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Title: Scarlet and Hyssop - A Novel
Author: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic), 1867-1940
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SCARLET AND HYSSOP



By E. F. BENSON.

       *       *       *       *       *

Scarlet and Hyssop.
     12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

The Luck of the Vails.
     12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

Mammon and Co.
     12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

Dodo.
     _A Detail of the Day._ 12mo. Cloth, $1.00; paper, 50 cents.

The Rubicon.
     12mo. Cloth, $1.00; paper, 50 cents.

       *       *       *       *       *

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.



SCARLET AND HYSSOP
_A NOVEL_


By E. F. BENSON


AUTHOR OF DODO
MAMMON & CO.
THE LUCK
OF THE
VAILS
ETC.


[Illustration]


NEW YORK
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
1902



COPYRIGHT, 1902
BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY



CHAPTER I


It has been ordained by the wisdom of Nature that the same fact shall
strike the majority of her foolish children almost simultaneously. This
phenomenon can hardly have escaped the most casual observer; the
majority of swallows, for instance, in any given area will agree,
practically in the same week, that our English autumn is no longer
tolerable, and with consenting twitterings set their heads southwards;
or in the spring, again, one may observe that in any given field daisies
and buttercups will determine, only to be nipped by unpunctual frosts,
that it is now time to come out, while even man, that most vacillating
and least uniform of all created things, has a certain sympathy in his
sensations; the sap stirs with moderately equal effervescence in the
most dissimilar units; and without further preamble, to take the case in
point, London settles without consultation, but with considerable
unanimity, when spring may be considered to have stopped and summer to
have begun. It is hardly necessary to state that London is, if not
always, at any rate very frequently, completely deceived--like the
buttercups and daisies--about a point so apparently palpable as even
this, and a few biting frosts about mid-May usually send it back to its
furs again; but the fact remains that on or about the same day the
streets suddenly wear a completely different garb. On all sides the
chrysalises burst, and butterflies gay or sober, according to their
temperaments, hover and try their wings over a ground strewn, so to
speak, with the brown husks of the "winter weeds outworn." Nor is this
bursting of the chrysalis confined to externals: the time has come; the
tides of vitality turn and flow through the town, and the reopened
houses, newly decked window-boxes, and the flush of colour in the
streets, are but symptomatic of the inward conviction of their
inhabitants that a fresh season for doing a quantity of things they
should not do, and as great an opportunity for leaving undone many
things that they should do, has been turned up by the spade of Time,
that irresponsible farmer of years.

Though not usually given to prosing, Lady Alston had been making remarks
somewhat to this effect as she sat with Mrs. Brereton after lunch in a
balconied window of her drawing-room in Park Lane looking over the haze
and warmth of the Park. Being for the moment, at any rate, in a
pessimistic mood, she accounted for it by a belittling explanation.

"We are so obvious; that is why we all do things simultaneously," she
said; "and a thing that everybody does is not in itself worth doing at
all. I don't suppose there ever was a race so utterly deficient in
originality."

The sun was not very hot, and Mrs. Brereton put down her parasol, and
pointed dramatically with it down Park Lane.

"What do you call that?" she asked. "Did you ever see anything so wildly
and colossally original? You have travelled, dear Marie, and have seen
Aztecs and wigwams and the gorgeous East in fee, whatever that may mean.
But have you ever seen anything to approach Park Lane?"

Lady Alston laughed.

"I don't call nightmares original," she said.

"I'm sure I don't know why not. I see nothing in the nature of a
nightmare which is incompatible with originality. Just look: there we
have a Gothic façade, followed by a very plain English erection which
reminds me of beef and beer and Sunday. A little further down you will
observe a kind of kiosk, and after that the front of the Erechtheum and
something from the slums of Nürnberg. If one could look round the
corner, we would see a rustic cottage, a bit of Versailles, a slice of
Buckingham Palace as _pièce de resistance_, and some Pompeian frescoes
by way of a savoury. There's richness for you."

"Scraps only, scraps from other places. It always reminds me of a dog's
dinner," said Lady Alston; "and all of us who live here are like scraps
for a dog's dinner, too. Bits of things, remnants, a jumble sale, with
everything priced above its proper value."

Mildred Brereton leaned back in her chair, so that the sun did not catch
her hair. The particular Titian shade she affected was so difficult to
please in a strong light, and she felt sure that at this moment there
was a sort of metallic iridescence on it. She would have to go to the
hair-dresser's again to-day.

"Dear Marie, what possesses you this lovely morning?" she asked. "Why
is the world so stupid?"

"Probably only because I had a very short night. I am quite aware that
when one is dissatisfied with things in general, it means that one's
_vie interieure_, shall we say? is dissatisfied with something
particular."

"And what form does the dissatisfaction take?"

Lady Alston threw her hands wide with an admirably graceful gesture.

"I despair of the human race of the day," she said, "but I have enough
grace to include myself. Do you suppose there ever was such a stupid
class of people--especially we, Mildred, the women! We have all,
literally all, we should want to make ourselves happy in an animal
way--good health, sufficient money, and a deep abiding selfishness. But
we can't amuse ourselves; we are not happy; we are like dogs out for a
walk, we must continually have sticks thrown for us. We can none of us
invent anything ourselves. We can none of us stand solitude, which is in
itself a complete confession of our stupidity, our parasitic nature. We
go and hear people sing and act, and make music; and go and see horses
race; we play cards for hours because we have not got the wit to
talk--they say Bridge killed conversation. What nonsense! there was none
to kill. Our whole brains, such as they are, are occupied in devising
things to do to make the time pass. And we devise very badly: we are
always glad when each thing is over. We go to a concert. How long! We
live three months in London. How nice it will be to get down to the
country again! We play Bridge. Will the rubber never end? We spend the
autumn in the country. Will November never be over? On the top of that
we do all in our power to make it appear that time has not passed with
us. We dye our hair and paint our faces, in order to appear young, but
the moment we open our mouths it is obvious we are tired, withered old
women! There!"

Mrs. Brereton moved a little into the shadow.

"Don't mind me, dear," she said, "I am going to have it done again this
afternoon; it won't do at all."

Lady Alston laughed; she had noticed the iridescence.

"Now you, Mildred," she said, "you are an excellent case in point. Tell
me why you find it worth while to do that. What object is served by
your spending hours at your hair-dresser's? Can you find nothing better
to do?"

"You don't know my hair-dresser. He is a small Frenchman with a
lack-lustre eye, who sighs over the wickedness of the world. I sigh too;
and we find sympathy in each other's eyes. Some day I shall ask him to
dinner, and that will be disappointing. Besides, my hair is beginning to
be neatly picked out with gray, and when your hair is gray it looks as
if you were no longer young. Nor am I. I am thirty-six. But I have still
a greedy appetite for pleasure, which is the only real test of youth.
Therefore I cut my coat, or rather dye my hair, according to my
essential age, and pay no attention to the utterly misleading measure of
years."

"But what is the use of being young if it is only to be young?" asked
Lady Alston.

"That is a question which you will not ask when you are thirty-six. Most
delightful things are of no use whatever, and useful things are seldom
delightful. Go on about the want of originality in the world."

"There is really nothing to say about it. It is there, a colossal fact.
Nobody is serious--seriousness is considered the greatest of social
crimes--and we drift along like thistle-down. We are vicious; we are
idle. No one has any dignity or any manners, and there is no object
under the sun, except perhaps the avoidance of physical pain, for which
we would sacrifice our breakfast or dinner."

"There is no one under the sun," said Mildred, "for whom many of us
would not sacrifice our reputations."

"But not our dinner. Oh, I know I am only really speaking of--well, of
people you and I know best, among whom we choose to pass our time. There
again you see our utter want of originality. We are bound hand and foot
by conventions of our own making. Supposing I happened to go into the
country for a fortnight, instead of grilling here in London, every one
would say it was quite unheard of. And I have not got sufficient
originality to go, although I do think that it is simply silly and
absurd to live in a town in the summer."

"Every one would say a great deal more than that," remarked Mrs.
Brereton.

"I know they would. They would wonder whom I had gone with, and they
would speedily invent several people. I beg the pardon of the people
among whom we live. They have one passion, and it is scandal; the more
ill-natured the better."

"No; ill-nature has nothing to do with it," said Mrs. Brereton. "They
have a passion for scandal, it is true. What else is there to talk
about? I share it; in fact, I have a particularly large helping, but it
is the subject-matter of scandal which really interests people. I don't
see why you shouldn't call it the study of human nature. It is if you
come to think of it."

Lady Alston shook her head.

"No, the study of the worst side of it," she said. "So far, what you say
is true. All that most men think about is women, and all that women
think about is men. That is the coarse, raw truth of the thing; that is
the real indictment. Oh, it is inexplicable to me! All that we want in
this world is at our command--at any rate all the beautiful and
interesting things in existence can be read or heard or seen by us. But
we don't waste two thoughts on them all. We sit in corners and giggle
like barmaids with our young men. And, as long as there is no public
scandal, no scandal of the wrong sort--you know what I mean--the more
people that see us, the better we like it. We put our noses in the air
when we see a Harry and a Harriet with their arms round each other's
necks, having changed hats, and say, 'How those people _can_!' But we
can! And we do!"

Mrs. Brereton shrieked with laughter.

"Oh, Marie, you are too heavenly!" she said. "And you certainly have a
right to say those things, because nobody ever accused you of changing
hats with anybody. You don't draw them in, you know, dear. They call you
'Snowflake' and all sorts of things, I am told. And such lots of people
offer you their hats. Yet you never take one."

Lady Alston shifted her position slightly, as if something had suddenly
made her uncomfortable.

"It is no use talking about wickedness nowadays," she said, "because
people simply stare, as if they did not know what you meant. But I made
Blanche stare in a different kind of manner the other day, when I asked
her if she really had no idea how vulgar she was."

"Surely she did not mind being called vulgar?"

"She did when I explained carefully what I meant by vulgarity. Of course
a certain sort of vulgarity is _chic_ now. It is very vulgar not to be
vulgar, not to talk at the top of one's voice, and eat too much, and
laugh very loud at things which ought not to be said; but when I told
her what sort of a picture she makes when she sits simpering and ogling
Dick all across the room, and, so to speak, spreading herself on the
floor for him to walk over, she did not think I was so pleasant. But
that's exactly what she does."

Mrs. Brereton drew on her gloves.

"There is something very successful in your attitude, Marie," she said.
"You go about hurling home-truths at people; you hold up looking-glasses
to them, and make them see themselves; you point out what brutes they
are, and scold them for it; but they never bear you any ill-will, and
always want to see you. You really must not go into the country: we
cannot get on without you!"

"Ah, if I only was conceited enough to think that, I should go!"

"That is truly amiable. But what I mean is this: you have got somehow
the quality of centrality; our parties--I'm sure I don't know why--are
brilliant if you are there, and sensibly flatter if you are not. I
suppose it is because people are always talking about you, and it is so
nice in one's own house to be able to point to the original. At the same
time, I always feel about you as if you were the volcano on which we
were all dancing."

"I shan't explode: I am the least likely person in the world to
explode," said Marie.

"Ah, you never can tell about volcanoes. That is the joy of them. I
snatch a fearful joy from you, dear. I wish I was a volcano. How do you
manage it? Do you get very angry inside, and determine not to say
anything till the pressure is irresistible? By the way, Jim Spencer has
just come back. You know him, I suppose? Anyhow, you will meet him at
dinner this evening."

Marie looked up with a sudden vivacity.

"Jim Spencer? Why, of course I do. We were brought up together almost.
Then--well, then I married, and I lost sight of him somehow."

"One does," observed Mrs. Brereton. "Marriage often produces a sort of
moral cataract."

"Don't be foolish, Mildred. There is nothing cheaper or easier or falser
than that sort of innuendo. Besides, he went abroad; he has been away
two years, I should think."

"They do go abroad," said Mrs. Brereton.

"Oh, if you want to know, there is no earthly reason why I should not
tell you. He proposed to me. But I always liked him very much."

"I always said so," remarked Mrs. Brereton.

"Then you had no business to. Dear Jim! I shall be delighted to see him
again. He is one of the few really reasonable people I know. He has got
some sort of plan of his own; he has always known what he meant to do,
though he has not always done it. For instance, he wanted impossible
things; he had no money and I had none, so he proposed that we should
marry and support ourselves by his writings. He has appeared before now
in Christmas numbers."

"Then, perhaps you acted wisely. But he rolls in wealth now. A South
African millionaire, without anything South African about him: no local
colour, in fact. He is also remarkably handsome. Wealth, manners, good
looks! A fairy-prince combination."

Lady Alston laughed.

"Dear me! I shall like to see Jim with society at his feet," she said.

"You make certain it will go there?"

Lady Alston raised her eyebrows.

"My dear, how can you ask? He is rich--that is sufficient alone."

"He must not kick us, then. It is to be understood he gives us
halfpence, golden halfpence. And it is very interesting--that story
about him and you, I mean."

Lady Alston did not at once reply.

"You give one a bad taste in the mouth sometimes, Mildred," she said at
length.

"Very possibly. And you always tell one that one has done so."

"I know. That is why we are friends."

Mrs. Brereton looked doubtful.

"In spite of it, I should say."

"No, because of it. Ah! here is Jack."

Jack Alston was one of those people whom it was quite unnecessary to
point out, because he was distinctly visible not only to the outward,
but also to the inward eye. He was so large, that is to say, that you
could not fail to notice that he had come into a room, and at the same
time, he had about him the quality of making himself felt in some subtle
and silent manner. As a rule he spoke but little; but his silence, as
Mildred Brereton once remarked with more than her usual insight, took up
all the time. It could not be described as a rich silence, for it was
essentially dry, but somehow it compelled attention. Probably, if he
had been short and squat, it would have passed unnoticed, but coming as
it did from him, it was charged with a certain force, partaking of his
own quality. Also it was doubly unnecessary for his wife to call
attention to his entrance, for on no one did it produce such an effect
as on her. Thus, on this occasion, having remarked on it, she said no
more.

Jack lounged slowly into the balcony, shook hands with Mrs. Brereton,
and sat down on a basket chair sideways to his wife, so that he looked
straight at her profile.

"Decent afternoon for once, Mildred," he said. "Summer at last. You look
summery, too."

"What there is left of me," said she. "Marie has been taking the hide
off us all--skinning us."

Jack considered this a moment.

"Well, you look all right skinned," he said at length. "Bad habit of
Marie's, though. What has she been skinning you about?"

"She's been telling me we are all wicked and stupid, and vicious and
vulgar."

"That's a hobby of hers. One must have a hobby. Going out this
afternoon, Marie?"

Mildred took the hint instantly.

"I must be off," she said. "Really, Jack, you have the most brutal
manner. You send me to the right-about with the least possible ceremony.
So I wish to tell you I was going in any case. I've a hundred things to
do."

Jack rose.

"When have you not? I'll see you down. Wait a minute, Marie, if you're
not in a hurry; I want to have a word with you."

"Oh, don't trouble," said Mildred. "I can find my way."

Jack said nothing, but merely followed her into the house, and when they
had passed the drawing-room, "Has she been cutting up rough about
anything in particular?" he asked.

"Oh, no; merely the rigid attitude, fire-works, thunder-storms, what you
will."

"I'm rather tired of them. For several reasons she had better stop. I
believe most idiots find it amusing."

Mildred took a parasol out of the stand, with the air of a purchaser
selecting the one that most struck her fancy. As a matter of fact, it
happened to be her own.

"I should take care if I were you," she said in a low voice. "A man like
you cannot form the least idea of what a woman like Marie really is. Is
my carriage here? Just see, please."

She stood on the bottom step of the stairs, putting on her rather thick
and masculine driving-gloves, while Jack crossed the hall and rang the
bell. Then he came back to the bottom of the stairs again.

"Do you mean that she suspects anything?" he asked.

"No, of course not. What I do mean is that she is beginning to see what
we all are like. You and I, when we see that, are delighted. It is a
nice big playground. But it does not strike Marie as a playground. Also
you must remember that she is the--how shall I say it!--the sensation,
the latest, the fashion. You've got to be careful. She is capable of
exploding some day, and if she did it would be noticeable. It will
hardly be worth while picking up the fragments of you and me that
remain, Jack, if she does. Because if she does, it will be since
something has touched her personally."

"Well?"

"You are extraordinarily slow. Of course the person who is most likely
to touch her personally is you."

"I've got to mind my p's and q's, in fact. That's not the way to manage
her."

Mrs. Brereton's face clouded a little as she walked across the hall to
the door which was being held open for her.

"Well, _au revoir_," she said. "I shall have more to say to you
to-night. You dine with us, you know."

Jack Alston did not appear to be in any particular hurry to go upstairs
again after Mrs. Brereton had gone. He waited on the door-step to see
her get in, a groom who barely reached up to the horses' heads holding
them while she took up the reins, then running stiffly to scramble in
behind, as she went off down Park Lane in the most approved fashion,
elbows square, a whip nearly perpendicular, and her horses stepping as
if there were a succession of hurdles to negotiate, each to be taken in
the stride. Her remarks about the importance of taking care had annoyed
Jack a little, and still more his own annoyance at being annoyed. He had
his own ideas about the management of his affairs, among which, about
halfway down, came his wife, and the hint that she might, even
conceivably, make matters unpleasant for him was the same sort of
indignity as a suggestion that he could not quite manage his own dogs
or horses. But after a minute he turned.

"For what time is her ladyship's carriage ordered?" he asked of the
footman.

"Half-past three, my lord."

"Tell them to come round at a quarter to four instead," he said, and
went slowly upstairs again.

He found his wife on the balcony where he had left her, with her maid
beside her with two hats in her hand.

"Yes, that one will do," she said, "and send the other back. No, I will
take it myself this afternoon. It is all wrong. Put it in a box and
leave it in the hall. I am going out immediately."

The maid retired with the condemned hat, and while Marie pinned the
other on, she turned to her husband.

"You wanted to speak to me?" she said, not lifting her eyes.

Jack looked at her in silence a moment, and lit another cigar.

"Finish pinning on your hat first," he said.

Marie found herself obeying him, with a sense of wanting, just in order
to see what happened, not to do as he told her. However, she pinned her
hat on.

"Well?" she said again.

"Jim Spencer has come back," he said.

"I knew that. Mildred told me just now."

"I wanted to say a few words to you about him. I find people have not
forgotten that he was very much attached to you once."

She looked up at him with eyes of indifferent wonder, as if he had asked
her some inane unanswerable sort of riddle.

"People are quite at liberty to remember or forget what they like, as
far as I am concerned," she said. "Is that all you have to say to me? If
so, I will go out, I think. The carriage ought to be round."

"Not yet. I told them not to come round till a quarter to four. And I
have more to say."

"Please consult me another time," she said, "before you take it upon
yourself to alter my arrangements."

Jack did not reply at once. Then in a voice expressive neither of
compunction nor annoyance, "It is no use making a fuss," he said. "I
wish merely to warn you that people have not forgotten. I wish also to
ask you to behave reasonably. People, very likely, will connect your
names again: you know what they are."

She rose flushing.

"So you wanted a quiet quarter of an hour in which to insult me," she
said.

He pointed to a chair.

"Sit down, Marie," he said.

"Supposing I choose not to?"

"We will not suppose anything so absurd. There! Why not have done it at
once? As I was saying, this will inevitably happen, and so I should
advise you to accept it. That will entail certain alterations in
your--your general style. I have often heard you criticising rather
mercilessly the world you live in; Mildred tells me you were doing so
this afternoon. I don't mind your doing that: you have a racy sort of
way of talking, and no doubt all your criticisms are perfectly true. But
with the return of Jim Spencer, I should advise you either to drop that
sort of thing, or else not see very much of him."

He paused, and flicked the end of his cigar-ash over the balcony.

"Not that I mind your doing either the one or the other in themselves,"
he continued, "but to do both will show a want of wisdom."

"Ah, you don't mind what I do, but only what people say!"

"Exactly. You have quite grasped my meaning."

Again she rose from the chair in which she had sat at his bidding.

"That is all, then, I imagine," she said. "Five minutes was enough."

"Yes, for what I had to say. I thought you might like to talk over it."

"I have not the least desire to."

Jack reached out his hand for an early edition of the evening paper, and
unfolded it.

"Perhaps you would tell me what you mean to do."

"I have no intention of doing anything. Certainly I have no intention of
discussing the question with you."

Jack did not show the slightest impatience.

"There's no use in being so nettled about it," he observed. "If a woman
behaves in a certain way, she gets talked about. That is all. I have
indicated to you that if you do certain things you will get talked
about; I do not want that."

"From your point of view, I wonder why. Mildred is talked about, so I am
told; but I never knew that you considered that a reason for not seeing
her a good deal."

For one moment he looked quickly up, then turned back a fluttering leaf
of his paper.

"Quite true. And if you were anybody else's wife, I should not mind how
much you were talked about. But you are mine--it happens you are mine."

Marie did not reply.

"Somehow the matter has grown to larger dimensions than I had intended,"
he added. "I only meant to give you quite a friendly and, in a way,
insignificant word of warning. But somehow you have put it all into
capital letters. There, go out for your drive. Really, Marie, I had not
the slightest conception you would make such an affair of it."

"You think I have been unreasonable."

"I do."

She made a great effort with herself.

"Very well, I will forget all about it. You see, we rub each other up
the wrong way, Jack. It is a great pity."

"Yes. But it's not worth bothering about."

The paper appeared to have nothing much in it, and it was only a few
moments after his wife had left him that Jack put it down, and finished
his cigar without other employment than his own thoughts. This short
scene with Marie had disturbed him in the same way as a fall in the
barometer may disturb a picnic-giver: it may come to nothing, but there
is a hint of the fair weather breaking. At the same time, he was
perfectly well accustomed to be utterly at variance with her, and never
contemplated any divergence of opinion between them which could result
in his having to give way. It is only selfish people who cannot believe
that they are selfish, and Jack never passed moral judgments on himself
or anybody else. To be critical of any behaviour that did not annoy him
personally he held to be an absurd attitude to adopt; it was only
behaviour that might prove inconvenient to one's self that could
reasonably be criticised, or, rather, not so much criticised as
corrected. He knew quite well that the small but well-dressed fragment
of the world that at all concerned him, was perfectly aware that his
marriage with Marie had not been a romantic success, though personally
he considered it quite up to the average. To a nature like his, unbroken
constancy and devotion to one's wife is not only an achievement never
aimed at, but an achievement not even contemplated. He had married, as
many men do, simply because many men do marry, and an heir is certainly
the natural complement to estates and a title. But no heir had been
born, and, in a manner of speaking, Marie had made his estates and title
appear ridiculous and lopsided; she had not fulfilled her part of the
bargain.

It is not meant to be understood that he stated these things to himself
with the foregoing baldness, but none the less, if he had analyzed the
springs of action that determined the course of the life he led, he
would have admitted that they represented its ground-motives with
sufficient accuracy. But Jack was not in the habit of analyzing
anything: inquiry into the reasons for conduct seemed to him a
profitless pursuit, since--again to put the matter baldly--he did not
care at all whether a person acted wickedly or not. In fact, as his wife
had said, there were many people who simply stared if you talked of
wickedness. Her husband was among them, but he did not even stare.

It is commonly said that modern life is too full and too complex, but
this generalization requires limiting. Certainly to a man, or in
particular a woman, not belonging to "the world," a sudden plunge into
that frothy mill-race would be complex to the verge of distraction. But
there are many ways of simplifying this complexity, and one of the most
convenient and efficient is to strike out, without further
consideration, all moral obligations, positive and negative. When once
one no longer thinks it necessary to reflect whether one ought or ought
not to do or to avoid a thing, the saving of time and tissue is quite
enormous. For it is not so much doing things as thinking about them
which consumes the minutes and the nerves, and once having made an
unalterable rule to do a thing if it is pleasant, and refrain from it if
it is not, one can get into a single day a number of delightful
experiences which would appear to those who do not know the recipe quite
incredible. Again, as among wild beasts, so in the world, the weak go to
the wall. There is no place for them, and no use for them. Every one has
to look out for himself, and fight for his own possessions and those of
other people. Not to recognise this spells failure. Such, at any rate,
was Lord Alston's experience, and he was generally understood to have
had a good deal of it.

But as he sat now with the stale paper on his knees he had a vague
sense of being balked. He knew his own section of the world fairly well,
and having broken his rose-coloured spectacles a long time ago, and not
having desired to get new ones, he realized that people certainly
remembered Jim Spencer's attachment to his wife, and that piecing
together with their habitual amiability, their opinion of the
ill-success of his own marriage with her, her frankly low opinion of the
world, and the possibility of the renewed intimacy of his wife and this
man, they would say things which would annoy him personally. He had
hoped that Marie would see this, or if not that, at any rate learn it by
heart, so to speak, from a few well-chosen remarks of his. But she had
done neither the one nor the other; she had taken the well-chosen
remarks, so he considered, remarkably ill, and the only _amende_ had
been to say that she would forget all about it. To Jack's mind this was
but poor wifely conduct.



CHAPTER II


Andrew Brereton, Mildred's husband, was a man about whom little was
known and hardly more conjectured, since he was most emphatically of
that type of man who arouses in none the remotest feeling of curiosity.
There seemed to be no doubt that he was of humble origin, but his
origin, whether humble or haughty, he had completely built over with the
tall edifice of his subsequent achievements, which had resulted in the
amassing of a fortune large enough to satisfy the requirements even of
his wife. It is generally supposed that brains of some kind are
necessary in order to make a very large quantity of money, and these
must be postulated for him; but having made a fortune, brains--or
so a study of this particular millionaire would lead one to
suppose--thenceforth become a superfluity. Certainly it appeared that
Mr. Brereton, on his retirement from business, either locked his up, or,
perhaps, as a concluding bargain, disposed of them, no doubt at a
suitable valuation, to his house, which dealt largely and wisely in
sound mining concerns in South Africa. Physically he was thin and meagre
in build, and habitually wore a harassed and troubled look, especially
in his own house, where he sat at the head of the table, and, for all
the attention that was usually paid him, might as well have been sitting
on the area-steps. But inasmuch as he really had an immense fortune, and
his wife had the spending of it, the privilege of being present when she
entertained her friends in his house was accorded him without question,
and the further advantage of his sitting on the area-steps instead of at
his table was never seriously weighed by any one.

To-night there was only a very small party, all the members of which,
with the exception of Jim Spencer, had probably met five or six times a
week since they came up to London, and during the winter had been
together more often than not in each other's houses. There was,
therefore, no sorting and resorting of groups required; conversation
could either be general, or in a single moment split up like broken
quicksilver and roll away into appropriate corners. For the moment it
was general, or rather everybody was listening to Arthur Naseby, a stout
young man, fresh-faced, but prematurely bald, who, standing on the
hearth-rug, harangued the room in a loud and strident barytone.

"_The_ most awful party I ever was at," he was saying. "Mrs. Boneman was
there, the wife of our eminent artist, wearing a sort of bird's-nest on
her head with three Union Jacks and some Easter eggs stuck into it. She
was dressed in a sort of Brussels carpet trimmed with what looked like
horsehair. I'm sure it was not horsehair really, but probably some rare
and precious material, but it looked like it; and she wore what I
understood to be the famous Yeere diamonds. They were about as large as
pen-wipers, and were plastered round her neck and pinned on to the
shoulders; others were scattered about her back. I imagine she stood in
the middle of the room, and her maid threw them at her, and they stuck
in the horsehair."

Mrs. Brereton shrieked with laughter.

"You are too heavenly!" she cried. "Go on, Arthur. Who else was there?"

"All the people whom one always sees coming out of the door of the Cecil
at Brighton, and all those who ask one to supper at the Carlton, in
order to inquire apparently who is sitting at the other tables. It is a
sort of passion with a certain kind of person to know who is supping at
the other tables at the Carlton, and his, or usually her, limitation
that he never does. It appears to them of far greater importance than
who is supping at their own. Well, they were all there, Princess
Demirep, and the Linoleums and Lincrustas. Hosts of them! I assume it
was most brilliant."

"Whom did you go with?" asked Lady Davies, who always wore an air of
intent study when Arthur Naseby was talking, because she was trying to
remember all he said in order to repeat it as original.

"I went with Blanche Devereux. I was dining with her, and she insisted
on my coming. We are both going again on the 16th."

"So am I. Dear Blanche! what did she make of it all?"

"She said she had never felt so humbled in her life. You see, this was a
particular party of _intimes_; the 16th is an omnibus. The brilliance of
the gathering overwhelmed her, just as it did me. We really knew nobody
there, and sat in a corner alone in London, till Mrs. Maxwell herself
left her commanding situation at the head of the stairs where she
received her guests and came and talked to us. I know she thought she
was being kind. So she was, but not in the way she meant."

"She is too wonderful," said Mildred, "Was she dressed in red satin?"

"I should have said bound, not dressed. Very tightly and neatly bound
with silk-markers and gilt edges. She thanked Blanche for coming, and
just stopped herself saying she felt much honoured; also she had hoped
to see her husband as well. Now, I have heard many tactful things in my
life, but I think never anything quite so tactful as that. A strange
fatality pursues poor Mrs. Maxwell; she says unerringly and loudly the
only thing which it is absolutely impossible to say. Blanche is not a
prude, I think we are all agreed, and therefore not easily shocked. Poor
Mrs. Maxwell might have said almost anything, however improper, without
offending her. Again, Blanche is a woman of the world; she can usually
make some sort of reply to the most awful put-your-foot-in-it. But she
was completely outclassed by that one simple sentence. Mrs. Maxwell was
first, and nobody else anywhere."

Lady Davies was so far carried away by this brilliance as to laugh, and
thus completely forgot all she had learned by heart from Arthur's
previous conversation.

"Then poor Mrs. Maxwell turned to me," he went on, "and remarked that I
looked far from well. When any one says that to me, I am always ill for
the next three days; in fact, I hardly thought I could get here
to-night. Of course, that spoiled the rest of my pleasure, and I hardly
knew what happened, except that Dick turned up later in the evening,
and--and pursued his impetuous path. I fancy that poor Mrs. Maxwell
imagined that he was Blanche's husband. But I don't wonder at that."

Marie's nerves were a little on edge to-night, and both what Mr. Naseby
said and the roaring volubility with which he said it jarred on them. At
this particular moment certainly she was possessed with a longing of an
almost passionate kind to cover him up like a canary with a piece of
green baize. But, as there was no baize to hand, she got up from where
she was sitting in the canary's immediate vicinity, and sought a safe
distance in the window-seat. Jim Spencer, who had been sitting at the
other side of the room, got up also, and, crossing the hearth-rug where
Mr. Naseby stood, followed her into her retreat. The latter, seeing a
secession from his audience, cast one pained and pitying glance at them,
and then covered their retreat by the continuation of his monologue.

"So you, like me, find it a little trying, Jim," said Marie, when they
were seated together; "but you will have to get used to it."

"Is there much of that sort of man?" asked Jim. "I don't remember
anything quite like it when I was in London last."

"No, he is a recent invention. He invented himself, in fact. Mildred
thinks she invented him, but she only detected him. The truth is, I
think, that on the whole people have grown rather stupider in the last
year or two, or perhaps it is only lazier, and Arthur Naseby saves them
the trouble of having to talk themselves. In fact, he makes it
impossible."

"Is he always like that?"

"As far as I know, always."

"How odd that he doesn't find it fatiguing! Or perhaps it is even odder
that other people don't find it fatiguing. Tell me something about
him."

"I know nothing whatever about him more than what you can see and hear,"
said Marie. "Indeed, I don't believe there is any more. He is very rich,
and declines to marry."

"Then the man is a husk, a husk with a tongue," said Jim.

"Probably about that; at least, I never heard that any one had reason to
believe there was anything more than the husk. Jim, I wonder how many of
us have real people inside. I expect there are lots of husks and nothing
more."

"Do you think so? I rather believe that most of us have got something
real, though perhaps nothing very wholesome or very pleasant. That being
so, one tries to conceal it, though sometimes it pops out like a lizard
from a crevice. I think I would give anything to get inside anybody
else, just for a minute, to see what he was really like."

"You would be rash to do it. It is quite certain that if you could get
inside anybody, as you say, you would never speak to him again. Good
gracious! could you imagine writing down all that had been in your mind
during a normal half-hour?"

"It depends who was to read it."

"You mean you would let a friend read it?"

Jim laughed.

"Well, if I am as bad as you think, it would clearly be a dangerously
stupid thing to show it to an enemy."

"Ah! you would sooner lose a friend than give a handle to an enemy,"
said Marie. "I entirely disagree with that. I would choose to make or
keep one friend, even at the risk of arming a whole regiment of enemies
against myself. Enemies matter so little."

"Certainly friends matter more," said Jim, "and perhaps acquaintances
less than either. The worst of having been away from London so long is
that one finds so many of the latter and so few of either of the
others!"

"What are your general impressions at present?" asked Marie.

The stream of talk from Mr. Naseby was apparently beginning to run dry;
the pressure was diminishing, and Jim spoke lower.

"I hardly know what to think at present," he said. "London seems to me
to have changed extraordinarily during the last few years. As far as I
can make out, it does not matter now how dull and stupid a man is, how
vulgar or vicious a woman is, as long as he or she is rich enough."

Marie raised her eyebrows.

"Why, of course," she said calmly. "What else did you imagine?"

"That is not all. Apparently, also, you can go to a man's house or a
woman's house, eat her food and drink her wines. Then you hurry on to
the next and tell them that it was _the_ most awful party you ever were
at. But still, apparently, you can go there again on the 16th."

Mildred Brereton had joined them, and lit a cigarette from a
fire-breathing Japanese dragon. She blew out a great cloud of laughter
and smoke together, with her mouth very wide.

"Dear Jim, you are too delicious!" she shrieked. "Really, I shall get
you to come and talk to me instead of Mr. Naseby, for you amuse me much
more. Arthur, you are dropped; Jim is funnier. Of course we are all
going on the 16th, because Pagani and Guardina are both going to sing,
and they sing too divinely for words. Also, considering what we all know
about them, and considering that they know we all know it, it is
exceedingly amusing to see them look at each other with frigid
politeness. Why, only the other day Mrs. Maxwell introduced them to each
other, saying she must make two great artists acquainted. Too screaming!
But you are too delightful and old-fashioned. Your idea about the
obligations entailed by hospitality is a savage notion, dear Jim, like
cannibalism, and vanishes before the march of civilization. I believe
there is an excessively native tribe in Java or Japan, or somewhere,
which still practises it. If you eat their salt, they stick to you
through thick and thin."

Arthur Naseby had joined them.

"How too dreadful!" he exclaimed. "Fancy having a lot of assorted
savages, thick and thin, sticking to one! It sounds as if one was a kind
of superior fly-paper."

"Arthur, you mustn't begin talking again, or we shall never get any
Bridge," said Mrs. Brereton. "Won't you play, Marie?"

"No, I really haven't got time," she said. "I told you I have to go on
at half-past ten. Please what time is it, Jim?"

"Close on eleven."

"Then I must really be moving, Mildred. But Jack will play; he isn't
coming on with me."

"Where are you going, Lady Alston?" asked Arthur.

"To see Blanche Devereux."

Arthur Naseby's face fell.

"I never knew she was giving a party," he said.

Marie laughed, rising.

"She isn't; don't be frightened; it is still possible that she has not
dropped you, like Mildred. I'm only going to see her about the soldiers'
bazaar. In fact, it is because she isn't giving a party that I am
going."

Jim Spencer got up too.

"Will you give me a lift?" he asked. "I am going to Eaton Place also."

"Certainly. Good-night, Mildred. Yes, I know my carriage is here. They
told me half an hour ago. Jack is stopping to play, I suppose. Please
tell him I have taken the carriage."

The two went out, and Mrs. Brereton and Naseby stood still looking at
them. When they had disappeared they looked at each other.

"Dear Marie!" said that lady effusively, "how delighted she evidently is
to see Jim Spencer again! Oh, dear, yes, they were very great friends
in the old days, very great friends indeed. Come, Arthur, they are
waiting for us."

"You always have such delightful people at your house," said Arthur,
"and you always have something interesting to say about them. And that
stiff young man is very rich, is he not?"

"Beyond the dreams," said Mrs. Brereton. "I wonder whom he will find to
make his money fly for him?"

"One can never tell. He looks to me as if he might spend it on Corots or
charity or something of that imperishable kind. Doesn't it strike you as
odd that whereas the perishable nature of money is always dinned into
one, yet one can apparently purchase imperishable treasure by being
charitable with it? No, I can't imagine any one making his money fly.
Some one might make it march away, very solemnly and in good order, but
not fly. He is a little stiff, is he not?"

"Perhaps a little reserved. But when reserve breaks down, it is so
_very_ unreserved. I like seeing a reserved person having a real
holiday."

"How many days would you say it was to the holidays?" asked Arthur, in a
low voice, as they reached the card-table where Jack and another were
waiting.

"I can't tell. I shouldn't wonder--no, I can't tell."

Marie and Jim Spencer meantime were driving down from Grosvenor Square
towards the Park. The night was warm, and hosts of stars burned very
large and luminous in a sky that was beyond the usual London measure of
clearness. After the heat of the rooms, in particular after a certain
feverishness of atmosphere, not physical so much as moral, a sense of
extreme hurry and pressure, the night air and the cool steadiness of the
stars were refreshing, not only physically but morally. Perhaps from
their years of early companionship and intimacy, perhaps from a certain
more deeply seated sympathy of mind, each was very conscious of the
thoughts of the other, and the swift silent motion through the glare of
the streets seemed to isolate them from the world. It was with something
of this in her mind that Lady Alston spoke to the other.

"Yes, put down my window, Jim," she said, "and your own, too, if you are
not afraid of catching cold. We are both outdoor people, I think."

"We used to be," said he.

"Do you mean you have changed? Or do you find I have?"

"I find you have. But I am quite willing to believe that it may be some
change in myself that makes me think so."

Marie unwound the light shawl which she had thrown over her head, and
undid the fastening of her gold-thread cloak, so as to let the air play
on her uncovered neck. In another woman, he felt, this might have
indicated some suspicion of coquetry, but he did her the justice to feel
that no such imputation was possible.

"No, if you feel that you are probably right," she said, "for you do not
seem to me to have changed at all. We both agree, in fact, about you.
There remains then me. How have I changed?"

He looked at her in the dusk of the carriage for a moment without
replying.

"You seemed so much in harmony with those people," he said. "I felt that
you felt yourself to be one of them. But I, obviously, I am afraid, felt
that I was not. That is how I think you have changed; in the old days
you would have appeared to yourself as alien to them as I do."

She gave him one glance.

"Ah, the old days!" she said with some impatience. "It is absurd and
ridiculous to want to remain as one was. Indeed, not to change shows
that one has a nature incapable of development. It implies a sort of
moral torpor, an atrophy of one's nature not to get older as one gets
older. And one of the biggest, and perhaps best effects of age is to
give one tolerance, to make one realize that it takes all sorts to make
a world."

He laughed.

"Why this sudden vehemence?" he asked.

"Oh, for a variety of reasons! One is because you judge me correctly,
another because you judge me incorrectly. You are perfectly right to say
that I have changed, but perfectly wrong to imply, even tacitly, that
one is the worse for changing. And you do me the grossest injustice when
you suppose that I am in harmony with those people. I am not any more
than I ever was. But it is absurd to coil one's self up like a hedgehog,
and run your spines into everything you come across. As a matter of fact
I often do, but it is a mistake."

They drove on some way in silence. At last she spoke again.

"Many of the people with whom I appear to you to be in harmony I
consider wicked," she said; "and many of them, I am sure, are vulgar in
the largest sense of that wonderful term. England is a plutocracy, let
me tell you, Jim. It worships wealth. It will certainly worship you. How
will you like it? It will really be very interesting to see how you
behave. It is an awful position for you: if you refuse to smile on your
worshippers, they will write you down a miser; if you do smile on them,
you will make yourself as vulgar as they."

He laughed.

"You frighten me," he said. "Is there no place in London for a quiet
millionaire?"

She leaned forward with a sudden eagerness.

"Ah, Jim, make one, make one!" she said. "That is the root of the
matter. Try if you can spend your money without encouraging either vice
or vulgarity. It is worth an effort."

She leaned back again, laughing lightly, and drew her cloak round her
again.

"Dear me, I have been vehement," she said; "but don't be afraid; I will
treat you to no more outbursts. Only this afternoon my husband told me
how absurd they were."

"Well, reserve them for me," he said; "I rather like them. You are an
inspiring person, Marie. You know I always found you inspiring."

"Many thanks. But no inspiration will make any one do anything. One's
motive has to come from within, not without, if it is worth anything."

"I am not so sure of that."

They stopped at Lady Devereux's house in Eaton Place, and until the bell
was answered sat silent. Then, as the footman opened the carriage-door,
"I am delighted you have come back, Jim," she said--"I really am
delighted. Come and see me often. Come to lunch to-morrow, for instance.
Yes! That is right. Thirty-one, you know, and lunch at one-thirty."



CHAPTER III


Jim Spencer woke next morning with that thrill of quickened anticipation
which serves to remind us even before full consciousness has returned,
that something new and exciting has come into our lives. He needed but
little thought to remember what it was, and as he lay watching with idle
but wide-awake eyes his man putting his clothes out, he told over and
over again in his mind, like the beads of a rosary, the events of the
evening before, always finishing with the pendant, so to speak, the fact
that in a few hours he was going to see her again. Frankly and honestly
he reminded himself that all romance was over: to begin with, and also
to end with, she was another man's wife, and that was sufficient for
him, as no doubt it was sufficient for her. Three years ago he had left
England because he desired in every fibre of his being to marry her, and
since that was impossible, because he entirely refused to waste his
life in purposeless dangling after what he could not get. And in this
spirit, which is more instinct with manliness than any sacrifice of
years and youth to the mere watching of the unattainable shadow on the
blind, he had gone out to the Transvaal, farmed there with the same
fervour as that which he had thrown into his love-making, and
subsequently, by the discovery of the reef on his land, had become, if
not one of the richest men who had found colossal fortunes as
sheep-farmers, at any rate one of the second rank-millionaire, if not
multi-millionaire. But at that point a certain sobriety of nature had
reasserted itself; he had not mistaken that full meal of gold for the
_hors d'oeuvre_, nor sought to duplicate it and reduplicate it. He had
not lost sight of the fact that he had enough, but recognising it with
all the thankfulness that plenitude gives, and not with the false
appetite of the habitual glutton, he had, so to speak, said grace and
retired from the dinner-table.

So now, at the age of thirty, he was temporarily, at any rate, without
employment, even as he had been, temporarily also, without employment
when Marie decided to marry, not him, but Jack Alston. True, he had
plenty of artistic tastes; in music and pictures he could easily have
passed the remainder of his life, however long, just as, without ever
being bored, he could have shot all the autumn, hunted all the winter,
and dozed and dined all the spring and summer, according to the
traditional method of the English gentleman, whose obituary notice
eventually teems with encomium on his useful and simple life, which
means that he has been a J. P. But to pass one's life merely in hearing
music and looking at or buying pictures seemed to him as unworthy of a
person who called himself a man, as did the recognised round of shooting
and hunting appear to him unworthy of a rational being at all. But as to
what this temporary abandonment of employment should terminate in, he,
as he lay in bed this morning, had no present idea. Anyhow, he was to
see Marie again, and he deliberately quenched further reflection.

The morning had not been foresworn, but fulfilled with liberal
generosity the promise of the last few days, and when Mildred Brereton
reached the Row on a black mare, which had been behaving itself as might
a crab on hot plates, and would have tried any but the most masterly
seat and hands, the broad brown expanse of the Ladies' Mile was
plentifully dotted with riders. The little green seats, too, by the side
were in high request, and she walked, or rather danced, very slowly up
for a hundred yards or so, before letting her chafing mount have a
canter, noting with her quick eye a hundred things and people which
would have escaped one less trained and less naturally gifted to observe
combinations of interest. Jack Alston had joined her, and she kept up a
running comment.

"There's Pagani with that absurd Italian woman," she said. "Why must a
man of that kind do that when Guardina is sure to be here? There, I told
you so! what a row there will be! She has the temper of a fiend, like
me. Jack, if you ever flirt with another woman on the sly, and I see
you, there'll be the deuce to pay. Come and tell me frankly if you are
going to do that sort of thing. Dear Madame Guardina, how are you? Do
walk a little way with us. No, there's not a soul here this morning, is
there? I've seen no one, not even the most constant habitués like
Pagani. And you sang Lucia last night, I hear, too divinely, and I had
some stupid people to dinner and couldn't come. Yes, Lord Alston was
one of them; he was the cleverest there. Judge of the rest!"

The prima donna, a good-natured soul, who had the most perfect vocal
chords in the world, absolutely no artistic sense, a passion for Pagani,
and an adoration for the particular set to which Mrs. Brereton belonged,
was delighted to be seen talking to her, and, turning back, walked along
the rails in the opposite direction to that in which Pagani sat.

"Well, I must say you missed something," she said with engaging
frankness, "for I never was in better voice. And on Saturday I sing La
Tosca. With the open mouth, too, as I've no other engagement for a
fortnight."

"What are you going to do?"

"Go to my house on the river and throw sticks for my dogs. You've never
been there yet, Mrs. Brereton. Do come down sometimes. I shall drive
there on Saturday night after the opera."

Mrs. Brereton made a short calculation.

"I will; I should love to," she said. "I hear it is charming."

"A dozen basket chairs and two dozen dogs," said Madame Guardina.

"I adore dogs. Are you off? Good-bye. About the middle of next week?"

"Any day."

Mildred gave her a charming smile and turned to Jack.

"That's one good-natured thing this morning already," she said, "and
it's barely ten yet. Pagani was just moving when I saw Guardina; he'll
be gone before she gets to him."

"I wish you were half as good-natured to me," remarked Jack.

"Well, what can I do for you?"

"Tell me how to behave to a hopelessly unreasonable woman, who is one's
wife!"

Mildred puckered her lips as if to whistle.

"Explain in five minutes," she said. "I can't really hold this untamed
savage any longer. Come on, Jack; we'll canter--shall we call it? up to
the end."

Whether Mildred called it a canter or not, it is not doubtful what other
people would have called it. But even the heart of the restraining
policeman must have been touched by the splendid vision that flew by
him, Mildred sitting her horse as no other woman could, sitting a horse
also that few could have sat at all, and treating its agitated
toe-steps with less concern than a man in an arm-chair gives to a
persistent fly on a summer afternoon. The consciousness that hundreds of
people were looking at her added, if anything, to her unconcern;
certainly also the fact that many who saw her saw also, and remarked,
that Jack was with her gave an additional zest to her enjoyment. For her
creed was that secrecy in this world was impossible, and the only way to
prevent people talking in the way that mattered and was annoying was to
do things quite openly. It mattered not in the least if people said,
"Oh, we have always known that!" or if they always took it for granted;
what did matter was if they said, "We have lately thought there must be
something of the kind!" Trespassers can be prosecuted; length of
possession constitutes a title.

They drew up at the top of the mile, and Mildred adjusted her hat.

"There," she said, "the cobwebs have been dispersed for the day. Now
we'll go on talking. Explain, Jack. Why do you want treatment for
Marie?"

Jack lit a cigarette.

"She makes scenes," he said, "and they bore me. She made one last
night."

"What about?"

"I don't know that it's worth repeating, really," he said.

"Probably not, but you are going to tell me."

He looked at her a moment with his thin eyebrows drawn together in a
frown, hit his horse rather savagely for an imaginary stumble, and
reined it in again more sharply than was necessary.

"I don't the least like being dictated to, Mildred," he said. "Nobody
adopts that tone with me--with any success, that is to say."

She laughed.

"Oh, my excellent friend," she said, "you really speak as if I was
afraid of you. For goodness' sake, don't put on schoolmaster airs. You
know perfectly well that doesn't go down. Don't hit your horse now; you
are behaving like a sulky child that whips its doll. What was the scene
about?"

"Did you see the infernal manner in which she walked off with Jim
Spencer last night, driving him home in her brougham and saying she was
going to Blanche Devereux'? That was her way of getting quits with me."

"Quits with you? What for?"

"For a conversation I had with her after lunch yesterday. I told her
that if she was seen about with Jim Spencer people would talk, and if
they talked it was absurd for her to keep up the sort of attitude she
maintains towards society in general, saying that we are both fools and
knaves."

Mildred made a gesture of despair.

"The stupidity of men really exceeds all bounds," she said. "I beg your
pardon, that is by the way. You were saying that she walked off with Jim
last night. I suppose you commented on that too, did you?"

He flushed angrily.

"If she imagines she is going to make a fool of me before all the world,
the sooner she learns her mistake the better," said he.

"You said that to her?" asked Mildred in a tone in which "even despair
was mild."

"Of course I did, or rather, I asked her whether she really went to see
Blanche. She saw what I meant all right."

"You seem to imagine she is as great a fool as you," remarked Mildred.

He turned half round on his horse.

"I don't stand such language from any one," said he.

"Oh, for God's sake don't be absurd! You stand exactly what language I
choose to use to you. Is it really possible, Jack, that you don't see
what a dangerous and foolish game you are playing? _Mon Dieu! mon Dieu!_
you are married to that pearl of a woman, and you think you can treat
her like that. You aren't fit to tie her boot-laces, and----"

"I have no intention of trying."

"Don't be funny. I was saying you weren't fit to tie her boot-laces, but
I can't expect you to see that. And you have practically told her you
suspect her of an intrigue with Jim Spencer. Now, if she was the sort of
woman you seem to think she is, that would be the very way to drive her
into it. Personally, I wish she was, but she isn't, and we must make the
best of it. But what you have done is to show her, if further
demonstration were necessary, your own utter depravity. Of the sickening
folly of that, I needn't speak. Go on: what did she say then?"

"She said she didn't care in the slightest degree whether I believed she
went to Lady Devereux's or not. She also said that Jim was coming to
lunch. So of course I shall go home to lunch."

Mildred laughed outright.

"You have the most wonderful power of choosing the only impossible
thing to do or say," she remarked. "That is the one thing out of the
question. The impeccable attitude of guardian angel, my dear Jack, is
the one attitude that cannot be made to pose well. Nor have you the
figure for it."

They rode on a little while in silence.

"Have your own way, then," he said at length.

"Of course I shall. Poor old Jack, how you do manage to put your foot in
it! And I have to pull you out so often. Aren't you grateful to me?"

"Not particularly this moment."

"Well, you will be soon. You needn't tell me when you are. A good action
is its own reward, and I am bursting with an approving conscience this
morning. I've helped Guardina and Pagani, I've helped you."

"Yourself perhaps?"

"That also is my reward. I didn't think of myself--at least, not much."

She looked at him with a gay and kindled eye; the exercise had brought
the blood into her face, and it was impossible to credit her with the
six-and-thirty years which she had assured Marie were hers. And looking
at her, his smarting ill-humour evaporated.

"How is it one never gets tired of you?" he said.

She laughed.

"Because I do not let you get accustomed to me," she answered.

Certainly if Jack Alston had, as was generally supposed, the gift of
getting his way with other people, Mrs. Brereton had the gift of getting
her way with him. This, she knew well, but was far too wise to say, was
the true secret of his absolute dependence on her, for there is nothing
that a masterful and brutal mind really enjoys so much as finding some
one stronger than itself. At times she was inwardly afraid that she
would some day get the worst of it, but knowing that in managing men, as
in managing horses, the real secret of their mutiny is not so much fear
on their driver's part, as the knowledge of that fear in the driver, she
was always, as in this particular instance, more than usually brutal,
and was accustomed to make him, so to speak, more resonant under her
hand, when she was not quite certain in the depths of her own mind that
she was going to win. Then, when the stress was over, she gave him his
own head again, with such completeness as to convey to him the
impression that he had always been free: there was no reminder, not the
faintest strain on the curb to show him that the curb was still there.
She used it, in fact, rarely, but in earnest, and never fell into the
habit, so common in women of her stamp who are otherwise clever, of
nagging, or making a point of getting her way over any matter on which
she did not really desire it.

Nor was her genuine attachment to him less capable of comprehension than
his to her. In addition to the immense charm of his extraordinary good
looks and his devotion to her, there was added that sense, so dear to an
ambitious woman, that she was controlling a figure that bade fair to be
one of the most prominent of the day, and could make it dance to her
wire-pulling like a marionette on its string. Though Jack was not yet
forty, he already held a minor post in the Government, and when the
elections came on in the summer or autumn, it was expected in many
quarters that he would be made Chief Secretary at the War Office. For
the nation had of late begun to wonder whether that serene and unbiased
attitude which is the natural outcome of complete ignorance on the
affairs of the Department is really the ideal equipment for a statesman.
A little knowledge, it has long been agreed, is a dangerous thing, but
the nation, in view of recent events, had distinctly formed the
suspicion that no knowledge at all was almost as hazardous. Indeed, it
was supposed that this idea had gently begun to communicate itself to
the Government itself. Anyhow, it was rumoured that more than a mere
reshuffling of the old cards would take place, and Jack Alston's name
was freely mentioned as a probable occupant of the office in Pall Mall.
Until his succession to the title on his father's death six years ago,
he had been a soldier of the practical, hard-working order, not content
with figures and much polo, but busy with ideas on boots and rifles, and
the knowledge he had thus acquired he had since used on more than one
occasion with telling effect on discussions in the Upper House about
military matters, and the cold, aloof attitude with which anything so
out of taste as criticism founded on knowledge, or the discussion of
practical questions in a practical manner, is usually treated in that
august assembly had not produced the slightest effect on him. He asked
awkward questions, and pointed out the absurdity of the answers or the
silence they received with such imperturbable pertinacity that it was
beginning to be felt that there really might be something in this novel
idea of letting a man who knew a good deal about a subject be employed
in that capacity. At any rate, he could not then continue to criticise
the Department in question if he controlled it. Builders and Government
contractors Jack appeared to consider not as masters of the Government,
but as their servants, and where a firm vowed that a particular
programme could not be completed under six years, he would have no
hesitation in demanding to know how they had managed to take foreign
orders in the interval. These things shook the immemorial calm of Pall
Mall, and produced the sort of gentle perturbation which might be caused
by the introduction of a risky topic at a tea-party of elderly maiden
ladies. But Jack Alston was without tact in these matters, and continued
to be horribly risky.

So he who should perhaps control so huge an affair as the army, and she
who controlled him, rode back towards Hyde Park Corner, a
striking-looking pair, at which many gazed. Their friendship was now of
several years' standing, and people had begun to find that there was
nothing new to say about so well-established a fact. There had never
been any scandal, and London is a wonderfully tolerant town. It is, in
fact, almost incapable of being shocked except by that which is printed
in the daily papers. This constitutes the real power of the press. As
long as definite publicity in black type on white or pink paper is not
given, a fact, however well known, remains private; it is only truly
shocking when the compositor has set it up; then takes place a great and
essential change. And this morning half the world looked at them, and
remarked on the beauty of their horses and the fine horsemanship of
their riders, and shrugged their shoulders now and then, and smiled and
talked about something else.

"So you had better lunch with me, Jack," said Mrs. Brereton, going back
to her subject. "You have a Committee at three, I know."

"And what must I say to Marie?" asked he.

"Say? Say you lunched with me. It has also the minor advantage of being
perfectly true. Oh, so few people see the extraordinary advantage to be
gained by telling the truth. It is so easy, too: you can tell the truth
by a mere effort of memory, whereas any--any diplomatic evasion calls
the imaginative faculty into play."

"I don't think I've got the imaginative faculty," said Jack.

"No, you haven't much. That is why, when you evade, you are always so
unconvincing. Rich ornamental detail is necessary to the simplest
untruth, whereas if you are telling the truth the cruder you are the
better. Your very crudity, Jack, is the making of you as a politician."

"I know what I want politically, anyhow," he said. "I want proper rifles
and the knowledge among the men as to the right direction in which to
fire them off."

"Oh, don't make speeches. That is exactly your oratorical style--in
other words, no style at all. The British public likes that. It says
there is no nonsense about you. How odd it is that politically you
should be a man of such astounding simplicity, and socially--well, a
person who savours of duplicity!"

"I'm straightforward enough," said he.

"Oh--oh! Never mind that. But the British public is odder still. It
insists--at least, it wishes to believe--that its public men should be
people of blameless private life. Now, what can that matter? But I
don't think it has any doubt about you, Jack. It believes you to be a
model of domesticity. Also by my advice, you see, you breed pigs and
shorthorns. There is something magical about pigs and shorthorns. The
public consider them a sort of testimonial to a man's character; I
suppose it is the touch of Nature, or the touch of the farmyard."

"Making the whole world kind!"

"Chestnuts, surely. Well, _au revoir_; go home and dress, and try not to
look glum, and tell Marie you are lunching with me. Good-bye, I must
hurry: I have some things to do before lunch."



CHAPTER IV


Mrs. Maxwell was a voluminous woman of gorgeous exterior, who would have
been pained to hear herself alluded to as a woman instead of a lady.
There was, as she had more than once acutely remarked, a breeding that
is altogether independent either of beauty or wit, and Cleopatra herself
might have been utterly without it.

"And that," said Mrs. Maxwell, "is what makes the difference between a
lady and not a lady."

The inference which she herself drew and meant to be drawn is too
obvious to need pointing out, especially when we remember that she
certainly had neither beauty nor wit, except in so far as it may be held
a proof of ability to have married a money-lender of Jewish extraction
and enormous wealth. But Mrs. Maxwell had ambition, and an amazing
industry. Years ago when she married her Henry she had made up her mind
that, if there was any power whatever in the fact of millions, she
would procure whatever was to be procured with them, and in especial she
had set her heart on bringing not to her feet, but to her table and her
ballroom, all that was noblest and highest in the land. The task had
been far less arduous than she had anticipated, and she felt on this
night of the 16th of May that the prize had been publicly presented to
her. Every one who was any one was going to cross her threshold that
night; a favoured three or four dozen were going to dine there first,
and the rest would come in afterwards. Earls and Countesses were among
them. There was not room for all such nowadays at Mrs. Maxwell's table.

The form that the entertainment was going to take was a concert, for, as
Mrs. Maxwell said, you can dance anywhere for the cost of your
shoe-leather and a couple of trumpets; but it meant a prettier penny
than most people can find in their purse to hear Pagani and Guardina
sitting in a comfortable chair instead of that dreadful draughty
opera-house, and having to go to that cold, creepy "foyure" to get a
glass of lemonade. There was no nonsense or affectation, it will be
remarked, about Mrs. Maxwell's French, which she used ruthlessly in her
conversation, and all her epithets ran in well-matched pairs, like her
horses.

The Maxwells' house stood in Piccadilly overlooking the Green Park, and
it had been purchased as it stood, glass, plate, china, and books
complete, from its owner, who was in straitened circumstances. There
were not many books in the bargain, but among them, luckily enough, was
the callers' book of the late owner, and for the sake of continuity and
general interest Mrs. Maxwell's visitors went on writing their names
there without a break, since the book at the time of their taking
possession was only about half full. It was curious to observe how at
first there was a sort of slump in distinguished names, which now had
completely rallied and developed into a boom; in fact, on the last few
pages half the names were the same as those on the earlier part of the
book.

Among the many other desirable objects in the house were the pictures.
These included several very fine Italian pictures by great masters,
"Raffle," as Mrs. Maxwell rather familiarly called that eminent artist,
being notably represented. They had occasioned a somewhat violent
difference between their present master and mistress, Mrs. Maxwell
maintaining that it was impossible to feel easy and comfortable beneath
such serious-like pictures, Transfigurations and what not, and observing
with some heat that you couldn't sit quiet in your chair with St.
Stephen stoned and bleeding immediately above your head. Eventually a
compromise had been arrived at, and they had been removed from the
drawing-room into the corridor. But even more pointed had been the
discrepancies arising from the small but exquisite half-dozen of Dutch
pictures that had hung in the dining-room. Mr. Maxwell, again, had been
disposed to leave everything exactly as they had found it, arguing that
a family who had lived in the house for a couple of hundred years knew
more about what was suitable to the house than they. This had inflamed
his wife.

"It's a matter of taste, Maxwell," she said; "and I've got as much right
to my own taste as any Duke in the kingdom. And I maintain that while
you're eating your dinner there's no pleasure in looking at a row of
pots and pans hung on the wall, as if to remind you of where your food
has been, and cheeses and what not. And as for that picture of old
Dutchmen eating I don't know what horror, and smoking their pipes the
while, why, it's enough to turn the good wholesome food in your stomach.
And that's my opinion, whether you like it or not."

Mr. Maxwell, who was a just man except in matters of money-lending,
realized that he did not feel as keenly as this.

"But if you take them away, my dear, what will you put in their place!"

"Why, the portraits of you and me and Anthony: you and me on each side
of the fireplace, and Anthony in the middle."

This suggestion was a happy one, and had been put into effect. The
portraits in question were admirable examples of a very eminent painter
of the day, and Henry as large as life, with the unmistakable features
of his race, sat smoking his cigar, so natural, on one side of the
Italian fireplace, while on the other hung Mrs. Maxwell in her crimson
gown with all her diamonds on. Both pictures were diabolically clever,
and much more like the sitters than the sitters (happily for them) had
any idea: for where Mrs. Maxwell saw only the impressionist blurs of
coloured light which indicated her priceless stones, the painter had
finely observed and faithfully represented an intolerably ostentatious
opulence; where Mr. Maxwell saw only that he was, as usual, smoking a
cigar, the painter had seen the man who liked to be painted as doing so.
Besides, the glowing end of it, smouldering beneath its white ash, was
marvellously indicated, and Mr. Maxwell often declared he could almost
catch a whiff of it. Between them hung Anthony, a young man of about
twenty-three. He was undoubtedly the son of each of his parents. And the
two parents were turned fondly, as in life, towards the hope of the
house, and the hope of this house, beautifully dressed, also as in life,
stared somewhat vacuously in front of him.

It was, in fact, on Anthony, quite as much as on the mounting of the
ladder of social distinction, that his mother's ambitions centred, and
Anthony, it must be allowed, was largely that which his mother would
have him be; but on the great question of the potency of wealth, its
being able to get for you, if you spend it properly, anything you wish,
from a wife or an ancestor to a pair of shoes, she did not feel certain
of his soundness. There were other things, too, about Anthony which
puzzled his mother: he was accustomed to read poetry, and appeared to
enjoy Wagner, a curious crookedness, so she thought, in one otherwise
honest. But both mother and son were agreed that, wherever he got his
shoes, he could not do better than get his wife from Andrew Brereton's
house, the prospective bride being Maud Brereton, a young goddess of
about eighteen years and six feet of wholesome growth, whom her mother
invariably alluded to as "my little girl."

To-night it certainly seemed that the new patron saint of England, St.
Sovereign, received definite canonization. Royalty, stars and garters,
wit, talent, beauty, and birth, all came and bowed the knee. Even a
stray copy of the menu at dinner was picked up by an enterprising
reporter for publication next day in the paper he represented, so that
Mr. Maxwell's inimitable _chef_ would have the opportunity of living his
triumph o'er again. Dinner was not till half-past eight, and a feast
that costs five pounds a head necessarily takes time to negotiate,
especially since Mr. Maxwell always ate largely and slowly of every dish
that was put before him, so that before the gentlemen left the
dining-room the less favoured guests had already begun to arrive. Among
these was Guardina, who with great good sense had declined her dinner
invitation for the very excellent reason that if she dined there she
would eat too much, and if she ate too much she would not be able to
sing. "And I am here to sing," she added, being without illusions.

Among the diners there had been Mrs. Brereton and Lady Alston, and the
former, following her invariable practice of always paying court to
Jack's wife, linked her arm in Marie's as they were going upstairs, to
the momentary consternation of Mrs. Maxwell, who clearly saw from her
place at the end of the procession of ascending ladies that there were
several women of higher rank behind her.

"Dear Marie, I haven't seen you for a whole two days," she said. "Where
have you hidden yourself? And I never expected to see you here."

"Why not? Surely the dinner was excellent, and is not Guardina to sing?"

"Yes, of course. Oh, I see, you are laughing at me. Don't be cross,
Marie."

"I'm not cross, only frank."

"Oh, but frankness is such a bore, except when you use it as a weapon of
concealment. In fact, I was talking to Jack about that very point two
days ago. As a means of convincing people that you are not telling the
truth, there is nothing so certain as to tell it."

This Bismarckian but imaginative _résumé_ of the conversation in the
Park came out quite glibly, and Marie laughed.

"Really, Mildred, you have a way with you," she said. "Jack went out
yesterday morning in a vile temper, and came back after riding with you
like a drifting angel, all sweetness and smiles. What had you done to
him?"

"I forget what we talked about--probably about him, for that always puts
a man in a good temper quicker than anything else. I'm so glad it was
successful."

Marie sat down on a gilt Louis XV chair upholstered in Genoese velvet.

"I shall send him to you whenever he is in a bad temper, I think," she
went on, "with a ticket pinned on to him, 'Please return in good
condition.'"

Mildred laughed.

"Dearly as I like Jack," she said, "I am not sure that my affection
would quite go to those lengths. Because Jack in an odious temper is
like--well, like Jack in an odious temper. I know nothing, indeed, to
compare to him."

"Well, I wish you would tell me your secret."

"My dear, there is none. Besides, another woman can so often put a man
in a good temper, when his wife could not possibly."

"That doesn't say much for matrimony."

Mildred looked up a moment, and then fell to fingering her fan again.

"Oh, matrimony is such an excellent institution that a few little
disadvantages of that sort really don't weigh. But certainly what I say
is true. And you know it is just the same with us. Jack can put me in a
good temper when my dear Andrew would assuredly fare pretty badly if he
tried."

"I never quite knew why you married him."

"Oh, for a variety of reasons. He was very rich, I liked him, he wanted
to marry me. And we have been very happy. One can't look for perfection
in one's husband any more than in one's own servants or one's horses.
The point is that they should not have any vices, and on the whole suit
you."

"Is that the modern theory?" asked Marie.

"No, I don't know that it is exclusively modern. But what's the matter,
Marie? What was Jack in a bad temper about?"

Marie frowned.

"Jack was coarse. I don't see why I shouldn't tell you. Do you remember
my going home with Jim two nights ago from your house, when I was going
to see Blanche about the bazaar? Well, he hinted that I had not been to
see her at all. Now, what are you to do when your husband behaves like
that?"

Mildred laughed.

"Dear me! is that all? Men are coarse folk, you will not recognise that,
and when they are in a bad temper they say all sorts of things they
don't mean. Now, I can tell you how I should deal with that. I should
simply have laughed in his face, laughed with a wide mouth. But as for
letting it disturb my peace of mind-- You, too, of all people, who
simply are the most enviable woman in London."

"So you tell me," said Marie; "but I don't quite know why."

"Oh, my dear, if it was not you I should think you were fishing for
compliments-- Why? Because you have the brains to be sometimes amused
and sometimes bored at what absorbs all of us; because you are young;
because somehow or other you are _the_ person; because you make any
woman standing near you look dowdy and coarse----"

Marie laughed.

"I am stifled in my own perfections," she said. "Let me get a breath of
air."

"Guardina is just going to oblige us with one," said Mildred. "She
really is like the girl in the fairy stories out of whose mouth drop
diamonds and pearls. I suppose she is paid at least a sovereign a note.
How pleasant that must be! Look, there is poor Nellie Leighton standing
close to her, as if she hoped to be able to pick some of them up. What a
wonderful woman! Not a penny of any sort to bless herself with, an
insatiable appetite for pleasure, and the most light-hearted and
appreciative woman I know. She sees us; she is coming over here."

Mrs. Leighton, in fact, opened her mouth sideways towards one ear, which
was her way of smiling, and rustled elaborately across the room. She
laid an affectionate hand on Marie's arm, and looked as if she had
something very important to say.

"She is going to sing the 'Zitanella,'" she whispered as the accompanist
played a brilliant chromatic passage to compel silence. "Quite too
divine for words. And I have bought a new house. Rustic."

But at the moment a sound as faint and far-away as the ring of a musical
glass pierced the air. Guardina's lips were hardly parted, but that
spear of sound thrilled through the room. Certainly, if she was paid a
sovereign a note, that first note of the "Zitanella" was good measure.
Then it broke like quicksilver into a thousand perfectly round and
shining globules of sound, collected itself again, poised, quavered,
trilled, thrilled, perched as it were like a bird on the topmost twig of
sound, and vanished like a conjurer's handkerchief into air. Mrs.
Leighton again extended her mouth over her right cheek.

"Too delicious!" she said. "And how we are to pay for it all--the house
I mean--I haven't got the remotest idea. It is so comfortable having no
money at all: you not only don't, but you can't pay for anything, and
it's no use thinking about it. Marie, you must come down and see it.
There are two spare bedrooms all white and chintz. When I am there I
always dream of milk and butter and litters of pigs. Yes, isn't Guardina
marvellous? I wish she would lend me her vocal cords for a week. I
would willingly lend her anything I have for a fortnight."

The end of Guardina's song was marked by a sort of general post, and
Marie was snapped up by Mr. Maxwell, if such a phrase can properly be
used of so deliberate a process. His interpretation of the art of
conversation chiefly consisted in opening his mouth as if he was going
to speak, and then shutting it again, like a fish in an aquarium. The
person with whom he was conversing he stood over in an encompassing
manner, with an air of proprietorship. Elsewhere Anthony had cornered
Mildred Brereton's little girl, who evidently wanted to go away, but was
checked by her mother's eye, which from time to time pinned her like a
fluttering butterfly to the spot. She herself was taken possession of by
Mrs. Maxwell, who, unlike her husband, was as voluminous in speech as
she was in person. Arthur Naseby, close beside them, was half listening
to his hostess's conversation, while he was discussing a quantity of
subjects entirely unfit for discussion with Mrs. Leighton.

"Yes, I'm sure she sings beautiful," said Mrs. Maxwell, "and so true.
She seems to hit the note every time. What a thing to have a gift like
that! and I'm sure she makes the most of it. Why, I remember her first
coming out, and she went away in a hanson-cab from the opera. But she
can go handsomer than cabs now!"

Mrs. Brereton again pinned the unfortunate Maud to her seat.

"And what a brilliant party you have got together, Mrs. Maxwell!" she
said. "Positively, there is every one here one has ever heard of, and
absolutely nobody that one hasn't heard of. That is so clever of you! It
is easy enough to get people, but the difficulty is to not have the
wrong ones. I'm sure you must find it so."

Mrs. Maxwell sighed.

"It's as much as Anthony and me can do in a week's work to go through
the calling-book," she said. "Talk of weeding, you never saw such a deal
of it as we have to do. People seem to think they can all come for the
calling. But one must be careful, and I try never to ask any one whom a
single one of my guests would be sorry to have in their own houses."

Mrs. Brereton smiled a congratulatory smile.

"We should most of us be very glad to see them in ours," she said.

Mrs. Maxwell's mood grew more sublime.

"And the pushing and the shoving that some people do to get asked to
other people's houses," she said, "why, it fair passes belief. Now,
Maxwell has no spirit. 'Let 'em all come,' he says, like that horrid
vulgar song; but I said, 'No, Maxwell--if they all come, half of them
will keep away, and them's the very half you want, and where shall we be
then?' There's Guardina going to sing again, with Pagani this time.
She's got to sing two solos and two duos. How wonderfully their voices
suit! you would say they was made for each other. Excuse me, there's the
Duchess of Perth just come, and I must say a word to her."

Arthur Naseby sank into the unoccupied seat.

"Anything more divine I never wish to hear," he said in a shrill
whisper. "And the diamonds have caught an added lustre for their
brilliant surroundings. To-night Mrs. Maxwell is one coruscation, with a
collation to follow."

"How true, too, what she said about Pagani and Guardina," murmured Mrs.
Brereton. "It takes that sort of person to say that sort of thing. I am
not nervous personally, but"--and her eye caught sight of Maud and
Anthony again--"but she is an excellent good kind woman," she added with
a very distinct change of tone.

"And what of the new man, Jim Spencer?" asked Naseby. "Are there
developments? I always look on you as a sort of barometer. You can tell
what is going to happen before it does happen."

Mildred looked round.

"A little cloud like a man's hand," she said.

"Rising out of South Africa. You mean his head will follow?"

"Hush! That's the worst of having these great people to sing. One cannot
talk."

"So unsociable," said Arthur Naseby.

The room where they sat was the ballroom, with six windows overlooking
Piccadilly. It would have held certainly a hundred couples on the floor,
and, crowded as it was now, it must have contained twice the number. All
the world, as Mrs. Brereton had said, was there, and if it was true
that, as Mrs. Maxwell hoped, every one present would have been glad to
see any of the guests at their houses, the world, it must be confessed,
was of very catholic if not apostolic tendencies. It would be, in fact,
impossible to imagine a more heterogeneous gathering: here a peer of
European reputation, whose very name was considered by the country at
large to be synonymous with solid respectability, was being talked to by
a woman who in other circles, and in widely different ways, was also of
European reputation, and who seemed capable of quite making him forget
for the moment, at any rate, the happy colonies which were intrusted to
his wise and well-judged care; here a traveller recently returned from
regions which were supposed to be impenetrable on account of the
cannibal habits of their denizens was relating to two overdressed
dowagers the internal horrors which ensued on drinking the only water
which could be found in these abandoned spots; here a terrible man with
curiously arched eyebrows and carmine-coloured cheeks, who looked like a
decadent wax-work, was retailing to a brilliant _débutante_, in discreet
whispers, things that made her white shoulders shake with laughter, till
she was whisked away by an indignant mother. Princes of royal blood
mingled with the crowd, which bobbed as they approached, and
straightened itself again to make itself amusing, and all talked and
giggled and gabbled together with the utmost freedom and impartiality.
But the predominant feature of the entertainment which brought all its
heterogeneous components into one harmonious whole was Wealth: Wealth
burst from the throat of the singers, Wealth gleamed from the gilded
chairs and Genoese upholstering, Wealth beamed from the ropes of pearls
and diamonds which encircled lean necks and plump necks, old necks and
young necks, and sat enthroned on black and gray and white and brown,
and particularly on golden, hair. There were no doubt many people there
who were not rich, but the wives of such were pretty, or had some
_cachet_ other than mere good breeding about them; but it is certain
that there was no one in London who was very rich who had not at any
rate been asked for that night, and but few who had not come. This
probably was what Mrs. Maxwell meant when she said there was no one
there whom any of her guests would not have liked to have at their own
houses, and, with exceptions so few as to be negligible, she was
perfectly right. All the plutocracy, in fact, were there, English,
American, German, Greek, and Jew, with all the mixtures of religion,
race and language which wealth, with its wonderful amalgamating power,
can bring together. It was, in fact, a typical English party, for there
was there all that money could buy and all those whom the power of money
could bring. That is why it was so very full. People of birth and
breeding were there, who screamed with unkindly laughter at Mrs. Maxwell
and her bevy of quite impossible millionaires, yet they drank her
champagne and danced to her fiddles with the greatest goodwill in the
world, and had Mrs. Maxwell a hundred sons, each of whom would be as
rich as Anthony, they would have hurled two hundred daughters at their
heads; and had she a hundred daughters, it is perfectly certain that at
least two hundred coronets, prospective or immediate, some with
strawberry leaves, some with pearls, some possibly, even with
fleur-de-lis, would have been laid at their feet. There were, of course,
many people who still were not seen in Mrs. Maxwell's drawing-rooms, and
who persisted in looking over her head when they met her elsewhere, but
she in her turn called them "stuck-up," so the honours were pretty
evenly divided. The world in general, moreover, distinctly agreed with
Mrs. Maxwell, and said how absurd it was to give yourself airs.

Mrs. Maxwell by this time was getting to know the ropes sufficiently
well to refrain from telling people how honoured she felt by seeing them
at her house; she also was sufficiently well acquainted with the minute
appetite the English have for music and the great appetite that our
healthy nation has for food. Consequently the concert, at which every
item was admirable and performed by first-rate artists, was short, and
the supper, also in the hands of first-rate artists, elaborate. Her
other preparations also were on the most complete scale, and
Bridge-tables were ready in one room, all sorts of nicotine and spirits
in another, and in the garden behind, brilliantly illuminated as to its
paths and decently obscure as to its seats, there were plenty of
opportunities to enjoy the coolness of the night air, which many people
seemed to find refreshing and invigorating. In the supper-room, finally,
there was a huge sort of bar for the rank and file, and a quantity of
small tables for the very elect. "In fact," as Mildred Brereton said to
Jack as they strolled about the garden after a violent tussle to get
food, owing to the invincible determination of every one to eat without
delay, "it is as good as the best restaurant, and there is no bill
afterwards."

Jack laughed.

"You mistake the character of the entertainment," he said. "It is a
_salon_; I heard Mrs. Maxwell say so, and not a restaurant. Also, the
bill is your presence here."

"I expect many people would like to know another restaurant conducted on
the same principle," said Mildred; "but for you to say that sort of
thing is absurd, Jack. I believe Marie is making you as old-fashioned as
herself."

Jack swore gently.

"Has she been old-fashioned to-night?" he asked.

"Immensely. She told me about her row with you."

"How like a woman! They have to unburden to their friends about
everything. What's the good of unburdening?"

"Jack, you are such a pig--so am I; that is why we are friends. But,
anyhow, I can see what a pearl she is. Sometimes I've half a mind to
finish with the whole affair. Marie makes----"

He turned on her fiercely.

"You don't dare," he said.

"My good man, it is no use storming. You get your way in the world, I
allow, for somehow or other most people are afraid of you. But if you
think I am, you are stupendously mistaken. To resume--half a mind, I
said. When I have the whole mind you shall be instantly told. I am
scrupulously fair in such matters, and I recognise the justice of your
knowing first."

She got up as she spoke.

"I shall now go home," she said.

He laid his hand on her arm.

"No, don't go yet, Mildred," he said. "And I wish to Heaven you would
not say such horrible things. But never mind that: you don't mean it.
Sit down again."

She laughed.

"I mean every word," she said, "also that I must go. Come; Andrew is
sure to be playing Bridge. You can just drive me home. I will leave the
carriage for him."

Jack rose also.

"Won't he look for you?" he asked.

"Not for long, and then he will play some more Bridge."



CHAPTER V


Mrs. Brereton, among her many other moral hallucinations, was in the
constant habit of remembering that she was an excellent mother, and
that, next to her own affairs, it was highly probable that among all
others she took most thought for those of her daughter. Consequently, on
the afternoon following the Maxwell entertainment she determined to
devote herself to Maud and her prospects, and with that end in view
drove down with her in a space-annihilating motor-car to their house
just above Windsor, in order both to talk with her by the way, and when
arrived there see that things were in order for the week-end party that
they were giving on Saturday. The summer weather which had begun with
such splendour a week ago had by an unparalleled effort kept itself up,
and seven days of sunshine had brought out a wealth of fresh green leaf
on the trees, in London still varnished and undimmed by dust, and in
the country of an exquisite verdure. Overhead the sun was set in a sky
of divine purity, and the swift motion through the air she felt to be
quite as exhilarating to the senses as would have been the afternoon
party to which, had not duty called, she would otherwise have gone. She
had never wished to have a daughter, and the abandonment of this party
reminded her how often she was sacrificing herself to Maud. Indeed, she
seemed to herself a most excellent mother.

But, notwithstanding that she was generally and justly supposed to be
able to spar with the most robust emergencies, Mrs. Brereton did not
particularly fancy the task she had set herself, or that, strictly
speaking, had been set her; in fact, early this morning there had
arrived for her a note from her hostess of last night, saying what sort
of communication her dear Anthony had made her before he went to his
bed. Under these circumstances it was only right that Maud's mother
should be asked whether she sanctioned the step he proposed to take in
presenting himself as a suitor for her daughter's hand. The phrasing of
the note, as might be expected from so successful a lady as Mrs.
Maxwell, was as unimpeachable as its contents, and both filled Mrs.
Brereton with joy, for the two odious sons of her husband by his first
marriage would inherit the bulk of her husband's fortune, and Maud would
have almost nothing. Now, Mrs. Brereton had no desire whatever to see
her an impecunious peeress, or, indeed, an impecunious anything, and she
had come to the very wise conclusion that money certainly is money, and
that where a chance of marrying a huge fortune was presented, it would
be distinctly a failure of maternal duty not to put its advantages very
distinctly and decidedly before her daughter. But she was never very
much at ease with Maud, whom, if she had been another woman's child, she
would have described as an uncomfortable kind of girl. But being her
own, she spoke of her always as very original and with great opinions of
her own. She did not particularly like girls, any more than she liked
young men or new wines: they all needed maturing before they were fit
for the palate. But she was just, and gave full allowance to the
necessity for being young before you can become mellow, though she
wished that Maud would be quick about it. Really, when a girl is nearly
nineteen, nearly six feet high, with a superb figure, and a face at
which men undisguisedly stare, and with reason, it is time for the
possessor of such advantages to begin thinking about making her nest.
Here was one ready, excellently well-feathered. She only hoped, strongly
but somehow remotely, that Maud might see it in that light. But she
considered her daughter to combine symptoms of hopeless simplicity with
those of the most world-weary cynicism. It was impossible that both
could be genuine, but it puzzled her mother to say which was.

The sun was quite hot, and Mrs. Brereton at once put up her parasol, for
a large glass screen sheltered them from the wind.

"Delicious the sun is," she said, as she extinguished it. "And what a
delightful drive we shall have, Maud! When one goes into the country
like this, I can never understand why we ever live in town. So sensible
of dear Nellie, is it not? She has bought a cottage in the country, with
an orchard and a dairy and all that, and dreams of butter, she tells me.
She probably wakes and finds that it is earwigs. That she doesn't tell
me."

"I don't think she would care about it if she couldn't tell every one
about it," said Maud. "She doesn't strike me as a real country-lover,
does she you?"

"Oh, I dare say not in the sense you are, dear," said her mother. "I
always wonder where you get it from. Fancy your father or I existing in
the country!"

"But you said this moment that you couldn't understand why we ever live
in town."

This was the kind of thing which frequently occurred when Mrs. Brereton
chattered to her daughter. Maud seemed to think that in light
conversation people meant what they said, an error so astounding that it
seemed almost hopeless to point it out.

"Dear Maud, how literal you are!" she said. "You don't seem to realize
that one has moods which may last a year or more, and may only last a
minute. That one lasted less than a minute."

Maud laughed.

"How unsettling!" she said. "For how can one know whether one really
likes anything? It may only last a minute."

Mrs. Brereton plunged at the opening, a header, so to speak, into the
frothy water.

"Ah, that is where wisdom comes in," she said. "You have not only to
choose and to do what you like, but to choose that which your reason
dictates, that which you know is really advantageous for you. Life would
be a very simple matter if one only followed one's inclinations. It is a
lesson one cannot learn too early."

There was a short pause, in which Mrs. Brereton passed in rapid summary
to herself all the occasions she could remember on which she had not
followed her inclination. It seemed to her that there were an immense
number; she was always doing kind things, and the pause would have been
a long one had not Maud broken it.

"I suppose you mean that you want me to marry Anthony Maxwell!" she
remarked in a perfectly even voice.

This was an occasion on which her mother was absolutely unable to decide
whether Maud's disconcerting directness sprang from internal and
childlike simplicity or a brutally frank insight into the diplomacy of
others. But she put the best construction possible on it.

"Dear Maud," she exclaimed effusively, "it is too dear of you to meet me
halfway like that. To tell you the truth, I was a little shy about
opening the subject to you, as I did not know what you thought; but it
is much easier for me to talk about it now."

"Much," said Maud.

"To think that you should have guessed!" said the other; "but you always
were so quick."

"It did not need much quickness after my prolonged conversation with him
last night."

"So you had a good talk to him," said Mrs. Brereton. "I am so glad."

Maud raised her eyebrows.

"Surely you meant me to," she said. "Whenever I looked up, meaning to
go, I always thought I saw you pinning me down again. Did you not?"

Mrs. Brereton was not quite sure that things were going comfortably.

"I don't know what you mean by pinning you down," she said; "but it is,
of course, perfectly true that I wanted you to get better acquainted
with him. I am sure, Maud, you are a very lucky girl."

The lucky girl put up her parasol; her face was absolutely immobile
except for the least curl at the corner of her mouth, which might have
expressed almost anything--fatigue, indifference, anything.

"Then he has made formal proposals?" she asked. "His mother wrote to me
asking if I sanctioned his doing so."

"You said yes, I suppose?"

"Naturally I should not forbid it, considering, as I do, that it is an
admirable match for you. The young man is amiable, quite without vices I
should think (which, after all, is _most_ important, as so many
marriages are wrecked that way). He is shrewd and clever, quite his
father's son, and he is immensely wealthy."

"Those are all very good qualities," said Maud.

"My dear, of course they are. In bare justice to myself, I must say
that, when I recommend a thing, I do so not on vague grounds, but on
well-defined and cogent reasoning. Or perhaps you would prefer a husband
who is a sot, a fool, and a pauper? You could easily find one of those
without any great trouble."

Maud laughed; she was one of those people whom temper in others leaves
perfectly undisturbed. Then she laid her hand on her mother's.

"Dearest mother," she said, "I really did not mean to be tiresome. Was
I? You were saying that he was well-conducted, clever and wealthy."

"I should have thought that was a good deal to say for any one," said
her mother, not yet quite calm. "There are heaps of perfectly
well-conducted people in the world who are fools, heaps of very wealthy
people who are vicious, and plenty, as I said, who have neither wits,
morals, nor money. Which sort do you want? Or do you look forward to
spinsterhood in a cottage with a canary? Almost all your father's
fortune will go to Otho and Reginald. You will be quite poor."

"I don't love Anthony Maxwell," said Maud, with a deplorable relapse
into directness.

"Oh, my dear, have you been reading some sentimental novel? You seem to
think that every girl meets the man eternally pre-destined for her, with
clear-cut features and a coiffure like a hair-dresser's. That sort of
romantic stuff is extinct. It never existed in fact, and it is rapidly
disappearing in fiction. If it were true, the world would have come to
an end long ago, for we should all have caught such frightful colds by
reading Dante and Shakespeare on violet-covered banks that we should
have died without children."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Brereton settled herself on the cushions of the carriage, feeling
much more comfortable. If only Maud would continue to argue the
question, she felt sure of her ground.

"You are not silly, I know, dear," she went on; "in fact, I think you
are too much the other way. You like analyzing and picking things to
bits, and saying, 'This seems to me faulty here, and that seems to me
exaggerated there.' I assure you it is a mistake. And when you say you
do not love him, you are using expressions of the meaning of which you
have no idea. You don't know what love is--no girl can. You may feel
attracted to a handsome face as you can be attracted by a landscape or a
piece of jewellery, but no one with the slightest sense of refinement
could marry a man because he was handsome. It is a grossly indelicate
idea, and one I am sure which you never entertained."

"I was not proposing to marry any man because of his good looks," said
Maud.

"No, dear, I am certain you were not; and I was only saying in the
abstract that to do such a thing would be an inconceivable folly. If
your husband was Adonis himself, you would forget he was even passably
good-looking in a fortnight. Dear me, yes! one gets used to nothing so
quickly. And in the same way and with the same speed you get used to the
absence of good looks. Anthony Maxwell, I allow, has but small claim to
them; and I was only wondering whether, when you said that you did not
love him, you did not have a half-conscious idea in your mind that if he
was very handsome you might have. Dearest Maud, how wonderfully well you
are looking! no wonder Anthony fell in love with you."

Again the corner of Maud's mouth twitched.

"I hope that was not the cause," she said, "for you have just told me
what an absurd reason that is for wanting to marry anybody!"

For the moment Mrs. Brereton had a violent desire to box those eligible
ears, but restrained it, and proceeded to propound her philosophy of
matrimony with the most admirable lucidity.

"Ah, that is where men are different from us," she said. "It is part of
the province of women, as dear Mr. Austin says, to be beautiful, but it
is quite outside the province of men. Look at your father now, Maud; he
has perhaps less pretentions to good looks than any one I ever saw. But
what a happy, what a blessed"--and the word did not stick--"marriage
ours has been! Looking back even now, I have never yet seen a man whom I
would sooner have chosen. And long, long ago--a year ago at least--I
thought that if only dear Anthony would be attracted by you, what a
happy thing it would be. It is silly to expect high romance. High
romance does not exist for ninety-nine hundredths of the world--luckily,
I am sure. And I am sure you are not romantic."

Maud had listened with the closest attention to what her mother was
saying, but she made no reply, and in silence they bowled swiftly along
the Bath Road, which seemed to open like torn linen in front of them.
Mrs. Brereton also well knew that silence in season is as necessary an
equipment to the dialectician as the most eloquent speech, and having
said all that she really intended, she had no design of ruining the
effect of her words by vain repetition. Once, indeed, she called
attention to the loveliness of the clustered pyramids of bloom that
covered the horse-chestnut-trees in the gardens round the houses of some
small village half buried in blossom, but the tone of Maud's "Lovely!"
showed her quite unmistakably that general conversation was for the
present a futility. At the same time her daughter's abstraction
indicated that her own words were probably sinking in, a process with
which Mrs. Brereton had no desire whatever to interfere. At last, as
they approached their gates, the girl furled her parasol with a snap
which might easily betoken a decision.

"I have made up my mind," she said--"at least, I have made up my mind
not to make up my mind immediately. I suppose you don't expect me to
decide at once?"

"No, dear, certainly not," said her mother; "though personally I cannot
see why you should hesitate."

"You think it is ideal in every way?"

"Ideal, no! An ideal is realized about once every hundred years. There
are disadvantages necessarily attaching to every step, however
advantageous. But I consider it most eminently desirable."

The girl looked at her a moment.

"Did you never look out for what seemed to you ideal, mother?" she
asked.

"Yes, dear, once. When I was exactly fifteen I fell passionately in love
with the Emperor of Germany, whom I had once seen at a distance. To
marry him seemed to me ideal. But whether it would have been or not I
was never privileged to know. He and I both married some one else. I was
acutely miserable for at least a fortnight. But during that fortnight I
learned something, which was that your time can be fully occupied in
getting what you can get, without wasting your energy in longing for
what you can't."

"Poor mother!" said Maud gravely; and in her voice Mrs. Brereton thought
she could detect more of irony than simplicity.

They had no further conversation on the subject for the present, since
during the next couple of hours Mrs. Brereton successfully settled a
hundred details and arrangements that would have taken a less quick
woman half a day to grapple with. The house stood some quarter of a mile
from the river-bank, on the reach between Maidenhead and Bray,
red-bricked and creeper-covered, but picturesque in a haphazard,
bungalow manner, intolerably dank in the winter, when languid, foggy
water covered the lower lawn, but ideally adapted for summer Sunday
parties. It had long been left to moulder and mildew, but some ten years
ago, while the Thames was still only a geographical expression, Mrs.
Brereton, in a hunt for some place of the kind near London, but
sufficiently remote not to be overrun, had lighted on it, and with her
quick eye had seen how admirably it would suit her wants. Inside there
were not more than a dozen bedrooms and two or three adequate
reception-rooms; but the garden was exquisite, and had now under her
guiding hand fulfilled rare possibilities.

A steep slope of grass, negotiable by three flights of stone steps, led
from the gravel path, which bordered the house, on to the lawn, which
lay in terraces towards the river, framed with intersections of box
hedges, cut into pyramidal and geometric shapes, and bordered by vivid
beds of flowers. The entrance of each of these lawns was in line with
the centre of the house, and they communicated one with another by broad
steps of grass. One was levelled for croquet, another was a rose-garden
with a pergola running round it, while that nearest the house was
during the summer chiefly occupied by garden and basket chairs. The
whole front of the house, again, was, with its gravel path, capable of
being roofed in with an awning, carpeted with rugs, and furnished for
eating, drinking, card-playing, and other diversions not less diverting.
Behind the framing of box hedge which encircled the lawn lay on each
side a shrubbery of blossoming trees, lilacs and laburnums, and behind,
again, tall elms and beeches shaded the paths that led to the meadow of
untamed land below the lawn, and bordered the river itself, where
weeping-willows trailed their slow-moving, slender fingers over the
tarred roof of the boat-house. Here, also, Mrs. Brereton had caused to
be erected a private bathing-place, dug out at great expense in the
river. It was remarkable only for the fact that it had never been used,
except once by Mr. Brereton by mistake.

Mildred had not been down here before during the spring, and as she was
going to entertain next Sunday, and would not be able to get down again
in the interval, it followed that a good deal of method and quickness
were required to effect all that had to be done in a couple of hours.
Like a wise woman, she knew that in those cases in which, as here, she
was quite aware what she wanted, and only required it to be done, the
best servants are those who will not be intelligent and have ideas of
their own, but simply obey. Consequently she had, as gardeners, a staff
of Parsifals, simple blameless fools, who moved tubs of geraniums to
such places as she wished and to no others, who planted carnations in
beds where she wished carnations to be planted, and did not execute
fantasies of their own. The greenhouses which lay on the other side of
the house were full and ready with plants to be bedded out, and for the
first half-hour she was occupied in choosing exactly what she wanted in
each bed. After that there was the upholsterer with his choice of
canvases for the awning that lay along the length of the house, and the
carpenter who was to erect a small wooden shelter which should be
convenient for Bridge-players. Then came the choice of rugs, hangings,
and furniture for the marquee which stood on the first lawn, as well as
for the awning-shelter close to the house. Persian carpets had to be
unrolled, spread out, and examined, the choice of chairs and tables had
to be made, palms to be sought for the corners, a piano to be tuned,
the croquet to be inspected and set up.

After an hour, indeed, it seemed as if chaos had resumed its reign, or
that some half-dozen London drawing-rooms had been sacked and the
contents strewn on the lawn. Here stood a great Chinese vase forlornly
alone in the middle of the grass, here two Chippendale tables huddled
together for company, here roll upon roll of Persian rugs were gradually
creeping like a tide of many-coloured waters over the green, here was a
stack of chairs, and here half a hundred lanterns with which the tent
was lit. And in the middle of it all, triumphantly ruling chaos, stood
Mrs. Brereton, never confused herself and never confusing others,
bidding, forbidding, changing, confirming, as she directed
simultaneously the struggling gardeners and an army of housemaids, at
her best, as she always was, when a great deal of practical business had
to be managed in a very short time.

"No, the croquet must be shifted to the right; it gives more margin,"
she was saying. "Just show them, Maud. The piano opposite the French
window from the drawing-room, but it's no use putting it in till you
have the carpets down. The scarlet cushions belong to the other sofa;
no, there's no answer"--this to a footman with a telegram. "Of course,
if there are no nasturtiums out yet it can't be helped. Yes, seven
lanterns at least; the electrician must look to the wires, one on each
of the supports; we shall dine there as well as lunch next Sunday if it
is warm. Bridge-tables? Yes, in the new shelter, two of them, and one in
the corner of the long awning. What's that matting doing? It belongs to
the conservatory; put it back there. I shall want thick common baize
under the rugs; they will get damp otherwise. The big flower-holder in
the corner; no, more in the corner than that. Wolland's will send down
two palms, one to go behind the piano, the other indoors in the
drawing-room."

But out of chaos by such processes of evolution emerged order, and it
was still an hour before sunset when they left again. Mrs. Brereton had
to a high degree that most useful gift of being able to banish any one
subject completely from her mind when she was occupied with another, and
it was not till she was seated with Maud again in the carriage that the
question which had occupied them so exclusively driving down reasserted
itself. Even then she felt it was the better part of wisdom to let
things be. Maud was clearly preoccupied, with what, it was impossible
not to guess, and as she was, her mother knew, one who chose to make
decisions for herself, she bridled her desire to know what was passing
in her daughter's mind. She always found that conversation with Maud was
difficult; to-day it was particularly so. But just as they stopped at
the Grosvenor Square house this desire mastered her.

"And what do you think you intend to do?" she asked.

"I think I intend to refuse him, but I am not sure."

And with such cold comfort her mother had to be content.

That evening Mrs. Brereton was dining at Lady Ardingly's, the woman whom
she admired and respected more than any one in the world. She had been
nobody quite knew who, but, anyhow, Russian and as poor as a church
mouse; but she had got, and nobody quite knew how, a position which was
in its way unique. She had married Lord Ardingly while quite a girl in
the teeth of strenuous opposition, fighting her battle quite unaided,
and, instead of his having to live her down, it had soon become quite
clear that it would be his part to toil, faint yet pursuing, in her
wake. All her life success had attended her, she always knew what she
wanted and always got it, and whoever else rose and shone and passed,
Lady Ardingly continued to burn with unbated luminance. To-day, so
Mildred Brereton thought, Marie Alston was the star, but she quite
realized that this particular star, like those of the music-halls, might
some day set; but Lady Ardingly remained swung high in the social
heavens, a permanent centrepiece. Marie was the fashion, it is true, but
Lady Ardingly was much more than the fashion; that word was far too
superficial to describe her.

She had been, no doubt, once of great personal beauty, but clearly it
was not that which gave her the power she possessed, for it had passed
years ago, and she was now something over sixty, with splashes of rouge
dashed in an impressionist manner on to her face, not from any motive of
vanity, but simply from long force of habit; a wig, no more to be
mistaken for natural growth than a top-hat, was perched negligently on
one side of her head, and to balance it, in the evening, a tiara perched
on the other. Her neck was covered with jewels; her hands, which were
somewhat lean and knuckly, were crammed with rings; and she dressed
superbly. But all these things, like the rouge, were the result of
habit; she had been accustomed to that sort of thing, and continued it,
and certainly he would have been a bold man who tried to reason with her
or alter her. Her husband, for instance, never attempted it. Finally,
she was inordinately fond of gossip, card-playing, and other people's
business, and was eminently good-natured provided that path did not
cross her own. But she had so many private side-paths down which she was
liable to wander, that one never knew for certain where she would come
out next, or how she would act in any given set of circumstances. But as
long as doing a kindness to another did not interfere with what she
desired herself, she was always ready, even at the cost of trouble and
personal exertion, to help her friends if they approached her in the
proper spirit, which implied a good deal of abasement. She had been in
her time a very considerable political intriguer, and, following her
invariable rule of always getting whatever she wanted, she had built up
her husband into the edifice of the Conservative Government. But the
game--for it had never been more to her than that--had now ceased to
amuse her, and she cared no longer how greatly her poor Ardingly
floundered in the spacious halls of the Admiralty. This he seldom failed
to do. She was, finally, the very antipodes of those women who, because
generals and statesmen tell them things not generally known, consider
themselves, in that they are at the centre of things, as wielding some
vague political influence, and fly about telling all their friends what
everybody has said. Lady Ardingly never flew about; she sat quite still
and gave orders. Why people did as she told them they never quite knew;
it arose, perhaps, from her habit of always being right.

Ardingly House was a vast and modern erection in Pall Mall. "So
convenient for Ardingly," as his wife used to say in her slow foreign
speech, "now that he is at the Admiralty. He can come home to lunch, and
tell me all the blunders he has made since breakfast. And there is
plenty of time for him to take two steps and make them all over again
before dinner." Not long ago, at the time when Mrs. Maxwell was
house-hunting, she had heard a vague rumour that there was a possibility
of this mansion being in the market, and had had the temerity to call
on Lady Ardingly to know if it was so. She heard her in silence, not
helping her out at difficult points, and then remarked: "Yes, we are
going to sell it, and live at Clapham Junction. So convenient a train
service." This Mrs. Maxwell had rightly interpreted to be a denial of
the rumour, and had quitted the subject with some precipitation. It was
also characteristic of Lady Ardingly that she did not fly about town,
making the place ring with the story. Here, perhaps, lay one of the
secrets of her effectiveness: she never dissipated her energy.

It was to this lady that Mrs. Brereton decided to carry her doubts and
perplexities. There was only a small dinner-party that night, and before
the men left the dining-room she found herself sitting by her on a sofa.
Lady Ardingly happened to be in an admirable temper, and the opportunity
was golden.

"I have not seen you for very long, dear Mildred," said she. "Tell me
your news. How is Jack Alston? Have you seen him lately?"

This kind of frankness even Mildred found a little embarrassing. Lady
Ardingly, of course, knew everything about everybody, and never, except
when there was something to be got by it, assumed ignorance.

"Jack Alston? Oh, yes, I constantly meet him, in the way one does meet
in London," she said rather foolishly.

"Yes, dear, I know you are great friends. Who does not? Do you hope he
will get a Government post after the election? Tell me; I am really
asking for news."

"Well, Jack hopes for it, of course. The War Office is what he is
running for."

"The War Office? He knows about rifles and powder, does he not? Well,
there is a feeling just now for having men who know their work.
Ardingly, I find, is reading Nelson despatches. Very nice for him. What
is there of news? Never mind politics; they are dull. Some scandal."

"They say Mrs. Alington has made a mess of her affairs," said Mildred.
"I always knew she would, dabbling in the mining-market like that. Her
husband is furious."

"Ah! Now, I wonder who can have told you that? I saw Alington only this
evening. It is not so at all. They are the best of friends. What else?"

"Did you hear about Jim Netson? I am told he was down at Brighton on
Sunday with----"

"Dear Mildred, where can you get these things from?" asked Lady
Ardingly. "Jim Netson was lunching with me on Sunday. What else?"

Mildred found it difficult to bear this sort of thing quite
good-naturedly. Like many other women, she repeated what she heard,
adding a little here and there, not caring particularly about the truth
of a story so long as it amused. But Lady Ardingly contradicted her
flat, and, the worst of it was, she was invariably right. She did not in
the least care for made-up stories, and Mildred, who was by way of being
a well-informed woman on the matter of other people's backyards, was
rather nettled. But she swallowed her pique and laughed.

"Dear Lady Ardingly," she said, "it is no use my telling you things. You
always know best and most."

Lady Ardingly took some coffee, and as she removed the cup from the
tray, the spoon clattered on the floor.

"Clumsy fool!" she said to the footman, and without a pause: "You have
got something on your mind, Mildred. What is it? Always get things off
your mind, my dear, as soon as possible. It is very enfeebling to worry.
Is it"--and her eye fell on Maud, who was talking in a group on the
other side of the room--"is it about your daughter? She is getting a big
girl. It is time you married her."

Mrs. Brereton gave a little staccato note of admiration.

"You are too wonderful!" she said. "Yes, it is exactly that. Anthony
Maxwell wants to marry her."

"Very nice. The son of the great Mr. Maxwell, you mean?" asked Lady
Ardingly, without the slightest inflection of irony.

"Yes."

Lady Ardingly laughed.

"What a pity we did not sell them this house! Maud would have been
mistress here," she said. "At present she does not wish to marry him. Is
it so? I do not wonder, dear Mildred, at a momentary hesitation. Do you?
But it would be a very good marriage for her."

"So I have told her."

"Then, do not tell her so again. Ah, here come the men! Let us play
Bridge immediately. Only I will not play with your husband, dear
Mildred. I would sooner play with a groom out of the stables. We will
have two tables, and he shall be at the other one. Send Maud here a
moment. I will speak to her."

Mrs. Brereton rose with alacrity.

"Dear Lady Ardingly, you are too kind!" she said with heartfelt
gratitude.

"And do not put your oar in, my dear," said Lady Ardingly impassively.

Maud, looking very shy and tall, came in obedience to the summons.

"You are too unkind, dear Maud, to an old woman," said Lady Ardingly.
"You have not said a word to me all the evening, and now we are going to
play Bridge. They all insist on playing Bridge. You would like to play
with your father, would you not? We will arrange a table for you. Yes,
that will be very pleasant. You must come and talk to me one of these
days quite quietly. To-morrow--no, to-morrow will not do. Come to lunch
with me on Friday. What a tall girl you are! and, my dear, do you know
you are wonderfully handsome? Now they want me to play Bridge."



CHAPTER VI


It was Sunday afternoon, and Riversdale, by reason of the gaiety
gathered there, had eclipsed the gaiety of all other places. Some dozen
people were staying in the house, but the most of them had come down
from London to spend the afternoon and return after dinner, and the
lawns, which the company of blameless fools had caused to wear their
most ravishing appearance, were suitably crowded. A set of croquet-hoops
had been put up on one, and a game was proceeding in the orthodox Sunday
afternoon style; that is to say, a nervous, palpitating little man, to
whom at the moment croquet seemed of more importance than his eternal
salvation, was busy, with a tea-party of four balls, separating
adversaries and making hoops with intolerable precision, while a long,
willowy girl, his partner, trailed after him in his triumphal progress
and gave faint and languid sounds of sycophantic applause.

"There you see they are separated, Miss Martin," said the zealot at
length, "and now I'll mobilize with you. Then you can make your hoop
next time, and I ought to go out."

"Yes, it's quite too beautiful," said Miss Martin; "but I know I'll
miss. Oh, it's not my turn, is it? Where are they gone?"

"They" at this moment--a Guardsman of the most pronounced type and a
middle-aged woman of the most un-middle-aged type--being weary with this
faultless exhibition, had retired to a seat at the far end of the
garden, and were talking very low and laughing very loud. They were
recalled with difficulty, still lingering on the way, and the
unpromising situation was carefully explained to them by the palpitating
man in a voice in which the endeavour not to appear jubilant was rather
too marked. It being the lady's turn, she chipped her ball sideways at
about right angles to the required direction, and, without even
affecting to look where it had gone, dropped her mallet in the middle of
the lawn, and instantly retired with her Guardsman again.

Elsewhere other groups were forming and dispersing. In the new wooden
shelter Lady Ardingly had taken up her permanent position at the
Bridge-table, and, while others cut in and out, kept her seat with
tree-like composure, and played rubber after rubber with a success which
appeared monotonous to her adversaries. Anthony Maxwell occasionally
took a hand at her table, and in the intervals chased Maud Brereton from
terrace to terrace with a hunter's pertinacity, conscious of the
approving eye both of his mother and of Maud's. The fathers of them both
would no doubt have viewed his employment with equal approbation, had
they not been deeply engaged in a secluded corner in trying to rook each
other at piquet, each, however, finding to his indescribable dismay that
he had caught a Tartar. Like many very rich men, they played for very
low stakes, and exhibited an inordinate greed for half-crowns, and even
smaller coins.

Jack Alston and his wife had been among the guests who came down from
the Saturday till Monday, but he had gone over for the day, rather to
Mildred's disgust, to a neighbouring golf-links, and would not be back
till dinner. Marie, however, had been, so Mildred considered, at her
very best all the afternoon, conferring, as she in some mysterious
manner had always the power to do, an air of distinction and success to
the party. Wherever she was there was a crowd; wherever she was there
was more constant laughter, more animated conversation. She had the
gift, rare and inimitable, of making people play up. Dull folk aroused
themselves when she talked to them, brilliant people coruscated, for
there went from her, an unconscious but pervading emanation, some air of
freshness and vitality, which acted like a breath of wind in a close
atmosphere, reviving and bracing. At present she was talking to Lady
Devereux and Arthur Naseby, who wore a straw hat which was strangely
unsuitable to him and appeared stouter than ever, in the comparative
privacy of the lower lawn.

"Ah yes," she was saying, "that is just the fault with us all now. We
think we can be amused merely by having people to amuse us. It is not
so; being amused depends almost entirely on one's self. Some days
nothing amuses one; on others one is amused by the other sort of
nothing."

"It's always the other sort of nothing with me," said Arthur Naseby.
"And what I like really best of all is the pantomime. You find in the
pantomime exactly what you take there. I take there an invincible
gaiety. That is why I find it there."

"That's what I mean," said Marie. "It is the case with everything. I
love the pantomime, like you. Everything takes place without the
slightest reason. It is so like life; and, like the clowns, we belabour
each other with bladders and throw mud at butter belonging to other
people. But the audience--the part of it like Mr. Naseby and me--are
enormously amused."

"You are horribly unjust, Marie," said Lady Devereux in her sleepy,
drawling voice. "We never belabour you. You are a privileged person; you
go flying over hedges and ditches, while if I, for instance, as much as
look over a hedge, I am supposed to be there for no good purpose. Is it
the consciousness of innocence that gives you such license! One can
acquire almost anything by practice. I think I shall set about that."

Marie laughed.

"I would, dear. Be innocent for an hour a day, to begin with, and
increase it by degrees."

"Ah, it's not innocence, but the consciousness of it, I want," said
Blanche. "It is a different matter."

"But it leads to absolutely nothing," said Arthur Naseby, in a
discontented voice, "except, perhaps, promotion in the Church; but I
have given up all real thought of that."

"I thought the real way to get on in the Church now was to preach
heretical doctrine," remarked Lady Devereux. "Our parson at Rye always
casts doubt on things like Jonah and the whale, or tries to explain them
by supposing it was not a whale, but an extinct animal with an enormous
gullet, which seems to me just as remarkable. They tell me he is certain
to be made a Bishop. My grandfather was a Bishop."

"And mine was a draper," said Arthur Naseby. "I am thankful every day
that he was such a successful one. Really, nothing matters nowadays
except money. That is so convenient for the people who have some. Here
is a most convenient person, for instance, just coming."

Jim Spencer entered the tent with the air of looking for somebody. He
also had the air of having found somebody when he saw Marie, and sat
down in a low chair by her.

"I have been playing croquet," he said; "but I shall never play again."

"What happened?"

"Nothing happened. I remained in sublime inactivity, except when other
people used me for their own base ends. I never felt so useful in my
life."

"But that, again, is no use," said Arthur--"like the consciousness of
innocence which Lady Devereux means to cultivate. Being simply an
opportunity for other people seems to me the very type of a wasted life.
I am continually being an opportunity for other people, and the
opportunity I give them is to make unkind remarks about me; they
constantly take advantage of it."

"What do they say?" asked Marie.

"They say I am idle, and therefore probably vicious. Now, nothing was
ever less proved than that; it is a perfect fallacy, entirely due to
that pessimistic person who said that Satan finds some mischief still
for idle hands to do. That I am idle is, of course, quite true. For
thirty years I have been very busy doing nothing whatever, and every day
I live I find more nothing to do, if you understand."

"Then, you allow the world doesn't libel you?" said Lady Devereux.

"Certainly it does. It is that to which I so strongly object. People go
about saying all sorts of things about me which are perfectly true. The
greater the truth, the greater the libel."

Marie got up from her chair.

"It is true that the world has a keen grasp of the obvious," she said.
"Why don't you disappoint them, Mr. Naseby, and do something?"

"I am ready to do almost anything in the world," said he, "for a
suitable inducement; but nobody ever induces me."

"Well, I shall go for a stroll," said Marie, "and expect neither
inducement nor companionship unless any one is inclined."

Jim Spencer got up instantly.

"Please let me come," he said.

The two left the tent, but Arthur Naseby and Lady Devereux continued to
sit there. There was a moment's pause, and then in a shrill whisper,
"Yes, the case certainly presents some points of interest," said he;
"and as a consulting doctor, although nobody has shown the slightest
desire to consult me, I don't see why I shouldn't give my diagnosis.
Briefly it is this: This exceeding warm weather will undoubtedly cause
the snowflake to melt; if it does not, it is no true snowflake. But it
must be, for anything but a snowflake would have melted long ago; in
fact, it is proved."

Lady Devereux considered this.

"Marie is a great friend of mine," she said; "but I have one criticism
to make upon her: Her extraordinarily healthy way of looking at things
cannot be genuine; she would not be human if it was. She gave me a
lecture the other day about the vulgarity of lying down to be trampled
on. Now, any one that was human would know that that is just about the
only thing in the world worth doing. Personally, I consider it an
instance of the wonderful self-abandonment and self-sacrificing
character of love."

"And she wouldn't even call it love," said Arthur.

"No; she would use some perfectly antiquated and shocking word. Now,
whatever I am, I am not antique. It is absurd to treat me as if I was
Old Testament history. But Marie is a great dear. She has been too sweet
about the bazaar, and has promised to hold a stall every day."

"I never can quite make out what people see in her," said Arthur. "Of
course I adore her, simply because one has to--it is unheard of not
to--but is there anything there after all, except--except what one
sees?"

"Yes, of course there is," said Blanche. "There is in her all that you
and I and the rest of us are without. To put it baldly, she is a good
woman. You get force from being good if you are clever as well. Yes, you
may laugh, but it is so true. Now, the rest of us are not good--neither
you, nor I, nor dear Mildred."

"But Andrew is," said Arthur.

"That is why one never knows whether he is in the room or not," said
Lady Devereux. "He is, or may be, good; but there is nothing else there
whatever. Mere goodness is pretty colourless by itself; but Marie is
everything else, and good as well. She is about five times as clever as
all of us. She has tact, else she would have made rows long ago; she is
a woman of the world, but she is also good."

"I suppose that is probably why I am never quite comfortable with her,"
said Arthur in a mild, ruminating voice.

"Very likely. It is also why you are quite wrong in your diagnosis just
now. Oh, there's Lady Ardingly looking for people to make up her table.
She has probably cleaned everybody else out. Come, Arthur, let us go
and be cleaned out too."

They both laughed loudly and went.

Marie and Jim Spencer meantime had strolled away from the crowds on the
lawn towards the meadow and the river. Even though he had been only a
fortnight or so back in England, he had begun clearly to recognise that
his experiment of going away, his self-banishment to South Africa in
order to win back freedom from the spell which she had cast on him, had
been a failure. He had thought that by filling his mind with other
interests, by drugging his soul with the pursuit of gold, as you can
drug an aching body into unconsciousness, he would still that pain. So,
indeed, he had done for the time, but the opiate, it appeared, was not
permanent in its effects; the drowsiness had passed off, and again at
the sight of her his love had awoke. It seemed, too, to him now that he
loved her with a more devout passion than ever before; all the old
longing was there with this added--that his heightened and matured
perception could now appreciate how fine she was; how different from the
jostling race that swirled round her, who clutched like greedy children
with both hands at the two things they alone thought worthy of effort:
pleasure, at whatever cost or violation; and money, which was worth any
sacrifice except that of pleasure. Like the whole of the rest of London,
he knew the intrigue which Jack had been carrying on for years, and
which was now so stale that it had almost ceased to form a subject for
gossip, and this thought was bitterly poisonous to his mind. Could it be
possible, he wondered, that Marie knew and condoned it? that she had
accepted that for which there was no remedy but divorce, played
gooseberry to her husband, and knew what were his relations to the woman
whose hospitality she was even now enjoying? That she and Jack had
drifted into the apathetic estrangement which so often is the result of
childless marriages, he did not doubt; but was the reason for it that
which was so well known to everybody else? Again and again during this
last fortnight this unworthy and debasing suspicion had assailed him,
and, to do him justice, he had as often cast it from him, his trust and
whole-hearted belief in her rejecting and strangling it; and as often as
it presented itself, he vowed that he would give it no home. But the
other alternative, the only other possible, though it left her stainless
and unsullied, was hardly less painful; and it was an intolerable
thought to him that she alone should be ignorant of that of which all
his better mind told him she was ignorant. Three-quarters of the world,
no doubt, if they ever gave a thought now to a piece of scandal which
had long outlived its first youth, commended her for her admirable
common-sense in recognising the folly of making a fruitless public
exhibition of her private affairs; the other quarter no doubt wondered
idly how long her blissful ignorance would continue, and saw material
for drama the moment that enlightenment came. And in this wonder he
could not help joining--what would she do if ever she found out? Her
worldly wisdom would assuredly indicate a direction completely opposite
to that in which her moral sense would point. That there would be a
struggle he regarded as inevitable; but even he, knowing her as well as
he did, could form no conjecture as to which way it would go. Marie
accepting what had happened, and not quarrelling with the irremediable,
made a picture unpaintable; but Marie, living the life of a woman who
had separated herself from her husband, was almost equally outside
possibilities. He had a vague sense of approaching storm and brewing
mischief, remote it might be, but marching inevitably nearer, even as in
some spell of sultry and oppressive days we know that it is only through
thunder and a convulsion of elements that we can get back to cool and
dewy mornings, and again regard sunshine as a friend, not as a thing to
be shunned and shrunk from.

It may have been that the vividness with which he was conscious in every
fibre of threatening disaster was communicated by some subtle brain-wave
to her; in any case, her first words as they walked down the shady path
below the full-fledged elms bore very distinctly on that which filled
his mind.

"How hot it is!" she said. "There will surely be a storm."

The echo made by her audible voice to his inaudible thought startled
him.

"What sort of storm?" he asked quickly, still busy on his own ground.

She laughed.

"So you have been thinking of storms, too," she said. "We often used to
think in harness--do you remember, Jim? What sort of storm? Well, I too
had other storms than thunder in my mind. You used to dislike real
thunder-storms, I remember; but I always loved them. I expect other
sorts of storms affect one similarly. I hate compromise, you know. If
one is absolutely at cross-purposes with other people, it is much better
to have it out fair and square, to upset the furniture and smash the
china if necessary, rather than concede a little here and have a little
conceded there. That always results in a state of things no better than
before, and an added distaste on both sides to open the subject again."

He did not at once answer; this bore directly on his stifled
questionings, and answered them.

"Was anything particular in your mind?" he asked at length.

"No--I mean yes. I can't lie to any purpose, Jim; it's no good my
trying. Yes, what was partly in my mind was a disagreement I had with
Jack some ten days ago. We patched it up quite beautifully, and agreed
that nothing was worth bothering about. I acquiesced, though I should
personally have preferred to have it out. At least I am sure of this,
that if one differs fundamentally from any one, it is no use arguing,
or, as he says, bothering. And fundamentally Jack and I are very
different."

She paused a moment and glanced suddenly at him.

"And that is why we get on so excellently," she added, with just a
suspicion of hurry in her words.

Jim longed to applaud her quickness; it had been excellently done. But
the most elementary courtesy forbade him to call attention to it.
"Asides" are conventionally observed at other places besides the
theatres.

"I am glad of that," he said in a perfectly even voice.

This was a turning of the tables; his conventionality was as obvious as
hers; she silently noticed it and also passed on.

"Yes, that little patch-up with Jack was in my mind," she said; "but
then, as I told you, we have privately settled to have no storms. No,
the storm which I mean will be a bigger storm than that. On that subject
Jack and I are quite agreed. I mean a national storm, a general
upheaval. My goodness! some high towers and steeples will be smashed.
And here we all go, meantime, dancing in the middle of the
thunder-clouds, with the lightning, so to speak, playing about us."

They had emerged from the wooded walk on to the edge of the meadow
bordering the river, and as Marie spoke she pointed across the field to
the lawn visible beyond it, filled with gay figures, and bordered with
the bright colour of the flower-beds, and set in the sombre green of the
yew hedges. Jim followed her finger.

"Yes, assuredly we are dancing," he said. "But Sunday afternoon in the
country is an innocuous sort of high-dress dance, isn't it?"

"Certainly; but if we dance all and every day we don't get on with our
work. And in point of fact, Jim, all our dances are not very high-dress.
No; the fact is we are going to the dogs as quick as ever we can. Money,
money, money! That is a perfectly sound and legitimate cry if the means
you adopt are those that increase wealth. But if I get a tip from a City
man and speculate, I am merely snatching at what I want. Did you go to
the Maxwells' the other night? I did, because we all do. That is what we
all have come to; but it does not spell efficiency. We worship the
golden calf, but instead of feeding it we try to cut little pieces off
it."

"And Deborah was a prophetess before the Lord," said Jim. "Proceed,
Deborah."

"I wish I were," said Marie. "Oh, you should hear the truth if I was!
But, Jack, I must tell you, comes pretty near to being a prophet."

"Then you are the prophet's wife. Tell me what he says about it."

"Ah! he is a prophet in all but the one thing needful--I mean the fire
and the burning. The prophet is like the phoenix; he is born from the
ashes of a conflagration. In Jack's case all the message is there, but
it is delivered--I don't know if it will mean anything to you, but
personally I feel it--it is delivered out of cold lips. He needs the
touch of the red-hot coal like Isaiah. Did you hear or read his speech
last week about the Army Estimates? The First Secretary had given his
statement in an apologetic kind of way, apparently wishing to conciliate
the Opposition for the estimates being so high. The usual bickering over
rounds of ammunition followed, and then Jack got up. Instead of
apologizing for their being so high, he fell foul of his own chief for
their being so low. He wanted to know why the autumn manoeuvres had
been curtailed; he wanted to know why the experiments at Lydd had been
abandoned in the middle; he wanted to know why the projected battery at
Gibraltar had not been constructed: was it because of the expense? Why,
in fact, they had not spent twice as much as they had."

"That would hardly be a popular speech from a member of the Government."

"Popular? No. The prophet is no opportunist, and thank God Jack cares
absolutely not one jot what either his own side or the Opposition think
of him. The press the next morning was worth reading; he got the most
violent abuse from both sides."

"Won't that sort of thing damage him both in and after the next
election? I should not think his party would like it, and I am sure the
Government will not."

"Ah, I disagree with you there," said Marie. "Jack, I think, is getting
a great hold on the people--the masses, if you like. He dislikes them,
and he treats them like dirt; but the masses, as you know, are profound
snobs, and rather enjoy that. They like a lord to behave in the way they
imagine lords do behave. They even like a wicked lord. On the other
hand, they are beginning to see that Jack means business. He thinks the
army is wholly inadequate, and, judging from the length of the Boer War,
would crumple under a great stress. You see, he considers that the
walk-over which was anticipated has degenerated into a stroll. So,
instead of joining in the hymn of praise to the British Empire which the
Government spend their time in singing, rather out of tune with each
other, he stands apart, and says bluntly that we must set to and put
ourselves in a far greater state of efficiency, otherwise 'Pop goes the
Empire.' Now, that is impalatable, but I think people in general are
beginning to see that it may be medicinal."

"I should say it was lucky he's a hereditary legislator," said Jim. "But
how about a Government post afterwards?"

"Well, I think the Government may see that, too. They know perfectly
well that Jack doesn't care one straw about party questions. He has said
as much. What he does care about is the Empire--I think he cares for it
more than anything else in the world--and what he knows about is the
army. And if this cry for efficiency--which certainly is getting
louder--in the country continues, they will have a far better chance of
remaining in power if Jack is put at the War Office."

They had come to the far end of the meadow, and Marie paused a moment,
looking at the broad, patient stream. Hundreds of pleasure-boats were
scattered over its surface, and electric launches and river steamers
crowded with roaring Sunday excursionists did their best to make vile
one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. Each, indeed, seemed a
Bedlam let loose and packed tight. Even the stuffy little cabins were
full of feather-hatted girls and amorous young men, who changed hats
with each other, without finding the brilliancy of this wit grow the
least stale even in endless repetition; took alternate mouthfuls of
solid refreshment out of paper bags and of beer out of the same bottle,
with shouts of laughter at slightly indelicate suggestions. The poor
river was flecked with fragments of bun-bags and floating bottles where
trout should have been feeding, and echoes of the music-halls, with
absolutely independent wheezings of concertinas, owning no suzerainty,
by way of accompaniment, came to Marie and her companion with that
curious sharp distinctness with which sound travels over water. For a
moment they stood there in silence; then Marie turned quickly in the
direction of the lawn behind them, and back to the river again.

"After all--" she said half to herself.

Jim laughed. It was somehow strangely pleasant to him to find himself,
as Marie had said, thinking in harness.

"Yes, but less loudly so," he answered, replying to that which she had
not said.

"So it seems to us. Those good folk on the river don't seem loud to
themselves. But--oh dear me, Jim! what an awkward and inconvenient thing
it is to be different from the people one moves among!"

He did not feel that he owed her any mercy on this point. She had
refused deliberately the other life he had once offered her.

"Ah, you find that, do you?" he said, his love for her surging up with
bitterness in his throat. "Yet you chose it yourself."

They had begun walking back towards the lawn again, but at his words
Marie suddenly stopped. From one side came the sound of laughter and
talk, from the other, now more remote, fragments of "D'isy, D'isy."

She well knew what was in his mind, and thanked him silently for not
putting it into words.

"I know I did," she said; "and no doubt the very fact that I am
different to most of my _milieu_ is what makes it so entertaining."

At that moment Jim saw where he stood. He knew that his taunt that her
lot was of her own choosing had been dictated by that which was bitter
within him, and was of the nature of revenge, however ineffectual. And
Revenge is a very smoky lamp wherewith to guide one's steps in this
world, and he had the justice to quench it without more ado. But he knew
also that the void which she might have filled ached horribly, and by
the irony of fate he had now in abundance that of which the lack years
ago had made it impossible then that she should fill it. She had been
but a girl, he but a boy; and in him, he felt now, that which had
subsequently flowered into this great bloom of love had been but in bud.
But the bud, it was now proved, was authentic, for there was no
mistaking the flowers.

Marie also was troubled. She could not but guess something of what was
in his mind, but his taunt seemed to her unworthy of him, and she did
not regret the light finality of her answer. But as they walked back by
the meadow-side, already growing tall with hay, and redolent with the
hundred unprized flowers of English meadows, her mind changed. He had
loved her with an honourable love; she on her side had liked him, but it
had been impossible--so she told herself rather hurriedly. If she had
been free, and he came to her now--but she dismissed such unprofitable
conjectures. Meanwhile she had been harsh, though perhaps deservedly, to
her old friend. So just as he held the gate into the garden open for
her:

"But I am so glad you have come back, Jim!" she said.



CHAPTER VII


Tea--or, rather, the modern substitute for tea, which consistes of most
things except tea, from caviare sandwiches to strawberry ice, and
whisky-and-soda to iced coffee--had just been brought out when the two
returned to the lawn, and Mildred Brereton's guests had fallen upon it
with the most refreshingly healthy appetites, and were fluttering about
the tables like a school of gulls fishing. Every one, according to the
sensible modern plan, foraged privately and privateerly for himself, and
there were no rows of patient women agonizing for things to eat and
drink, until some man languidly brought them something they did not
want, instead of that which they desired. Nor, on the other hand, were
there rows of men parading slowly up the female line, like sightseers at
an exhibition, with teacups slipping and gliding over the saucers, and
buns being jerked from their plates by neighbouring elbows. Instead,
every one flocked to the tables, seized what he wanted, and retired
into corners to eat it. Anthony Maxwell in particular, who had a
wonderful gift for mimicry, was loading up with great care and solidity.
Something in his air might have reminded an observer of a steamer
coaling for a trip. He had had, in fact, a little conversation with both
Mrs. Brereton and Lady Ardingly during the afternoon.

"Yes, dear Mr. Anthony," Mildred had said. "You received my note, did
you not? And I am delighted you could come here to-day! Of course, it is
a dreadful thing to me to think that my little girl will be taken away
so soon. But that is what every mother has to go through. Dear me! it
seems only yesterday that she came into my room, a little toddling mite,
to announce that when she was grown up she was going to marry the groom,
because then she could always live among horses."

"Oh, that'll be all right," said Anthony. "She can have plenty of them."

"How generous of you to say that! You have not--ah--spoken to her yet?"

"No. I've been trying to all the afternoon, but I couldn't get an
opportunity."

"Dear Maud! She is--how shall I say it? But, anyhow, it is so
characteristic of her."

"She seemed to want to avoid me," said Anthony with a bluntness that
rather distressed Mrs. Brereton.

"Yes, it would seem like it," said she; "but indeed-- What I wanted to
say to you was this: You must be patient with her, and I expect you will
need a little perseverance. It is a rare thing, you know, to come and
see and conquer, like Julius Cæsar, or whoever it was. Dear Maud perhaps
scarcely knows her own mind. I am sure I do not know it. You see, she is
young, very young, and I do not think that hers is a nature that expands
very early."

The young man's rather heavy, commonplace face flushed; for the moment
it was lit up, as it were, by a flame from within.

"Oh, I'm not going to be impatient," he said. "And as for perseverance,
why, there's nothing I would not do, nor any number of years I would not
wait, to get her."

Mrs. Brereton looked at him critically for a half-moment. "Why, he's in
love!" she said to herself. Then aloud, "Dear Mr. Anthony! I am
convinced of it," she said. "And bear that in mind when you speak to
Maud. Also bear in mind that there is no marriage which either her
father or I so much desire. Ah, there is the Duchess of Bolton just
come! I must go and speak to her."

His interview with Lady Ardingly had been briefer, but, he felt, more to
the point.

"She will probably refuse you," said that lady. "In that case you had
better wait a month and ask her again. You have everything on your side
and everybody--except, perhaps, the girl. But eventually she will do
what is good for her. Here is a fourth. Let us play Bridge immediately."

This particular game of Bridge had rather taken it out of Anthony, for
he had been Lady Ardingly's partner, and had had the misfortune to
revoke in playing a _sans-à-tout_ hand. Her remarks to him were direct.

"You might just as well pick my pocket of twenty pounds," she said to
him, "as do that. Do you not see it so? By your gross carelessness you
have lost us the rubber, a mistake which one intelligent glance at your
hand would have avoided. Come, there are other pursuits, are there not,
in which you wish to be engaged? You will, perhaps, follow them with
better attention."

Then, seeing the young man's discomfiture, her admirable good-nature
returned. "Croquet, for instance," she added. "I hear you are a great
player. Ah! there is Lord Alston. No doubt he will make our fourth."

Maud, it is true, had spent the hours since lunch in flying before her
admirer, but her reasons, it must be confessed, were not those which one
would be disposed to think natural on the part of a young girl. There
was not, in fact, one atom of shyness or shirking about her; she had not
the least objection to hear impassioned speeches or blunt declarations,
whichever mode Anthony should choose to adopt, nor did the thought of
him in any way fill her with horror. She had listened very attentively
to her mother's advice when they drove down to Windsor earlier in the
week; she had also listened with the same consideration to Lady
Ardingly's far more convincing and sensible remarks when she had lunched
with her on Friday, and her only reason for refusing Anthony an
opportunity all the afternoon was that she really had not the slightest
idea whether she should say yes or no. She did not, as she had told her
mother, love him; she did not, either, dislike him. He was merely quite
indifferent to her, as, indeed, all men were. Men, in fact, as far as
she thought about them at all, seemed to her to be unattractive people;
she could not conceive what a girl should want with one permanently in
the house. They were for ever either putting tobacco or brandy into
their mouths or letting inane remarks out, and they stared at her in an
uncomfortable and incomprehensible manner. On the other hand, she knew
perfectly well that it was the natural thing for girls to marry; every
one always did it, and they were probably right. She supposed that she
also would ultimately marry, but was this--this utter absence of any
emotion--the correct thing? She was aware that tremblings and raptures
were in the world of printed things supposed to be the orthodox signals
flown by the parties engaged; she should be a creature of averted eyes
and deep blushes. But she did not feel the least inclined to either;
there was nothing in Anthony that would make her wish to avert her eyes,
nor, as far as she knew, did he ever say things which would make her
blush. He was simply indifferent to her, but so, for that matter, were
all men. Was she, then, to be a spinster? That was equally unthinkable.

There were other things as well. A great friend of hers, with whom she
had been accustomed to spend long days in the saddle, or in the company
of dogs in endless walks over moors, had been married only a month ago,
for no other reason, as far as Maud or Kitty Danefield herself knew, but
the one that every girl married if possible, that it was the natural
thing to do. Maud had seen her again only two days ago for the first
time since her marriage, and had found quite a different person. Kitty
had become a woman, radiantly happy, with an absorbing interest in life
which seemed quite to have eclipsed the loves of earlier days. She still
liked horses, dogs, great open country, Maud herself; but all these
things which had been the first ingredients of existence had gone into a
secondary place, and the one thing that made life now was her husband.
To Maud this was all perfectly incomprehensible--would Anthony, if she
accepted him, ever fill existence like that? She could not help feeling
that existence would be a much narrower thing if he did. Kitty, in fact,
had just arrived, and had rushed at Maud.

"Darling, I am so pleased to see you!" she said, "and we'll have a nice
long talk. Where's Arthur! Arthur is really too tiresome; he asked Tom
Liscombe to come down with us when I had counted on a nice quiet empty
carriage all to ourselves. He didn't want him, nor did I; but that is so
like Arthur, to do good-natured things from a sort of vague weakness. He
saw Tom, and asked him without thinking what he was doing. You look
rather careworn, Maud. What is it now?"

"Oh, come for a stroll, Kitty," said the other; "I want to talk."

"Very well; I must say good-bye to Arthur."

Maud laughed.

"Oh, you ridiculous person," she said; "you will be away ten minutes.
Would you like to make your will, too?"

"Well, if it's only ten minutes--oh, he's looking. There!" and she waved
a tiny morsel of a handkerchief to him.

Maud looked at her with grave attention.

"Now, I cannot understand that," she said.

"No, dear, of course not. You're not married. I should have thought it
as ridiculous as you before. By the way, Maud--oh, _that's_ why you look
careworn. Is it true you are going to marry Anthony Maxwell? Darling,
how nice, and _simply_ rolling!"

"You think that is important?" asked Maud.

"Why, of course. It's the only crumpled rose-leaf Arthur and I have. It
makes us quite miserable; there's always that little ghost in the
corner. Can we afford this? Can we spare the money for that? But you
haven't answered me. Is it true?"

"I haven't the slightest idea," said Maud.

Kitty laughed.

"You absurd creature!" she said; "you must know. Has he proposed to
you?"

"No, but he has told mother he wants to. And he has been stalking me all
the afternoon."

Kitty turned quickly back.

"He shall stalk you no longer," she said. "Really, Maud, you are
behaving very unfairly to him. If you are going to marry him, say so; if
not--well, if not, you will be a very foolish person, but still say so.
He has a mother, I know that, but really his mother matters very much
less than the man himself. He's all right, isn't he? Behaves nicely--I
mean, hasn't a vice about him--looks decent?"

"Moderately," said Maud.

"Oh, my dear, what do you want? Every one can't be an Adonis, and, as
the copybooks used to say, human nature is limited. I dare say he's not
a genius; well, no more are you. As for beauty, you've got enough for
two, and he's got money enough for three--baby, as well, do you see? Oh
yes, I am indelicate, I know, but it's far better than being delicate.
Being delicate never pays; on the other hand, you have to pay for it,
and I haven't got enough money for it. You are lucky, Maud."

"Why? I want to talk to you about it."

"My dear girl, there is nothing to say. You will be a fool if you don't
marry him, as I told you. There is simply nothing else to talk about. I
was in a state of blank indifference about Arthur before I married him.
My mother--and I bless her for it--absolutely obliged me to accept him.
So will yours do if she has any sense, and I am certain she has heaps.
Unless you are a visionary or a fanatic of some kind, you will be glad
to be married. Glad? Good gracious! it is much more than that."

She turned sharply on her heel, Maud following.

"Then, why are there so many unhappy marriages?" asked the latter.

"Ah, in books, only. They are there because the author does not know
what else to say. 'You can't write about happy marriages,' so an author
assured me. 'They are so dull. Happy people have no history.'"

Maud was silent a moment.

"You have changed very much, Kitty," she said at length.

"Thank goodness, I have! Oh, Maud, I don't mean to be nasty to you.
Those old days were really dear days. But one can't always remain a
girl, Maud. It is mercifully ordained that girls become women. And the
door by which they enter is marriage."

"It means all that?"

"All. More----"

Maud found herself struggling for utterance. The blush and the downcast
eye which she had thought Anthony could never have produced in her were
hers now.

"You mean a man--the fact of a man?" she said stammeringly.

Kitty laughed the laugh of a newly-married woman, which is as old as
Eve.

"Put it that way if you like," she said. "But there is another--the fact
of a woman."

"But I am content," she said almost piteously. "Why does everybody--you,
mother--want me to marry?"

"You have left out Anthony," remarked Kitty rigorously. "I and your
mother, because we are women; he, because he is a man."

They had come to the populated lawn again, and further intimate
conversation would next moment be impossible. Kitty turned to her
hurriedly.

"Oh, my dear, it is like having a tooth out," she said. "No doubt it is
a shock. But it no longer aches. There is Mr. Anthony; let him ask you,
anyhow. That is bare justice; and remember what I have said."

"I shall not forget it," said Maud.

Under no circumstances would Kitty have bitten out her tongue, so it
would be a mere figure of speech to say that she would have even been
inclined to had she known precisely what effect her volubility would
have had on her friend. But it is certain that she would sooner have
bitten it very hard--so that it hurt, in fact--could she have foreseen
in how opposite a direction to that intended her words had inclined her.
As it was, she left the two together in a small solitude encompassed by
company, and went to join her husband with a light heart and an
approving conscience--a delicious and rare combination. Anthony, at any
rate, was primed and ready.

"Do take me to see the rose-garden," he said to Maud, with a _banalité_
that seemed to him unavoidable. He was quite aware of it, and regretted
the necessity, for, to do him justice, he had tried many other lures
that afternoon. "I hear it is quite beautiful," he went on; "and Mrs.
Brereton promised me you should show it me after tea. And it is after
tea," he added.

Maud was slightly taller than he, and had the right to drop her eyelids
a little as she looked at him. Of the adventitious advantage she took
more than her justifiable measure, and beheld the back of his
collar-stud.

"By all means," she said. "A promise is a promise, whoever gave it."

"You are rather hard on me," observed Anthony.

"Hard? Surely not."

"Well, on your mother, then."

Maud thought a moment.

"It is natural for you to think so," she said, "since she agrees with
you."

They had left the lawn behind them, and threaded a dusky lane set in
rhododendrons. Anthony stopped.

"She agrees with me," he said. "In one thing, anyhow, she agrees with
me--we both love you."

In spite of herself Maud gave him a round of internal applause. She was
still so indifferent that she could easily judge him, as if he had been
an actor on a stage. Outwardly, with the tongue she could say nothing,
and stood, having walked on a pace or two, with her back to him. His
voice made her turn round.

"Maud, Maud!" he said. "Maud, they were crying and calling."

"Ah!" she said, with a sudden interest, "you learned that."

He shook his head.

"I read it three months ago," he said. "It has stuck in my memory.
Because everything cries 'Maud, Maud!' to me."

The blush and the averted eye were hers. Quite unconsciously she began
to know what Lady Ardingly had meant--what Kitty had meant.

"I am sorry," she said. "I ought never to have come here with you. I
thought I should laugh at you merely. I do not laugh; I would sooner
cry."

"Thank you for that," said he. "I understand that you do not accept my
devotion. What I do not understand is whether you definitely refuse it.
Do you refuse it?"

"Do not press me to answer you," she said.

"You postpone your answer!"

"Please."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime dusk had begun to fall, the sounds of rejoicing Cockneys came
more faintly from the river, the glow in the western sky faded into
saffron, and overhead the vault of velvet blue grew infinitely more
infinite. Birds chuckled and scurried through the bushes, bats extended
angled wings for the preliminary trials of their nameless ghoulish
errands, a nightingale bubbled suddenly, and a large yellow star swung
into sight over the dim edge of the earth. But the lawn itself, save for
a fine carpet of dew, that was spread without hands on the close-napped
turf, reflected none of the evening influences. Servants hurried
noiselessly about lighting the lamps that hung in the trees, and soon
the tents where dinner was laid began to shimmer with white linen and
gleam with silver. Jack was back from his golf, and Mrs. Brereton from
an extremely short walk (for she had been recommended plenty of
exercise), a few people had left to dine in town, but more people
arrived from town to dine here, and Andrew Brereton, having succeeded in
wresting four shillings and sixpence from the reluctant Mr. Maxwell,
felt that he had earned his dinner. And as night became deeper, the
animation of the party grew louder and their laughter more frequent; the
moon and the stars everlastingly set in heaven were to them but the
whitewash of the ceiling of the rooms where they dined, the trees and
infinite soft spaces of the dusk but the paper on the walls of their
restaurant, the miracle of the dewy lawn a carpet for unheeding feet.
Wine and food concerned them perhaps most, but in a place hardly
inferior must have been put the charms of screaming and scandalous
conversation. Dinner, in fact, was a great success. By midnight all the
guests for the day who were not staying over the Sunday had left, and
the stables, which had been a packed mass of broughams, victorias,
dogcarts, motor-cars, and bicycles, were once more empty; and Lady
Ardingly, whose rubber had most unjustifiably been interrupted by Mrs.
Brereton's adieus to her guests, picked up her hand again with some
acidity.

"Now, perhaps, we shall get on with our Bridge," she said. "I have
declared no trumps. Nobody doubles! That is a very masterly inactivity
on our adversaries' part."

The four consisted of the two Breretons, Lady Ardingly, and Jack Alston;
at another table were four more, who, however, abandoned their game at
about half-past one, again interrupting Lady Ardingly with their
superfluous good-nights, for she was having a very good night indeed.
Marie and Maud Brereton had long ago gone to bed, but the other four
still played on, in silence for the most part. Occasionally the dummy
rose, and refreshed his inner self with something from a side-table, and
from time to time the note of a cigarette would sound crisply, as it
were, on the soft air of the night. At last a strange change began to
pass over the sky, from which the moon had now long set, hardly visible
there at first, but making the faces of the players look suddenly white
and wan. Then the miracle grew; the dark blue of the sky brightened into
dove colour, the stars grew pale, and a little wind stirred in the
trees.

"You played that abominably, dear Mildred," said Lady Ardingly. "We
should have saved it if you had had any sense. What does that make?"

She pulled her cloak round her neck as Jack added it up.

"The night is growing a little chilly," she said.

Mildred, who had been following the figures, looked up.

"The night?" she said. "Why what is happening? It is day, is it not?"

"Very likely," said Lady Ardingly. "How much is it, Jack? Never mind,
tell me to-morrow. I will pay you to-morrow?"

Jack rattled his pencil-case between his teeth.

"Thirty pounds exactly, Lady Ardingly," he said.

They rose and walked across the lawn towards the house, Jack sauntering
a little behind, his hands in his pockets, smiling to himself. Mildred
dropped behind with him, the other two walking on a few paces ahead.

"The most odious hour in the twenty-four!" said Lady Ardingly, looking
ghastly in the dawn.

"Very trying," said Andrew.

"But we have spent the night very well," said the other, as they parted
at the foot of the stairs. "A charming Sunday, Mr. Brereton. You and
Mildred are great benefactors!"

And she hurried upstairs, conscious that she was looking awful, and, in
that hour of low vitality which comes with the dawn, not wishing to
appear thus before anybody, however insignificant.



CHAPTER VIII


It was about a fortnight after this Sunday at Richmond that the list of
Birthday honours came out, and it was a surprise to nobody that Mr.
Brereton's name appeared as the recipient of a peerage. For
respectability and cash are things that in themselves confer such
nobility on their fortunate possessor that it is only right and proper
to stamp him with a coronet like writing-paper. Respectability no doubt
has been, and will again be, dispensed with, but cash cannot be replaced
except by exceptional achievements of some kind, of which Andrew was
hopelessly incapable. And as it would clearly be absurd to bar a man
from his birth from the possibility of attaining to the ranks of
hereditary legislators, custom, slowly broadening down, has brought it
about that since achievement in great deeds is within the reach but of
the few, plenty of good gold, bestowed on plenty of good or party
institutions, paves the way, so to speak, to what has been called by
politicians who wrangle hotly in another place "the upper snows."

Marie Alston, who had known of the impending honours some days before,
was talking it over with Jim Spencer.

"I don't say I like the principle," she was saying; "but, things being
as they are, I think it a most suitable thing. Oh, my dear Jim, you know
me sufficiently well to know that I think such a system all wrong from
top to bottom. But, after all, it is in a piece with the rest.
Plutocracy, not the King nor the Houses of Parliament, rules us, and
naturally plutocracy says, 'I will have all that is within reach.' Why
not? And peerages are certainly within reach. Of course the list is
rather pronounced. Mr. Maxwell, I see, has been made a Baronet. But,
after all, who else is there? Can you think of any eminent men whom one
would wish to see peers? I can't. And there are few people richer than
the Maxwells, I believe. It is no use screaming."

Jim shrugged his shoulders.

"At that rate, I could be made a peer," he said.

"Are you rich enough? How nice for you! And _vice versâ_, perhaps, Jack
should be made a commoner. No doubt that reform will follow next. At
least, perhaps Jack shouldn't because he really has the makings of an
eminent man, but half the House of Peers, anyhow, should be made
commoners. No doubt they would be if it were not for the innate
snobbishness of the average Englishman. The average Englishman knows
quite well that there is nothing whatever remarkable or admirable about
quantities of peers except their peerages; yet, because they are peers,
he loves and reverences them, and reserves them compartments, and
incidentally takes toll off them as well."

Jim Spencer raised his eyebrows.

"Of course you are right," he said, "but you say these things, and don't
take them seriously. You used to be serious, Marie."

"Ah, you do me an injustice," she said quickly. "I am just as serious as
ever I was, but I realize that it is no use being serious in public.
People have no time to spare from their amusements nowadays for anything
serious. But in private I am serious. I was serious in private to-day,
for instance."

"Well, be serious now, and tell me what you were serious about."

"Oh, nothing. I beg your pardon, this is not in public. Indeed, it was
something--something big, as it seems to me. I am not sure that I shall
tell you about it."

They were both silent a moment--he unwilling to ask a question on a
subject where she hesitated, she weighing in her mind whether or not she
should tell him. At last she spoke.

"It is about Maud Brereton," she said, "She came to me yesterday, calm
as a summer sea, to ask my advice as to whether she should marry Anthony
Maxwell, just as I might ask your advice as to whether I should have a
picture framed in gold or white. I did not ask her any questions as to
whether she loved him, because I believe that there are many girls who
have no idea what that means, and I think Maud is one of them."

Jim got up and began to walk up and down the room. He heard Marie with
his ear speaking of Maud, but his inward ear translated, so it seemed to
him, all she said of Maud into things she was saying about herself.

"Now, I am sufficiently modern," she went on, "not to wish all girls who
do not feel passion to abstain from marrying. I believe that quite
happy marriages often take place without it. Either the man or the woman
may not feel it, yet by marrying they are both happier than they would
have been if they had remained single. The ultimate sum of happiness is
a large factor, Jim. Do you not think so?"

Again she seemed to be talking of herself, but now he could not decide
whether she was speaking with complete sincerity. Her opinions, at any
rate, appeared to him monstrous.

"Finish the exposition first," he said. "After all, whether I agree with
you or not is a small matter. Maud Brereton asked your advice, not
mine."

Something in his tone startled her for a moment, and instinctively that
afternoon walk they had taken down by the river a fortnight ago came
into her mind; but she went on without a pause.

"I seem cold-blooded to you," she said; "and I dare say I am--it is
highly probable, in fact. Then, there is a further thing to be
considered: many girls, I feel sure, have their passion awakened by
marriage. Now, that constitutes a great danger, I admit, in passionless
marriages. Who can tell--well, that need not be discussed. But it
remains certain, I am afraid, that there are many women to whom the
becoming as one flesh with their husbands has not meant anything before
they married them."

"And less afterwards," remarked Jim.

"And less afterwards. Their physical nature is awakened, and-- But, and
here I am less modern than you at present are inclined to give me credit
for."

"Credit for?" asked Jim.

"Yes, because you are not modern at all. Oh, Jim, it is a great puzzle!
Supposing every girl had to feel that there was absolutely only one man
in the world for her, and supposing every man had to feel that here, and
here alone was his destiny, before he married, do you think we should
have an increase of the marriage returns? I am afraid not. And people
being what they are, do you think that this celibacy would have a good
effect on morals? It is no use advocating counsels of perfection when
you are dealing with the human race and its obvious imperfections. At
least, that, I suppose, may eventually come; but for practical purposes
the highest motive does not always secure such good results as a lower
one."

"So you advised her to marry him," said Jim slowly.

"No, I advised her not to. All the excellent reasons which I have given
you why she should marry him were present in my mind; I even told them
her. But at the back of my mind--mind or soul, call it what you
will--there was a great 'but.' I dare say it was unreasonable; it was
certainly not clear to me what it was. But whatever it was, it said
'No.' It wanted me not to impose what I called my experience of the
world on a girl. After all, what does one's experience amount to? The
recollection of one's mistakes."

She spoke the last words more to herself than him as she leaned back in
her low chair, her violet-coloured eyes looking "out and beyond,"
focused, not by the limit of her vision, but that of her thoughts.
Quick, uneven breaths disturbed the slow rise and fall of her bosom, and
the rose she had fastened in her dress shed half its fragrant petals on
her lap. And because he was a man, he looked at her with kindled eye;
and because he was a man who loved her, his blood also was kindled. More
than ever before he knew how idle had been his flight from her; the
_cælum non animum_ suddenly leaped in his mind from the dingy ranks of
truisms to the austere array of the things that are true. He drew his
chair a little closer to hers and laid his hand on its arm.

"Your mistakes, Marie?" he said.

It took her an appreciable fraction of time to recall herself, and
realize what was meant by his burning look; but it took her no time at
all, when once she had realized that, to answer him.

"Yes, one's mistakes," she said--"all the occasions on which one has
failed to grasp the true import of what one was doing, and, in
particular, all the mistakes one has seen other people making and their
consequences. I always think that one's experience means much more what
one has observed in other people than what one has done one's self. Of
course, all observation passes through the crucible of one's
personality, whether one observes things in one's self or other people,
and that certainly transforms it, crystallizes it, what you will. But if
one has a grain of imagination, other people's experiences are as vivid
to one's self as one's own, and as potentially profitable. Don't you
think so?"

She rose as she spoke, trembling slightly, and brushed the fallen petals
from her dress. She was just enough not to blame him for what he had
said; she was, indeed, just enough to commend him for his reticence,
since her words had necessarily for him such a significance, and the
need to stop him saying more was imperative. She could see what inward
excitement moved him, and in her soul she thanked him for the love he
bore her; but that any word of it should pass between them was
impossible--merely, it could not be. This being so, she desired with a
fervency of desire that she had not known for years not to lose her
friend, and words of such a kind as she knew were rising to his lips
would have meant this loss. Indeed, at this moment the world seemed to
hold for her nothing so desired as that friendship, which a word might
rob her of.

To him, her reply was both sobering and bracing. It showed him how close
he had been walking to the edge of a precipice. As Marie had just told
him, he was old-fashioned; he believed that "good" and "bad," "noble"
and "wicked," were not yet words of obsolete meaning, words like
"arquebus," which had no significance in the vocabulary of the day. A
temptation had come and gripped him by the throat--the temptation to
suggest to her that she should say that her marriage with Jack was,
among her experiences, a mistake. He knew also--and was honest enough to
confess that his desire to hear her say this was due to the fact that
her confession would necessarily open certain vistas--it would be the
first step, at any rate, down a path that a certain part of him had
during his past fortnight longed to tread with a fervour and a passion
that shook his whole nature, as a wind shakes and tosses a curtain. He
knew in what sort Jack had kept his marriage vow, and he had begun to
ask himself whether such conduct did not give emancipation, so to speak,
to the wife--had begun to tell himself that it was no use setting up
exceptional codes of morality. One lived in the world, the world did
this and that; but this douche of cold water was bracing. It recalled
him to sanity, to his better and his normal self, and he replied in a
voice still shaken with his own overwhelming though momentary tumult.

"So you advised her not to marry him?" he asked. "Do you think she will
take your advice?"

"Yes; because it showed her clearly what her own bias really was. One
often does not know what one really thinks till some one expresses a
strong opinion on one side or the other. Then one hears it with strong
repugnance or strong sympathy, which reveals to one's self what one's
true opinion is."

Jim smiled, a regurgitation of bitterness swelling up in his breast.

"Have you ever formulated to yourself what your own strongest passion
is?" he asked.

"No, never. It is the most difficult thing in the world to say what one
likes best until one is forty or thereabouts. All one's youth--which, I
take it, extends to about forty--is passed experimentally in determining
what one likes best, and one does not know till it is crystallized. By
then also it is probably unattainable."

Jim laughed again bitterly.

"Oh, you need not be afraid," he said, his rebuff now beginning to
sting. "I tell you that your chief passion is analysis. You do not care
so much what people do, as why they do it. If a Hooligan knocked you
down and began stamping on you, I can imagine you saying, 'Stop just a
moment to tell me why you are doing this. Does giving pain to me give
pleasure to you, or do you personally feel a grudge against me?' Then,
when he had told you, you would say, 'Thank you very much. Go on
stamping again.'"

Marie had detached the unpetalled rose from her dress, and had taken
another from the vase in her hand. But she did not pin it in, but, after
listening open-mouthed, sat down again with it in her fingers.

"I am egotistical, no doubt," she said, "and that must account for my
burning desire to know why you think that. I suppose you do think that,
Jim, or are you irritated with me for any cause?"

The question was unpremeditated, but as soon as she had spoken she could
have bitten out her tongue for having said it. Almost certainly, she
thought, in the moment's pause that ensued, he would tell her why he was
irritated with her. That she knew already, and, of all things in the
world, that was the one which she did not wish him to tell her. But his
answer came almost immediately.

"I don't think there is anything you could do which would irritate me,"
he said, "and I do think what I have said. I think you are bloodless,
Marie; I think you are like what you imagine Maud Brereton to be. And
bloodless people are disconcerting. One does not know how to make them
hear, how to make them feel the things that the majority of the race
feel."

Suddenly there rose in her mind a long, far-off, dusty memory. She had
been skating one day on a thinly frozen pond, and suddenly felt the ice
bend and sway under her, and had said to herself, "The ice is thinner
here." On that occasion she had put both feet down and gone straight for
the bank. On this occasion she did exactly the same.

"You are probably right," she said. "The things which many women do, and
find absorption in doing, I think stupid, and, what is worse, vulgar,
and what is worst, wicked. I am _bourgeoise_, I am _bonne femme_--that
is what you really mean, Jim. It is quite true; it is quite, quite true.
And, no doubt, if one is not in the habit of spending all one's energies
on--on matters of emotion, one disposes of them in other ways. If one
does not give one's self up to feeling, one probably has more time for
thinking, because one must do something if one has nerves and brains at
all. But the Hooligan business you describe is beyond me, I am afraid."

He got up abruptly.

"I must go," he said. "There are a hundred things I must--not do. I
must go and not do them."

At this moment, and for the first time during this interview, he had
touched and moved her. His struggle suddenly became pathetic to her--a
thing to pity and praise. Like a weir, he spouted at joints in the
strong doors of his determination not to speak, but the flood was
restrained. She rose also.

"That excuse has the charm of absolute sincerity," she said. "When
people say they have a hundred things to do, it seems to me a very bad
reason. Yours is better. When shall I see you again?"

"I don't know," said he, and for a moment left her awkwardly placed. But
his manliness once more came to his aid--for there could be but one
conclusion if he said no more--and he added: "I am away next Sunday; I
come back on Wednesday. That night I dine with the Ardinglys."

"I also. Till Wednesday, then, Jim--go and not do all these things you
spoke of! Not doing things takes longer than doing them. It takes all
the time, in fact. Good-bye!"



CHAPTER IX


It was never denied, even by the stupidest of her enemies, that Mildred
Brereton was a woman of the world, and her mode of procedure, when she
learned from Maud of her first rejection of Anthony's hand, was
perfectly correct from the standpoint of wisdom. She made no fuss or
scene of any kind, and only said:

"Dear Maud, I am very, very sorry. But you know, dear, how I trust you."

Maud pondered this remark, in her silent, uncomfortable way, for a
moment.

"Do you mean you trust me eventually to accept him?" she asked.

Mrs. Brereton wondered in her own mind where Maud _could_ have got her
tactlessness from. Aloud she said:

"I trust you in every way, dear--every way. And it shows your good sense
that you did not definitely refuse him. I do not wish to force you at
all or hurry your decision."

This was all that was said on the subject at the time, but Mildred,
after careful thought, was convinced she had done right. This impeccable
attitude was completed by her looking rather sad whenever her daughter
was observing her, sighing, and constantly calling her "dear child" in
well-modulated tones of chastened and uncomplaining affection. This
policy--if it is possible to use so cold and calculating a word for a
process so tender--had its desired effect, and Maud felt herself touched
with a sense of vague contrition. Eventually, not feeling sure of
herself, she had decided to confide her difficulty to Marie Alston, for
whom she cherished a shy and secret adoration. This interview, however,
had not been productive of a result which harmonized with her mother's
tender processes; indeed, had Mildred known that her gentle dropping of
water on a stone (the tender process) would have led her daughter to ask
advice of Marie, she would have adopted quite different methods. Maud
told her about the interview the same afternoon. She was not called
"dear child," or words to that effect, on this occasion.

Now, there is a sort of anger which, though it is often seen in
combination with irritation and ill-temper, is something very different
from either. It is not a quick-burning emotion; it is in no hurry to
strike and to hurt, but is quite deliberate, very patient, and at the
end, when a favourable opportunity presents itself, strikes hard. It was
this quality of anger that entered into Mildred's mind when Maud told
her of this interview. Had she been simply irritated with Marie or angry
with an anger of the less dangerous and quicker sort, she would probably
have rushed round to Park Lane, used the language of a cook to Marie,
burst into tears, and probably made it up a day or two later. But she
had not the slightest impulse to do any of those things. She was
irritated with Maud, called her a fool, and sent her away. Then she sat
down and thought about Marie.

There occurred to her, of course, at once a very obvious method of
injuring Marie. All London--every one, that is to say, who mattered at
all--except Marie herself, knew that she and Jack had been great friends
for a very long time. What would be the effect on Marie if she let her
know quietly, drop by drop, as one lets absinthe cloud and embitter
water, what had been going on so long, what she had been blind to so
long! Mildred knew her to be a woman of a pride and fastidiousness
quite beyond not only her own reach, but her own comprehension. This she
had never either resented or envied; if people chose to behave in what
she called a Holy Land manner, it was nothing to her, but she was not
jealous of their unattainable Oriental longitudes. It was all very well
to sit on a pedestal, but if you did, you had no idea what games went on
in the jostling world below. Marie's habitual attitude was to put her
nose in the air and draw her skirts away from the crowd; it would really
be very humiliating for her to get to learn by degrees what had been
going on all these years, to upset the pedestal, in fact, and let her
struggle to her feet as best she could, to let her, who always professed
to find scandal and gossip of all sorts so uninteresting, know for the
first time a bit of it which she could scarcely consider dull.

Mildred got up from the sofa where she was lying in her sitting-room,
and, lighting a cigarette, took a turn up and down. At first sight it
seemed an excellent plan, diabolical, which suited her mood, and simple
as all good plans are; but on second thoughts there were objections. In
her present anger she did not value Marie's friendship a straw, while
as for her own reputation, she was well aware that for all practical
purposes she had none. People, she knew, did not talk about Jack and her
any longer, simply because the facts were so stale, "and that," she
thought to herself with grim cynicism, "is what one calls living a thing
down." No, the danger lay elsewhere. Supposing Marie cut up very rough
indeed, supposing in her horror and disgust at Jack she did not hesitate
to punish herself as well, and bring the matter if she could into the
crude and convincing light of the Divorce Court, it would be both
unpleasant for Mildred herself, for she felt that cross-examination was
not likely to be amusing, and it would also spell ruin for Jack's
career, a thing which now, in the present state of her affections, she
cared about perhaps more than Jack. Of course, the matter might be
conveyed to Marie in so gradual and vague a manner that such proceedings
on her part would be without chance of success as far as getting a
divorce was concerned--to possess her mind with suspicions that
gradually became moral certainties was the point--but Mildred knew well
that in the mind of the great middle class to be mentioned in
connection with the Divorce Court is the mischief, not to lose or win
your case there. In any case, if she decided on this she would have to
think it very carefully over; it must be managed so that Marie could not
possibly go to the courts. Besides, ridiculous as Marie would appear
even if she adopted the least aggressive attitude of self-defence, yet
Mildred felt she must not underrate the strength of her position in
society. Perhaps another plan might be found as simple and without these
objections. She wanted, in fact, to think of something which would hurt
Marie as much as possible, and yet give her no chance of retaliation.
Where was Marie vulnerable? Where was she most vulnerable?

For a moment her irritation and exasperation got the upper hand, and she
flung off the sofa with clenched and trembling hands. "How dare she--how
dare she persuade Maud not to marry him!" she said to herself. It
frankly appeared to her the most outrageous thing to have done. Marie
must have known what her own desires for her daughter were--in fact, she
had before now told her of them--yet she had done this. Mildred felt a
qualm of almost physical sickness from the violence of her rage, and
sat down again to recover herself. It soon passed, leaving her again
quiet, patient, and implacable, searching about for a weapon. Suddenly
she got up, and stood quite still a moment.

"Most extraordinary that I should not have thought of that before," she
said aloud. Then she washed her face and bathed her eyes with some
rose-water, examining them a little anxiously as she dried them on her
silk face-napkin. They were as red as if she had been crying--red, she
must suppose, from anger, just as a mongoose's eyes get red when it sees
a cobra. Certainly she had been angry enough to account for the colour.
But on the whole she did not like emotions, except pleasant ones--they
were exhausting; and she lay down again on her sofa for half an hour to
recover herself, and told her maid to bring her a tablespoonful of
brandy with an egg beaten up into it. Then she dressed and went out to a
small private concert, where Saltsi was going to sing two little French
songs, exceedingly hard to understand, but simply screaming when you did
so. For herself, she was certain that she would understand quite
enough.

She had just come down-stairs when a note was brought her, which proved
to be from Marie.

     "Maud has just consulted me," it ran, "about the question of her
     marriage. Although I knew your views, I could not but advise her in
     opposition to them. This looks as if I set her against you--as far
     as that goes, I regret it extremely. But I could not do
     differently; I wanted to, but could not. I tell you this in case
     she does not."

Mildred read it and tore it up, not even troubling to question its
sincerity. Then, being told the carriage was waiting, she went out.

She was to call on her way to the concert for the person usually known
as Silly Billy, who in reality was an ignoble Earl. He was called Silly
Billy partly because his name was William, partly because he was
exceedingly sharp. His Countess was kept in the country, and was
supposed to go to church a great deal. The world was not particularly
interested in her, nor was her husband. Once she had had money, but she
no longer had any.

Silly Billy himself was now getting on for forty, and looked anything
between twenty-five and thirty. Probably he was naturally depraved, for
a career of vice seemed to suit him, and he thrived on it as other
people thrive on the ordinary rules of health. He had charming manners,
a slim attractive appearance, and no morals of any kind whatever. His
passion just now was Bridge, which he played regularly from sunset to
sunrise; the remaining hours of the twenty-four were occupied in
consuming large quantities of food, owing large sums of money, and
talking. He was supposed not to stand in need of sleep, which he
declared was a sheer waste of time. He was often to be seen in other
people's victorias; to-day he was in Lady Brereton's.

"Yes, we'll just stop for Saltsi's two songs," said she, as they drove
from his flat in Berkeley Mansions, "and then I'll set you down where
you like. How has the world been treating you, Silly Billy?"

He considered a moment.

"The world always treats me as I treat it," he said. "Lately I have not
had much to say to it; in fact, I have done nothing, and so I have heard
nothing. Tell me news. Anybody fresh about?"

"Only Jim Spencer, and he's rather a disappointment. As rich as
Croesus, you know?"

"That's always an advantage for him and his friends," remarked Silly
Billy candidly. "I should like to meet him. Does he play Bridge, or bet,
or anything?"

She laughed.

"You are always refreshing," she said, "because you are so very frank.
Does it pay?"

"Well, you must do one of two things," said he. "You must be absolutely
enigmatical or quite transparent. I am quite transparent. I want other
people's money."

"Shall I draw you a small cheque?"

"No, thanks; small cheques would be no good. By the way, I have heard
something about Jim Spencer.... Isn't he a friend of Marie Alston?"

Lady Brereton could not help smiling, and her inward anger licked its
lips.

"Ah! you have heard that too," she said. "But who cares?"

"Any one may do precisely what they please, so far as I am concerned,"
said Silly Billy, "so long as it doesn't personally annoy me. So it's
true, is it?"

"Dear Marie!" observed Mildred. "You see, they were engaged years and
years ago. Marie told me so herself."

Silly Billy considered a moment.

"What have you quarrelled with her about?" he asked after a short pause.

Mildred turned round.

"Now, how on earth did you guess that?" she asked.

"Pretty simple. You said 'Dear Marie!' in--well, in a tone. So the
Snowflake is melting, you think! I'm sure I tried to melt her often
enough. But I never had the very slightest success."

Mildred laughed.

"How funny!" she said. "I never knew that. What did Marie do?"

"Looked bored. Merely bored; not shocked, but bored. But Jim Spencer
doesn't bore her, you think? I suppose you are telling everybody about
it?"

"I haven't told a soul. It seems there is no need."

"Well, thank God, I'm no prude," said Silly Billy, as they stopped at
the house.

"Dear Marie!" said Mildred again. "Perhaps I ought never to have
discussed it with you. You are such a gossip, Silly Billy."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Surely that is what you want," he said, and Mildred did not contradict
him. Nor did she feel that she had been wasting time.

So Saltsi sang her little French songs, and the very distinguished
company all shrieked with laughter. Some of them did not understand what
they meant: those shrieked most, in order that it should appear that
they did; the rest shrieked because they did understand. Royalty was
there in a quiet little broughamish kind of way, and everything, in
fact, went just exactly as it should, and when Mildred stole quietly
away to avoid a string quartette and talk to Lady Maxwell, both to
congratulate her on her husband's honour and advocate the virtues of
patience and perseverance for Anthony, she felt braced and invigorated
for the duties that lay before her. She had already wound the clock up,
and it pleased her to think that its ticking would soon be audible all
over London. For herself, she did not care the slightest how loudly
people talked about her. She knew, on the other hand, that Marie would
care very much indeed. And the audibleness of the ticking was destined
to be heard more quickly than even she had hoped or expected.

It was two afternoons after this that Silly Billy was gently threading
his way down Piccadilly. The day was heavenly, a flood of yellow
sunshine invaded the streets, and a plum-like bloom hung over the
distances. It being so divine out of doors, he was proposing to spend
the hours till dinner at a select little club called the Black Deuce,
which had been lately founded with the sole and simple aim of
Bridge-playing. Just as he was about to cross the street, his way was
stopped for a moment by a policeman letting out the pent-up carriages
which stood waiting for their turn in Bond Street, just as a lock is
opened to let the water out. Among this shining stream of black lacquer
and silver harness there passed him a victoria with Marie Alston in it.
By her side sat Jim Spencer. And Silly Billy smiled gently to himself
all the rest of the way to the club.

There were three men only, all friends and respecters of his, in the
card-room, for it was yet early, and he making the fourth, they sat down
at once. Silly Billy, having, as usual, won the deal and the seats,
established himself with his back to the window. At the angle of the
wall, close to the window, was the door, which by reason of the heat was
left open. Then the holy silence fell.

He and his partner went out in the first deal, and Billy cut the cards
to his left in great good-humour.

"Met the Snowflake just now," he said, "driving along with her melter."

A paper rustled in the window-seat, and though the deal was not yet
finished, silence more awful than the silence of the game itself again
fell. Billy gave half a glance round, not to see who it was, for he
instinctively felt quite sure, but merely in confirmation of his
knowledge.

"Hullo, Jack!" he said. "That you? Didn't see you come in."

"I supposed you hadn't," said Jack.

"Damned good answer!" observed Billy. "What trumps did you say, Martyn?"

It is to be set down to the credit of Billy's nerves, that not only did
he not revoke during that hand, but played with quite his usual
brilliance. He had often claimed that the game had the advantage of
enabling one to forget everything else in the world for the time being,
and in this instance he was certainly justified. What was coming
afterwards he had not the slightest idea, but for the present it did not
concern him.

In turn his partner dealt, passed, and Billy, after a little
consideration, gave him no-trumps. The first card was led, Billy's hand
exposed on the table, and at that moment, Billy being unoccupied, Jack
rose.

"Can you speak to me a minute without interrupting the game?" he asked.

Silly Billy rose, looking exceedingly small and young.

"Rather. Next room, I should think," he said.

The two passed out, and Martyn spoke.

"Well, I'm damned!" he said, and nobody contradicted him.

The door of the next room shut behind the others, and Jack and Silly
Billy found themselves simultaneously taking out their cigarette-cases.
In the box on the table there was only one match, which Jack lit, and
handed first to the other. Then he spoke.

"I saw whom she was with," he remarked.

"Glad you haven't got to ask me, then," said Silly Billy; "because I
couldn't have told you."

Jack threw the match into the fireplace.

"Ah! you did mean my wife, then?" he said.

Silly Billy, figuratively speaking, threw up his hand.

"Very neatly done," he said. "You had me there. Now, what do you mean to
do?"

"Ask you a question or two first. Now, was that lie of your own
invention, or did you get it passed on from another liar?"

"You are using offensive language to me," observed Silly Billy.

"I am. If you prefer to come back to the other room, I will use it
there."

Silly Billy smiled. The situation was becoming clearer to him.

"As regards your question," he said, "what you call that lie was not of
my own invention. I should also advise you for your own sake not to
press me to tell who told me. I warn you that if you are offensive
again, I shall. At present, I do not tell you by way of _amende_ for a
speech which was indiscreet on my part. I ought to have looked round to
see that you were not in the room. And that's how we stand."

Jack knew perfectly well that Billy was no fool, and he weighed this
speech for a moment in silence.

"I don't understand," he said. "I think you are too crooked for me to
follow. Perhaps it will be best and simplest if we go back to the other
room. I can then box your ears in the presence of witnesses."

At this Billy laughed outright.

"I shall then bring an action for assault," he said, "for I suppose you
are not _vieux jeu_ enough to imagine I shall challenge you to fight.
What will happen? The reasons for the quarrel will come out in open
court. Will you like that? Will you like to pose as the defender of your
wife's honour? Are you"--and Billy grew more animated--"are you so dense
as not to know that the surest way of dragging it in the dust is to
defend it, oh, successfully, I grant you, in the court? We live in an
age, my dear Jack, in which violence has altogether ceased, and law,
which is meant to take its place, defeats its own object. However
successful your defence of both your action and of your wife's honour
may be, surely you know that, if such a thing is made public at all,
every one instantly says that there must have been something in it."

He paused a moment, Jack saying nothing.

"You are thinking that I am a cur and a coward," continued Billy. "You
have also used offensive language to me. Take this, then. Do you
consider yourself a good defender of your wife's honour? It is easy for
you to box my ears, as you suggest, and think you have done a fine and
manly action, but is all your conduct to her of a piece with that? Do
you think that no one will say that it was the most arrant piece of
humbug? If you had been beyond reproach in your married life, I do not
say that I might not even have consented to shoot at you and let you
shoot at me. But now, good God!"

Jack started up, black and angry, and stood towering over the other.

"Do you think you can speak to me like that?" he said, very quietly.

For the moment Silly Billy expected to find himself on the floor, but
not an eyelash quivered. He lounged against the chimney-piece, and
flickered his cigarette-ash into the grate.

"If you touch me, you will be sorry for it," he said. "If you say
another offensive word to me, you will be sorry for it. I am not in the
slightest degree afraid of you. If you had been faithful to your wife, I
should say your behaviour was admirable. As it is, it is merely
childish. We are rotten folk, you and I; but I have the pull over you
because I am not a hypocrite about it. Well, I don't want to call you
names. I had better get back, had I not? The hand must be over, and they
will be waiting for me."

Jack sat down.

"Wait a minute," he said.

"Certainly, if you have anything agreeable to say," remarked Billy. "For
myself, I have done. And it was rather a weak no-trump. Wonder what my
partner had?"

"Oh, damn your game!" said Jack.

"I probably shall, when I get back," conceded Silly Billy. "What do you
want to say?"

"This only: We are rotten people, and I have got to think it all over."

Silly Billy moved towards the door.

"Oh, yes; that's all right enough," he said. "Not coming back, I
suppose, are you?"

He sauntered back into the card-room, where the hand was only just
over.

"Well, what luck?" he asked. "Whisky-and-soda, waiter."

"Yes, my lord--large or small?"

"Enormous. Two tricks did you say, partner? Thanks. Game, and
twenty-four to nothing. How were aces? I only had one."



CHAPTER X


Jack heard the door of the card-room shut behind Silly Billy, and went
slowly down-stairs and out into the hot, crowded thoroughfare. He was
still almost powerless to believe in his own impotency, which had been
so trenchantly put before him by that gentleman. Half a dozen times he
wished himself back in the card-room, or in the other room where their
interview had taken place, in order to have the opportunity again of
knocking him down or throwing the cards in his face. Yet, so he told
himself, that which seemed reasonable to him before would seem
reasonable to him again. There was no flaw, so far as he could see, in
the deductions which had been put before him, and he was utterly at a
loss as to what he should do. The story, he knew well, would be all over
London by to-morrow, for when a thing is talked about at a club, as
quite assuredly this would be, there is no more stopping it than there
is stopping the flight of Time by holding back the hands of a clock. It
would assume protean and monstrous forms; but whatever form it assumed,
his imagination could not picture one in which his own part could be
construed as creditable. What account would Silly Billy give of the
interview? A true one, probably, because, from his point of view, it
could not be bettered. "Oh, he was violent at first; but I put before
him the exact consequences of further violence, and he saw it at once."
That would be quite sufficient, and he could almost hear Silly Billy
saying it. But paramount in his mind was anger against Marie, for to
that class of mind to which Jack's belonged a wife cannot conceivably do
anything more awful than get herself talked about. He would have been
perfectly indulgent, so he very kindly told himself, to anything she
might do but that. That Mildred had been, and probably now was, talked
about in connection with him did not concern him, for he was not her
husband. To Jack's way of thinking, a flawless reputation was the
monopoly of one person, namely, his wife.

He walked slowly westward through a blur of unrecognised faces, his mind
turning aimlessly through what had happened, like a squirrel in a cage,
without getting anywhere. He ought to have said nothing at all, he told
himself, or, having said something, he should at least have had the
temporary satisfaction of insulting Silly Billy. Yet that would not have
done; he still saw the force of that reasoning. In fact, nothing would
have done. The blame of the whole terribly irritating affair was to be
laid on Marie. She had behaved in some foolish manner, and had got
talked about. He remembered now that weeks ago he had warned her of
this. That made it the more annoying.

At the corner of Devonshire House his step, more than half
automatically, turned northwards. The season and the summer were both at
their midmost, and from this side of the street to that the tide of
carriages flowed full. Full, too, were the pavements, human life jostled
in a race from wall to wall of the gray houses, and just outside the
curbstones, like the scum and flotsam in some cross-movement of tides,
moved rows of sandwichmen bearing a various burden of advertisement,
from strictly private massage establishments to ballets, the more public
the better. But Berkeley Street and the Square following were a
back-water of the flooded river-way, and he went with his own volition,
not with the dictation of the tides, through into Grosvenor Square.
Still without purpose other than that born of habit, he rang the bell of
that house he frequented on so many days, and at so many and different
hours, and was admitted.

Mildred was not in the room when he entered, and he walked up and down
with a step of caged violence. It was a room, one would have said, which
was lived in by a woman of some individuality. The usual signed
photographs, bearing royal and distinguished names, were there; but
these, instead of being prominently displayed, were obscurely penned,
thick as sheep, on a Louis Seize table in a very dark corner, while on
the writing-table which was set in the window were only two--those of
Jack and his wife--a highly daring and successful arrangement. Otherwise
the room was ordered, one felt, in a certain manner, not that it might
be like a hundred other rooms, but because the owner wished it so, and
no other way. A huge engagement book lay open on the table, with some
names written fully out, but here and there an initial only; half a
dozen good prints hung on the walls, but there was no attempt to drape
anything, nor were there any books, the literature being limited to a
heap of periodicals and a hardly lesser heap of letters. Two Dresden
ormolu-mounted birds stood on the chimney-piece, two Tanagra figures in
daring contrast, an Empire clock, and a programme of a forthcoming
race-meeting.

He had not long been in the room when the door of her bedroom, which
communicated with it, was opened, and she entered. At a glance she took
in his mood, and guessed, too, with absolute certainty of its cause. The
things that would make Jack look like that, she knew, could be numbered
on the fingers, and of these none but one could have happened. Thus
there was one only left, and for the moment she was afraid of what she
had done. Outwardly she showed no sign.

"What is it?" she asked.

Jack did not at once answer, but paused in front of the writing-table
where the two photographs stood. Then he took up that of Marie, threw it
into the fireplace, and beat it to pieces with the poker.

"Four pounds for the frame," remarked Mildred. "Those Dresden parrots
are at least a hundred. It is only right you should know. Be violent,
by all means, if it gives you any satisfaction. I want some new things.
But would it not be better to explain first and smash afterwards?"

She had never seen Jack like this--she had never even dreamed he was
capable of it--but she found it, though alarming, rather attractive.

"It is always said of women that they like brutality," she thought to
herself; "and perhaps it is true."

Jack rose from the fireplace a little flushed.

"They are talking about Marie at the clubs," he said. "The Snowflake has
melted, apparently. Jim Spencer is the melter."

"Do you mean you heard that said?" asked Mildred.

"Yes, by Silly Billy."

"Which hospital is he at?" asked she.

Jack sat down.

"Give me a whisky-and-soda," he said; "I'm as dry as dust. May I ring?
Thanks. You mean I should have stamped on him? I did not. I talked about
it quite quietly with him. He pointed out that I, as a defendant in an
action for assault, would not be amused at cross-examination. He adduced
reasons."

Mildred looked at him for a moment with a sort of quiet wonder.

"Do you mean he adduced me as a reason?" she asked.

"Not by name."

"How very forbearing of him! You let that pass, too?"

"Yes."

She reflected.

"You did right," she said at length. "I was at first so much surprised
at your having behaved like that, that I could hardly believe it. But
you did right. It was, however, quite unnecessary to smash Marie's
photograph--or is that a dramatic climax to show your inalienable
fidelity to me?"

She laughed.

"There, drink your whisky," she said. "How extraordinary men are!
Whenever they have had some powerful and exhausting emotion, a little
alcohol always puts them square again. One ought to measure everything
by that. A wife talked about--large whisky-and-soda; a friend talked
about--small whisky-and-soda; one's self talked about--well, that is a
stimulus in itself: say a Lithia Varalette, something lowering, by way
of adjustment."

Jack, angry as he was, answered to her voice, as a fretful horse answers
to a hand it knows, perhaps from habit, perhaps from the sense of a
master astride it.

"You take it like this?" he said. "You can have no idea what it means to
me."

Mildred stood silent a moment, then laughed.

"Surely the English must have made a corner in hypocrisy," she said.
"For sheer, genuine hypocrisy give me the frank English gentleman
like--well, like you, Jack. You are annoyed that Marie has been, as you
say, talked about; you are convinced that it is the chief, if not the
only, duty of a wife not to be talked about. Now, what is the reason of
that, may I ask you? Is it because you demand virtue of her, fidelity to
you? Not a bit of it, and you know it. You do not care in the least what
she does, provided only nothing is said about her. But, seriously, is it
worth while keeping that sort of thing up with me? Cæsar's wife must be
beyond suspicion! Oh, me, what ranting twaddle! But, oh, my poor Cæsar!"

Jack had not been very comfortable when he came in; he was not more
comfortable now. The bogieman, who was capable of popping out as on a
nervous old lady on a dark night, and frightening Cabinet Ministers with
his horrible turnip-ghost of accurate figures and reliable statistics,
was more terrified than terrifying here.

"You are getting quite like Marie," he observed.

"Am I? It would be a singularly awkward position for you if I was, do
you not think?"

Jack had no pertinent reply for a moment; then, "I do not know that the
censorious attitude suits you very well," he said.

"Ah, the whole question turns on what one is censorious of. I am
censorious of your hypocrisy, reasonably I think, because I have no
weakness that way. But you as censor of Marie's morals! Oh, does it not
make you laugh, simply for fear you should cry? Have more whisky, Jack;
you really are not yourself yet. Tell me this, now--what did you come
here for? You have said nothing yet which would not have been better
left unsaid."

Jack got up.

"You appear to wish to quarrel with me," he said. "I think you had
better do it alone."

Mildred made up her mind in a moment; the thing she had long been
debating solved itself at this.

"If you go like a sulky child," she said, "it will be you who quarrel
with me. Now, can you afford to quarrel with both me and Marie? Just
consider that, and reckon up to yourself exactly what will be left of
you if you do. You may do so if you choose, and you can say you have
grounds, for it was I who put into Silly Billy's head the idea that made
him say what he did about Marie. Dresden birds, a hundred pounds, and
please don't touch the Tanagras," she added.

The caution was apparently unnecessary, for Jack did not show the
slightest inclination to smash anything. He sat down as good as gold.

"You are a remarkably interesting woman," he said; "and as I never
thought you a fool, I should really like to know why you did that."

"The immediate cause was a bad one," she said, "for it was that I was
angry with Marie, and wanted to hurt her."

"Then, can you afford to quarrel with Marie--and me?" he asked.

Lady Brereton began to think that she was almost wasting her time. She
was aware, however, that her answer was critical, and gave it intense,
though rapid, consideration.

"Easily," she said. "Why not?"

Jack raised his eyes to her face; she saw their frightened appeal, and
knew that she had won.

"Ah, you are tired of it all," he said.

"You can make me wish I had never seen you if you behave obtusely," she
said.

"What have I done?"

"You have been on the point of quarrelling with me as well as Marie.
Surely that is obtuse enough. Quarrel with us one at a time, if you
wish. To continue, she interfered unwarrantably in a thing that concerns
me alone--I mean Maud's marriage."

Jack smiled faintly.

"I see what you mean," he said apologetically.

"It is sufficiently clear. She interfered, and has seriously embarrassed
me. The marriage will not take place as soon as I wished; in anger, I
struck at her blindly."

"Without considering me," said he.

"Of course, without considering you. You did not occur to me, and even
if you had I should not have considered you, for we settled just now
that your attitude on that point was not--well, considerable. But I am
glad now--I speak quite calmly--that I have done it. I do not like
humbug; we have had a good deal of it. I shall before very long let
Marie know what I have heard."

"Said," interrupted Jack.

"Heard. That will make a coolness between us, for she will be silently
scornful of me. Oh, the truth is this, Jack--I am glad, yes, glad, that
I am not going to pretend to be friends with Marie much longer. There
are many good women who apparently do not mind hypocrisy, but there are
many women who have no pretension whatever to be good who do not like
being hypocrites. I am one. I shall not go to heaven when I die in any
case, but I assure you that if I could by promising to talk about
Sunday-schools to the saints I would refuse it. Now go away and have
your row with Marie."

"You advise that?"

"I insist on it, else I should have wasted all my anger. Dear me, we are
a sweet couple, you and I!"

There was a ring of sudden bitter sincerity in her tone, and he looked
up surprised.

"What is the matter, Mildred?" he asked.

"Anything, everything, nothing. Perhaps your absurd conduct, Jack;
perhaps the thunderstorm which is certainly coming; perhaps reaction
from my anger. Perhaps that I have got my way: I have started a scandal
about Marie--got it successfully launched. I have the sickness of
success. Oh, decidedly the only way to be happy is to want things, not
to get them."

"Want, then; it is easy enough."

"I am beginning to wonder whether it is," said she. "I rather think that
the faculty of wanting is a faculty which belongs to youth. Dear me! I
am getting philosophical, and I beg your pardon. Tell me the news. When
is the dissolution?"

"Who knows? Not even the family, I believe, and I have not the honour of
belonging to them. But, I imagine, not later than the end of July."

"Then the election will interfere with the grouse-shooting, will it
not?"

Jack laughed.

"Yes, but apparently it is decided that Imperial affairs are to rank
above grouse-shooting for once in a way!"

Mildred looked at the clock.

"I must go," she said. "I've got a hair-dresser and a dressmaker and a
manicurist all waiting, and, for aught I know, a palmist and a dentist,
and I'm dining at the Hungarian Embassy, an affair which demands, if not
prayer, at any rate fasting. I never get used to that sort of _corvée_."

"Why do you do it, then?"

"Because it is only by doing that sort of thing with religious
regularity that you get to the stage when you need no longer do it
unless you choose. Besides, I purpose to say a word for you in an august
ear. He is taking an interest, I am told, in the army. He also takes an
interest in me. I amuse him. Come to lunch to-morrow, and tell me what
has happened."

The thunderstorm predicted by Lady Brereton was already beginning to
grumble in the west as Jack left the house, and before he got to Park
Lane a few large, warm drops were splashing on the pavements. He asked
the man who opened the door whether his wife was at home, and, learning
that she was in, went up to her sitting-room. Marie was there, sitting
in the balcony overlooking the park, her back turned to the room, so
that she did not see Jack as he entered. By her was sitting another
figure, whom he recognised. Jack strolled out to join them, lighting a
cigarette.

"Good-evening, Spencer," he said. "Pray don't move. There's a storm
coming up."

But Jim Spencer rose.

"I was just going," he said. "I shall just get home before it begins."

He shook hands with them both, and went through the sitting-room and
down-stairs. On the sound of the front-door banging behind him Jack
spoke.

"Do you remember my warning you that people would talk if you were
intimate with that man?" he said.

"Perfectly."

"You have chosen to disregard my warning. The consequence is that people
have begun to talk."

Marie got up.

"Who, and where?" she said, facing him.

"It does not matter who. Where? In the clubs. 'So the Snowflake has
melted. I saw her driving with the melter.' I heard that said this
afternoon."

The rain began to fall heavily, and a blue scribble of light rent the
sky. Marie did not reply, but went inside, followed by her husband. The
room was very dark, and each could see no more than the form of the
other. In the gloom her answer came--very cool and crisp, an
extraordinary contrast to the hot, thick darkness.

"And you tell this to me," she asked--"to me?"

"It concerns you, does it not?"

"As much as that which the gutter press says of the King concerns the
King. And you knew it, Jack."

Jack sat down in a chair, his back to what light there was. To her he
was almost invisible except for the glowing spark of his cigarette,
which, as he drew breath, faintly illuminated his mouth.

"For a woman of the world," he said, "you are more ignorant than I
should have thought possible. Who are the women who are talked about at
the clubs? Half a dozen names occur to you, as they do to me. Do you
like being the seventh?"

Again there was silence, broken first by a sullen roar of thunder, then
by Marie's voice.

"I want to ask you one question, Jack," she said. "Do you not know--you
yourself--that to couple my name with that of any man except you, is to
utter a foul and baseless calumny?"

"That is not the point," said he. "The point is that your name has so
been coupled."

"Do you not know it?" she repeated.

Again there was silence. The devil, probably, would have betted on
Jack's saying "No." If so, he would have lost his money.

"Yes, I know it," he replied; and his tattered flag of honour waved
again.

"Then, how dare you repeat such a thing to me?" said Marie, still in the
same unnaturally even voice. "For you seem to forget one thing, Jack,
and that is that I am your wife!"

"It is exactly that which I remember," he said.

"Then you are beyond me, and I cannot understand you at all. You seem to
think--God knows what you think! Anyhow, the standard of honour which is
yours is utterly incomprehensible to me. You approach me with a sort of
calm gusto to tell me a canard you have picked out of the clubs or out
of the gutter, and you seem to think I shall care! What I care about is
something quite different, and that is that you should have told me. I
suppose your object was to wound me, to punish me--so you put it to
yourself, for my having disregarded your warning. It is true that you
have wounded me, but not in the way you think. Not long ago you thought
good to cast doubts on the way in which I told you I had spent my
evening. This is one step worse. And I warn you that another step may
take you too far! That is all I have to say."

She turned round and, with a quick movement of her finger, turned on the
electric light and stood in all her splendid beauty before him. Her
bosom heaved with her intense suppressed emotion, her eye was kindled,
and her mouth, slightly parted with her quickened breath, just showed
the white line of her teeth. And sudden amazement at her loveliness
seized the man. He looked long, then got up and advanced to her.

"Marie, Marie!" he said with entreaty, and laid his hand on her arm.

"Ah, don't touch me!" she cried.



CHAPTER XI


Marie was sitting alone under the striped awning which covered the end
of the terrace behind their country house in Surrey. The flap at the end
was open, and from the bushes beyond came the hot, languid scent of the
lilacs, the hot, languid murmur of the bees as they shouldered
themselves into the clubs and clusters of the blossoms, the busy chirrup
of sparrows intent on some infinitesimal occupation demanding a great
deal of discussion. Unseen on the lawn below, a mowing-machine was
making its clicking journeys up and down the grass, but no other sound
marked the passage of the hot afternoon; no breeze stirred in the level
fans of the cedar nor ruffled the lake, where the unwavering reflections
of the trees were spread as sharp-cut and immobile as if they had been
painted on a silver shield. On Marie's lap lay an unopened book, and she
was as motionless as the mirroring lake.

A week had passed since her scene with Jack on the evening of the
thunderstorm, and she had left London three days after in obedience to
an instinct which she felt she could not disobey. That scene had
unfocused her; she had to adjust herself to a new view of things, and
the need to go away and be alone for a day or two had been
overmastering. For the one thing which she had always regarded as
impossible had happened to her: the snowflake--herself--was supposed to
have melted. And, from the fact that this slander affected her so
deeply, she knew, for the first time fully, how utterly different she
was to the rest of the world. Some months ago she had heard Lady
Ardingly say in her slow, sensible voice: "Ah, my dear, there are so
many people who can lose their reputation, but so few who know how
valuable the loss is! They were perfectly capable of valuing it when it
existed, but they cannot appreciate its loss at the proper figure." At
the time she had laughed, as she would have laughed at any outrageous
piece of cynicism in some modern play. Now she choked at it; it was gall
to her.

So, then, according to the world's view, she was in the position of many
women who held their heads high, and thought of the world generally as
their playground, the place kindly provided for the amusement of their
spare time, of which they had twenty-four hours every day. Whether the
disrepute of all these was as reliable as that which she had herself
just gained was not the immediate point to be considered; but certainly,
if one took a man like Arthur Naseby into a corner, he would, with no
encouragement at all, tell an intimate and abominable history of half
the folk he knew. For herself, she was not in the habit of taking this
stout and poisonous gentleman into corners. Scandalous stories did not
amuse her, particularly if they were true, and immorality she thought to
be a thing not only wicked, but vulgar. Wickedness, as she had once
said, seemed to the world in which she lived merely an obsolete term,
describing a moral condition which had no appreciable existence; and
sometimes she wondered whether vulgarity was not passing into the
category of words without significance. And now it appeared that people
were saying about her what they said about so many others, with no sense
of condemnation, but--and here lay the nausea of the thing--with
amusement. She could almost hear Arthur's voice stridently declaiming:
"After all, poor thing, why shouldn't she amuse herself like everybody
else? It was the one thing wanted to make her perfectly charming. But I
think we shall hear less about the stupidity and vulgarity of the world.
Artistically speaking, she ought to have modulated the change more. Just
a shade too abrupt--a little Wagnerian in its change of key;" and roars
of laughter would follow.

But this new condition in her life had by no means constituted the sum
of these three days' meditation in the country. With the elasticity
inherent in human nature, the moment the new condition had been made,
her mental fibres set themselves automatically to adjust themselves to
it. Doctors say that any patient adjusts himself to the most fatal
sentence in twenty-four hours; the thing becomes a part of life. It was
so with her, and now she felt, though not reconciled, at any rate used
to the thing. Though highly introspective, she was not, in the ordinary
sense of the word, self-conscious, and she no longer believed that the
changed glances of the world at her would affect her very seriously.
Surely she could manage to take them at their correct and worthless
valuation. At first the thought of that had seemed intolerable; but
after three days she was beginning to feel she cared very appreciably
less.

So far her solitude had been successful, but beyond that it had been a
complete failure. For the larger of the two reasons which had induced
her to come here remained, and she could not even now conjecture what in
the future should be her attitude to Jim. With this problem she had
wrestled and struggled in vain, and it seemed to her, in these first
days of her consciousness as to her essential relations to him, that all
her life-long consistency of thought and habit on such a point were
cancelled and worthless. The truth was that she had not known at all
before that she was really capable of passion. Her nature, including
something far deeper and stronger than mere physical nature, had till
quite lately been dormant; she had been ignorant all her life of what
the longing for another meant; all her life she had judged men and women
by a blind standard which did not really measure that to which it was
applied. All her life she had labelled immorality as vulgar, and, as
such, she shrugged her shoulders at it and passed by. But now it was
beginning to be burned into her that it was not her fastidiousness that
labelled things vulgar, but her ignorance. She had thought Blanche
Devereux vulgar because she herself had not understood. Now she was
afraid she was beginning to understand, and with the gradual
comprehension came growing bewilderment. And step by step with the
bewilderment marched an inward tumult of ecstasy, of which she had not
known herself capable. A sort of horrified wonder at herself was there,
and withal a singing in her heart. It had awoke, and, like the roar of
the sea which drowns the idle clatter of the Corniche road, it made a
huge soft tumult.

This, then, was the problem she had brought unsolved from London, and
which, she was afraid, she would bring back there without solution. The
knowledge of it had burst upon her on the evening when Jack had told her
what he had heard said of her, and her first conscious utterance that
showed she knew of its existence was when that involuntary cry, "Ah,
don't touch me!" came uninvited to her lips. Her long and gradual
estrangement from her husband had immeasurably widened at that moment.
In an instant his figure had leaped to remote horizons, and she had but
to turn her head to see how close beside her stood another, he of whom
her husband had spoken. This she had not known before; but the knowledge
had come in a flash, staining backwards, as it were, through the past
pages of her life, so that it seemed to her that she had loved him since
the time when they were boy and girl together, and it made her view her
married life with an incredulous horror. And by what sinister revelation
had she gained this knowledge? For it was the fact that people spoke of
Jim as her lover that had made her definitely aware she loved him. And
it had been Jack through whom this knowledge was conveyed.

It was this knowledge that made her distrust herself as utterly as if
her own soul and spirit had just been introduced to her among a crowd of
strangers. She had thought she had known herself, and now this thing had
started out upon her as if she had been asleep in a dark room, and had
been wakened to find the chamber blazing with lights. Whether she had
the will or the strength to resist she did not yet know; the purpose
alone she could utterly answer for. But she realized that if again she
saw him in such sort as she had seen him on the Sunday afternoon by the
river, or on that afternoon when she had told him of her conversation
with Maud Brereton, it would be a more difficult task to make him keep
silence. She felt she could scarcely answer for her own silence. How
much less, then, for her power of stopping the speech which a word from
her would have even then brought to utterance! And now----

She rose, feeling that the only hope of victory lay in turning away from
thoughts like these, and not, under the specious pretext of consciously
fighting them, in reality making them familiar to her mind; for
familiarity in such things breeds, not contempt, but acquiescence, half
contemptuous it may be, but half consenting, and she knew that in face
of certain temptations it is cowardice not to run away. The sun was
already off the lawn, and a cooler breeze had begun to stir the intense
heat of the afternoon. Tea had long been waiting for her under the
cedar, and she walked slowly along the terrace and down the ten steps
which led on to the lawn. This terrace had been an expensive whim of
Jack's grandfather; it ran the length of the house, and was paved and
balustraded with rose-coloured Numidian marble; urns, wreathed in
delicate creepers which spilt splashes of vivid colour, stood at
intervals along it; and below it blossomed a superb riband flower-bed
bordering the lawn where stood the cedar.

On this restful velvet she walked up and down, again taken up and
possessed by the absorption of that which lay before her. Her pride
shied and jibbed at the thought of refusing to see any more of Jim
Spencer because some slanderous tongue had started a vile falsehood
about her, and she told herself that to do this would but confirm these
inventions in the minds of such people as could ever have entertained
them. She knew well enough the form the story would take. It would be
supposed that the report had got to Jack's ears, and that he forbade her
to see him. This would be intolerable; intolerable also was the thing
itself, that she should not see him. So much she confessed frankly to
herself. But one thing, one thing above all, was certain, and the
thought brought to her the glow which is inseparable from all honest
endeavour. She had been slandered in a way that touched her with deep
resentment, but never should she give that lie a moment's harbourage,
even on the threshold of her thoughts. The vileness of it, indeed, was
a safeguard, and she could not without shuddering picture herself
touching the subject-matter of it.

She had not walked long before a servant came out and approached her.

"Mr. Spencer wants to know if your ladyship will see him," he said.

Marie paused, feeling suddenly that this had happened before, but was
unable to recollect what came next.

"Mr. Spencer?" she repeated.

"Yes, my lady."

Marie turned away from the man without replying, and walked a pace or
two from him. Her mind seemed to be making itself up without any
volition on her part. Then, without turning her head, "Ask him to come
out," she answered, and the sound of the utterly commonplace words
conveyed to her the nature of her own decision; for she had yielded, and
knew it, not to be the imperative demand of her pride, which insisted
that she should show not the smallest change of behaviour towards him,
just because people had lied about her, but to her imperative desire to
see the man.

She walked back to where the tea-table still stood, with the shining
points of sunlight that filtered through the cedar making stars on the
silver, and sat there a moment listening with a sort of incredulous
wonder to the hammer of her pulse, and observing with the same
incapacity for belief that these were her hands which trembled. But the
interval was a short one, for in a moment his step sounded crisp on the
terrace, and then became noiseless on the lawn. She was sitting with her
back to the quarter of advance, but turned her head as he approached.

"Where in the world have you sprung from?" she asked. "Have some tea,
Jim, or whisky-and-soda? I am delighted to see you, though it was not in
my programme to see anybody."

"I am an intruder then, I fear," said he. "No sugar, thanks."

"Yes, but not unwelcome. I left London three days ago, and am going back
to-morrow. I am eccentric, as you know, and, what is more useful, I have
the reputation of being so. Thus, nobody wonders if I disappear for a
few days."

To her great relief and her hardly less surprise, Marie found not the
slightest difficulty in assuming a perfectly natural manner, and even
mentally classed it under the heading of phenomena which show that
ordinary people in trying circumstances for the most part behave
normally. It was natural to her, in fact, to be natural. But even as she
drew these comforting conclusions, she had leisure to observe that Jim,
too, was in the grip of some inward struggle. Its nature she did not try
to guess, but continued talking under a sense of stress, a fear of
silences.

"You know my gospel, do you not?" she said, "or, rather, I am sure you
do not, as I have only formulated it to myself during this last day or
two. There are two halves to the world, which make the whole, and each
is the antidote to the other. One half is people; the other half is
things. Now, the country is the place of things, and London of people.
Cows, flowers, hay, all these are a certain antidote to the poisoning
which unmixed people give one. In the same way, one flies from the
country to town to take the antidote to the poison, a narcotic one, of
things. Dipsomaniacs, so to speak, live entirely in London. They die
young; it is a quick poison. The opposite dipsomaniacs live entirely in
the country; it is a slow poison, and they live, or, at any rate, do not
die, until a very advanced age. But oh, Jim, what a difference there is
between living and not dying! They sound the same thing, but there is
all the difference in the world between them."

Jim stirred his sugarless tea slowly, then drank it quickly and put down
the cup. Being a man, airy nothings were not part of his stock in trade,
a deficiency from a merely social standpoint.

"And so you have been poisoned with people?" he said directly. "I feel
uncomfortable; I am afraid I have interrupted the cure."

"Not a bit. The treatment is over, and I am going back to London
to-morrow. You are the junction, so to speak, where some one gets in,
where one first sees the smoke and the sea of houses. But who told you I
was here?"

"Jack told me," he said. "Why?"

On his words Marie suddenly became conscious that definite drama had
entered. From this point she saw herself as she might see a character in
a play, with a feeling of irresponsibility. The author of the play was
responsible. It was, in fact, overwhelmingly interesting to know the
manner in which Jack had said this.

"When did you see him?" she asked.

"This morning only, and by accident. He suggested I should come here, in
fact, and escort you back to London."

"But I am not going to-day," said Marie.

"No; he expects you back to-morrow. He suggested I should spend the
night here, and come back with you then."

"Ah, that is charming!" said she. "You have told them you are stopping?"

"But I am not. I must get back to-night."

Marie felt and knew that the words were wrung from him, that they had
been difficult to speak. But, well as she knew it, Jim knew it
infinitely better. His tongue, so to speak, he had to tie like a
galley-slave to its oar, and it made its monotonous strokes, which,
unwilling as they were and mutinously inclined, yet moved the vessel
towards its safety in harbour. Then a pause which both dreaded was
broken by the crisp sound of the trodden terrace, and the servant again
approached Marie.

"Which room shall I put Mr. Spencer's things in, my lady?" he asked, and
again the commonplace words had a hideous momentousness.

The temptation in her mind to give him merely the number of a room was
almost overwhelming, for she felt morally certain that, had she done so,
Jim would have said nothing. Furthermore, Jack had suggested his coming,
and within herself she bore the conscious witness of her own rectitude.
Only--and this was the reason for her decision--she knew that her desire
that he should stop, that events should then take their course, was
stronger than could have been accounted for by her desire to have a
companion at dinner, even the most desirable, and a companion during her
journey the next day. Further, he had come down here with the intention
of stopping. But her purpose held.

"Mr. Spencer will go back to-night," she said. "But you will stop for
dinner, Jim!"

"Thanks. I should like to. There is a train back at nine."

"Then, we must dine at eight instead of half-past. Let us have dinner on
the terrace. We often dine there when it is warm."

The man took the tea-tray and retired with it. Then Jim leaned forward
in his chair.

"Thank you," he said to Marie.

Again her hands so trembled that she had to catch hold of both arms of
her chair, lest it should be apparent. And her voice, as she felt to
her rebellious impotence, shook as she answered.

"For the dinner?" she said. "Indeed it will not be much, Jim--soup and a
cutlet, I expect."

Great emotion has its moments of calm and hurricane, like the sea. It
may lie glassy and level, though deep; again, with the speed of tropical
storm, it may have its surface lashed to mountainous billows, against
which no ship can make way, but must run before them. And the pitiless
and intentional lightness of her words made an upheaval in him of all he
was trying to suppress. He had come down here meaning to stop till the
next day, but somehow the sight of her, and some deep abiding
horror--the root of morality--of that for which his flesh cried out, had
revealed to him the grossness of, not his design, but his acquiescence.
Thus he had not even told her that he had his luggage with him; but of
this blind Fate, in the shape of a liveried servant, had informed her.
She knew as well as he what he had intended to do. And looking at her
hands as they clutched the wickerwork of her basket chair, he could see
that she, too, wrestled with, and tried to throttle, some secret enemy.
Then came her light words, interpreted by the quivering of the tense
hands, and his passion surged and overwhelmed him.

"Let me change my mind, Marie," he said, "and stop."

Again she told herself that it was perfectly right and natural that he
should do so, but again her clear, clean judgment, recognising the force
of the desire that he should, overruled her; but she was tired and
nerve-jangled from the struggle, and her voice, pitched high and
entreatingly, was no longer under her command.

"No, no, Jim!" she cried. "You must go."

The word she was afraid she would not be able to speak was spoken. The
operation was over; she had only to keep quiet and recuperate. But she
had betrayed herself to him: both knew it. A barrier had been broken
down between them; each soul in its secret place was visible to the
other, and in the awe and amazement of that the cries and strivings of
the debatable were for the moment stilled. There was no satisfaction in
the world that could equal the self-surrender that each had already
made; there was nothing that either could do or say which would not
spoil and degrade that which had passed between them. Jim, on his part,
though he knew why he had asked to change his mind and stop, could not
yet regret it, so tremendous and soul-filling was that which lay behind
her refusal; and she could not find it in her heart to blame him, since
his weakness had ended so gloriously. Thus in silence for a long moment
each looked at the other, unashamed, acknowledging by that look, without
fear or regret, the great bond that bound them indissolubly together,
the great renunciation that irrevocably divided them.

Marie reached out her hand for her ivory silver-handled stick, which had
fallen by her chair.

"Come and stroll for half an hour before dinner," she said. "See whether
I am not right about the antidote to people which one can find in the
country."

He rose, too.

"But who has been poisoning you in town?" he asked.

"Who? The six million people who live there. No, I will except you. I do
not find you are poisonous here, at least."

"Thank you. But what have you done with yourself these three days?"

"Ah, that is the secret of the country! In town one has to do things
one's self; the country does them all for you. You sit and you walk; you
pick long feathery pieces of grass, and chew them like a cow; you think
very intently for long periods, and at the end find that you have been
thinking about nothing whatever. There is nothing so restful; and I have
been wanting rest. I was a good deal worried about a certain matter
before I left town."

He looked at her.

"I will subscribe to any institution that will guarantee you freedom
from worry," he said.

"That is very kind of you, but the only way your institution could be of
use would be by giving me a painless death; and I do not wish to die at
all. No, you must spend your money some other way. Talking of that, have
you made up your mind to stand for Parliament? It looks as if I accused
you prospectively of bribery and corruption. I do not mean to."

"I wanted to talk to you about that. That was--one of the reasons why I
came down to-day. I have been asked to stand for East Surrey, but by
the Liberals."

She stopped suddenly.

"By the Liberals?" she said. "That will come as a great surprise to your
friends, will it not?"

"Possibly. Of course, rich people are as a rule Conservative; in fact,
it seems sufficient for a man that he should acquire a large fortune to
make a Conservative of him. Personally I detest party politics, though
no doubt they are a necessity. For myself, I only recognise one party
just now, whose sole object is efficiency, not effectiveness."

She resumed walking again, with a quicker pace.

"Have you told Jack?" she asked.

"Yes. He approves warmly. He added, however, that he couldn't do
anything for me, that he was bound to do all he could against me, in
fact, during the election. That must be so. He is the land-owner here
and a Conservative, and he does not see sufficient reason for ratting.
There is nowhere to rat to, he says."

"I know Jack's view. He thinks both parties are in a hopeless state,
but, belonging to one, he has no reason to join the other. Dear me,
Jim, this is news! You have a subject in South Africa; so if the
Conservatives get in, you will, I suppose, be among those who make it
warm for them."

"I have no intention of taking politics up as a recreation," he said;
"it is to be my profession, you understand." He paused a moment. "That
is, given I get in."

Instantly her woman's pride in the man awoke.

"Of course you will get in!" she said; and not till she had said it did
she know what she said, for no sense of his political fitness had
prompted it, only her love for him.

They walked on a little way in silence, past the end of the riband bed,
and into the rose-garden beyond.

"Yes, there is a cry for efficiency," he said. "John Bull is touched in
his tender point, which is his purse. The tax-payer wants to know what
he is getting for his increased income-tax, and the fact that he puts
only one lump of sugar instead of two into his two instead of three cups
of tea. He accepts the necessity, I believe, quite willingly; but as a
shareholder in that very large concern, the British Empire, he wishes to
see the balance-sheet, with explanations. So many millions for the
South African War seem to him a large item. He does not dispute it, but
he wants to have details given him, and through the mouths of his
representatives he proposes to see that he gets them."

"That is called an unpatriotic attitude," remarked Marie with singular
acidity.

"Ah, you are a Liberal, too! Of course Jack is."

"Certainly, if you take the utterance of the Conservative leaders as
official. Jack, for instance, looks upon the Boer War as a war with a
Power that was no Power at all, but the Government officially alludes to
it as 'the great Boer War.' There is the party note. Oh, there is no
such strong Conservative as the man who has once been a Radical!
Conversion is always followed by exaggeration."

Marie stopped, plucked a couple of tea-roses and pinned them into the
front of her dress. Then, looking up, she saw his eyes fixed on her
face, and though they both had been speaking honestly about a subject
that honestly interested them, she knew how superficial their talk had
been; speeches had been made correctly, but automatically--no more. She
was glad to know about his future plans; he, on his side, liked to speak
of them, for, as he said, he was going to make a profession of politics.
But they had both been talking "shop"; and as she raised her eyes to
his, "shop" became suddenly impossible.

"Another rose," he said, "and give it me."

She did not answer. Then she drew one from the two she had fastened in
her dress.

"Flowers to a friend," she said, holding it out to him. "It is an
Italian proverb, Jim. Do you know the response?"

"You will tell it me."

"And honour from the friend," she replied.

He was cut to the quick, yet a phantom of self-justification was up in
arms.

"When did I not give you that?" he said.

"You have always given it me," she answered. "Give it me every hour,
Jim, until I cease entirely to deserve it."

Thereat he bent and kissed her hand.



CHAPTER XII


In the course of the next week or so Lady Brereton began to almost
believe the slander that she had herself sown over the very congenial
soil of London drawing-rooms; but though the town was soon as thick with
it as is a cornfield in May with the green springing spears, she was
afraid that her amiable object of revenging herself on Marie for the ill
turn she had done her in the matter of Maud's marriage had not been
blessed with the success which that masterly design deserved. Indeed,
had she not known from Jack that he had told his wife what he had
overheard at the "Deuce of Spades," Mildred could not have believed that
Marie knew anything at all about it, so utterly unaltered was her
demeanour to the world at large, and in particular to Jim Spencer. They
were constantly together, but, somehow, Marie's attitude to him and his
to her seemed in the eyes of people in general to contradict every
moment the possibility of there being any _dessous des cartes_ at all;
in fact, Mildred's springing blades had rather the appearance of having
been sown on stony ground: they seemed to her eye to look curiously
without stamina. Yet, as already stated, although in less than the
traditional nine days the world in general had ceased to concern itself
with so misbegotten a scandal, Lady Brereton almost began to believe it
herself. Her own invention, in fact, appeared probable to her; but its
effect on Marie, from which she had hoped so much, was entirely
unfruitful.

Lady Ardingly about this time, like an old war-horse now turned out to
grass, had begun to prick up her ears at the trumpets which resounded
through the land on the approach of the General Election. She, like many
other people, had a great belief in Jack's powers of awakening the
Government from the self-congratulatory torpor which had fallen on them.

"They sit in a somnolent circle," she said to him one day, "and awake at
intervals to shake hands with each other; then they go to sleep again.
Ardingly, perhaps, is the most sensible. He sleeps as soundly as
anybody, but he doesn't congratulate his noble colleagues."

Jack laughed.

"I almost wish I had always been a Liberal," he said.

"You always have been," said she; "but now is not the time to say so.
Get your seat in the Cabinet, Jack; the Conservative Cabinet is the only
opening for a Liberal nowadays. That is where Mr. Spencer makes his
mistake. To be a Liberal, however prominent, is nowadays to be perfectly
ineffective. You are put in a box and locked up, and the key is put in
the key-basket at--well, at a certain country-house. But if you are a
Conservative you are let out and given your own key. That is your
chance."

"And if they don't give me a seat in the Cabinet?"

"There will be no question about that. They do not like you, but they
are afraid of you. The country, on the other hand, likes you a good
deal. You have a way with plebeians. I don't know how you manage it.
They think you are a practical man, and just now they want practical
men, and they intend to get them. But you will have to be very careful
about certain things. I wanted to talk to you about those; that was why
I sent for you to have lunch with me alone. People were coming, but, in
fact, I put them off. We will go to my room."

Lady Ardingly rose, and Jack followed her. He was not quite sure that he
would like what was coming, but he was far too sensible to quarrel with
her, for he considered her quite the worst person in the world to
quarrel with.

"Yes, I am going to speak plainly," she said. "It is, I think, certain
that you will be offered the War Office. Now, you have a very clever
wife, who will be admirably useful to you; but you have a great friend
who is stupider than a mule, with all her _soi-disant_ brilliance. She
is _au fond_ a really vulgar woman, and it is vulgar people who make the
stupid mistakes. She has already made one, which might have damaged you
seriously, but I do not think it will. Of that presently. I was saying
that they will probably give you the War Office; but you cannot with any
usefulness retain the post for a day if there is a scandal connected
with you--a scandal, that is to say, of the wrong sort."

Jack leaned forward in his chair.

"I don't know why I do not resent this, Lady Ardingly," he said, "or
why I do not leave the room; but I do neither."

"Because you are a selfish, or at any rate an ambitious man," she said.
"Every one who is worth his salt is. Now I will put names to my advice."

       *       *       *       *       *

She paused a moment to take some coffee, and waited till the man had
left the room.

"Mildred is a very vulgar woman," she said, "and her vulgarity shows
itself in the nature of her mistakes. Silly Billy came here the other
day, and I asked him about his scene with you. You did not score there,
and if he had not been a clever little fellow in a small sort of
bird-like manner, you would have involved yourself in a row of monstrous
proportions. He managed you in his microscopical way very successfully.
That is so. He also told me that it was Mildred who had suggested that
absurd canard to him. There is the stupidity of the woman. There was no
grain of sense in it all. Nobody who knows, would believe such things
about Marie for ten days together. But supposing some gutter-rag of a
paper had got hold of it! The wife of the man who was in the running for
the Cabinet prosecuting an intrigue with the Liberal candidate of his
division of Surrey! How charming! If I had wanted to ruin you, I should
have tried to think of something as damaging as that. If I had thought
of that I should have been quite content. Did you not see that, my poor
fellow?"

"We did not know he was standing at the time," said Jack rather feebly.

"Doubtless. But the secret of success in this world is not to make
blunders where one does not know. Any one can avoid blunders if he knows
everything. In any case, here is the position. It is sedulously
circulated that your wife has an intrigue with Jim Spencer. And who
circulates it? This cook! Luckily I did something to stop people
talking."

"What was that?"

"I told them I happened to know that Mildred had quarrelled with your
wife, and had invented this story out of revenge. That is the case, is
it not?"

"It certainly happens to be true. But I don't see how you knew."

"I guessed it was so," said Lady Ardingly. "It was the only reasonable
supposition. There is not another which holds water. Besides, if it had
not been true, what does it matter? Now, this is the first way in which
Mildred might have ruined you. The second concerns you also."

"I don't think we need discuss that," said Jack, who kept his temper
only by the knowledge that he would lose a great deal more if he lost
it.

"But we had better. You are a decent fellow, Jack; also it will amuse me
to see you in the Cabinet, which I shall not, unless you are careful.
Now, you have had an affair with Mildred for many years. At least, so we
all suppose; that we all suppose it is the important thing. I do not
mind that, morally speaking, because I am in no way responsible for your
morals. It is your own business. She happens to stimulate you. Everybody
knows about it except one person--your wife. Now, why not tell her?"

"For what reason?" asked Jack, far too much surprised to resent
anything.

"Simply for fear she should find out, and--and blow your ships out of
the water!" said Lady Ardingly. "You have fallen into a grave mistake.
You have treated your wife as a negligible quantity, whereas hardly
anybody is a negligible quantity, and certainly not she. That is by the
way. At present we are considering your career. Now, if Marie finds
out, either while you are still not yet in the Cabinet, or even after
that, before you have made yourself clearly felt to be indispensable,
you go. For if the middle class gets hold of a scandal about a Minister,
not yet proven, that man is beyond hope. He cannot weather the storm.
The middle class, who are, after all, the people, distrust his public
measures because they disapprove of his private life."

"Idiotic on their part," observed Jack.

"No doubt; but the cause of success is to estimate correctly and to take
advantage of the idiocy of others. None of us are clever in the way
Napoleon was clever. All we can do is to be slightly less idiotic than
the rest of mankind. Now you must go. I have a hundred things to do and
a thousand people to see. If I can be of any further help to you, let me
know."

Jack got up, then paused, indecisive.

"You mean you will tell Marie?" he asked.

"If you wish me to. But there is a simpler plan."

"What is that?" asked Jack.

"Show Mildred the door--the back-door," she added.

"I can't."

"Very good; that is your affair," said she. "But make up your mind soon
what you will do. Any line is better than none, as it was always."

At the moment a footman entered.

"Ask her to wait in the drawing-room," said Lady Ardingly, before he had
spoken. Then, without pausing: "Good-bye, Jack. Send me a line; or we
shall meet at Ascot, shall we not?"

Jack hesitated a moment.

"She is very obstinate," he said.

"Your wife?" asked Lady Ardingly.

"No; the person you asked to wait in the drawing-room."

Lady Ardingly laughed. She never minded being found out.

"So am I," she said. "Don't meet her on the stairs."

"Oh, I am not a fool!" said Jack, almost with gaiety.

"That may be true. But do not take your own wisdom as a working
hypothesis," said that immovable woman.

After he had left, Lady Ardingly proceeded to take her maximum exercise
for the day. This consisted in walking four times up and down the long
gallery of portraits which ran by the reception-rooms. It was nearly a
hundred yards in length, and as she stopped once to swallow a small
digestive pill, which was presented to her with a wine-glass of water by
her maid, it was nearly ten minutes before she returned to her room and
sent a message that the person who was waiting should be shown up. The
interval sufficed to pull her auburn wig straight and settle herself
with her back to the light.

Mildred was more accustomed to be waited for than to wait, and neither
Lady Ardingly's message that she wished to see her at 3.30 nor the
period of inaction in this drawing-room had improved a naturally
irritable temper. Her determination, in fact, when the tardy summons
came, was to be very effusive and full of engagements--a
delighted-to-see-you--how-well-you-are-looking--such-a-pleasure--must-go
attitude. Lady Ardingly often rubbed her up the wrong way, but she more
often gave her advice which, when she was cool, she knew to be right.
She conjectured, if no more, that the subject which was going to be
discussed was Jack, but was more than half decided not to discuss it. In
her mind, in fact, she labelled Lady Ardingly as an impotent old
meddler. Thus she entered.

"Ah, my dear," said Lady Ardingly, "you have been kept waiting, I am
afraid. It was an idiotic footman, who thought I was engaged, and did
not tell me you were here. How are you, Mildred?"

Mildred sat down. Her dress rustled incredulously.

"Driven," she said--"simply driven! How foolish one is to make a hundred
engagements a day, and not enjoy any because one is always thinking
about the next!"

"Yes, very foolish," said Lady Ardingly, "especially when one does not
enjoy them. Now tell me the news, dear Mildred. I do not go out and I
see nobody. You are always everywhere. I never saw a woman who sat in
the mainspring so much. Tell me all about everybody."

Insensibly Mildred felt mollified. She knew perfectly well that, though
Lady Ardingly did not rush about to see everybody, it was only because
everybody rushed about to see her; but still there was to her a faint
aroma of compliment about the speech. She disentangled a misshapen
Yorkshire terrier from her muff.

"Who, for instance?" she said. "Now, Jack--he is a friend of yours, I
know."

"Of both of ours," said Lady Ardingly with an intonation far more
confirmatory, than correcting.

"Yes--such a dear, isn't he? Well, people have been talking about him as
possibly going to the War Office. Dear Jack! I can scarcely imagine him
there."

"Yes, that is interesting," said Lady Ardingly. "So he means to take up
politics quite seriously. I am glad you have urged him to do that, and
that you have used your influence with him in that direction!"

Mildred continued to melt.

"Yes, Jack really has great talent," she said. "And he knows about guns
and smokeless powder, and--and that sort of thing, I believe. There is a
craze just now for people managing Departments of which they know
something. Quite new, isn't it?"

"Ah, you mean Ardingly," said the other. "How cruel of you!"

The liquefaction progressed.

"Dear Lady Ardingly!" said Mildred, "how can you say such a thing! Of
course I did not mean anything of the sort. But, seriously, I think
that Jack would do well at the War Office. Do not you?"

"Oh, he is not a fool! But it is necessary that he should have a wife.
Does one count Marie Alston as a wife, do you think?"

Mildred frowned quite naturally, and Lady Ardingly, though accustomed to
find her manoeuvres successful, was almost surprised at the success of
this.

"That reminds me," she said. "I wonder whether you have heard it? There
is going about a horrid, horrid scandal about Marie. It started, as far
as I know, in that Bridge club--'Deuce of Spades,' is it not? Well,
there one afternoon, about ten days ago, Silly Billy remarked that the
Snowflake had melted, referring to the matter. Everybody knew what he
meant, and Jack, as it happened, was in the room at the time. Was it not
awful? And it has gone all over London?"

Lady Ardingly sat up in her chair with the deliberation that
characterized all her movements, and took a cigarette from a tray. She
lighted it quite slowly without replying. It was time, she felt, to
begin taking the ribs out of this poor umbrella.

"Yes, I heard something of it," she said.

"Somebody told me something. But I gathered that it did not quite
originate there. I heard, in fact, dear Mildred, that you, driving to
that concert the other day, put the notion into Silly Billy's head."

"I don't know who can have told you that," she replied.

"Silly Billy did. Oh, I grant you that that is no guarantee at all for
its truth. I never see any reason to believe what Silly Billy says. But
you must now reckon with the story as it stands--as it reached me, in
fact: namely, that you told him the story which he very indiscreetly
repeated in Jack's hearing. You who know the world so well know that
people will not care if it is true. They will only repeat it as it
reached them, as it reached me."

"But I believe the story to be true," exclaimed Mildred, completely off
her guard.

"Ah! so you did tell him. The story, then, as I heard it is
substantially correct. Poor Silly Billy! How annoyed he would be if he
knew that he had been detected telling the truth! It would be deeply
humiliating to him. However, do not let us mind him; he is particularly
insignificant. Now, dear Mildred, why did you put that into his head?
Not that it matters why. But, anyhow, it was not nice of you."

"I did not intend it to be," said Mildred.

"Now you are talking sensibly. You quarrelled with her, and you wanted
to annoy her, I suppose. But is it possible that you do not see that in
annoying her you are injuring Jack with both hands?"

"In what way?"

"Perhaps you do not know that Jim Spencer is standing for the East
Surrey constituency as a Liberal. And where is Freshfield, the Alstons'
place? I have never been there, but I understand it is in East Surrey.
The Conservative magnate's wife has an intrigue with the Liberal
candidate! I said only just now to"--Lady Ardingly paused a moment--"to
myself, How damaging for Jack! How completely fatal for Jack!"

There was a short silence, and Lady Ardingly continued with the driest
deliberation.

"Of course, you had not heard that Jim Spencer was standing for that
division. There is nothing so dangerous as a complete absence of
knowledge. And it was you who started that scandal! It is lucky for you
it was such a silly one. If it had been a little cleverer, you might
have damaged him irretrievably."

"But there are lots of stories," began Mildred.

"Thousands. But not of that damaging kind. If you had said she was
having an intrigue, say, with the Emperor of Russia, it would have hurt
nobody, not even the Emperor. Never mind, dear, the thing is done. We
must consider how we can make the best of it. A scandal is always a
dangerous thing to touch. If one denies it afterwards, if even the
inventor, who believes it to be true--how ridiculous, too, of you, dear
Mildred!--denies it, there will always be people who think that the
denial merely confirms it. In this case it is peculiarly complicated.
The great thing is that the whole invention was so silly from the start.
I should have thought, dear Mildred, that you had a better imagination.
But you have not. It is not your fault; you cannot help it. What shall
we do, do you think?"

This old woman was not so impotent as Mildred had hoped. She had been
accustomed to consider herself fairly wide awake, but it appeared that
her waking moments were somnolence personified to Lady Ardingly.

"I don't know," she said feebly.

"Then, I will tell you," said Lady Ardingly. "Start a scandal--you
are so good at it--about yourself and Jim Spencer. Nothing
circumstantial--only let it be in the air. Let people say things; there
is nothing easier. Then it will appear also that you have broken with
Jack. That, I tell you, will not injure him. A married man is open to
damaging scandals in two ways: one through himself, one through his
wife. And in Jack's case, my dear, both these doors are flung wide, and
Lady Brereton enters through each, trumpeting like--like an elephant."

Lady Ardingly nodded her head at Mildred, with the air of a nurse
scolding a refractory child.

"Now, do not look so disconsolate, my dear," she went on, observing
Mildred's face falling as a barometer falls before a cyclone, "but just
bestir yourself. You should really in future consult somebody before you
embark on these efforts. You have dug a bottomless well, so I may say,
at the foot of the ladder by which your friend Jack was preparing to
mount. There is room--just room--to get him on to it still. But there is
only one way of doing it--that is, by stopping somehow or another that
very silly story you made up about his wife, and by taking very great
care how you are talked about in connection with him by the wrong
people--just now, perhaps, by anybody. You can do both these things by
letting it be supposed that you are _intime_ with Mr. Spencer. Let us
talk of something else."

Lady Ardingly rose with the air of closing the subject altogether. She
knew exactly when to stop rubbing a thing in, the object of that
salutary process being to make the place smart sufficiently, but not
unbearably. Mildred, she considered, was smarting enough.

"And about your tall daughter?" she said. "How does that go?"

"She is lovable, and he loves her; but he is not lovable, and she does
not love him," quoted Mildred, restraining quite admirably her impulse
to sulk or lose her temper.

"Ah! you must give her time. If he is really in love with her, he will
be very patient. And, since you love her," she added, without any change
of voice, "you will be patient with her, too."

Mildred got up.

"I must go," she said. "Thank you very much, Lady Ardingly. I have made
a mess of things."

"Yes, dear," said the other, "and you must wipe it up. Must you be
going? Some people are coming in for Bridge almost immediately. Please
dine here, if you can, to-day week. I will ask Mr. Spencer, and I will
not ask Jack. That is the day before we all go down to Ascot. I hope you
have backed Ardingly's horse for the Eclipse Stakes. Good-bye, dear."

Mildred went out, a limp figure, leaving Lady Ardingly looking like a
restored sphinx on the hearth-rug. Then she spoke to herself very gently
and slowly.

"I cannot bear cooks," she said, "and other people like them so much;
but I think I deserve a great many aces at Bridge."

Jack and Mildred went their respective ways full of thoughts, which up
to a certain point were very similar. Prominent, at any rate, in the
mind of each was that, though they knew each other very well, they would
not mention that they had had an interview with Lady Ardingly. Jack here
was in the superior position, since he knew that Mildred had succeeded
him in audience, and felt sure that, whether Mildred told him so or not,
he would find some impress of what had taken place in the next intimate
conversation they had together. With regard to his reflection on his own
interview, he saw the admirable justice of the greater part of Lady
Ardingly's views; he did not, however, see the fitness of telling Marie
anything whatever. This appeared to him a heroic remedy for a
contingency too remote to reckon with. He knew her, he told himself,
well enough to know that he did not know her at all, and she was quite
capable, as far as he was aware, of making what Lady Ardingly had called
"a row of monstrous proportions." This, as she had herself said just
now, at this juncture in his affairs would be fatal to him. She might
even petition for a divorce, in which case, as Lady Ardingly said, "he
went." There remained, as she had suggested, the other alternative of
giving up Mildred, of terminating the whole affair. He had told Lady
Ardingly he could not. At any rate, she was an invaluable friend; no
false notions of sentiment or altruism ever found their way into her
conversation. She advised from a flintily-logical, hard, worldly
standpoint.

At this point his reflections travelled off into ways utterly unknown to
her, and till lately unknown to himself; and even now he only groped
his path among them in a dim twilight. For he had said "I can't," not
from certainty of diagnosis, but from mere incredulity at his own
symptoms. His long intrigue with Mildred he had brought himself to
believe was necessary to him; he could not clearly picture any other way
of life. No less necessary, so he had always thought, was his aloofness
from Marie. But lately--dating, in point of fact, from the time of that
scene when he had told Marie what he had heard said at the "Deuce of
Spades"--he had been conscious of a change in himself as indefinable,
but as certain, as the first hint of dawn. Again, a pulse beat in him
which had long been dormant--the pulse that had throbbed in his arteries
when he was younger by more years than he cared to count, when women had
been to him, not the vehicle, but the deity, of passion. He had thrown
his earlier convictions in the mud, and in the conduct of his life had
trampled them under-foot; and now, at the end, like the trodden seeds of
wheat, they were already in ear. Marie's frank and honest contempt for
him had begun this process, for it had first jarred and disturbed, then
woke to activity some relaxed fibre which had long been overlaid by
grosser tissue, but was alive for all that.

Then, feebly at first, the knowledge of the "might-have-been" dawned on
him--that drug always bitter, and only sometimes salutary, producing in
some contrition and amendment, in others only recklessness. At present
it was bitter; but the bitterness was tonic. He could not yet tell
whether the "might-have-been" had passed into the "cannot-be." That
depended partly on himself, no doubt, but partly on her. And of her, out
of long familiarity, he knew nothing. Then, simultaneously with remorse,
or, at any rate, with his appreciation of her scorn for him, came in
another factor, his reawakened knowledge of her beauty--a low motive, it
may be, on which to base faithfulness or recall the unfaithful, but, as
long as men are men, a very real one. Yet for years he had sought
another woman, dimming the light of complete desire with the damp of
physical satiety. This other had ministered to the demands of the flesh,
she had also fulfilled that which lay immediately behind, for she had
supplied him always with a ready response to his more carnal ambitions:
she had flattered his own self-flattery. He had posed, as it were,
before a quantity of mirrors, sometimes convex, sometimes concave, which
had showed him himself now taller, now shorter, than he was. But she had
never shown him himself, still less any ideal of what he might be. Then,
still touching the same spot, had come Lady Ardingly's gentle
classification of Mildred as a cook, made, not with the air of
discovery, but merely as a passing allusion to what both knew. A cook,
that was all.

Mildred's reflections were far simpler to follow, and far less
disquieting. No doubt she had made a mistake about the scandal she had
tried to start about Marie, and it was a comfort to think that Lady
Ardingly's remarks about the silliness of it being its own doom were
true. Meantime it would be amusing to "run" Jim Spencer for a while, and
she felt sure that, even if she could not do it, she could easily convey
the impression that she was doing it. On the whole, she would not tell
Jack she had seen Lady Ardingly (this was unnecessary, for he knew), and
the rest of her meditation was composed of a sense of holding Jack's
rein, whatever Lady Ardingly might say, and a superb determination to do
her unselfish best for him. She was, as a matter of fact, hopelessly
incapable of doing anything unselfish, but a benignant Providence having
denied her the possibility of altruism, spared her also the humiliation
of the knowledge of its absence.

It so happened that they met the next evening at an omnibus kind of
party at Arthur Naseby's, a bachelor host. He was a man of strange and
wayward tastes, and you were liable to meet a Sioux Indian in feathers
there one week, and a missionary who had crossed Africa and been eaten,
so he would explain, by cannibal tribes, the next. In his way he was an
admirable host, and, before introducing any one of his guests to
another, hissed into his ear a rapid _précis_ of the chief events of the
other's life. These were sometimes wildly enigmatical, as when he
murmured: "Frightful scandal just five years ago. Her uncle found dead
in the Underground--probably blackmail. Cut for years afterwards. Don't
allude to first-class carriages. Daughter of old Toby Fairbank--mother a
Jewess." But, as a rule, his information was a help to the newly
introduced, and he always pronounced their names loudly and distinctly,
instead of murmuring inaudibly. To-night the party centred round a
gifted French actress, who recited several poems in a most melodious
voice and with a childlike air which was quite killing to those who knew
what she was talking about. Later on there was Bridge, owing to the
repeated demands of Lady Ardingly, and Jack and Mildred having cut out,
it was quite natural that they should have a talk together in a somewhat
secluded window-seat.

"You are getting on, Jack," said she. "I should not be the least
surprised if there was a boom in you, as Andrew would say. Dear Andrew!
he always remembers my birthday, while I always strive to forget it. One
has so many. But he gave me these pearls. Are they not pretty? Yes,
Jack, you are booming. You are in the air!"

"That is always rather a nuisance," remarked Jack. "One can't help
wanting to assure people that a close inspection will not repay them."

"I don't think you need mind much. People are disposed to take a
favourable view of you. You must manage to keep it up. The time of pigs
and shorthorns is here," she said with a sigh. "Look: there is Silly
Billy talking to Marie! She appears completely unconscious of his
presence."

"She probably is, for I don't think she ever poses."

"There is faint praise in your voice," said Mildred.

"Undesignedly. At least, I had no intention of doing the other thing. By
the way, I disquieted myself in vain over the Silly Billy episode, I
think. It has not caught on."

"Nobody talked about anything else for three days," said Mildred, with a
mother's protective instinct for her offspring. "You didn't suppose they
would talk to you about it! But I am magnanimous enough to be glad it
has dropped, Jack. It is very important--particularly important, I
think--that you should have no joint in your harness just now. You will
probably get into the Cabinet, upon which the searchlights will be
turned on. I feel this strongly. I have meant to say it to you for--for
some time."

He looked at her for a moment without replying.

"She caught it hot," he said to himself, not without satisfaction, for
he saw vividly the truth of Lady Ardingly's estimate of her folly.

"I feel it, too," he said; and, though they agreed, a discordant note
was definitely struck, and vibrated very audibly to the inward ear,
with its own-widening harmonics.

"I am glad! As you implied to me not long ago, Cæsar's wife must be
above suspicion. It was not very convincing to me then. But it is now.
Also, Jack, it is best that Cæsar should not inspire spicy paragraphs in
the gutter press."

Jack felt unreasonably irritated. The cook spoke here.

"Have you some scandal to tell me about myself," he asked, "also
invented by you?"

"No. But why show temper?"

"Because you irritate me when you speak like that."

Mildred felt suddenly a little uncomfortable; she had a sense of
uncertain grip.

"Really, Jack, you are very ungrateful!" she said. "I am taking all the
trouble of sitting with you in the corner, and thinking of a hundred
things for your good, which would never have occurred to you, and you
merely tell me that I irritate you!"

"Well, what is it?" he replied.

She rose, really annoyed.

"I will leave you to find out for yourself," she said.

"You are sufficiently lucid. You have stated what you mean quite
clearly. You will leave me. I have found out for myself. So shall we
discuss it?"

She had made a false move, and knew it. There was some indefinable
change about Jack, which she recognised though she could not analyze it.
But the prospect of losing him, even temporarily, on his initiative, was
quite another matter to doing it on her own.

"Yes, that is what I mean," she said, sitting down again. "I made a
mess, or I might have made one, over that other affair, and I see now
that it might have been very injurious to you, especially since Jim
Spencer is standing as a Liberal for East Surrey. Did you know that, by
the way?"

"Oh, yes. He talked to me about it. It was not wise of you."

"Well, luckily there is no harm done. The thing didn't catch on. But the
point is to avoid other dangers. And for the present I am dangerous to
you, Jack. People won't begin talking again unless they get fresh cause.
Do not let us give them fresh cause."

"I quite agree with you," said he.

Mildred liked this less and less. She had imagined that he would want a
lot of talking round and reasoning with, and it did not flatter her at
all to find him so placidly in accord with her. Yet she had no tangible
ground of complaint.

"So that is all right," she said. "Ah, here is Marie. Marie, whenever I
see you in that pink dress, I think it is morning."

"It is nearly," said she. "Jack, I am going home. Are you stopping to
play?"

He rose.

"No, I will come with you," he said.

Marie looked a little surprised.

"Stop by all means if you feel inclined," she said. "I will send the
carriage back for you."

Mildred laughed.

"Mutual confidence of the very first water," she observed.

Again the cook _motif_ sounded, setting his teeth on edge.

"No, I will come with you, Marie," he repeated.



CHAPTER XIII


Maud Brereton was lying in a hammock underneath a big chestnut-tree in
the garden of the house at Windsor. She had been here a fortnight alone,
having been sent from London in disgrace by her mother after her
refusal, in consequence of her interview with Marie Alston, to accept
the riches and devotion of Anthony Maxwell. This fortnight she had spent
in sublime inaction, surrounded as she was by all those things which to
her made life lovable. Her dogs were here, her pony was here, the
meadows were tall with hay, the river brimming, and the garden-beds
presented every day some new miracle of unfolding colour. Each morning
she had got up early and ridden in the park, while the day was still
cool and dewy; she had read, not much; she had played the piano
diligently; she had been the centre of an adoring crowd of dogs and
gardeners; and for some days--not all this fortnight, indeed, but the
bigger and earlier half of it--she had been completely happy in her own
mild ruminative manner. It had been a source of great satisfaction to
compare the rival merits of the two systems: London on the one hand; on
the other, being in disgrace. For the sight of the hot square garden,
she had here this cool, green lawn; for the riband of dull wood pavement
up Grosvenor Street, the silver line of the Thames; for the
companionship of languid and heated mankind, the eager dogs; and for the
hopeless tedium of a ball, the cool vast night pouring in through the
open windows of the drawing-room.

This idyllic attitude towards life in general had lasted ten days or so,
but during the last four she no longer tried to conceal from herself her
mind had changed. The weather, perhaps, became rather hotter, or she
more languid; in any case, though she cared no less for the dogs and the
riot of vegetable life, she missed something. And that something, she
was beginning to be afraid, was people. Again and again she arrived at
this same disheartening conclusion, and though, as many times, she went
over in her mind the list of the people whom it was possible she might
miss, and found none desirable, it was none the less true that she
missed them _en masse_. Imagining them with her now, one by one, she
would have wished each of them away, but with them all away there was
something lacking. "Perhaps they are like a tonic," she said to herself.
"One doesn't want to take it, but one is the better for it."

She sat up in her hammock and surveyed her surroundings. The book she
had brought out to read had fallen, crumple-edged, on the grass, and
looking at the back, even the very title came as new to her. Dogs in
various stages of exhaustion were stretched round her, and at the sound
of her movement tails thumped the grass, but otherwise none stirred.
Overhead, the chestnut with green five-fingered leaves drooped in the
heat, and stars of wavering light fell through the interspaces of
foliage on to her dress. To the right the hay, already tall and ripe to
die, stood motionless in the dead calm; and the scent of clover and
flowering grass, which in the morning had been wafted in flow and ebb of
varying scent, hung heavy and stagnant in the air. Southwards the river
was a sheet of glass; a centreboard, hopelessly becalmed, lay with
flapping sail in the middle, and a splashed line of broken water showed
the paddling efforts of its master. To this side lay the lawn; the
croquet hoops were up, and leaning against the stick was a mallet; four
balls in as uninteresting position lay immobilized here and there, the
_débris_ of a game, red versus blue, which Maud had begun that morning,
but had found her honesty or her interest unable to cope with. Beyond
was the house, bandaged as to the windows with green sun-blinds, and
empty but for Maud's maid, who was in love with the caretaker, who
adored the kitchenmaid-cook, who adored nobody. There was also the
caretaker's wife, and nobody adored her.

The path which led from the lawn to the river was concealed by a
lilac-bush from Maud's hammock, and it was with a sudden quickening of
the pulse that she heard a crisp step passing along it. It was a man's
tread, so much was certain; it was certain also that it did not belong
to any of the gardeners, all of whose steps, Maud had noticed, were
marked by a sort of drowsy cumbersomeness, like people who are walking
about a dark room. Soon the crisp step paused and began to retrace
itself, left the gravel for the grass, and in another moment Anthony
Maxwell came round the lilac-bush.

Maud did not feel in the least surprised; her unconscious self had
probably guessed who it was. She rose from her sitting position on the
hammock, but gave him no word or gesture of greeting.

"I came down on my motor-car," he said. "It was particularly hot. May I
sit here a little while and get cool?"

"By all means," said Maud. Then, after a pause, "Do you think it was
right of you to come?" she said.

"I don't think anything about it," he said; "I had to."

Maud hardened and retreated into herself.

"You mean, I suppose, that my mother insisted on it," she said, with a
cold resentment in her voice.

"Your mother does not know I have come," said he. "I should have told
her, but I thought she would probably have forbidden me."

"Indeed she would not," said Maud. "She would certainly have encouraged
you."

"That would have been just as bad," said Anthony.

Suddenly Maud felt stimulated. During all this fortnight neither the
gardeners nor the dogs had said anything so interesting. She sat down
again.

"I should like you to explain that," she said, without confessing to
herself that explanation was unnecessary or that she wished to hear him
explain.

"You are sure?" he said.

"Quite."

"It is this, then," said he--"we have both been put in a false position.
We have been urged to marry each other, and you have refused me. It has
not been fair on either of us. In spite of the pressure which has been
put upon you, you have refused me; in spite of the pressure put upon me,
I want nothing else in the world but that you should marry me. Mind, I
quite sympathize with you, for if there is anything in the world which
would make one wish never to see a person again, it is to have that
person persistently hurled at one. I have been hurled at you. That is
one of the reasons why I came here, to tell you that I sympathize with
you. I am afraid people have made me an uncommon nuisance to you."

Anthony paused, raised his eyes a moment, and saw that Maud was looking
at him steadily, with grave consideration in her face. He felt, rightly,
that never before had she given him such favourable attention.

"I am not such a coxcomb as to suppose that you would have given me a
different answer if you had not quite naturally been 'put off' by the
way in which you have been treated," he continued; "but I do ask you to
remember that I have scarcely had a fair chance. Please try to think
that it has not been my fault."

"No; it has been my mother's," said Maud.

"Yes, it has been her fault. I suppose she thought that continued
perseverance would have some effect. It may or may not have had the
opposite effect to what she intended, but certainly not that."

"It has had the opposite effect," said Maud.

"Are you sure?"

"I am now."

"Can you try and banish it from your mind?"

"I will try."

Anthony, again looked at her, and his heart hammered against his ribs.
But even though he scarcely felt master of himself, he did not lose his
wisdom and press this point further.

"I do not hope to win you," he said, "by making myself importunate, and
perhaps, now I think of it, it was not wise of me to come. But I am not
sorry I came; nor do I give up hope. Very likely that is presumptuous of
me; but for myself, I am sure that I shall not change."

He sat on the ground playing with the ear of one of the dogs, but as he
said these last words his fingers made a sudden violent movement, and
the dog whimpered. "There, there!" he said, and fell to stroking it
again quietly.

"You said that this was one of the reasons why you came," said Maud.
"What was the other?"

"There was only one other. I wanted to see you. I was drawn by cords,"
he said.

"Poor Mr. Anthony," said she very quietly, and there was no shade of
irony in her voice.

"Thank you for that," he said.

Maud lifted her feet off the ground, and swung gently to and fro in the
hammock. She was naturally very reserved, and in matters of the
emotions still extraordinarily ignorant, and it would have puzzled her
to say exactly what she felt now. It was no tearing or violent emotion,
no storm, but rather the strong, serene press of a flowing tide.
Hitherto the human race, whether considered individually or
collectively, had not much occupied her, but something now within her
quickened and stirred and moved, and she was certainly at this moment
not indifferent to this plain young man who was so modest and so
self-assured. There was more about him to be learned than she had known,
and that book just opening promised to interest her. Of passion she felt
no touch, but her "poor Mr. Anthony" had contained authentic pity.

"You are quite right," she said. "Your various advantages have been
constantly told me by my mother. All the things which seemed to her such
excellent causes why I should marry you seemed to me to be very bad
causes indeed; but they were represented to me as most urgent. I did not
find them so." She paused, and Anthony said nothing, feeling that some
further word was on her lips. "I like you," she said at length. "Come
and have tea."

The moment she had said it she was afraid that he would do something
stupid, look fervent, even seize her hand. But she need not have been
afraid. Anthony rose at once.

"Oh, do let us have tea," he said; "I am longing for it."

Maud's relief was great.

"It was stupid of me," she said. "Won't you have a whisky-and-soda? You
must be awfully thirsty."

"No, I should prefer tea, thanks," he said. "I hate drinks at odd times.
How lovely your garden looks!"

"Yes; but it's still rather backward. The chestnut-flowers should be out
by now, and they are still hardly budding."

"How can you remember that?"

"Oh, if one takes an interest in things, it is difficult to forget about
them," said Maud.

"That is perfectly true," remarked Anthony.

Soon after tea he left again, and took the white riband of the Bath Road
back into London. He could not help telling himself that he had
prospered beyond all expectation; and if he had been, as he had told
Maud, not hopeless before, he was, it may be supposed, on the sunny side
of hope now. But he intended to stop, once and for all, the risk of
mismanagement on the part of others, and having reached home he went
straight to his mother's room.

"I've been down to Windsor," said he, "and I had tea with Maud
Brereton--alone."

"You haven't got a spark of proper pride, Anthony," said his mother with
some heat. "To go dangling and mooning after a girl who's refused you
flat! I wonder what she sets up to be!"

"I think she sets up to be herself," said Anthony. "It is rather rare. I
like it. But I want to manage my own affair in my own way. I
particularly wish Lady Brereton not to say a word more of any kind to
Maud. I should like you to tell her so if you have an opportunity."

"Why, I'm sure she's been as eager as anybody," said Lady Maxwell.

"I shall not succeed with her because her mother wishes it," said
Anthony. "I'll play my hand alone, please."

In London, in the meantime, the fact that Maud had refused him had
become generally known, and London, with that admirable substitute for
altruism which is so characteristic of it, and consists in vividly
concerning one's self with those things that do not in the least
concern one, had been very voluble on the subject. There was scarcely
any divergence in the views expressed, and everybody was agreed that it
was a terrible thing for poor Mildred to find she had for a daughter so
obstinate and wrong-headed a girl. "Why, the Maxwells roll, my
dear--simply roll! Of course, Maud is wonderfully good-looking, and no
doubt lots of other men will be after her, but why not have accepted
Anthony provisionally? It is always so easy to let it be understood, if
anything else turned up, that a young girl like that hadn't known her
own mind----"

On the top of this there leaked out the fact that Marie Alston had
strongly dissuaded her from it, and the world, with the agility and
restlessness of monkeys, leaped to the new topic. Really Marie was
getting a little too strong! It was all very well to scatter those
amusing and general criticisms on people in general, and take the
unworldly pose; but when it came to putting her finger in the wheels of
the Society watch, so to speak, and stopping them from turning, it was
too much. How on earth were struggling mothers to hope to get their
daughters happily--yes, happily--married, if idealistic snowflakes were
ready to descend upon them at street corners and forbid the banns. Over
this Society grinned and showed its teeth for a little while, and then
was off again on a fresh tack. How would Mildred behave to Marie? Here
there were wheels within wheels, and the upshot was that Society was not
at all sure that there had not been a break on one side or the other
between Jack and her. Given that certain things had come to Marie's ear,
it would account for everything. What an ingenious revenge, too, on
Marie's part! Really, she was a person of brains. It required cool
thinking to hit upon a _riposte_ like that.

After this, sensation came hard on the heels of sensation. Mildred began
to be mentioned in the same breath as Jim Spencer, and, far more
remarkable, Jack began to be mentioned in the same breath as his wife.
They had dined out together twice last week; they had been together to
party after party. How curious and interesting! A complete resorting of
the cards, and without any fuss whatever; and the honour, as usual, in
Marie's hand. In one _partie_ she had recaptured her husband, shunted
off her admirer on to Mildred, scored heavily against her, all the time
with her nose in the air, as unapproachable and distinguished as ever.
But meanwhile Lady Ardingly sat like a spider in the middle of her web.
The threads had extended farther than even she had originally planned,
but she did not object in the least to that. And when people came and
told her the news, she was less severe than usual.

"Ah, my dear!" she would say, "how you fly about, and gather honey and
all sorts of curious other things! And I sit here. I never know anything
except what you are good enough to come and tell me. And so Jack is
_amouraché_ again of his wife? So charming, is she not? Let us play
Bridge immediately."

Mildred, however, did not think that things were quite so satisfactory.
At first the idea of Jack and Marie Darby-and-Joaning it together sent
her into fits of laughter. But after a week or so the joke began to lose
its point--or, to state it more accurately, the point became rather too
sharp for her liking. Jack and she had settled that they were to see
less of each other, and not give any ground for people to say behind
their backs what was perfectly and absolutely true; but she had not
bargained for this return to intimacy between husband and wife. Once she
had approached Jack on the subject.

"You are very realistic," she had said, "and have a great respect for
detail."

"To what are you referring?" he asked.

"Oh, don't be stupid! You are taking your part very seriously. You see
nothing of me--that is all right; but is it necessary to bore yourself
quite so much with Marie?"

"I don't bore myself," he had said.

"Bore her, then?"

"I try not to do that," said Jack with curdling equanimity. "But what
are you driving at? Do you want me to mourn for you, to watch the shadow
on your blind? That would be rather unconvincing to other people, would
it not?"

"No; they would say I was tired of you."

Jack considered this.

"I don't want them to say anything about us at all," he answered, and
again the sense of imperfect grip haunted the woman, and the sense of
having been talking to a cook the man.

Nor was this the sum of Mildred's discomfort. She had amiably proposed
not long ago to break with Marie, but now that the opportunity was ripe
she felt herself simply unable to do so. There was a deficiency of force
in her--moral or immoral, it matters not which--which was unable to
stand up to the other. Also, she was dimly aware that people in general
were watching her, looking at her rather as they had done when, now
years ago, her hair had turned golden in a single night. But now the
cause was not so tangible. Was it that she herself, not her hair only,
was turning gray? Certainly she was conscious of a failure of power. It
was in vain that she ate her many solid meals, or, as the whim took her,
lived on varalettes and lean meat, vowing that this treatment made the
whole difference to her; it was in vain she slept her solid six hours,
drove a great deal in the fresh air, and kept her windows unwontedly
open. People, the hundred diverting situations in which her friends
daily found themselves, diverted her less, and she wondered whether the
truth was, as fashion papers assured her, that the season was not very
brilliant, or whether it was she who was losing the power to be amused.
The thought of old age, a veritable bogey to one who has always felt
young, sat daily by her in the empty seat of the victoria, and flapped
in the wind-stirred blind of her bedroom at dark hours.

After she had left Jack that afternoon she had driven for an hour in the
Park. The day was very fine, and the roadway and the path beside the
Ladies' Mile were both crowded. She sat up very straight, as her custom
was, in her victoria, the anæmic Yorkshire terrier by her side, and put
up her veil so as both to see and be seen more distinctly. She was
dressed, she knew, with extreme success, and it had been pleasant, at a
block entering the Park, to see a gaunt female taking notes of the
occupants of the carriages. Her own had by singular good luck paused
exactly opposite this journalist, and she had out of the corner of her
eye seen her examining and writing down with the facility of long
practice the details of her costume: "Many smart people were in the
Park, driving and walking last Thursday. Among others, I noticed Lady
Brereton driving in her victoria, with her sweet little terrier by her
side, extremely stylishly gowned. Her Saturday-till-Monday parties are
still the attraction, and no wonder. On this occasion Lady Brereton had
a new 'creation,' which I must describe. The bodice was of yellow silk,
faced with orange colour; her bonnet," etc.

After this the crowd claimed her attention. Indeed, as "Diana" would say
next week, "all the smart world" was about. Silly Billy, as usual, was
taking his daily airing previous to clearing out the company at the
"Deuce of Spades" at Bridge, talking to a nameless female, who appeared
to want a lot of attention. Mildred just caught his eye, and, full of
tact as ever, immediately looked away. Further on was Arthur Naseby,
with hands wildly gesticulating, shrilly declaiming something of a
clearly screaming nature to Blanche Devereux and a small and select
company. He was standing close to the rails, and cried, "Dear lady! how
are you?" to her, and the select company smiled their sweetest at her.
Then, as her carriage passed at a foot's pace, she again heard his
voice--in a different key and much lower. She could not catch the words,
but felt sure that he was saying something about her. Then followed Jim
Spencer alone. To him she waved her hand and beckoned him to the vacant
seat in her victoria. But he, with seeming obtuseness, appeared not to
understand, and went on his way. Then came Lady Davies, driving in the
opposite direction, who passed without recognising her; soon after Kitty
Paget, making violent love to her husband; and presently a tandem, which
she recognised while yet some way off as Jack's. He was driving himself;
a woman was seated by him. At the same moment the muscles of Mildred's
face hauled up as by a crane all the paraphernalia of smiles, for the
woman was her dear friend and Jack's wife. Immediately afterwards the
smile had to be tied to the mast again, for close behind them was Lady
Ardingly, "got up to kill," as Mildred angrily said to herself. She
looked like a Turner landscape of the later period, with a lopsided
sunset of auburn hair perched negligently on the top. Her mouth seemed
to crack a little by way of recognition, and she passed in a flash of
winking lacquer.

But Marie driving with Jack! That penultimate meeting was the most
surprising. Did he really think she--Mildred--or, indeed, Marie, was the
sort of woman to stand a _ménage à trois_, especially when one of the
three was his wife? Then, like an earthquake wave laden with the dead
slime of the stirred depths, the sense of her own impotence came over
her. Only a fortnight ago she had airily told Jack that she was glad
that concealment was at an end--that she would now break with Marie. But
what if something else was at an end? What if her revolt at a _ménage à
trois_ was altogether ill-founded? Out of three people there were two
mathematically possible arrangements _à deux_. In this case one would
have to be left out.

She had put up her veil, and at this moment something line-like crossed
the field of her left eye. She put up her hand, and found between her
finger and thumb a long hair, golden, but gray near the root. One hair
only, and they were all numbered! But this was not number one.... There
were certain savage tribes that could only count up to eight. She rather
envied them their blissful incapacity.

There came a sudden stop, and she found herself in a queue of carriages
at the side of the road. Down the centre came the royal outriders,
followed by the carriage. The King and one of the Princesses were seated
in it. He took off his hat to some one in the carriage immediately in
front of hers, then turned and spoke to his companion. Probably his
oversight of her was quite unintentional. But something within her
said, "What if--" For some weeks now she had been a little uneasy; she
had felt that her case was under consideration. Perhaps her not being
recognised was the formal declaration to her of her sentence.

Then, in a flash, she was herself again, back to the wall, fighting
desperately for her position, which was equivalent to her life. She
would show everybody if she was done with yet. A gray hair or two! What
did that matter, when a woman like Lady Ardingly had no hairs at all,
gray or any other colour, and all the world knew it? She had money--any
amount of it--which was of more consequence than anything else; she had,
what was almost better than wit, a quick and incisive tongue--an
instrument, it is true, not to be used except on such occasions as when
a man may draw his revolver, to defend himself at close quarters, but as
valuable, when people knew you had it, as the revolver. She was selfish,
ambitious, greedy of worse things than food, unscrupulous, ready to
amuse, and easy to be amused. She had everything, in fact, which was
needful to make up the kind of success which she desired, and which, in
point of fact, she had hitherto enjoyed. Yet she had industriously and
carefully been making a private little hell for herself during this last
hour simply because Marie went driving with her husband, and the King
happened not to see her!

Like all wise people, though she would not admit it to any one else, she
frankly admitted to herself that she had made a mistake--such a little
one, too--when she had allowed Silly Billy to talk about Marie and Jim
Spencer, and this mistake, she was aware, had ramified further than she
had anticipated. She ought never to have started it. She had not got
enough beam, so to speak, to sail against Marie. Yet what a tempting
prospect, if only she could have won! Marie really besmirched! How
unspeakably convenient! But apparently this was not to be. She confessed
that she had failed, and was genuinely sorry she had attempted it.
Things had been very happy and comfortable before, and she ought to have
been content. She felt, indeed, rather like a person who cannot swim,
who has capsized near the bank, but in the first moment of immersion
does not know whether he is within his depth or not. In any case, a few
floundering plunges towards land would settle the matter, and she would
be safe again--not, indeed, on the other bank, which had looked so
inviting, but where she was before, and very enjoyable it had been!

As a matter of fact, one of Mildred's depressed conjectures had been
quite correct, and had she known what was being said a mile or so behind
her, she would not have found it so easy, perhaps, to brace herself up
to make her efforts.

"Busily employed," said Arthur Naseby shrilly, "in taking the plug out
of the bottom of her own boat. She exhibits a marvellous dexterity in
doing it. What is the use of trying to start a scandal which nobody will
believe? It was so stale, too. You and I certainly had done our level
best to believe it long before, Lady Devereux. That Sunday down at
Windsor--don't you remember?"

"Yes, I tried for a week, with both hands and my eyes shut," said
Blanche.

"And I tried with my eyes open," said Arthur; "so we have given
ourselves every chance. It, too, had every chance. It was launched
without a hitch, and the colours waved madly on the winds of heaven.
Silly Billy, the 'Deuce of Spades,' the overhearing of it by Jack! All
brilliant accessories! But the piece was damned from the first!"

"It really is too shocking!" said Mrs. Leighton, with her mouth
underneath her left ear. "Such a mistake on dear Mildred's part!
Gracious powers below! did you see?" she said, pointing with her parasol
at Jack and Marie in the tandem. "Yes, too heavenly, is it not?" she
screamed at them. "Mildred has just passed, like Solomon in all his
glory, with the Yorkshire terrier. And there are the lilies of the
field," she continued, looking after Marie. "Poor dear Solomon!"

"There is a decided flavour of the best French farces in the air,"
remarked Arthur. "Enter, also, Madame la Marquise."

Lady Ardingly said something violent to her coachman, who drew up with a
jerk.

"Ah, my dears!" she said with extreme graciousness. "How are you all?
Why do none of you drive with poor Mildred? I have just passed her all
alone. I am alone, too--am I not?--but I am used to it."

"Do let me come and drive with you, Lady Ardingly!" cried Arthur.

"And leave these enchanting ladies?" said she. "They would say all sorts
of horrible things, and not come to my parties any more, nor tell me the
news! What has been happening?"

"Jack and Marie have just passed in the tandem!" said Arthur.

"Indeed! And Black Care was going in the other direction, not sitting
behind them. So much better! Ah, here are the outriders! I am not fit to
be seen."

She put up an immense mauve-coloured parasol to shut herself out, and
the others rose, as the carriage passed in a whirl of dust.

"And what else?" she continued.

"Well, it is supposed that Black Care has annexed Jim Spencer."

"Ah, you have heard that, too? She has a genius for annexation. Your
Government would have saved a world of trouble if they had sent her out
to the Transvaal years ago. That is very nice, and we shall all live
peaceably again now. Marie and Jack in the tandem, and dear Mildred
provided for! Good-bye, my dears; I must get home. I am playing a little
Bridge this afternoon. You are all coming to my party to-night, are you
not? That is so kind of you! Drive on. What a dolt!" she said to the
coachman.

"There is only one Lady Ardingly," said Arthur in a reverent tone; "and
I am her devoted admirer. How does she do it?"

Mrs. Leighton considered a moment.

"I would get a wig, and call my coachman fool, and ask everybody for
news, in a minute, if it would do any good," she said; "but it wouldn't.
People would consider me slightly cracked, and I'm sure I shouldn't
wonder."

Blanche got up with a sigh.

"She takes the taste out of everybody else," she said. "I shall go home
and practise doing it before a glass;" and she waved to her footman.

Arthur Naseby rose also.

"I believe she is running this whole show," he said. "She never
contradicted us once. But what is she playing at?"

But since collectively they could not have mustered one-third of Lady
Ardingly's brains, it was no wonder that none of them could suggest an
answer.

But as he handed Blanche into her carriage, Arthur summed up the
situation.

"The fact is that it takes four or five of us to understand one-half of
what she says," he remarked.



CHAPTER XIV


The General Election had been definitely fixed to begin in the second
week in July, and consequently soon after Ascot politicians of all sorts
and shades of opinion were sedulously flying about the country, busy
recounting to the wondering provinces how grossly their opponents had
misrepresented their aims and tactics, and proving in an array of terms
which beggared the dictionary, that the country could only be saved by
the united voice of the people declaring that they would record a firm
and combined vote. South Africa was, of course, the chosen battlefield
of both parties; here each was determined to fight the matter out (this
was the only matter on which they were agreed), and the speed with which
the opposing armies mobilized out there was as remarkable as their
manoeuvres when arrived. Some charged through the country already
peopled in their minds with the families of reservists, and dotted with
happy homesteads, over which waved the fair golden corn, while on the
hills of the Witwatersrand the great mills poured out their millions,
and those who had been in arms were already spending happy Sunday
evenings with their brother Boers, singing hymns to the accompaniment of
the vrow's harmonium, and zealously marrying her buxom daughters. Gold
paved the streets of Johannesburg, and the curbstones thereof were
diamonds, and Paul Kruger and Mr. Leyds fell on their bended knees and,
with tears of gratitude in their grateful eyes, blessed the names of Mr.
Rhodes and the Colonial Secretary. The Union Jack waved on all the winds
of heaven, and every Englishman in that happy land beat his rifle into a
pea-shooter for his infant children--half Boer, half British--and ate
his roast beef under his fig-tree.

But oddly enough exactly the same data furnished the Opposition with a
picture by no means identical. These gentlemen went mournfully through
the land, which was, it appeared, a desert. Cemeteries and ruined
homesteads were the only features that they, for their part, could
discern in that desolate landscape, and the cemeteries, they sadly
declared, marked, not only the graves of the young British soldier,
martyred to gorge the capitalist with gold, but were, to the thoughtful
eye, none else than the place where the British Empire died and was
buried. Along the ridge of the Witwatersrand rose the grass-grown
engines of the mines; the rusty fly-wheels hung cableless in that
miasmic air, tainted with rotting corpses. No sound was heard, no sign
of life was visible; only from time to time there came from the bowels
of the earth the sobbing of those who had once been gorged capitalists.
The country was drained of its resources, sir--emptied of its
inhabitants. That garden of the Lord was barren and desolate. Who, they
asked, with rising passion, had done this? The late Government. Why had
they done this? Because they were under the thumb of the capitalists.
They had piles and masses of documentary evidence to prove every word
they said. And awe fell on the assemblies.

After this first plain statement of the case delivered in duet by the
leader of the Government and the leader of the Opposition, there
followed what may be described as a fugual chorus. Everybody else, that
is to say, joined in and shouted the same thing over and over again at
the top of his voice. There were two conductors, no other than the
executants of the opening duet, who, standing back to back, beat away at
the chorus for all they were worth, and in the more delirious moments
turned round and hit savagely at each other with their batons. The
audience comprised nearly all the inhabitants of the round world, and
this remarkable chorus lasted day and night without intermission for
three weeks. Then they all sang "Britons never, never, never will be
slaves," but with totally different expression, and meaning utterly
different things, so that the effect of unanimity, which otherwise would
no doubt have been extremely striking, was spoiled, and rude things were
said in the French journals. That, it is true, for a moment produced a
defensive alliance among themselves, and they roared out across the
Channel. "How about Dreyfus?" But almost immediately the more ardent
spirits--sober politicians they called themselves--began again, and
mixed with the renewed chorus-singing were bonfires and other things,
and most prominent people were burned in effigy and appeared not to mind
it.

Then, when every one was exhausted and out of breath, they put on their
coats again, and sat down for a while to see what the result had been.
Europe generally was smiling, and went on much as usual; but in England
itself it appeared that certain groups of people were not listening to
the beautiful music at all, but puzzling and frowning over some papers
of statistics. Also it was observed that some men, who ought to have
been singing as hard as anybody, were not singing at all, but talking
quietly to those portions of the audience who were willing to listen. Of
these, two were immediately concerned with this story, and these were
Lord Alston and Jim Spencer. And, although they belonged to opposite
parties, they were both saying precisely the same thing.

This particular evening Jack had returned to London somewhat
unexpectedly, having found himself able to catch a late train up, after
the meeting he had been addressing in Southampton on behalf of a young
Conservative, standing for the first time, who, because he had been
nearly all the way to Pretoria, was therefore apparently qualified to
say the last word on every measure, from seats for shop girls to seats
for Bishops in the Upper House. Marie had just come home from a party
when he arrived, and the two talked while Jack had supper.

"I don't suppose I shouted and screamed enough to please him," he said;
"but the fact is, I do not think he is necessarily omniscient, nor that
he will be Prime Minister at the age of twenty-four. However, I preached
the gospel."

Marie threw back her cloak.

"Talk to me while you eat," she said. "I am getting swept into the
vortex, too; this evening we talked about nothing but politics."

"Won't it bore you?"

"I shall enjoy it. I think people believe in you, Jack."

Jack shrugged his shoulders.

"The point is that they should believe what I say. It doesn't matter
about me."

"Indeed it does. It is you who make them believe it. Besides--well, go
on."

"Well, I told them that I thought both Conservatives and Liberals were
doing quite wrong in making the South African affair, except in so far
as it was a test of our efficiency, the cry of the election. It has been
the fashion to speak of it as a great war. It is nothing of the kind,
though it is perfectly true that, owing to our own hopeless mistakes, we
brought it very near to being a most disastrous war, if not a war fatal
to the Empire. Young Campbell's face fell rapidly as I spoke."

"I can imagine that," said Marie.

"The audience were not too pleased, either; but somehow, Marie, and for
the first time, I did not care a rap. You have often told me that I
speak without conviction. It is quite true; I believe what I say without
feeling it. But to-night I felt it, and I knew I could make them feel
it. I had them in my hand, and at first I carefully rubbed them up the
wrong way. I went through the disasters of December, 1899--Stormberg,
Magersfontein, Colenso. I pointed out that most of these could have been
saved, if we had only been decently prepared, instead of going into the
war in a blind and idiotic manner, as if the fact of our being the
British Empire made it impious and profane for any one to attempt to
withstand or, even worse, check us. I touched every sore place that I
could put my finger on. Once I thought I had gone too far, for a man
shouted out: 'Turn the--well, horrid Radical out!' And having, as well
as I could, pulled our policy to bits, I proceeded to pluck the army
itself. I assure you there was hardly a feather left on it. Doesn't all
this bore you?"

Jack got up, having finished his meal, and stood beside her.

"You know it doesn't," said she.

"And then quite suddenly I assured them that the Empire was far the
soundest concern in the world. Well, it may seem conceited, Marie, but
it is the fact, that I had them so much in hand by then that a huge sigh
of relief went round the hall. I never felt so flattered. But short of
that I said everything was about as wrong as it could be. What is wanted
is not amiable and excellent noblemen, who talk a great deal and are
excessively polite, but people who just work, do things and not say
them, pay no attention to party politics whatever--that can be done by
the rank and file, all those who get into Parliament simply in order to
talk--and buckle to, guided entirely by experts, and insist on having
men and officers, mind you, properly trained, given proper guns to
handle, and made to use their heads. We have, I believe, the best
material in the world out of which to make the army we need. But it is
raw, it is untrained; it is no more an army than sheep's wool is a coat.
And it was their first duty, I told them, to vote for the Government
which they thought would best put the House in order. This was a
Conservative meeting, I reminded them, but I would sooner that every man
in it voted Liberal than that he should, merely because he was
accustomed to call himself a Conservative, vote Conservative, if he
believed that the Liberals would be more likely to put these necessary
reforms into effect. Then I came down hammer and tongs with Rule,
Britannia; there should be only one party in our great, our happy and
glorious island, the Party of Efficiency. Efficiency is our first need.
I concluded with some amiable remarks about Campbell."

Marie got up, her eye flashing.

"Well, you've done it now, Jack," she said.

"I know I have. I couldn't help it. And to-morrow I shall find out
exactly what I have done."

Marie got up and walked up and down the room for a few moments without
replying. Jack's highly original line of conduct for a man whose aim was
to get into the Cabinet was extraordinarily attractive to her sense of
picturesqueness. He had certainly played a very bold game, but she could
not feel satisfied in her own mind whether he had over-stepped the
dividing-line between boldness and sheer audacity.

"Also I said that, if the Conservatives got in, it was to be hoped they
would clear out the old gang," remarked Jack, in parenthesis to her
thoughts.

Marie frowned.

"Ah, that was not wise, was it?" she said. "Didn't it savour too much of
an application for a vacant post?"

"It was meant to," said Jack. "After the rest of my speech, it could not
be supposed that I hoped--as I do hope--to get the War Office by
ingratiating myself with the old gang. If I get it, I shall get it
because I am popularly supposed to be wanted. I do apply for the post. I
gave them this afternoon my idea of my duties if I get it. But I apply
to the people. Lord, what a treat the morning papers will be!"

Marie's eyes kindled again as she continued to walk up and down the
dusky dining-room, her long dress whispering on the carpet.

"I am excited, exhilarated," she said. "It is like getting out of stuffy
rooms into the open air to hear you talk, Jack. I can't make up my mind
as to whether I think you have done altogether wisely, but you have gone
on a big scale. I admire that."

Jack got up. Marie's words thrilled him with a warmth he had not felt
for her for years. Already he was beginning to look on the conduct of
his married life with a wonder that rose now into a disgusted
incredulity. Her splendid contempt for him had begun it; he had been
stung into seeing her as she was, and her generosity to him had fostered
it. No after-word of reproach had passed her lips for that which now
made his ears burn to think of. She had seen with her woman's instinct
his deepening contrition for that ugly scene, and, seeing it, did not
need or desire a spoken assurance. But what Jack did not know was that
his reawakened passion roused in her no answering spark whatever.
Passion for him was dead in her. In a moment she went on:

"I am immensely interested in your aims, Jack, and your method of
working for them. If one is not sure of one's self, tact and diplomacy
help one to feel one's way; but there is a higher gift than these, and I
believe you have it--it is strength."

He turned round, facing the fireplace, feeling suddenly chilled. In the
hall a clock struck two, and a weary-faced footman looked suggestively
in.

"Good gracious! is it already two?" she said, picking up her unopened
post; "and I have not read these yet. They must wait; I know by the feel
of them they are uninteresting."

She turned and faced him, standing in the full blaze of the electric
light, her face brilliantly illuminated. She had thrown back her cloak,
her white bosom moved slowly and gently to her breathing, and his eyes
were dazzled at her incomparable beauty. And all this, the perfect bloom
of womanhood, this lily in a leper settlement, had been his. Instead he
had preferred outwardly the rouge and the dye, inwardly the vulgar
flashiness and tawdry wit of her who had so long been his mistress. At
the moment he felt he loathed Mildred. Once he tried to speak and could
not, and she had turned again.

"Good-night, Jack," she said over her shoulder. "You must be tired. I
shall be excited to see what the unofficial Government organs make of
you. Will you tell them to put the lights out when you go upstairs?"

He stood where he was listening to the diminuendo whisper of her dress.
Then, after a moment, he heard the door of her bedroom shut behind her.

Quite a quantity of unknown, though probably not obscure, leader-writers
bestowed their distinguished attention on Jack next day. The Daily
Chronicle and Daily News announced that they had had the sagacity months
before to foresee this split in the Conservative party, and hailed Jack
as a prodigal son returning to the depleted homesteads of Liberalism.
The Standard, on the other hand, grabbed him as the _homme nécessaire_
of the Conservative party; the Times, gently trimming, admitted that to
a certain extent, and subject to various conditions, there was something
in what he said; the Daily Telegraph clearly did not know what to think,
and fell back on generalities about 9.7 guns; while a few hours later
the Westminster Gazette had a cartoon entitled "Jack the Ripper," in
which he was represented with an impassive face methodically
disembowelling the present Cabinet--a signpost indicated Hatfield. The
effect on the press, in fact, was very satisfactory; opinions were
widely divergent and extremely violent. In fact, as Jack said to Marie
when he saw her next morning, he seemed to have "caught on."

"And what do you suppose they will think?" asked Marie.

"Who? Oh, they! I don't know. But I soon shall, as I'm going down to
headquarters now. I think, perhaps, as the papers have taken me up, it
may incline them to give me office. Not that they ever read the papers.
But office is regarded as a muzzling order, as far as I can make out.
They may think me worth muzzling. If so, I see no reason for not taking
my muzzle off. I may not be back for lunch; I rather want to see Lady
Ardingly."

"General bureau; central office," said she.

"Precisely. You have the habit of putting things well. Good-bye, Marie."
He bent over the low chair where she was sitting and gently kissed her
on the forehead. She looked up in genuine astonishment, then flushed
slightly, for they had long been strangers to that sort of spontaneous
caress, and it seemed to her to come from a stranger. He saw her
astonishment and winced at it. "I--I beg your pardon!" he said
hurriedly, knowing the moment he spoke that he was ill-inspired.

The bewildered moment of surprise passed, leaving Marie, however, with a
glimpse of what might be even more bewildering. She laughed lightly
enough, but with a certain nervousness.

"How original, for a husband to apologize to his wife for kissing her!"
she said.

But she got up and did not offer to return the caress.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marie required a few moments in which to steady herself after he had
left her. She had been utterly taken by surprise. If Jack had emptied
the contents of the waste-paper-basket over her, he would not have
astonished her more. For days now she had had the impression that some
change had come over Jack. At first she had put it all down to his
regret for his telling her that her name was coupled with Jim Spencer's,
but by degrees it had seemed to her that there must be something more.
But this possibility she had only glanced at to reject. It could not be.
Then he had kissed her.

Suddenly it seemed to her that the place where his lips had been burned
her; she felt as if she had been insulted; a fine state of mind for a
wife, she told herself angrily. Then, with a remorseless frankness, her
conscience told her why she felt thus. It was because she had made
herself a stranger to him; her heart was not here, it was with another.
And Jack was her husband. Anyhow, she would face it honestly. She had
despised and shown her scorn for him when he told her what people said,
thinking she was honest in her indignation. But what if he had told her
what nobody said, but what she knew, and what she was perfectly well
aware Jim Spencer knew? Had she been so faithful, then, as to warrant
her cold and burning words to Jack! She had scorned and then ignored the
actual falsehood of his words, but what of that which was true, which he
did not know--the real essential truth of that which lay behind the
falsehood?

She gave a little frightened gasp as these intimate discoveries, cape
after cape, bay after bay, came into vision. And what complaint had she
of her husband, but that they had long been at discord? No breath of
scandal, even from the gutter, had ever reached her ears about him. She
had no reason, absolutely none, for supposing that he had not been far
more faithful to her than she to him. But when he kissed her she had
shrunk away from him.

Now, since her drive in the Park a few days before, and the discovery
attendant thereon that efforts were necessary, a militant spirit had
possessed Mildred. She was seen everywhere, at her loudest and most
characteristic; she had simply summoned Maud from the retirement at
Windsor, she had secured a record party for next Sunday, and for the
sake of general completeness she had determined, in spite of Lady
Ardingly, to ask Jack and Marie. The notice was very short, and, instead
of writing a note, she drove round this morning to Park Lane to deliver
her invitation verbatim; she likewise wished, in case Marie was in, to
air a few poisonous nothings, scouts, as it were, of her advancing
armies. And arriving at this moment, she was admitted and shown
upstairs.

"Dearest Marie, it is ages, simply ages!" she began. "I have come to
supplicate. Do come down to Windsor from Saturday till Monday. You shall
not be bored; there is Guardina to sing to you, and the place really
looks too lovely. Maud has been describing it to me; she came up
yesterday. And there are half the Front Bench coming on Sunday. It might
be useful for Jack to be there. My dear, what do you think of Jack's
speech? However, about Saturday first."

"I don't think we can," said Marie. "We have already refused two
Saturday parties on the plea of-- If I only could remember the plea it
might be more hopeful. Political plea, I think."

"That's just right, then," said Mildred. "Jack will have a quiet talk
with the old gang. Besides, Marie, if one only saw you on the days when
you had not refused an invitation, I should not know you by sight in a
year. So you'll come."

"Well, I think 'political' covers it," she said. "I shall be charmed if
Jack has made no other arrangement. And his speech. What do you think of
it?"

Mildred held up her hands in despairing deprecation.

"I thought I should have died," she said. "It is too sad when you see a
clever man industriously digging his own grave. One always does it
eventually by mistake, but on purpose like that, and with his eyes
open!"

"Did it strike you so?"

"Surely, and the ridiculous point is that Jim said almost precisely the
same things down at Freshfield."

"That surely, then, is, as far as it goes, as the Times would say, in
favour of both of them," remarked Marie. "To my mind, there is a new
party in birth. You may call it Imperial, I suppose. It is far from
Jingo. Jack's speech is the antithesis of Jingoism; it is also
not--well, Northamptonish. It is beginning to roar as every
well-conducted baby should."

Mildred's appetite for politics was at all times bird-like. She pecked
and hopped away. On this occasion she hopped away to a considerable
distance.

"I have seen a good deal of Jim lately," she said. "In fact, I am afraid
I have been seeing a little too much."

"You mean you are getting tired of him?" asked Marie, who, from having
been rather absent, was now intent and alert.

"Dear me, no! not that at all. I delight in him," said Mildred, rapidly
adding wings and new courtyards to the structure Lady Ardingly had
indicated. "But people talk so easily and without foundation. You know
what I mean."

She leaned back a little in the shadow as she spoke, feeling that she
was really a very gifted woman, for her speech had many edges. In the
first place, it was dramatically amusing to blood her second invention
with the life of her first; a sharp edge was that she more than half
believed that there was something between Marie and Jim, and what she
had said was therefore of the nature of a test question; and, thirdly,
granting this, how would Marie meet the claim on her property?

The paper she had been reading slid rustling to the ground off Marie's
lap. It seemed to her as if some dark room familiar to her, though she
could not tell how or when she had seen it, had been suddenly
illuminated.

"Oh, my dear Mildred," she said, "if one pauses to pick scraps of paper
out of the gutter to see what is written on them, one would spend all
one's life in the same slum. I should have thought you, of all people,
would not have cared an atom what people said, so long, of course, as
there was no earthly truth in it."

Mildred settled herself in her chair. There was plenty more, she felt,
where this came from.

"But has your experience of the world taught you that?" she asked.

"Taught me not to care what people say?" said Marie--"yes, I may
certainly assure you of that. For instance--" and she paused.

Mildred rustled suggestively.

"There is no reason I should not tell you," said Marie. "It is this.
Oddly enough, some fortnight or three weeks ago exactly the same thing
was said about me as you are afraid will be said about you. I was
supposed, in fact, to be much attached to Jim. So I am; we are the
greatest friends. But this charming world uses 'friend' in two senses.
Probably some cook of a woman, finding nothing to say to some valet of a
man, said so. And the kitchen section of London society, I have been
told, talked about it. But any perfectly inane piece of fabrication like
that soon dies of--of its own inanition."

"But who on earth started anything so absurd?" asked Mildred.

"I have no idea; I did not even want to know. I was angry, I will allow,
for a day or two. Then other things came and swallowed it up. It became
merely dull. It simply did not interest me. I assure you I had almost
forgotten it. I suppose one has lots of enemies one does not know of.
Probably I had made some cook of a woman, as I said, angry without
intending it. I--yes, something of that sort."

It was not till these words were on her lips that a sudden idea, wild
and preposterous as it might be, occurred to her. It came into her mind
quite unbidden, and was wholly unaccountable. Mildred laughed quite
naturally.

"Ah, you are the Snowflake," she said--"our one unsmirchable. It is all
very well for you to shrug your shoulders at what the world says!"

"That is exactly what I am told was said of me," said she quietly. "I
was supposed to have melted. Did the story, then, reach you?"

"Some sort of a story did," said she. "It seemed to me not even worth
repeating to you."

"Quite right. It wasn't."

Mildred rose.

"I must fly," she said. "Too delightful of you to come on Saturday,
Marie! I always think nothing is complete without you."

She went gracefully out, leaving the air heavy with some languid scent,
and went down the stairs rather quicker than she had come up. There was
something closely resembling a flea in her ear. And everything had
looked so well on paper. Unfortunately, Marie did not in the least
remind one of paper.

But, leaving out all that was not to her taste in this last interview,
her clouds were showing the traditional silver lining. It was, for
instance, quite evident to her that Maud's golden lover had not in the
least finished with her. She, when questioned on the subject, cultivated
a strong reserve, which, as her mother concluded, implied in itself
something which admitted of reservation. It was certain, on Maud's own
authority, that Anthony had been to Windsor, but with that her nose went
into the air quite like Marie's, and it was impossible to talk
familiarly with such an icicle. And her mother thanked God that she
herself was not of such a temperament.

Altogether, then, the solid ground had not failed beneath her feet. But
it was best to make efforts; either she had been on the verge of a
precipice or her nerves had led her to believe that she was. In either
case, there was no such tonic as a good dose of the world--that combined
soporific to the conscience and astringent to the energies. She had, it
is true, applied herself to the wrong bottle when she went to see Marie,
but that was easily set right, and by way of antidote she drove on to
Lady Ardingly's, who, it appeared, was "up," but about whom there hung
at this hour of the morning a veil of mystery, not to be dispelled
without further inquiries. These inquiries were favourable, and Mildred
was conducted, still by the footman, to her dressing-room.

Lady Ardingly was seated in a costume that it would be impossible to
specify without being prolix, and possibly indelicate, writing notes. An
uneasy shadow of a maid hovered near her, to whom she paid no attention.
The footman, in obvious perturbation, opened the door and waited, in
obedience, it would seem, to a command.

"Ah, my dear, how are you?" said Lady Ardingly, addressing her last
note. "One moment, if you will be so kind. Walter, take these, and have
them sent at once by hand. They must all wait for answers. In case any
are not in, let them be brought back. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Say it, then."

"All to be delivered, and if"--and he glanced at the two letters--"if
their lordships isn't in, the notes not to be left."

And he cast a glance of awe and astonishment at his mistress and fled.

Lady Ardingly was, in truth, an astonishing object. Nothing had been
done to her; she was, with the exception of certain linen garments, as
her Maker had willed she should be. Short and scant gray hair
imperfectly covered her head; her face, of a curious gray hue, was
arbitrarily intersected by a hundred wrinkles and crow's-feet.

"I am in dishabille," she said, rather unnecessarily; "but every old
woman is in dishabille. You will get used to it, my dear, some day. So
you have come to tell me what every one is saying about Jack's speech.
Yes, I am ready for you," she threw over her shoulder to her maid.

That functionary took her stand by her mistress and handed the weapons.
A powder-puff began the work, followed by an impressionist dusting on of
rouge. Lady Ardingly grew beneath the work of her hands. Then a thick
crayon of charcoal traced the approximate line where her eyebrows had
once been, and a luxuriant auburn wig framed the picture. Mildred, who
locked up even from the eyes of her maid such aids as she was accustomed
to use, looked on with a sort of shamefacedness. Just as Marie had just
now given almost a shock to her instinct of covering up and doing in
secret the processes of thought, of showing to the world only the
finished and diplomatic product, so Lady Ardingly gave a shock to her
body. Each of them--differing by the distance of miles--was alike in
this. And the frankness of both was inconceivable to her. Yet both, in
their way, possessed calmly and fully what it cost her long effort to
catch a semblance of. Neither minded being natural, and both naturally
were so. Mildred's naturalness--a rare phenomenon--was the outcome of
intense artificiality.

"And what is every one saying of Jack's speech?" repeated Lady Ardingly,
with one eye closed, regarding with some favour a brilliant patch of
rouge on her left cheek. "Or what do you say? You can scarcely yet have
heard what people think of it."

"Surely he has almost declared himself a Liberal," suggested Mildred.

"So the Daily Chronicle said," remarked Lady Ardingly. "What else?"

"But, on the other hand, the Cabinet would sooner have such a critic on
their side than against them."

"Ah, my dear, you have read the Standard too. So have I. Have you not
any opinion of your own?"

"Yes; he is on the edge of a precipice."

Lady Ardingly's decorative hand paused.

"And what is the precipice?" she asked. "You have not forgotten our
talk, I see."

Mildred lost patience a little.

"Your advice, you mean," she said.

"My advice, if you prefer. I am so glad you have been behaving with such
good sense. And as for Jack's speech, I tell you frankly I was
astonished with delight. He seems to me to have hit exactly the right
note, and he is in the middle of the right note, like Guardina when she
sings. I consider him as having the ball at his feet. He has sprung to
the front at a bound. Now his supporters will push him along. He has
only got to keep greatly _en évidence_, and he need do nothing more till
the first meeting of the Cabinet."

"Has his speech done all that for him?" asked Mildred.

"Yes, certainly, for it is the speech of a man of action, of whom there
are fewer in England than the fingers on my hand. He told his audience
that speeches are not in his line. That is immensely taking, when at the
time he was making a really magnificent one. Yes, Jack is assured, if
only you are careful," she added in French, which, if considered a
precautionary measure against her maid's comprehension, was not a very
tactful move, since the latter was a Frenchwoman.

Mildred's eye brightened; at the same time she thought she would not
tell Lady Ardingly that Marie and he were probably coming to Windsor the
next Sunday.

"Dear Jack!" she said, "I have always had an immense belief in him. And
now his time has come."

"I feel certain of it, provided he makes no _faux pas_. And what of your
other friend, Jim Spencer? He also spoke last night, I see. I have not
read his speech yet."

"There is no need. He said what Jack said," replied Mildred.

"Indeed. I am glad, then, you took measures to kill that absurd gossip
we spoke of the other day. Otherwise people would say that he had been
inspired by Marie."

"You think of everything, I believe," said Mildred.

"I have a great deal of time on my hands. But now you must go, my dear.
To-day I happen to be busy."

Lady Ardingly held out a rather knuckly hand. She clearly did not wish
that her face, new every morning, should be disturbed just yet.

"Ah, by the way," she added, "please let me drive down to see you on
Sunday afternoon, according to your invitation. I am afraid I forgot to
answer it."

Now, no such invitation had ever been given, and Mildred knew it; so, no
doubt, did Lady Ardingly. She paused a moment before answering.

"Of course, we shall be charmed!" she said.

"She has asked Jack, and does not want me to come," thought Lady
Ardingly. Then aloud: "So sweet of you! Your garden must be looking
lovely now. Good-bye, my dear."



CHAPTER XV


It was Sunday evening, and the lawn at Riversdale was brilliantly
crowded. The last returns had come in the day before, and the
Conservatives had even increased their already immense majority. Every
one in the set that congregated to Mildred's house was delighted, and
there was a general sense of relaxation abroad, which might have
degenerated into flatness, had there not been so many other amusing
things to think about. The season was practically at an end, and, like a
flock of birds who have denuded some pasture of its wire-worms, every
one was preparing, that feeding-ground finished with, to break up into
smaller patches and fly to the various quarters of the globe. Guardina
and Pagani had both of them, oddly enough, developed signs--not
serious--of an identical species of gouty rheumatism, and had been
ordered to Homburg for a fortnight by the same doctor, who was a man
not without shrewdness. The Breretons were going a round of Scotch
visits in the middle of the month, Jack Alston and his wife were doing
the same, and Lady Devereux was consulting Arthur Naseby as to the
possibility of being at Cowes and Bayreuth for the same days in the same
week. They thought it could be done. Lady Ardingly alone was going to
fly nowhere. She proposed to take a rest-cure at her country house for a
fortnight, and, with a view to securing herself from all worry and
ennui, had engaged four strong people to play Bridge continually, and
was on the look-out for a fifth table, who would make her party
complete. Amid all these plans for the future there was but little time
to look backwards, and all the events of the last month, the last week,
the last day even, were stale. The opera was over, and Guardina, instead
of living her triumphs o'er again, was only thinking about Homburg, and
the various delightful ways in which she could spend the very
considerable sum of money she had earned. She was almost as good at
spending as she was at earning, and she promised herself an agreeable
autumn. The election, similarly, was a stale subject; every one who
mattered at all had got his seat, including Jim Spencer, and the only
thing connected with Parliament which was of any interest was Jack's
seat in the Cabinet. Only yesterday he had been semi-officially asked
whether he would take the War Office, and he had replied that he had not
the slightest objection. He, too, felt agreeably relaxed, and disposed
to take things easily. He had slaved at the work and been rewarded; his
tendency was to eat, drink, and be merry. Another chain of circumstances
also conduced to the propriety of this. He had made a second attempt to
enter into more tender relations with his wife, and again she had
visibly shrunk from him. And with the bitterness of that, and the
relaxation which followed his success, there had come mingled the
suggestion of consoling himself.

The day had been very hot, and Marie, between the heat and the struggle
that was going on within her about Jack, had suffered all the afternoon
from a rather severe headache, and had retired to her room about six
with the idea of sleeping it off if possible, and being able to put in
her appearance again at dinner. But sleep had not come; her headache,
instead of getting better, got distinctly worse, and when her maid came
to her at dressing-time, she sent word to Mildred, with a thousand
regrets, that she really did not feel equal to appearing. Subsequently,
just before dinner, Mildred herself had come to see her, rustling and
particularly resplendent, with sympathy and salts and recommendations of
antipyrin, a light dinner and bed.

Marie had all the dislike of a very healthy person for medicines, but
the pain was almost unendurable, and before long she took the dose
recommended. Soon after came her maid with some soup and light foods,
and she roused herself to eat a little, conscious of a certain relief
already. Her dinner finished, she lay down again, and in a few minutes
was fast asleep.

She woke feeling immensely refreshed, her headache already
insignificant, and with a strong desire for the cool, fresh air of the
night. Her room, baked all day by the sun, was very hot, and the sight
of the dim shrubberies outside, and beyond them the misty moonlit field
that bordered the Thames, tempted her to go out. She had already told
her maid not to sit up, and, turning up her electric light, saw that it
was nearly midnight, and that she must have slept close on three hours.

She leaned for a few moments out of her open window, but only the
faintest breeze was stirring the tree-tops, and here the air was heavy
and motionless. A half-moon, a little smeared with mist, rode high in
the southern heavens, making the redder lights from the rows of lanterns
on the lawn look tawdry and vulgar. The tents were brilliantly lit, and
she could see cards going on in one, while in another the servants were
laying out supper for those who would sit late over their Bridge or
conversation. Even at this distance she could distinguish Arthur
Naseby's shrill tones, and laughter punctuated his sentences. He was
evidently having a great success. Up and down the middle of the lawn
itself, where moonlight struggled with the lanterns, she could see
little groups standing talking, and in the foreground was Mildred saying
good-bye to some who were going. "It is so early," Marie could hear her
say; "it can hardly be Monday yet." Jack was standing by her.

Marie turned back into the room and put out the electric light, then
went across to the window again. Much as she would have liked a stroll
in the cool darkness of the shrubberies, she in no way wished to mingle
with the group on the lawn, and receive sympathy for her indisposition
and felicitations on her recovery; still less did she desire what
Mildred would call a "quiet chat," before going to bed, which in other
words meant to be one of a bevy of people all talking loud and listening
to nobody. But by degrees the leave-takers went, and those who remained
drifted back to the tents and the lights. It would be easily possible,
she thought, to slip out, leaving the lawn on her left, and stroll
through the trees down towards the river, where she would get the breeze
without the fatigues of conversation.

She slipped a gray dust-cloak over her dress and went quietly
down-stairs. The drawing-room was empty, and she passed out of the
French-window on to the gravel path. In ten paces more she had gained
the shelter of the long shrubbery that ran parallel to the lawn, and was
screened by it from all observation. She threw the hood of her cloak
back from her head. A breeze, as she had hoped, came wandering and
winding up the dusky alleys from the river, laden with the thousand warm
and fragrant smells of the summer, and with open mouth and ruffled hair
she drank it greedily in. Her headache had ceased, and the deep,
tranquillized mood of pain removed occupied her senses. The bushes on
each side were gently stirred by the wind, and now a waft of the heavy
odour of syringa, or the more subtly compounded impression from the
garden beds, saluted her as she passed. She had left the path, and felt
with a thrill of refreshment the coolness of dew-laden grass touch her
feet. Above her head the leaves of the tree-tops, in the full luxuriance
of their summer foliage, let through but little light, but in certain
interspaces of leaf she could see from time to time a segment of the
crescent riding dimly in the heat-hazed sky, or a more prominent star
would now and then look down on her. Then, as she left the garden
behind, a fragrance more to her mind came to her--the fragrance not of
garden-beds and cultivation, but the finer and more delicate odours of
July field-flowers, floating, as it were, on the utterly undefinable
smell of running water from the Thames.

Thus, having passed the lawn and its occupants, she turned through into
the more open spaces by a lilac-bush that stood near the path,
remembering, so she thought, that there was a seat here, and a hammock
much frequented by Maud. She had, it seemed, recollected the position
of this to a nicety, for on rounding the lilac-bush she came straight on
to the hammock, and gave a little cry of surprise to find it tenanted.

"Maud, is it you?" she asked gently.

The girl sprang up.

"How you startled me!" she cried, "Why, it is you, Lady Alston."

"Yes, dear. I slept, and my headache was really gone when I awoke, so I
determined to have a stroll before going to bed. And you, too, have come
away, it seems."

The girl got up.

"And you were looking for my hammock, were you not, to lie down in! Do
get in. There is a seat here for me, too. Or shall I go away, if you
want to be alone?"

"By no manner of means," said Marie. "Stay with me a quarter of an hour
or so, and then I shall go back to bed."

"But you are really better?" asked Maud.

"I am really all right; there is no excuse for me at all stealing away
like this. I ought to have gone out and talked to people; but I felt
lazy and rather tired, and only just came out for a breath of air. It is
cooler here; but how hot for midnight! 'In the darkness thick and
hot,'" she said half to herself.

Marie lay down in the hammock the girl had vacated, and there was a few
moments' silence. Then, "Would it tire you to talk a little, Lady
Alston?" she said. "About--you know what about."

"No, dear," said Marie. "And one can always talk best about intimate
things in the dark. If one is only a voice one's self, and the other
person is only a voice, one can say things more easily. Is it not so?"

Maud drew her chair a little closer to the head of the hammock, so that
both were in the dense shade of the lilac-bush. Immediately outside the
shadow of the bush beneath which they sat was the pearly grayness of the
third of the lawns, on which the moon shone full.

"Yes, it is about him," said Maud. "I think--I think I have changed. No,
it is not because my mother or anybody has been pressing me; in fact, I
think it is a good deal because they have not. I saw him here once a
fortnight ago, and I liked him. I did not do that before, you know."

"Did you tell him so?" asked the other voice.

"Yes; in so many words. He asked me to put out of my mind all the
prejudice which had been created in it by his being, so he said, thrown
at my head. I promised him to try. And I have tried. It makes a great
difference," she said gravely.

"And you have seen him once since," said Marie, with a sudden intuition.

"How did you know?" asked Maud.

"You told me--your tone told me. And what then, dear?"

"I liked him better when I saw him than I did when I remembered him. Is
that nonsense?" she asked quickly.

"I feel pretty certain it is not," said Marie.

"I am glad, for it seemed to me a very--how shall I say it!--a very
certain sensation. And I want to see him again--oh, I want very much to
see him again! It is all changed--all changed," she repeated softly.

"And do you feel happy?" asked Marie, not without purpose.

"Yes, or miserable; I don't know which."

Marie took the soft hand that leaned on the edge of her hammock and
stroked it gently.

"Dear Maud," she said, "I am very glad. It is a great privilege"--and
her heart spoke--"to be able to fall in love."

"Is it that?" asked Maud, leaning her face against the other's hand.

"Yes, dear, I expect it is that," said Marie.

They sat thus for some while in silence, for there was no more to be
said, yet each--Maud for her own sake, Marie for Maud's and for her own
as well--wished to halt, to rest for a little on the oars. Marie was
lying back in the hammock, wrapped in it like a chrysalis; the other sat
crouched and leaning forward by her side, her hands interlaced with the
other's. The wind whispered gently, the stencilled shadows of leaves
moved on the grass, and outside on the open was an ever-brightening
space of moonshine, for the cool night air was dissolving the last webs
of the heat haze. Then suddenly, without warning, came a voice from near
at hand.

"I have told you the truth," it said. "I did attempt the renewal. But
she does not care for me. I come back to you, if you will take me."

"I take you?" said a woman's voice. "Oh, Jack! Jack!"

The words were quickly spoken, and on the moment two figures came round
the lilac-bush and out into the full blaze of the moonlight. There they
stopped, and the woman threw her arms round the man's neck and kissed
him.

The thing had happened so quickly that Marie could not have got out of
the hammock or betrayed her presence before it was over. But she had
just turned her head, half raising it, and saw. And Maud saw too.

Next moment the others had passed behind an intervening bush, and once
again there was silence but for the gentle whispering of the wind, and
stillness but for the play of stencilled shadows on the grass. Marie
still held Maud's hand; she still lay in the hammock, only her head was
a little raised.

A minute perhaps passed thus, and neither moved. Then Marie raised
herself and sat on the side of the hammock. Her hand still held that of
the other.

"You saw?" she said quietly to Maud.

"Yes, my mother!"

Marie unclasped her hand.

"Maud, dear, go indoors and go to bed," she said.

"No, no!" whispered the girl. "What am I-- Oh--oh!" and a long sobbing
sigh rose in her throat.

Marie got up.

"Come, then, we will go together," she said, in a voice which she heard
to be perfectly calm and hard.

"What are you going to do?" asked Maud.

"If I knew I would tell you," said Marie.

The lights were still brilliant on the lawn, and as they passed behind
the screen of bushes Arthur Naseby's voice was still shrill. Marie found
herself noticing and remembering details with the most accurate
observation; it was here, at this bend in the path, that there would be
a smell of syringa, and a little further on a dim scent of roses. Close
to the house a cedar cast a curious pattern of shade; a square of bright
light fell on the gravel path from the open drawing-room windows. It was
no wonder she remembered, for a very short time had passed since she had
been here. But everything not trivial was changed.

In a very few minutes' space they were together in Marie's bedroom. As
she went to the window to draw the blinds, she looked out for a moment.
The tents were lit; there was Bridge in one, in another the servants
had nearly finished laying supper. And looking, she made up her mind as
to what she should do in the immediate future. She turned back into the
room.

"I shall drive up to London to-night," she said, "if I can get a
carriage. Is that possible?"

"Please let me come with you," said Maud.

Marie thought a moment.

"I do not think that is wise," she said, as if discussing some detail of
business.

"It does not matter much what is wise and what is not," said the girl.
"If I may not come with you, I shall go by myself. I could not stop! Oh,
could you, if you were me?"

Marie's face did not soften.

"Very well," she said. "It is better you should come with me than go
alone. You will come to my house, of course. Please see if you can get a
carriage to the station; there is a train, I know, about one o'clock. My
maid shall follow in the morning. Meanwhile I must leave a note for her,
and one-- Go at once, dear," she said to Maud.

Marie wrote to her maid, telling her to follow in the morning, then drew
another sheet from the writing-case, and paused. Finally; she wrote:

     "I saw by accident and unavoidably a private scene between you and
     your mistress. I have gone back to town. I shall do nothing
     whatever till I have seen you. I am going because I am not prepared
     to see you at once. Maud is with me."

She folded and directed this to her husband, leaving it in a prominent
place on her writing-table. Then she took it up and went with it to his
dressing-room next door. Afterwards, returning, she began packing a
small bag. In the midst of this Maud came back.

"There is a carriage ready," she said. "I saw one myself just outside,
and told it to wait. I shall be ready in ten minutes."

Outside supper had begun, and the servants were occupied. The hall was
deserted when they came down, and, passing through, the two went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime the evening progressed on the garden side of the house with
ever-increasing gaiety. Everybody's characteristics, as happens so
often at supper-parties which are sundered from the previous dinner only
by a short interval of whiskies-and-sodas, became rather more
accentuated than before; every one was at philharmonic pitch, at their
best, or, at any rate, at their worst.

Lady Ardingly was slightly drier and more staccato than usual, her
husband sleepier; Arthur Naseby was shriller, Jack rather more
impressively reticent; Andrew Brereton heavier, and his wife louder,
larger, and coarser. She was flushed with triumph and other causes less
metaphysical; to-night she seemed to herself at a bound to have vaulted
again into the saddle of that willing animal the world, and a glorious
gallop was assuredly hers. And Jack, who was certainly the man of the
moment, was again in a comfortable little pannier on the off-side. At
length Lady Ardingly rose.

"I should like to stop here till morning," she said, "and play Bridge.
But it is already two, and we must get up to London. To whom can I give
a lift? You are staying, I think, Jack. Who else?"

Lady Devereux and Arthur Naseby, it appeared, had already arranged to
drive up together in her motor-brougham; the others were all staying in
the house. Gradually they drifted there, and on the lawn the lights were
extinguished. "Giving the moon a chance at last," as Arthur Naseby
observed. As they crossed the lawn Jack saw that Marie's room was still
lit. Then the non-residents took their carriages, and the residents
their bed-candles. Mildred and Jack were the last to go upstairs.

"There is still a light in Marie's room," he said. "I will just go in
and see how she is."

Mildred lingered outside, and he tapped gently, then entered. The
draught between door and window blew the flame of the candle about. But
inside the electric light burned steadily, only there was no one there.

He came out again.

"She is not there," he said; "nor has she been to bed."

Mildred frowned.

"She, perhaps, is with Maud," she said. "I have not seen Maud all the
evening."

The others had dispersed to their rooms, and while Mildred rustled down
the passage to go to Maud, Jack remained where he was, in the doorway of
Marie's room, which communicated with his. Suddenly in the hall below
he saw a light, and to his annoyance observed Mildred's husband
shuffling along in his slippers. He came to the bottom of the stairs,
and slowly began to ascend. Simultaneously he heard the rustle of
Mildred's dress returning. He beckoned her silently into Marie's room,
and closed the door softly.

"Well?" he said.

"Maud is not there, either," she whispered.

"Are they out, do you think, in the garden?" said he. "Wait; she may be
in my room."

He went to the door communicating and opened it. On the table was lying
a note addressed to him; he took it up and read it. "Mildred!" he called
out, and she appeared in the doorway. "I have found this," he said, and
handed it to her.

Then whatever there was of good in the strong and brutal part of the
woman came out. She read it without a tremor, and faced him again.

"That is the worst of having scenes out of doors," she said. "What next,
Jack?"

He put down his candle; his hand was not so steady as hers.

"What next?" he cried. "It is gone; everything is gone, except you and
I."

He took two rapid steps towards her, when both paused. Some one had
tapped at his door, and, without speaking, he pointed to the half-open
door into Marie's room. Then he flung off his coat and waistcoat. Just
then the tap was repeated.

"Come in," he said.

Lord Brereton entered.

"So sorry to disturb you," he said, "but I must tell them what time you
want breakfast. You merely said you wished to go early."

"Oh, half-past eight will do for me," said Jack. "I can get up to town
by ten, which is all I want."

Lord Brereton advanced very slowly and methodically across to the table.

"My wife's fan," he said, taking it up.

"She is with Marie," said the other, not pausing, "who I am afraid is
very unwell. Mildred came in here just now to speak to me; I did not see
she had forgotten it."

Even as he spoke he realized the utter futility of lying, when there was
in the world the woman who had written that note which he held crumpled
up in his hand. But his instinct was merely to gain time, just as a
condemned criminal might wish his execution postponed.

"I am sorry to hear that," said Andrew. "I will leave the fan in my
wife's dressing-room. Good-night."

He went softly out, and Jack opened the other door. The sweat poured
from his forehead, and a deadly sickness came over him. He put his
bed-candle into Mildred's hand.

"No, nothing has happened yet," he said. "I told him you were with
Marie. You with Marie--there's a grim humour about that, though I didn't
see it at the time. My God! we'll have a fight for it yet!"

Mildred looked at him.

"Jack, you are ill; you look frightful," she said.

"Very possibly." He paused a moment. "Mildred, you woman, you
devil!--which are you?" he whispered. "My God! you have courage. Here am
I, trembling; you are as steady as if you were talking to a stranger in
a drawing-room full of people!"

She laughed silently, with a horrible gusto of enjoyment, the sense of
danger quickening, intoxicating her.

"What does it matter?" she whispered. "What does anything matter?"



CHAPTER XVI


Marie was seated alone next morning on the veranda of her room
overlooking the Park. She had breakfasted with Maud, and remembered to
have talked sufficiently, at any rate, to avoid any awkward pauses about
a thousand indifferent subjects, unable as yet to set her mind to that
which inevitably lay in front of her. She had felt it impossible to talk
out with a girl what she meant to do; it was impossible with that pale
suffering face opposite to her, racked as it was with uncomprehended
pain, to speak of that which loomed in both their minds as gigantic as a
nightmare. Instead, a commonplace little entity, seated in some remote
suburb of her brain, dictated commonplace to her tongue, and round her,
for the time being, was the calm which is the result of intense emotion,
identical in appearance with apathy, and distinguished also by the same
fixity and accuracy of observation of trivialities. She had consented
last night to take Maud with her, and did not for a moment wish to evade
the responsibilities which morally attached to her for that. She would
have to think and eventually act for both of them, but she could not
even think for herself yet. Soon, she knew, this stunned apathy would
leave her; her brain was already growing clearer from the effects of
that momentary scene in the garden, which, like some drugged draught,
had deprived it of the power of thought, almost of consciousness. At
present Maud was not with her, for she had gone round to Grosvenor
Square to get clothes which she needed, and Marie was alone.

As yet she was almost incapable of thought; at least, only that
commonplace denizen of her brain could think, and he but fed her with
trivial impressions. It was he who had read the paper to her; he had
even read her the list of the people at Lady Brereton's
Saturday-till-Monday party. As usual, it was all wrong; she and Jack,
for instance, were not included in it, and as a matter of fact they had
been there. They had also played a somewhat important part there, but
naturally the Daily Advertiser knew nothing of that as yet. Yet she had
only been there for one night, not the Saturday till Monday; then, she
recollected, she had come up, been very drowsy in the train, and on
arriving at Park Lane had gone straight to bed and slept dreamlessly.
Once during the night, it is true, she had awoke, still drowsy, and had
seen the first tired lift of the eyelids of the dawn through her window.
Then, for no reason as it seemed now, she had suddenly begun to weep,
and had wept long and silently till her pillow was wet. At what she had
wept she had only now a dream-like recollection; but in some mysterious
way Jack and she had been just married, a new life with its endless
possibilities was in front of them. But all had been spoiled, and what
had happened had happened. During the night that had seemed to her a
matter exceedingly pathetic, worthy of sheer childish tears. But now,
fully awake, she was again as hard and as cold as a stone. Then another
figure intervened--Jim Spencer. He was coming to lunch, and she had not
yet put him off. But he, too, stood separated from her by the same blank
blind wall of indifference. She felt nothing, she thought nothing;
images only presented themselves to her as external as pictures on a
magic-lantern sheet.

Maud had not yet been gone half an hour, when a man came in.

"Lady Ardingly is here, my lady," he said, "and wants to know if you can
see her."

Marie suddenly woke up. She felt as if she had been dreaming that she
was somewhere, and woke to find the dream exactly true.

"Is she alone?" she asked, hardly knowing why she asked it.

The man paused a moment.

"Yes, my lady," he said.

She smiled, knowing she was right.

"I will see her alone," she said. "His lordship will come back
later--Lord Alston, I mean."

Lady Ardingly appeared; her face was slightly more impressionist than
usual, as the hour was early. Marie stood on the hearth-rug; it occurred
to neither of them to shake hands.

"Ah, my dear, it is terrible for you," said Lady Ardingly. "It is quite
terrible, and they all ought to be whipped. But"--and she looked at
Marie--"but you are marvellous! Long ago something of the same kind
happened to me, and I was in tears for days--swollen-eyed, all sorts of
ghastly things. Please let me have a cigarette. I am terribly upset."

Marie handed her the box, Lady Ardingly lit one. The little person in
Marie's brain told her that it smelt delicious. But the greater lobes
were now beginning to work; the apathetic mist was clearing.

"You have seen Jack?" she said. "He drove with you here, did he not?"

"Yes, my dear. How quick of you to guess! Jack is distraught. But tell
me, what did you see or hear? You had a bad headache; you were in your
room. What else?"

"I felt better. I went into the garden," said Marie. "I
saw--sufficient."

"Ah, what stupid fools!" ejaculated Lady Ardingly, not meaning to say
anything of the kind.

"Exactly--what stupid fools!" said Marie. "But not only that, you know."

"Of course, not only that," said Lady Ardingly, annoyed at herself.
"Now, Marie, Jack is here. He is waiting to know if you will see him. I
will wait, too. I will sacrifice all the day, if between us we can make
you see--if between us we can do any good. I ask you in common fairness
to listen. There will be plenty of time for all sorts of decrees
correspondent--I don't know what they call them--afterwards. Now, which
of us will you see first? Him or me?"

Marie suddenly felt her throat muscles beyond control. She had no idea
whether she was going to laugh or cry. Her will was to do neither. The
effect was that she did both, and flung herself down on the sofa by the
other.

"There, there," said Lady Ardingly, "that is right. I am not a tender
woman, but I am sorry for you. It is all terrible. But the sun will rise
to-morrow, and the Newmarket autumn meeting will take place, and
Christmas Day will come in November--or December, is it not? Be quiet a
moment."

But Marie's hysterical outburst ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and
she sat up again, drying her eyes. "Give me a minute," she said.

"As many as you wish," said Lady Ardingly. "By the way, is that tall
thing here, that daughter?"

Marie began to laugh again, but checked herself.

"Yes," she said. "Maud saw what I saw. She came up with me last night."

"Do the servants know?" asked Lady Ardingly with some anxiety.

"I think not. But my maid knows I went last night. I left a note for her
saying so. She came here an hour ago."

"Tell her you will dismiss her if she says a word," said Lady Ardingly.

"She will not."

"You are certain?"

"Perfectly."

"Then, my dear, will you talk to Jack first, or to me?" said the other.

"To Jack, if you can wait," said Marie. "Yet I don't know why I should
keep you. I have got to talk to Jack. I promised him. And that is all, I
think."

Lady Ardingly rose with alacrity.

"Then talk to him now," she said. "Afterwards, though perhaps you don't
want to talk to me, I want to talk to you. I will send him."

For a moment Marie was alone. The interval she employed in wheeling a
chair up to the table where the cigarettes were. She sat herself in it,
and on the moment Jack came in, and the two were face to face. He, like
her, looked absolutely normal.

"You told Lady Ardingly you wished to see me," he said.

"No; I told her I promised to see you."

She raised her eyes and looked at him. At that the chain was complete;
her whole brain worked again. She felt, and knew what she felt.

"I don't know what good purpose is served by my seeing you," she said;
"but here we are. Last night you told Mildred you would come back to
her, if she would have you. She assented. That is sufficient, is it not?
If you like, I will go on."

"That is sufficient," said Jack.

"She is your mistress, in fact," said Marie. "How long has that gone
on?"

"About five years," said he.

Marie drew a long breath, then got up.

"How splendid!" she said. "And after five years you come back to your
wife! You said that, too; you said you had attempted a renewal. So you
had tired of her, and thought-- Oh, my God!"

"Yes, I suppose you may say I had tired of her," said Jack. "That is
your point of view. There is another."

"And what can that be?" asked Marie.

"You may not believe it--but----"

"It is true, I may not believe it. What I know is that about a month ago
you changed your behaviour to me. You began to pay me little
attentions. Once you kissed me; once----"

Jack's lips compressed a little.

"You may not believe it," he said again, "but what I tell you is true.
You may say I tired of her. I say I fell in love--again--with you."

Marie sat down again. The passion for analysis, of which Jim Spencer had
accused her, was strong in her. She was intensely interested.

"Let me understand," she said. "You are originally in love with me; then
you fall in love with Mildred; then you fall in love with me again. Is
that it? We take turns. Were there others? You have gratified your
whims; why may not I gratify my curiosity?"

Jack did not reply for a moment. Then, "I never fell in love with her,"
he said. "But a man is a man."

"And a woman only a woman," said Marie. "No, I ought not to have said
that. That is not what we are here for. I want to know quite simply what
you have got to say for yourself."

"This only. Six weeks ago--a short enough time, I grant--I should have
come back to you, if you would have had me. You would not. If you had,
I should have told you--past history myself. Would that not have made a
difference?"

"Yes, it would," said she. "What then?"

"You are a cold, passionless woman, and will not understand," he said.
Then he paused a moment, for a long sigh lay suspended in her breast.
"You object to my saying that?" he added.

"No; go on," said she.

"I should have told you. But you would not. And in an hour of moral
weakness I fell. Ah, you do not know what such temptations mean!" he
cried. "You have no right to judge."

Again Marie got up, and in a sudden restlessness began to pace up and
down the room.

"I do know," she said. "I have felt it all. But this is the difference
between me and certain others. You--you, I mean--Mildred, anybody, say,
'I desire something; and, after all, what does it matter?' Others and I
say, 'It does not signify what I desire, and there is nothing in the
world which matters more.' Oh, Jack, Jack!"--and for the second time she
looked at him--"there is the vital and the eternal difference between
us," she went on, speaking very slowly and weighing her words. "It is
in this that there lies the one great incompatibility. If I were as you,
if I could conceivably take the same view as you take, and think it
possible that I should be able to be to another what Mildred has been to
you, I would condone everything, because I should understand it. It
would not matter then whether I had reached, as you have, the natural
outcome of that possibility. If I could soberly imagine myself in that
relation to another man than you, I would confess that there was no
earthly reason why we should not continue to live comfortably together.
But I cannot. I am not an adulteress. Therefore I will not, in act or in
name, live with you any longer."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then for one moment she blazed up.

"And it was you, you who have been living like this," she cried, "who
could tell me to be careful, for fear people should talk! It was you who
told me you had heard an evil, foolish tale about me! Go to your
mistress!"

She stood up, pointing with an unsteady hand to the door. Cell after
secret cell of her brain caught the fire, and blazed with white-hot
indignation. That consuming intensity was rapid. Soon all was burned.

"You had better go, Jack," she said quietly.

He rose.

"I do not wish to argue with you," he said, "nor shall I now or
henceforth put in any defence. But--and I say this not in the least hope
of influencing the decision you have made--remember that a certain
number of weeks ago I should have come back to you and I should have
told you. I am speaking the truth. That is nearly all. You will find it
more convenient, no doubt, to stay here for the present. I shall be at
the Carlton. And--and----"

His voice for the first time faltered and his lip quivered.

"And I am sorry, Marie. You may not believe it now nor for years to
come. But it is true. Good-bye."

He went out of the room without stopping, without even looking at her,
and she was left alone again. That moment of passionate outburst had
tried her; she felt weary, done for. But almost immediately Lady
Ardingly entered again.

"I heard him go down-stairs, my dear," she said, "but I did not see him.
I hope you gave it him hot!"

"Yes, I suppose you might call it that," said Marie.

"Well, my dear, let us talk things over. You have decided to take a very
grave step. I know that without your telling me. You ought to consider
carefully what will be the result. A woman who has divorced her husband
cannot, for some reason, hold her head very high in England. She is, at
any rate, always liable to meet people who insist on looking calmly over
it, and not seeing her. That cannot be pleasant. She is thus driven into
the country or else into philanthropy. I do not think either will suit
you."

"I know all that," said Marie. "But neither will it suit me, as you put
it, to live with Jack."

"No, my dear; I understand," said Lady Ardingly. "There is a choice of
evils----"

"Ah, that is the point," said Marie. "There is no choice."

"So you think at present. I will try to show you that there is. Now
think well what you are doing. You ruin yourself. That weighs nothing
with you just now, because you are in pain, and nothing seems to matter
when one is in pain. Then, you are utterly ruining Jack. That seems to
you to matter less than nothing. Why? Because you are simply thinking
about yourself, let me tell you, and your own notions of right and
wrong, which are no doubt excellent."

"Because I am thinking about myself?" said Marie.

"Yes, of course. You do not mind ruining Jack's whole career. He has
been offered the War Office. You stop all that, and, what matters more,
you annihilate all that he will certainly do for the country. He is not
an ordinary man; he is in some ways, perhaps, a great one. It is
certain, anyhow, that the country believes in him and that your Empire
needs him. But you stop all that like--" and she blew out the match with
which she had lit her cigarette.

Marie shook her head.

"I have thought it over," she said. "It means nothing to me. I cannot go
on living with him. And I will be legally set free."

Lady Ardingly thought a moment. She never wasted words, and saw clearly
that the needs of the Empire were a barren discussion.

"Supposing you had had a child by him, my dear?" she said gently.

"God has spared me that," said Marie. "We need not discuss it."

Next moment Lady Ardingly could have boxed her own ears at her own
stupidity.

"And Maud?" she said. "Have you thought of her?"

Marie pushed away the footstool on which her feet were resting.

"Maud," she said--"Maud Brereton?"

"Yes, my dear. She, too, is burned in your suttee. Oh, you will have a
fine blaze!"

For the first moment she had a spark of hope.

"Maud!" said Marie again. "What has she done?"

"She has committed the great crime of being the daughter of your
husband's mistress," said Lady Ardingly. "Otherwise I know nothing
against her. Andrew, I should imagine, will divorce his wife, if you do
anything. It will be pleasant for a young girl just beginning the world!
She was, I believe, perhaps going to marry Anthony Maxwell. That, too,
will be off, like the British Empire. But they do not matter; only Lady
Alston matters!"

"Ah, you pitiless woman!" cried Marie. "Do you not see how it is with
me?"

Lady Ardingly patted her hand gently.

"My dear, I am not pitiless," she said; "but it would be cruel of me if
I did not put these things before you as they are. It is no time for
concealing the truth. You have been thinking only of yourself. All your
fastidiousness and your purity has been revolted. You wish to vindicate
that insult at whatever cost. I point out to you that the cost is a
heavy one."

"But if I did--if I did," said Marie, her voice quavering, "would it
stop Maud's marriage, for instance?"

"Mrs. Maxwell--Lady Maxwell, I beg her pardon--would assuredly forbid
the banns."

"But Anthony is of age," said Marie. "He would marry her."

"He could not. Even if he did, she would be the daughter of the divorced
woman."

"But I can't help myself," cried Marie. "I could not go on living with
Jack."

"You prefer to sacrifice innocent and guilty to sacrificing yourself,"
said Lady Ardingly. "My dear, we live in the world. It may seem to you
that I am putting a low view before you, but I assert that you must take
the world into account. Else what is the world for?"

There was a long silence, and the longer it lasted the more hopeful Lady
Ardingly became. She would not have broken it even if to let it
continue meant the abandonment of Bridge for the rest of her natural
life. Of all her triumphs, there was none, given that she gained this,
that did not weigh light compared to it. She hardly dared look at Marie
for fear of breaking the spell; but once, raising her eyes, she saw that
the other was looking straight in front of her, perfectly motionless,
her hands on her lap. She knew that she herself had said her last word.
Her quiver of arguments was empty; she had nothing more.

Then Marie rose.

"If you can spare the time, Lady Ardingly," she said, "please take Maud
down to Windsor. You will see--that woman, and tell her what you think
fit. Please tell Maud from me to do exactly as you bid her. You can make
up any story you please about her absence last night, in case Andrew
knows. He probably will not, for he breakfasts early alone, and comes up
to town always."

She paused a moment.

"And send Jack back to me," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later on the same day Jack was waiting for Mildred in her room in the
Grosvenor Square house. Before long she came in radiant.

"Now sit down, Jack," she said, "and tell me all that happened. All I
know is that Lady Ardingly brought Maud back before lunch to-day. You
may imagine what a relief that was! Andrew had gone up to town
early--earlier than you--and he knows nothing about anything. How clever
Lady Ardingly is, and how well she has managed everything! Maud, of
course, was quite impossible. She would not say a word to me, and
stopped down there. But I passed Anthony as I drove up. I said Maud
would be charmed to see him. I think things are going all right there,
and so Marie's little scheme was not successful."

"We will not speak of Marie's little scheme," said Jack.

She looked at him in surprise, too absorbed at present in her own thick
relief of mind to be annoyed.

"How gloomy you are, Jack! I suppose Marie has put you in a bad temper.
Did she give it you hot? Poor old man! tell me what she said."

"She said--eventually that is--that she was going to do nothing; that
she would continue to live with me, and that I might go my own way and
do exactly what I liked."

Mildred was rapidly stripping off her long suède gloves.

"Now, that is nicer than I expected of her," she said. "Of course one
could have objected to nothing, to no condition she chose to impose, for
we were absolutely in her power, and she might have bound you never to
see me again. Do you think perhaps she has something up her sleeve on
her own account?"

Jack leaned back in his chair.

"What do you mean exactly?" he asked.

"Dear Jack, how dull you are! Why, Jim Spencer of course. Has she come
round to this policy of mutual tolerance? It is quite the best policy.
Honesty is not in it!"

"No," said he. "I feel sure she has not."

Mildred laughed, and poured herself out some tea.

"You think not? You don't half appreciate Marie. Nor did I till to-day.
But I think she has got twice as much ordinary work-a-day common-sense
as we supposed."

She bit a macaroon with her short sharp teeth and crunched it.

"It was sensible, very sensible, of her not to make a row of European
dimensions," she continued. "No doubt when it came to, she saw how
impossible it was. But to make no conditions--it was charming, simply
charming of her! And how much more comfortable we shall be now, Jack!
Before there was always that one little reservation: 'What if Marie
knew?' That is gone now. Why didn't we let her know, oh, ages ago? It
would have saved so much trouble."

She laid her finger-tips lightly on Jack's neck as she passed. He moved
his head away. But she did not notice it, and passed on to her table.

"This is the photograph of her which you smashed up after the Silly
Billy scandal," she said. "Have they not mended the frame well? I told
them to send the bill to you. Will you dine here to-night?"

"No, I am dining at home," said Jack.

Mildred paused.

"Ah, you have people, I suppose," she said.

"No, we are dining alone, Marie and I. I have got things I must say to
her."

"Indeed! I cannot guess what."

"I must tell her what I have decided to do. I must tell you also. I
shall not see you again, Mildred. Not, at least, in the way you mean, in
the way we meant," he added.

She sat down heavily.

"You were saying?" she asked.

"I was saying--that."

"Then what has happened?" she asked, spilling her tea in the saucer as
she spoke.

"It has happened that I do appreciate what you do not. I wonder if all
things of this sort are so crude. That is by the way. But you are as
intolerable to me as I am to Marie. I have fallen in love with her.
To-day I know it, fully, completely. But I came here to talk it out. Let
me do so, though there is not much to say. Long ago we knew that one of
us must get tired first. We settled then that it was impossible for
either of us; but supposing the impossible, we should not be sentimental
and reproachful. I am sorry it is me. I would sooner that it was you.
But it is me."

"And the reason?" asked she.

"I do not know for certain. What I do know is that there is only one
woman in the world for me. She is my wife. And she--she does not know
of my existence."

Mildred got up.

"Go, then," she said.

And she was left alone with the mended photograph of Marie and her spilt
tea.



CHAPTER XVII


It was a warm bright day of early November, so serene and sunny even in
London that it seemed as if the promise of spring rather than any threat
of winter was in the air. Leaves still lingered thickly on the
plane-trees in the Park, and a sun divinely clear flooded the streets
and roadways with unusual light. Shop-boys whistled as they went on
their errands, the hoops of children were bowled with alacrity, while
their nursemaids smiled on the benignant police who piloted them and
their charges over perilous crossings. London, moreover, was rather
full; that is to say, a few hundreds who would not otherwise have been
there had joined the patient millions who were never anywhere else, for
Parliament had met, and a three-lined whip had been flogging the
laggards back to their places from partridge-drive and pheasant-shoot.
For this reason, the columns of "Diana" had been particularly
sprightly, and all the world might read with rapture that Lady Ardingly
had returned with her husband to Pall Mall; that Lord Alston with his
wife, "who looked quite charming in a guipure hat trimmed with
sassafras"--or the effect of such words--were in Park Lane; that Lord
Brereton with his wife, "whom I saw driving two spirited colts in the
Park yesterday," had returned to Grosvenor Square. "Cupid's Bow," also,
had reported the marriage of the daughter to Mr. Anthony Maxwell only
three days before, and "Diana" had been graciously pleased to express
satisfaction at the presents, knew, of course, how delighted everybody
was, and what the bride's travelling dress was like; in fact, there was
no doubt whatever about it.

The spirited colt business was also authentic, and the morning after
this announcement had appeared it so happened that Mildred was driving
them again. The carriage was of a light-phaeton type, with a seat for
the groom behind, and the two cobs--"Diana" had miscalled them--took it
like a feather. On the whole, Mildred had had a pleasanter autumn that
she had thought possible. She had stayed at several entertaining
houses, had picked up several new friends and dropped several old ones.
Her method of dropping old friends was always admirable. She never
hurled them violently away; she merely opened her fingers and let them
fall gently to the ground, never quarrelling with them, but just
becoming unconscious of their existence. Then she had been at Aix for a
fortnight, and had explained matters quite satisfactorily to a person
who mattered very much, and altogether had rather a success. Afterwards
followed Maud's marriage, which left her freer than before (and she had
already persuaded herself that the last two seasons had been bondage);
and she had invented and learned by heart a little story of how that
very odd woman, Marie Alston, had tried to stop it. In its finished form
it was quite a pathetic narrative. "But every one must choose for
himself what he means to do," it ended, "and if Marie chooses to be
malicious, it is her look-out. Dear Marie! I used to be very fond of
her. Yes, she has gone off terribly--quite _passée_, and so young, too.
She cannot be more than thirty." This latter was quite true; she was
only twenty-six, and Mildred knew it.

Yes, on the whole Mildred congratulated herself. Her appetite for
pleasure had not been diminished by the events of this summer, and there
was still plenty to feed it. In her superficial way she missed Jack a
good deal, but she had got over it in her hard, practical manner, and
all that remained to her now of regret had been transformed into
implacable anger against him for his desertion. However, she had some
charming new friends, and certainly one crowd was very like another
crowd. To have your house full, that was the great thing, and to get
plenty of invitations to houses that would also be full. She liked
eating, and screaming, and laughing, and intriguing; they were still at
her command. Externally, to conclude, she was a shade more pronounced;
her hair was slightly more Titianesque, her cheeks a little more highly
coloured, her mouth a little redder, her eyebrows a little thicker. Most
people thought she looked very well, but Lady Ardingly said to herself,
"Poor Mildred is beginning to fight for it."

The day was rather windy, and as she drove up Park Lane she had her work
cut out for her in the matter of management. The cobs had been newly
clipped, and all their nerves appeared to be outside their skins. This
Mildred thoroughly enjoyed; she was conscious of the mastery over brute
strength which makes the fascination of dealing with horses, and she
loved to know that Box longed to bolt and could not manage it, and that
Cox wanted to shy at every carriage that passed but did not dare, for
that his nerves were outside his skin, and he was aware who sat behind
him with whip alert. "The heavenly devils!" thought Mildred to herself
as they avoided a curbstone on the one hand by a hair-breadth and a
bicycle on the other by half that distance.

Like all fine whips, she infinitely preferred to drive in the streets
than in the Park, but to-day they were horribly crowded, and she turned
in through Stanhope Gate with the idea of letting the cobs have a good
trot through the Park and come out at the Albert Gate. The day was so
divine that she thought she would perhaps go out of town, and lunch at
Richmond or somewhere, returning in the afternoon. She was dining out
that night at Blanche Devereux's, who had a Mexican band coming, which,
according to her account, was so thrilling that you didn't know whether
you were standing on your head or your heels. This sounded quite
promising; she liked a _décolleté_ evening.

So Box and Cox had their hearts' desire, and flew down the road inside
the Park parallel to Park Lane. Here a motor-car, performing in a gusty
and throbbing manner, was a shock to their sense of decency, and they
made a simultaneous dash for the railings, until recalled to their own
sense of decency by a vivid cut across their close-shaven backs and a
steady pull on their mouths to show them that the whip was punitive, not
suggestive of faster progress. The progress, indeed, was fast enough to
satisfy even Mildred, who, however, was enjoying herself immensely. Both
cobs had their heads free (she, like the wise woman she was in matters
of horseflesh, abominating bearing-reins even for the brougham horses,
and knowing that for speed they are death and ruin), necks arched, and
were stepping high and long. Then, as they came to the bend of the road
of the Ladies' Mile, she indicated the right-hand road, and found that
they were a little beyond her control. Simultaneously a wayward gust
picked up a piece of wandering newspaper and blew it right across Box's
blinkers; from there it slid gradually on to Cox's. The same moment
both heads were up, and, utterly beyond her control, they bolted
straight for the gate at Hyde Park Corner. It is narrow; outside the
double tide of traffic roared and jostled.

By good luck or bad luck--it did not seem at the moment to matter in the
least--they were straight for the opening. If they had not been they
would have upset over the posts or against the arch, but as they were
they would charge at racing speed into an omnibus. A policeman outside,
Mildred could see, had observed what had happened, and with frantic
gesticulations was attempting to stem the double tide of carriages and
open a lane for her, and it was with a curious indifference that she
knew he would be too late. Passers-by also had looked up and seen, and
just as they charged through the arch she saw one rush out full into the
roadway in the splendid and desperate attempt, no doubt, to avert the
inevitable accident. "What a fool!" she thought. "I am done; why should
he be done, too?" Then for the millionth part of a second their eyes
met, and they recognised each other.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, though she had been cool enough before, she utterly lost her head.
She knew that she screamed, "Jack, for God's sake get out of the way!"
and simultaneously he had met the horses as a man meets an incoming
breaker, struggling to reach some wreck on a rocky shore. With one hand
he caught something, rein or blinker, God knows which, with the other
the end of the pole. Thus, dragging and scraping and impotently
resisting, he was borne off his feet, and they whirled into the
mid-stream of traffic.

There was a crash, a cry, the man was jerked off like a fly; one cob
went down, and Mildred was thrown out on to the roadway. She still held
the reins; she saw a horse pulled up on its haunches just above her,
within a yard of her head, and the next moment she had picked herself up
unhurt.

On the other side of her wrecked phaeton, jammed against her fallen cob,
was an omnibus. Under the centre of it lay the man who had saved her.

Suddenly, to her ears, the loud street hushed into absolute silence. A
crowd, springing up like ants on a disturbed hill, swarmed round her,
but she knew nothing of them. The omnibus made a half-turn, and slowly
drew clear of her own carriage and of that which lay beneath its wheels.
And though she had recognised him before in that infinitesimal moment
as she galloped through the arch, she might have looked for hours
without recognising him now. Hoof and wheel had gone over his head,
stamping it out of all semblance of humanity.



EPILOGUE


Lady Ardingly was sitting on the veranda of the New Hotel at Cairo, on a
clear bright February afternoon of the year following. The coloured life
of the East went jingling by, and she observed it with a critical
indifference.

"We could all have blue gaberdines if we chose," she thought to herself;
"but they are not becoming. Also it would be quite easy to put sepia on
one's face instead of rouge."

And having thus dismissed the gorgeous East, she turned to the Egyptian
Gazette. There were telegrams to be found in it, anyhow, which came from
more civilized parts. She had not played Bridge for twenty-four hours,
and felt slightly depressed. But whenever a carriage stopped at the
hotel she looked up; it appeared that she expected some one.

At length the expected happened, and she rose from her seat and went to
the top of the half-dozen steps that formed the entrance from the
street.

"Ah, my dear," she said, "my dear Marie, I have sat here all afternoon!
I did not know when you might come. You are not dusty? You do not want
to wash? Let us have immediately the apology for tea which they give one
here."

Marie put up her veil and kissed the face that was presented to her. It
was fearful and marvellous, but she was extraordinarily glad to see it.

"It was charming of you to wait for me," she said. "The train was very
late. I think my maid has lost it. There was a sort of Babel at
Alexandria, and the last I saw of her was that she was apparently
engaged in a personal struggle with a man with 'Cook' on his cap."

"Then, it will be all right if you give her time," said Lady Ardingly.
"But meantime you have no luggage, no clothes? It does not matter. I
will lend you all you want. Ah, my dear, you may smile, but I have all
kinds of things."

The apology for tea was brought, and both accepted it, talking of
trivialities. Then Lady Ardingly sat in a lower chair.

"And now talk to me, my dear," she said. "Tell me what news there is. I
have not seen you since July!"

Marie paused a moment.

"I hardly know what to tell you," she said, "for I suppose you do not
ask me for just the trivial news that I have, as last-comer from
England."

"No, my dear; who cares? Anybody can tell me that. About yourself."

"Well, I saw Mildred," said Marie. "I saw her the same day as it
happened. We went together to Jack's room. And we shook hands. I have
not seen her since."

"Ah, she did her best to ruin him in life, and she succeeded in killing
him," said Lady Ardingly very dryly. "I do not want news of her. She is
a cook."

Marie bit her lip.

"I also do not want to talk of her," she said. "She is very gay this
winter, I believe. She says it would look so odd if she didn't do
things, just because of that awful accident. She thinks people would
talk."

"She has a horror of that, I know," said Lady Ardingly, "except when
they are not talking about her. If they are not talking about her, she
joins in it. Did she, in confidence, tell you----"

"Yes, she told me in confidence that it was she who had started that
silly story about me. She told me also that you knew it. So I am not
violating her confidence."

Lady Ardingly made a noise in her throat which resembled gargling.

"That is enough," she said. "What else, dear Marie?"

Marie smiled.

"You mean Jim, I suppose?" she said.

"Yes, Jim."

"Well, Jim is coming out here in a week or so. He cannot get away any
sooner. I have seen him a good deal."

"And you will in the future see him even oftener," suggested Lady
Ardingly.

"Much oftener. I shall see him every day."

"I am very glad of that," she said; "I have a great respect for Mr.
Spencer. I see constantly that he is attacking my poor Ardingly. And I
respect you also, my dear. You are the nicest good woman I know. Ah! my
dear, when you are old like me, you will have pleasant back-pages to
turn over."

"And to whom shall I owe them?" asked Marie.

"To your own good sense. My dear, I am not often sentimental. But I feel
sentimental when I think of one morning in last July. You were a good
woman always, Marie, I should imagine. That day you were a grand one,
too--superb! I admired you, and it is seldom that I admire people."

There was a long silence. With the swiftness of sunset in the South, the
colours were struck from the gay crowds, and where ten minutes before
had been a riot of blues and reds, there was only a succession of
various gray. But overhead the stars burned close and large, and the
pale northern heavens were here supplanted by a velvet blue.

"And I admired Jack," said Lady Ardingly at length. "He was weak, if you
like, and, if you choose, he was wicked. But there was, how shall I say
it? the possibility of the big scale about him. That is the best thing;
the next is to know that you are small. The worst is not to know that
you are small."

Again Marie made no reply. Outside the patter of bare feet went right
and left, donkeys jingled their chains, and the odour of the Southern
night got more intense.

"Ah! my dear, we are lepers," said Lady Ardingly. "We are all wrong and
bad, and we roll over each other in the gutter like these Arabs
scrambling for backshish. We strive for one thing, which is wealth, and
when we have got it we spend it on pleasure. You are not so, and the odd
thing is that the pleasure we get does not please us. It is always
something else we want. I sit and I say 'What news?' and when I am told
I say 'What else?' and still 'What else?' and I am not satisfied.
Younger folk than I do this, and they do that, and still, like me, they
cry, 'What else? what else?' It means that we go after remedies for our
_ennui_, for our leprosy, and there is no such remedy unless we become
altogether different. Now, you are not so. Tell me your secret. Why are
you different? Why can you sit still while we fidget? Why is it you can
always keep clean in the middle of that muck-heap?"

Marie was moved and strangely touched. Her companion's face looked very
haggard in the glare of the electric lamp overhead, and her eyes were
weary and wistful.

"Dear Lady Ardingly," she said, "why do you say these things? I suppose
my nature is not to fidget. I suppose, also, that the pleasures you
refer to do not seem to me immensely attractive. I suppose I happen to
be simple and not complex."

"Ah! that is not all," said the other. "Those are only little
accidents."

Marie let her eyes wander a moment, then looked straight at Lady
Ardingly.

"I believe in God," she said.

THE END



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