITHOBAL.= An Epic Poem. By Sir EDWIN ARNOLD, Author of
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The Complete Authoritative Edition of

  =GEORGE BORROW'S WORKS.= Large Crown 8vo. 6s. each. With a
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      "It would be impossible to conceive a better Edition
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      With Portrait and many Illustrations. Large Crown 8vo. 6s.

  =THE NEW FOREST.= Its Traditions, Inhabitants, and Customs. By ROSE DE
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Two Works by Montgomery Carmichael.


  =THE LIFE OF JOHN WILLIAM WALSHE, F.S.A.= A Work of Fiction.
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      than graciously when he is gay."--_Pall Mall Gazette._


  LONDON: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.


       *       *       *       *       *


  PRINTED AT THE EDINBURGH PRESS
  9 AND 11 YOUNG STREET.





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