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Title: The Career of Katherine Bush
Author: Glyn, Elinor, 1864-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Career of Katherine Bush" ***

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    _The_ CAREER _of_
    KATHERINE BUSH

    [Illustration: "'After all, I understand you--and I forgive you.'"
            [PAGE 204]]



    THE CAREER OF
    KATHERINE BUSH

    BY
    ELINOR GLYN

    AUTHOR OF
    THE MAN AND THE MOMENT, ETC.

    ILLUSTRATED BY
    EDMUND FREDERICK

    [Illustration]

    NEW YORK
    GROSSET & DUNLAP
    PUBLISHERS



    COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY
    D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
    COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY THE INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE COMPANY

    Printed in the United States of America



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    "'After all, I understand you--and I forgive
        you'"                                  _Frontispiece_
                                                  FACING PAGE
    "'You must ... go on and make something of your
        life, as I mean to do.'"                           50

    "'No man is an impossible husband if he is a
        Duke.'"                                           102

    "'You are ready for the great adventure?'"            274



THE CAREER OF KATHERINE BUSH



CHAPTER I


Dusk was coming on when Katherine Bush left the office of the Jew money
lenders, Livingstone and Devereux, in Holles Street. Theirs was a modest
establishment with no indication upon the wire blind of the only street
window as to the trade practised by the two owners of the aristocratic
names emblazoned upon the dingy transparency. But it was very well known
all the same to numerous young bloods who often sought temporary relief
within its doors.

Katherine Bush had been the shorthand typist there since she was
nineteen. They paid her well, and she had the whole of Saturday to
herself.

She sat clicking at her machine most of the day, behind a half-high
glass screen, and when she lifted her head, she could see those who came
to the desk beyond--she could hear their voices, and if she listened
very carefully, she could distinguish the words they said. In the three
years in which she had earned thirty shillings a week sitting there, she
had become quite a connoisseur in male voices, and had made numerous
deductions therefrom. "Liv" and "Dev," as Mr. Percival Livingstone and
Mr. Benjamin Devereux, were called with undue familiarity by their
subordinates, often wondered how Katherine Bush seemed to know exactly
the suitable sort of letter to write to each client, without being
told. She was certainly a most valuable young woman, and worth the rise
the firm meant to offer her shortly.

She hardly ever spoke, and when she did raise her sullen greyish-green
eyes with a question in them, you were wiser to answer it without too
much palaver. The eyes were darkly heavily lashed and were compelling
and disconcertingly steady, and set like Greek eyes under broad brows.
Her cheeks were flat, and her nose straight, and her mouth was full and
large and red.

For the rest she was a colourless creature, with a mop of ashen-hued
hair which gleamed with silvery lights. She was tall and slight, and she
could at any moment have been turned by a clever dressmaker and
hairdresser into a great beauty. But as it was, she gave no thought to
her appearance, and looked unremarkable and ordinary and lower
middle-class.

She had wonderful hands--Where they came from the good God alone knew!
with their whiteness and their shape. They were strong, too, and perhaps
appeared boyish rather than feminine. She did not inherit them from that
excellent mother, retired to a better world some ten years before; nor
from that astute auctioneer father, who, dying suddenly, had left that
comfortable red-brick semi-detached villa at Bindon's Green, Brixton, as
a permanent home for his large family.

But from whence come souls and bodies and hands and eyes?--and whither
do they go?--Katherine Bush often asked herself questions like these,
and plodded on until she could give herself some kind of answer.

Not one single moment of her conscious hours had ever been wasted. She
was always learning something, and before she had reached sixteen, she
had realised that power to rule will eventually be in the grasp of the
man or woman who can reap the benefit of lessons.

She had enjoyed her work at the night schools, and the wet Sundays,
curled up with a book in the armchair in the tiny attic, which she
preferred to a larger bedroom, because she could have it alone unshared
with a sister.

Her mind had become a storehouse of miscellaneous English literature, a
good deal mispronounced in the words, because she had never heard it
read aloud by a cultivated voice. She knew French grammatically, but her
accent would have made a delicate ear wince. Her own voice was
singularly refined; it was not for nothing that she had diligently
listened to the voices of impecunious aristocrats for over three years!

For the moment, Katherine Bush was in love. Lord Algy had happened to
glance over the glass screen upon his first visit to Liv and Dev to be
accommodated with a thousand pounds, and his attractive blue eyes had
met the grey-green ones.

He had spoken to her when she came out to luncheon. But he had done it
really intelligently, and Katherine was not insulted. Indeed, accustomed
as she was to weigh everything in life, she accorded him a mead of
praise for the manner in which he had carried out his intention to make
her acquaintance. She had flouted him and turned him more or less inside
out for over a month, but she had let him give her lunch--and now she
had decided to spend the Saturday to Monday with him.

For the scheme of existence which she had planned out for herself, she
decided her experience must be more complete. One must see life, she
argued, and it was better to make a first plunge with a person of
refinement, who knew the whole game, than with one of her own class who
would be but a very sorry instructor.

Heavens! To spend a Saturday to Monday with the counterpart of her
brothers Fred and Bert! The idea made her shudder. She disliked them and
their friends enough as it was--and the idea of marriage in that circle
never entered her level head. Of what use would be all her studies, and
the lessons she had mastered, if she buried herself forever at Brixton
with Charlie Prodgers or at Clapham with Percy Watson?

At this stage no moral questions troubled her at all, nor had she
begun really to apply the laws of cause and effect in their full
measure--although she was quite aware that what she proposed to do was
the last thing she would have considered wise or safe for another woman
to attempt. Rules of conduct were wisely made for communities she felt,
and must be kept or disaster must inevitably follow. But in her own
case she was willing to take risks, thoroughly believing in her own
cool discrimination.

The outlook for her should always be vast.

Lord Algy was passionately devoted, and it was wiser early in life to
know the nature of men. Thus she argued to herself, being totally
unaware that her point of view was altogether affected because her heart
and her senses pleaded hard, being touched for the first time in her
twenty-two years.

She was quite untroubled by what the world calls morality--and she had
no scruples. These were for a later date in her career.

The path looked clear and full of roses.

She had not been in the habit of consulting her family as to her
movements, and had many times gone by herself for holidays to the
seaside. No questions would be asked her when she returned on the
Monday. If the matter could have created scandal, she would not have
gone--to create scandal was not at all part of her game.

Lord Algy had arranged to take her to Paris by that Friday night's
train. They would have all Saturday and Sunday, and then return on
Monday night. Liv and Dev had granted her a holiday until the Tuesday.
She had put on her best blue serge suit that morning, and had taken a
small valise with what she considered necessary things. And now her
heart beat rather fast as she turned into Oxford Street in the gathering
October dusk.

For a few moments she wondered what it would have been like if she had
been going to marry Lord Algy--before all the world. Quite a great
pleasure no doubt for a month or two--But then?--He was the fourth son
of a stingy Welsh marquis, and nothing would ever induce his family to
pardon such a mésalliance. Of this she was well aware. It was the
business of "Liv" and "Dev" to make themselves acquainted with a good
deal about the peerage, and whatever her employers knew, Katherine Bush
knew.

Life for her held no illusions. Her studies had convinced her that to be
strong and perfectly honest were the only two things of any avail, and
to acquire a thorough knowledge of human beings, so as then to be able
to manipulate these pawns.

Lord Algy she believed was only a most agreeable part of her education,
but of no vital importance. She would have been horrified if anyone had
told her that she was mixing up sentiment in the affair!

To get everything down to its bedrock meaning had been her endeavour,
ever since she had first read Darwin and Herbert Spencer.

"I shall have the experience of a widow," she said to herself, "and can
then decide what is next to be done."

Lord Algy was a Guardsman--and knew, among other things, exactly how to
spend an agreeable Saturday to Monday! He was piqued by Katherine Bush,
and almost in love. He looked forward to his brief honeymoon with
delight.

He was waiting for her in a taxicab at the corner of Oxford Circus, and
when she got in with her little valise, he caught and kissed her hand.

"We will go and dine at the Great Terminus," he told her in his charming
voice, "and don't you think it would be much nicer if we stayed there
to-night, and went on by the morning train?--It is such a miserable hour
to arrive in Paris otherwise--you would be knocked up for the day."

He was holding her hand, and the nearness of him thrilled her, in some
new and delicious way. She hesitated, though, for a moment--she never
acted on impulse. She crushed down a strange sensation of gasp which
came in her throat. After all, of what matter if she stayed--or started
to-night?--since she had already cast the die, and did not mean to shirk
the payment of the stakes.

"Very well," she said, quite low.

"I hoped you would agree, pet," he whispered, encircling her with his
arm, "I meant to persuade you, and I am going to make you so awfully
happy--I sent my servant this afternoon to take the rooms for us, and
everything will be ready."

This sounded agreeable enough, and Katherine Bush permitted herself to
smile, which was a rare occurrence; she would spend hours and days
without the flicker of one coming near her red lips.

In the uncertain light, Lord Algy felt it more than he actually saw it,
and it warmed him. She was, as he had confessed to his best friend in
the battalion, an enigma to him--hence her charm.

"She treats me as though I were the ground under her feet at times," he
recounted to Jack Kilcourcy. "I don't think she cares two damned straws
for me really, but, by Jove! she is worth while! She has no nonsense
about her, and she is so awfully game!"

He had taken good care never to let Jack see her, though--or tell him
her name!

It was not long before they reached the hotel, and Katherine Bush was a
little angry with herself because she felt a quiver of nervousness when
they were in the big hall.

Lord Algy knew all the ropes, and his air of complete insouciance
reassured her. A discreet valet stepped forward and spoke to his master,
and they were soon in the lift, and so to a well-lighted and warmed
suite.

"These colours and this imitation Chippendale are rather awful, aren't
they," Lord Algy said, looking round, "but we must not mind, as it is
only for one night; the Palatial in Paris will be different--I am glad
Hanson saw to the flowers."

Huge bunches of roses stood upon the table and mantelpiece. Katherine
Bush thought it a splendid place, but if it appeared rather "awful" to
him, she must not show her admiration.

"Tea will come in a moment--I mean chocolate, pet--and I think we shall
be as jolly as can be. In there is your room; they will have brought up
your valise by now, I expect."

Katherine Bush moved forward and went through the door. A cheery fire
was burning, and the curtains were drawn, and on a chair there was a big
cardboard box. She looked at it, it was addressed "Mrs. Rufus."

"Who--is that--?--and what is it for?" she asked, in a voice deep as a
well.

"It is just a fur-lined coat, darling," Lord Algy answered, as he pulled
undone the string, "and a little wrap--I thought you would be so awfully
cold on the boat--and probably would not have been able to bring much
luggage."

A slight flush came into the young woman's white cheeks, something in
her loathed taking presents.

"Thanks awfully--I'll be glad to have you lend them to me for this
trip--but why is it addressed 'Mrs. Rufus'?--Mr. Devereux has got a
sister of that name."

Lord Algy laughed.

"Well, you see, I could not have it 'Fitz-Rufus,' because every one
knows that is the Merioneth name, given us poor devils by the Normans,
because we were such a red-headed lot, and I bet they found our own too
difficult to pronounce!" He began pulling out the coat and a soft pink
silk dressing-gown from the box. "I always am just 'Rufus' when I come
out like this." He laughed again a little constrainedly; it had just
struck him that the latter part of his sentence was perhaps not very
felicitously expressed--since he knew Katherine Bush was no chorus lady,
accustomed to temporary wedded appellations!

She looked him straight in the eyes with her strange, disconcertingly
steady grey-green ones--and then she smiled again--as the Sphinx might
have done before being set in eternal immobility of stone.

Lord Algy felt stupidly uncomfortable, so he folded her in his arms with
a fond caress, a far better plan he had always found than any argument
or explanation with women.

Katherine Bush realised the joy of it. She was ready for every grade of
pleasure as well as experience. This was how things were done in Lord
Algy's world, then--So be it.

Together they looked at the coat and wrap, and he helped her to take off
her hat and jacket, and try them on. They were very friendly, and Lord
Algy suggested that as the dressing-gown was almost a teagown and was
fairly pretty, she might wear it for dinner, which they would have in
the sitting-room.

"You'll look sweet in pink, darling," he lisped, as he kissed her ear,
"and it will be so soft and cosy."

Then the waiter knocked at the door and said the chocolate was ready, so
they went back to the sitting room.

He was quite adorable as he assisted her to pour in the cream--but
Katherine Bush now decided she would keep him at arm's length for a
while; the game was really so entertaining, and its moves must be made
to last as long as possible.

Lord Algy enjoyed fencing, too, so they talked in a more matter-of-fact
way for an hour or more, and then she told him she would go and change
for dinner, as it would be ready in twenty minutes.

"I'll have to be your maid, darling--I make an awfully good maid--I
never bungle with the beastly hooks--and I should love to brush your
hair!"

His eyes shone with light-hearted passion, and his good-looking face was
close to her own.

"You shall perhaps--to-morrow," Katherine Bush retorted--and slipping
into the room beyond she shut the door.

Lord Algy flung himself into an armchair, lit a cigarette and laughed
softly. He had never had such an experience as this.

"She is a wonder!" he said to himself. "Astonishing for her class--for
any class--She reminds me of some French heroine--what's her
name--fellow wrote jolly nice stuff--oh--er--_Mademoiselle de Maupin_,
of course! By Jove! I believe I am going to have a time like that chap
had--only she won't go off into limbo on Monday night!--Confound it, I
believe I'm in love!"

Then he threw away his cigarette end, and went round through the outer
passage to his room beyond hers, where he found his servant turning on
his bath in the bathroom which divided their apartments.

"Madame did not seem to require it--yet," Hanson said respectfully, "so
I have turned on Your Lordship's first."

And in a few minutes Lord Algy was splashing in the Lubin scented water,
while he gaily whistled a tune.

And Katherine Bush heard him as she was sponging her white face--and
stopped and listened surprisedly.

"Whatever can he be having a bath for at this time of day," she said to
herself, "and it is not Saturday!"

Then the thought came, it might be the custom of his class to bathe
before dinner! A scarlet spot grew in each cheek--she must never forget
to learn and profit by her lessons, so she deliberately went and knocked
on the communicating door and called out:

"Algy! you are mean to take the first!--When you have finished, turn on
mine."

And then she stood and trembled for a minute, while she piled up her
great mass of ashen hair.

"All right, darling!" he called back. "Only I must have my reward!"

"When _I_ please!" the young woman said to herself. "And not until."

At dinner, she looked quite pretty, the pink suited her pale skin, and
the unusual feminine fluffiness of the garment altered her rather stern
appearance. She had not yet begun to employ any art whatever, or to
alter the rough bundling up of her hair, but now, out to enjoy herself
under the most propitious and rose-coloured circumstances, her strange,
sullen eyes shone with a subtle fascination, and her deep voice had
tones in it which seduced the ear.

She had never dined with him before, only lunched, and now it behooved
her to observe the ways of things, as she was quite ignorant of the art
of dining out. Mr. Benjamin Devereux had made advances to her in her
first year at Liv and Dev, but she had annihilated him, and withered his
proposals for unlimited dinners and a generous settlement with scorn.
There had never been a moment when she had contemplated her charms being
wasted upon anything but an aristocrat, from whom she could acquire
"tone."

No denizen of Bindon's Green--no friend of the family--no companion in
the morning train had ever had so much as a kind word, much less the tip
of one of her strong white fingers. She was as a bunch of grapes with
perfect bloom retained.

She was taking in every line of Lord Algy as she sat there sipping her
soup. She had refused oysters, and had watched him as he devoured his
with the joy of an epicure. She had not been quite certain as to which
was the right implement to employ. She supposed it was that little fork
with the three prongs--but she determined to make no mistakes.

It was easy enough to gobble oysters soused in vinegar and red pepper,
with huge slices of bread and butter, and a bottle of stout, as her
brother Fred was wont to enjoy them at supper on Saturday nights. Or
they could be pulled about in the mincing fashion in which his fiancée,
that genteel Mabel Cawber, treated them, with little finger daintily
curved, and the first and the thumb only in use! but before she,
Katherine Bush, swallowed one, she would ascertain exactly how they were
eaten in Lord Algy's world! No good out of this trip should be wasted.

As dinner advanced, he began to make more ardent love to her--and the
champagne elevated both their spirits. He reproached her for her
hardness in not having allowed him to play the part of maid, after all.
She was a capricious little darling, but surely did not mean to go on
being unkind?

No; she did not--but she had suddenly realised, while dressing, that
some of her garments were not fine enough for the situation, and must be
kept out of sight!

She did not tell him this, however, but continued to enact the rôle of
condescending queen, while quietly she watched him as a cat watches a
mouse.

She loved the way his hair was brushed--how different from Charlie
Prodgers!--she loved the finely cut back of his head. She was perfectly
aware that he showed outwardly every mark of breeding in his weak,
handsome face, and lean well-drilled figure. These things pleased
her--especially the breeding; it was so very far from what she ever saw
at Bindon's Green!

Lord Algy had the easy, pleasant manner of his kind, with a strong
personal attraction, amply balancing absence of brain for general
purposes, and he was versed in every art for the cajoling of women.

The dinner grew more and more agreeable, until when coffee and liqueurs
came, Katherine Bush felt exalted into a strange heaven. She had
analysed almost all emotions in the abstract, but not their possible
effects upon herself. She found the ones she was experiencing now
peculiarly delightful! To be twenty-two and in love for the first time
in life, with an extremely delectable specimen of manhood--to be free as
air--answerable to no one--untroubled by backward or forward thoughts,
unworried by tormenting speculations as to whether the affair was right
or wrong--wise or unwise--This was a state of things which made the cup
worth drinking, and Katherine Bush knew it.

No possibility of bitter dregs to follow the last sip entered her
calculations.

The imp gods laughed, no doubt, and Lord Algy's blue eyes were full of
passionate delight!

Thus with all things _couleur de rose_, Katherine Bush began her brief
honeymoon.



CHAPTER II


"And I shall not see you for a whole month, my precious pet!" Lord Algy
whispered, as the train was approaching Charing Cross, at about eleven
o'clock on the Monday night of the return journey. "I don't know how I
shall bear it, but you will write every day, won't you?--Promise me,
darling----I wish now that I had not taken first leave and arranged to
shoot with my brother-in-law next week."

His arm still encircled her, and her ashen-hued head leaned against his
shoulder, so that he could not see the expression in her sombre eyes. It
was that of an animal in pain.

"No, I shall not write, Algy, and you must not, either--we have had a
divine time, and I shall never forget it. But it is stupid to
write--what good would it be to either of us?"

He pleaded that he would not be able to live without a word--after the
three days of perfect bliss they had enjoyed--and, of course, they would
enjoy many more, when he returned from Wales--!

Katherine Bush did not argue with him--of what use since her own mind
was entirely made up? She just let him kiss her as much as he desired
without speaking a word, and then she arranged her hat and veil, and was
demurely ready to get out when the train should draw up at the platform.

Lord Algy could not have been more loverlike. He was really feeling full
of emotion and awfully sorry to part. She had been so wonderful, he
told himself. She had enjoyed the whole thing so simply, and was such a
delightful companion. She had not asked any silly questions or plagued
him with sentimental forever-and-ever kinds of suggestions, as lots of
girls might have done with her limited experience of these transitory
affairs. She had accepted the situation as frankly as a savage who had
never heard that there could be any more binding unions. He really did
not know how he was going to stand a whole month of separation,
but perhaps it was just as well, as he was on the verge of being
ridiculously in love, and to plunge in, he knew, would be a hopeless
mistake. She was a thousand times nicer and more interesting than any
girl he had ever met in his life. If she had only been a lady, and there
would not be any row about it, he could imagine any fellow being glad to
marry her.

She was not at all cold either--indeed, far from it--and seemed
instinctively to understand the most enchanting passion--He thought of
_Mademoiselle de Maupin_ again--and felt he had been as equally blessed
as _D'Albert_. She would make the sweetest friend for months and months,
and he would rush back from Wales the moment he could break from his
family, and seek solace in her arms--he would have got himself in hand
again by then, so as not to do anything stupid. He always meant to be
very, very good to her, though. Thus he dreamed, and grew more
demonstrative, clasping her once again in a fond farewell embrace,
during the last available moment, and his charming blue eyes, with their
brown curly lashes, looked half full of tears.

"Say you love me, darling," he commanded, wishing, like all lovers, to
hear the spoken words.

Katherine Bush was very pale, and there was concentrated feeling in her
face which startled him. Then she answered, her voice deeper than usual:

"Yes--I love you, Algy--perhaps you will never know how much. I do not
suppose I will ever really love anyone else in the same way in my life."

Then the train drew up at the station.

The people all looked unreal in the foggy October air under the glaring
lights--and the whole thing appeared as a dream indeed when, half an
hour later, Katherine sped through the suburban roads to Bindon's Green,
alone in the taxi. Lord Algy had put her in and paid the man liberally,
and with many last love words had bidden her good-night and--_au
revoir_!

So this chapter was finished--she realised that. And it had been really
worth while. An outlook had opened for her into a whole new world--where
realities lived--where new beings moved, where new standpoints could be
reached. She saw that her former life had been swept from her--and now,
to look back upon, appeared an impossible tedium. She had mastered all
the shades of what three days of most intimate companionship with _a
gentleman_ could mean, and the memory contained no flaw. Algy's chivalry
and courtesy had never faltered; she might have been a princess or his
bride, from the homage he had paid her. Dear, much-loved Algy! Her
passion for him was tinged with almost a mother love--there was
something so tender and open-hearted about him. But now she must take
stern hold of herself, and must have pluck enough to profit by what she
had learned of life--Though to-night she was too tired to do more than
retrospect.

Oh! the wonder of it all!--the wonder of love, and the wonder of
emotion! She clenched her cold hands round the handle of her little
valise. She was trembling. She had insisted upon his keeping the
fur-lined coat for the present. How could she account for it to her
family, she had argued? But she never meant to take it again.

No one was awake at Laburnum Villa when she opened the door with her
latchkey, and she crept up to her little icy chamber under the roof,
numb in mind and body and soul--and was soon shivering between the
cotton sheets.

Oh! the contrast to the warm, flower-scented bedroom at the Palatial!
And once she had not known the difference between linen and cotton!

She said this over to herself while she felt the nap--and then the tears
gathered in her eyes one by one, and she sobbed uncontrollably for a
while--Alas! to have to renounce all joy--forever more!

She fell asleep towards morning, and woke with a start as her alarm
clock thundered. But her face was set like marble, and there was not a
trace of weakness upon it when she appeared at the family scramble,
which did duty for breakfast.

There had been a row between Fred and Gladys, the sister a year older
than herself, who was a saleswoman at a fashionable dressmaker's
establishment. Matilda, the eldest of the family, was trying to smooth
matters while she sewed up a rent in the skirt which Ethel, the
youngest, would presently wear to the school "for young ladies" which
she daily attended. This, the most youthful Miss Bush, meanwhile sat in
a very soiled Japanese quilted dressing gown, devouring sausages. There
were bloaters on the table, too, and treacle--and the little general
servant was just bringing in the unsavory coffee in the tin coffeepot.

Tea had been good enough for them always in the father's time, and
Matilda for her part could not see why Fred had insisted upon having
coffee, on the strength of a trip to Boulogne on bank holiday.

But there it was! When Fred insisted, things had to be done--even if one
hated coffee!

Katherine Bush loathed most of her family. She had not an expansive
nature, and was quite ruthless. Why should she love them just because
they were her brothers and sisters? She had not asked to be born among
them! They were completely uncongenial to her, and always had been. It
was obviously ridiculous and illogical then to expect her to feel
affection for them, just because of this accident of birth, so she
argued. Matilda, the eldest, who had always been a mother to the rest,
did hold one small corner of her heart.

"Poor old Tild," as she called her, "the greatest old fool living," and
Matilda adored her difficult sister.

How doubly impossible they all appeared now to the unveiled eyes of
Katherine!

"This is simply disgusting stuff, this coffee!" she said, putting her
cup down with a grimace. "It is no more like French coffee than Ett
looks like a Japanese because she has got on that dirty dressing-gown."

"What do you know of French coffee, I'd like to ask--What ho!" Bert, the
brother just younger than herself, demanded, with one of his bright
flashes. "Have you been to 'Boulong for a bit of a song,' like the
Gov'nor?"

"I wish you'd give over calling me the Gov'nor, Bert!" Mr. Frederick
Bush interposed, stopping for a moment his bicker with Gladys. "Mabel
strongly objects to it. She says it is elderly and she dislikes slang,
anyway."

But Albert Bush waved half a sausage on his fork, and subsided into a
chuckle of laughter. He was the recognised wit of the family, and Ethel
giggled in chorus.

Katherine never replied to any of their remarks, unless she wished to;
there was no use in throwing down the gauntlet to her, it remained lying
there. She did not even answer Matilda's tentative suggestion that she
had always drunk the coffee before without abusing it!

If they only knew how significant the word "before" sounded to her that
morning!

She finished her bit of burnt toast, and began putting on her hat at a
side mirror preparatory to starting. She did not tell Gladys that she
would be late if she did not leave also; that was her sister's own
affair, she never interfered with people.

As she left the dining-room, she said to Matilda:

"I want a fire in my room when I come back this evening, please. I'll
have one every day--Make out how much it will be, and Em'ly's extra
work, and I'll pay for it."

"Whatever do you want that for, Kitten?" the astonished Matilda
demanded. "Why, it is only October yet. No one ever has a fire until
November, even in the drawing-room--let alone a bedroom. It is
ridiculous, dearie!"

"That aspect does not matter at all to me," Katherine retorted. "I want
it, and so I shall have it. I have some work to do, and I am not going
to freeze."

Matilda knew better than to continue arguing. She had not lived with
Katherine for twenty-two years for nothing.

"She takes after father in a way," she sighed to herself as she began
helping the little servant to clear away the breakfast things, when they
had all departed to the West End, where it was their boast to announce
that they were all employed--they looked down upon the City!

"Yes, it's father, not mother or her family; father would have his way,
and Fred has got this idea, too, but nothing like Kitten's! How I wish
she'd look at Charlie Prodgers and get married and settled!"

Then she sighed again and sat down by the window to enjoy her one great
pleasure of the day, the perusal of the _feuilleton_ in the _Morning
Reflector_. In these brief moments she forgot all family worries, all
sordid cares--and revelled in the adventures of aristocratic villains
and persecuted innocent governesses and actresses, and felt she, too,
had a link with the great world. She was a good sound Radical in what
represented politics to her, so she knew all aristocrats must be bad,
and ought to be exterminated, but she loved to read about them, and hear
first-hand descriptions of the female members from Gladys, who saw many
in the showrooms of Madame Ermantine. "Glad _knows_," she often said to
herself with pride.

Meanwhile, Katherine Bush--having snubbed Mr. Prodgers into silence in
the train--where he manoeuvred to meet her every morning--reached her
employers' establishment, and began her usual typing.

There was work to be done by twelve o'clock in connection with the
renewal of the loan to Lord Algernon Fitz-Rufus--the old Marquis would
be obliged to pay before Christmas time, Mr. Percival Livingstone said.

Miss Bush, to his intense astonishment, gave a sudden short laugh--it
was quite mirthless and stopped abruptly--but it was undoubtedly a
laugh!

"What is amusing you?" he asked with a full lisp, too taken off his
guard to be as refined and careful in tone as usual.

"The old Marquis having to pay, of course," Katherine responded.

Never once during the whole day did she allow her thoughts to wander
from her work, which she accomplished with her usual precision. Even
during her luncheon hour she deliberately read the papers. She had
trained herself to do one thing at a time, and the moment for reflection
would not come until she could be undisturbed. She would go back as soon
as she was free, to her own attic, and there think everything out, and
decide upon the next step to be taken in her game of life.

A few burnt sticks, and a lump of coal in the tiny grate, were all
she discovered on her return that evening to her sanctuary. The
maid-of-all-work was not a talented fire-lighter and objected to
criticism. Katherine's level brows met with annoyance, and she proceeded
to correct matters herself, while she muttered:

"Inefficient creature! and they say that we are all equal! Why can't she
do her work, then, as well as I can mine!"

Her firm touch and common sense arrangement of paper and kindling soon
produced a bright blaze, and when she had removed her outdoor things,
she sat down to think determinedly.

She loved Lord Algy--that was the first and most dominant thing to face.
She loved him so much that it would never be safe to see him again,
since she had not the slightest intention of ever drifting into the
position of being a man's mistress. She had tasted of the tree of
knowledge with her eyes open, and the fruit that she had eaten was too
dangerously sweet for continuous food. Love would obtain a mastery over
her if things went on; she knew that she might grow not to care about
anything else in the world but only Algy. Thus, obviously, all
connection with him must be broken off at once, or her career would be
at an end, and her years of study wasted. Even if he offered to marry
her she could never take the position with a high hand. There would
always be this delicious memory of illicit joys between them, which
would unconsciously bias Algy's valuation of her. She had learned things
of consequence which she could not have acquired in any other way, and
now she must have strength to profit by them. She utterly despised
weaklings and had no pity for lovesick maidens. For a woman to throw
over her future for a man was to her completely contemptible. She probed
the possible consequences of her course of action unflinchingly; she
believed so in her own luck that she felt sure that no awkward accident
could happen to her. But even if this should occur, there were ways
which could be discovered to help her--and since the moment had not yet
come, she would defer contemplating it, but would map out her plans
regardless of this contingency. So she argued to herself.

She could not endure living under the family roof of Laburnum Villa any
longer, that was incontestable; she must go out and learn exactly how
the ladies of Lord Algy's world conducted themselves. Not that she
wished to dawn once more upon his horizon as a polished Vere de
Vere--but that for her own satisfaction she must make herself his equal
in all respects. There had been so many trifles about which she had felt
she had been ignorant, almost every moment of the three days had given
her new visions, and had shown her her own shortcomings.

"There are no bars to anything in life but stupidity and vanity," she
told herself, "and they at least shall not stand in my way."

The temptation to have one more farewell interview with him was great,
but there was nothing the least dramatic about her, so that aspect did
not appeal to her as it would have done to an ordinary woman who is
ruled by emotional love for dramatic situations; she was merely drawn by
the desire for her mate once more, and this she knew and crushed.

It would mean greater pain than pleasure to her afterwards, and would
certainly spoil all chance of a career. She gloried in the fact that she
had had the courage to taste of life's joys for experience, but she
would have burned with shame to feel that she was being drawn into an
equivocal position through her own weakness.

Katherine Bush was as proud as Lucifer. She fully understood--apart from
moral questions which did not trouble her--that what she had done would
have been fatal to a fool like Gladys, or to any girl except one with
her exceptional deliberation and iron will. She truly believed that such
experiments were extremely dangerous, and on no account to be adopted as
a principle of action in general. The straight and narrow path of
orthodox virtue was the only one for most women to follow; and the only
one she would have advocated for her sisters or friends. The proof being
that as a rule when women erred they invariably suffered because they
had not the pluck or the strength to know when to stop.

Katherine Bush was absolutely determined that she should never be
hampered, in her game, by her own emotions or weakness.

Before Lord Algy would return from Wales, she would have left Liv and
Dev's. She had never given him her home address, and there would be no
trace of her. She would look in the _Morning Post_ for information, and
then endeavour to secure some post as companion or secretary to some
great lady. There she would pick up the rest of the necessary equipment
to make herself into a person in whom no flaws could be found. And when
she had accomplished this, then fate would have opened up some path
worth following.

"Some day I shall be one of the greatest women in England," she told
herself, as she looked unblinking into the glowing coals.

Then, having settled her plans, she allowed herself to go over the whole
of her little holiday, incident by incident.

How utterly adorable Algy had been! She found herself thrilling again at
each remembrance--How refined and how considerate! How easy were his
manners; he was too sure of himself, and his welcome in life, ever to
show the deplorable self-consciousness which marked the friends who came
on Sundays, or the bumptious self-assertion of her brothers, Fred and
Bert.

If only she had been born in his world, and had by right of birth those
prerogatives which she meant to obtain by might of intelligence, how
good it would have been to marry him--for a few years! But even now in
her moment of fierce, passionate first love, which in her case was so
largely made up of the physical, her brain was too level and speculative
not to balance the pros and cons of such a situation. And while she felt
she loved him with all her being, she knew that he was no match for her
intellectually, and that when the glamour faded he would weary her.

But the wrench of present renunciation was none the less bitter--Never
any more to feel his fond arms clasping her--never again to hear his
caressing words of love!

If a coronet for her brow shone at the end of the climb, her heart at
all events must turn to ice by the way, or so she felt at the moment.

He had talked so tenderly about their future meetings. How they would go
again to Paris when he returned from Wales. How she must let him give
her pretty clothes and a diamond ring, and how she was his darling pet,
and his own girl. She knew that he was growing really to love her;
Katherine Bush never deceived herself or attempted to throw dust in her
own eyes. She had eaten her cake and could not have it. If she had held
out and drawn him on, no doubt she could have been his wife, but it was
only for one second that this thought agitated her. Yes, she could have
been his wife--but to what end? Only one of humiliation. She was not yet
ready to carry off such a position with a certainty of success; she knew
she was ignorant, and that the knowledge of such ignorance would destroy
her self-confidence and leave her at the mercy of circumstance. So all
was for the best. She had not guessed that it would be so very painful
to part from him--dear, attractive Algy! She could not sit still any
longer. A convulsion of anguish and longing shook her, and she got up
and stamped across the room. Then she put on her outdoor things again
and stalked down into the gathering night, passionate emotion filling
her soul.

But when she came back an hour later, after tramping the wet roads round
the common, the battle was won.

And this night she fell asleep without any tears.



CHAPTER III


It was about a fortnight later that Katherine got Matilda to meet her at
a Lyons' popular café for tea on a Wednesday afternoon. Livingstone and
Devereux had given her a half holiday, being on country business bent;
and having matured her plans, and having set fresh schemes in train, she
thought she might as well communicate them to the one sister who
mattered to her. Matilda loved an excuse to "get up to town," and had
come in her best hat, with smiling face. Katherine was always very
generous to her, though she was no more careless about money than she
was about other things.

"It is all very well, Tild," she said, in her deep voice, after they had
spoken upon indifferent subjects for a while. "But I am tired of it. I
am absolutely tired of it, so there! I am tired of Liv and Dev--tired of
the hateful old click of the machine with no change of work--I am tired
of seeing the people of another class through the glass screen--and I
mean to get out of it."

"Whatever are you talking of, Kitten!" the elder Miss Bush exclaimed, as
she stirred her cocoa. "Why, Liv and Dev's as good a berth as you'd
get--thirty bob a week, and a whole holiday on Saturday--to say nothing
of off times like this--you must be mad, dearie!" Then something further
in her sister's remark aroused comment.

"And what do you mean by people of 'another class'? Why, aren't we as
good as anyone--if we had their money?"

Katherine Bush put down her empty cup before she replied:

"No, we're not--and if you weren't as ignorant as you are, dear old
Tild, you'd know it. There are lots and lots of classes above us--they
mayn't be any cleverer--indeed, they are often fools, and many aren't
any richer--but they're ladies and gentlemen."

Matilda felt personally insulted.

"Upon my word, Kitten!--If you are such a poor thing that you don't
consider yourself a young lady--I am not. I always did say that you
would pick up rubbishly ideas bothering after those evening lectures and
French classes--instead of coming with Glad and Bert and me to the
cinema, like a decent Christian--it was a low sort of thing to do, I
think, and looked as if we'd none of us had a proper education--and all
they have done for you is to unsettle your mind, my dear--so I tell
you."

Katherine Bush smiled complacently and looked at her sister straight in
the eyes in her disconcerting way, which insured attention. Matilda
knew that she would now have to listen probably to some home truths.
She could manage Gladys very well in spite of her giggles and
irresponsibility, but she had never been able to have the slightest
influence upon Katherine from the moment of their mother's death, years
before, when she had taken her place as head of the orphaned household.
Katherine had always been odd. She had a vile temper as a child, and
was silent and morose, and at constant war with that bright boy Bert,
loved of the other sisters: Matilda remembered very well many scenes
when Katherine had puzzled her. She was so often scornful and
disapproving, and used to sit there with a book scowling at them on
Sundays when a rowdy friend or two came in to tea, and never once
joined in the chorus of the comic songs they sang, while she simply
loathed the gramophone records.

"You say awfully silly things sometimes, Tild," Katherine announced
calmly. "There would not be any good in my considering myself a young
lady, because at my present stage anyone who really knew would know that
I am not--but I mean to become one some day. You can do anything with
will."

Matilda bridled.

"I don't know what more of a lady you could be than we all are--Why,
Mabel Cawber always says that we are the most refined family of the
whole lot at Bindon's Green--and Mabel ought to know surely!"

"Because her father was a solicitor, and she has never done a stroke of
work in her life?" Katherine smiled again--it made Matilda feel
uncomfortable.

"Mabel is a perfect lady," she affirmed indignantly.

"I will be able to tell you about that in a year's time, I expect,"
Katherine said, reflectively. "At present, I am not experienced enough
to say, but I strongly feel that she is not. You see, Tild, you get your
ideas of things from the trash you read--and from the ridiculous
nonsense Fred and Albert talk after they come home from those meetings
at the National Brotherhood Club--fool's stuff about the equality of all
men----"

"Of course we are all equal!" broke in Matilda, still ruffled.

Katherine Bush smiled again. "Well, I wish you could see the difference
between Fred and Bert and those gentlemen I see through the glass
screen! They have all got eyes and noses and legs and arms in common,
but everything else is different, and if you knew anything about
evolution, you'd understand why."

"Should I!" indignantly.

"Yes. It is the something inside the head, something in the ideas,
produced by hundreds of years of different environment and a wider point
of view--and it is immensely in the little customs and manners of speech
and action. If you had ever seen and spoken to a real gentleman, Tild,
you would grasp it."

Matilda was quite unmollified and on the defensive.

"You can't have two more honourable, straightforward young fellows than
our brothers in no family in England, and I expect lots of your gents
borrowing money are as crooked as can be!"

Katherine became contemplative.

"Probably--the thing I mean does not lie in moral qualities--I suppose
it ought to--but it doesn't--We had a real sharp last week, and to look
at and to hear him talk he was a perfect gentleman, with refined and
easy manners; he would never have done anything in bad taste like Fred
and Bert often do."

"Bad taste!" snorted Matilda.

"Yes--we all do. No gentleman ever tells people in words that he is
one--Fred and Bert say it once a week, at least. They lay the greatest
stress on it. No real gentlemen get huffy and touchy; they are too sure
of themselves and do not pretend anything, they are quite natural and
you take them as they are. They don't do one thing at home at ease, and
another when they are dressed up, and they aren't a bit ashamed of
knowing anyone. Fred does not speak to Ernie Gibbs when he is out with
Mabel, although they were at school together!"

"Ernie Gibbs! Why, Kitten, he is only a foreman in the Bindon Gas Works!
Of course not! Mabel _would_ take on!"

Matilda thought her sister was being too stupid!

"Yes, I am sure she would--that is just it----"

"And quite right, too!"

Katherine shrugged her shoulders. There was not much use in arguing with
Matilda, she felt, Matilda who had never thought out any problem for
herself in her life--Matilda who had not the privilege of knowing any
attractive Lord Algys!--and who therefore could not have grasped the
immeasurable gulf that she, Katherine, had found lay between his class
and hers!

"They say Fred is a capable auctioneer because father and grandfather
were--you hear people saying 'it is in the blood'--Well, why is it,
Tild?--Because heredity counts just as it does in animals, of course. So
why, if a man's father and grandfather, and much further back still,
have been gentlemen commanding their inferiors, and fulfilling the
duties of their station, should not the traits which mean that show as
plainly as the auctioneer traits show in Fred----?"

Matilda had no answer ready, she felt resentful; but words did not come,
so Katherine went on:

"You can't jump straight to things; they either have to come by instinct
through a long line of forebears, or you have to have intelligence
enough to make yourself acquire the outward signs of them, through
watching and learning from those who you can see for yourself have what
you want."

Matilda called for another cup of cocoa--she disliked these views of
Katherine's.

"You see," that young woman went on, "no one who is a real thing ever
has to tell people so in words. Liv and Dev don't have to say they are
two of the sharpest business men in London--anyone can realise it who
knows them. You, and all of us, don't have to tell people we belong to
the lower middle class, because it is plain to be seen, but we would
have to tell them we were ladies and gentlemen, because we are not. Lord
Al--oh! any lord who comes to our office--does not have to say he is an
aristocrat; you can see it for yourself in a minute by his ways. It is
the shams that always keep shouting. Mabel Cawber insists upon it that
she is a tip-top swell; Fred thinks he is deceiving everyone by telling
them what a gentleman he is, and by not speaking to Ernie Gibbs, who is
an awfully good fellow. Emily says she is a splendid general, and can't
even light a fire, and won't learn how to. George Berker in our office
says he is a first-class clerk, and muddles his accounts. Everything
true speaks for itself. I always mean to be perfectly true, and win out
by learning."

Matilda, though somewhat crushed, was still antagonistic.

"I'm sure I hope you'll succeed then, my dear!" she snapped.

"Yes, I shall." Katherine fired her bomb. "It may take me some time, but
that does not matter, and the first step I have already taken is that I
am leaving Liv and Dev's on Friday--and, I hope, going to be secretary
to Sarah Lady Garribardine, at a hundred and ten Berkeley Square, and
Blissington Court, Blankshire!"

"Well, there! You could have knocked me over with a feather!" as Matilda
told Gladys later in the evening. "And wasn't it like Katherine never
telling us a thing about it until everything was almost settled!" But at
the moment, she merely breathed a strangled:

"Oh, my!"

"If I get it, I go to my new situation next week. I had a tremendous
piece of luck coming across it."

"Well, however did you do it, Kitten?" Matilda demanded.

"I saw an advertisement in the _Morning Post_--it was quite a
strange one, and seemed to be advertising for a kind of _Admirable
Crichton_--someone who could take down shorthand at lightning speed, and
typewrite and speak French--and read aloud, and who had a good knowledge
of English literature, and thoroughly knew the duties of a secretary."

"Oh! My!" said Matilda again, "but you can't do half of those things,
Kitten--we none of us know French, do we!"

Katherine smiled; how little her family understood her in any way!

"I wrote first and said they seemed to want a great deal, but as I had
been with Livingstone and Devereux for three years, and accustomed to
composing every sort of letter that a moneylender's business required, I
thought I could soon become proficient in the other things."

"Well, I never! What cheek!"

"Then I got an answer saying Lady Garribardine liked my communication,
and if I proved satisfactory in appearance, and had some credentials,
she would engage me immediately, because her secretary, who had been
with her for years, had gone to be married--the salary would be ninety
pounds a year with a rise, so it's a slight move up, anyway, as I am to
be kept, and live in the house."

"You are cocksure of getting it, Katherine?"

"Yes--I mean to--I am going to see her on Saturday."

"And what are your references besides Liv and Dev? Some folks don't like
moneylenders."

"I wrote and said I had no others--but they would testify to my
capacity. Liv nearly had a fit when I gave my notice--he almost cried to
get me to stay on. I like the old boy--he is a good sort, and will tell
the truth about me."

"And did they answer?"

"Yes--just to say I was to come for the interview on Saturday."

"They want to see you, anyway--what is the family, I wonder?"

Here Katherine recited the details from Debrett, in which volume she was
very proficient.

"An old lady, then," Matilda commented, "and with no children except a
married daughter! That will be easier for you--but why is she called
'Sarah'? I often have wondered about that, when I read names in the
_Flare_. Why 'Sarah Lady Something'--and not plain Lady Something?"

"It's when the man in possession is married and you are not his mother,"
Katherine told her, "and if you are, and still have your Christian name
tacked on, it is to make you sound younger. Dev says dowagers are quite
out of fashion. Every widow is 'Sarah' or 'Cordelia' now in the high
society, and when he first went to business, there were only two or
three. Queen Victoria never stood any nonsense."

Matilda was very interested.

"Whatever will you do about your clothes, Kitten? You have nothing nobby
and smart like Gladys. She could lend you her purple taffeta if you
weren't so tall."

"Oh, I manage all right. I'll have a talk with Gladys to-night; she sees
the right sort of people at Ermantine's, and can tell me what to
get--and I'll buy it to-morrow in my lunch hour."

"Well, I am just rattled," Matilda admitted. "Then you'll be leaving
home quite, dearie?"

"Yes, Tild--and I shan't be sorry except to be parted from you--but I
daresay I shall be able to come and see you now and then."

Matilda looked tearful.

"You never were one of us, Katherine."

"No, I know I never was. I often have wondered what accident pitchforked
me in among you, always the discordant note and the wet blanket. I hark
back to someone, I suppose--I've always determined to get out, when I
was ready."

"You never did care for us--never, Kitten."

Katherine Bush remained quite unmoved.

"No, never for the others--but always for you, Tild--and I'll never
forget you, dear. There, don't be a donkey and cry--the people at the
next table are looking at you."

This argument she knew would calm her sister--who was intensely
sensitive to everyone's opinion.

"And supposing they don't take you?" Matilda suggested, in a still
quavering voice, "and you've given notice to Liv and Dev--I call it
awfully risky."

"Then I will look out for something else--I am determined to make a
change, and see a new world, whatever happens."

After supper that evening, Gladys was invited up to the warmed attic
with Matilda, an honour she duly appreciated. They all stood in
irritated awe of Katherine.

"I want to talk about clothes, Glad," she said, when they neared the
tiny fireplace. "I have told Tild I am going about a new berth on
Saturday."

This caused the same astonishment and exclamations as Matilda had
already indulged in--and when calm was restored, Gladys was only too
pleased to show her superior knowledge.

"I don't want to hear about any of those actresses you dress, or those
ladies who look like them, I want to know what a real, quiet, well-bred
countess, say, would have, Glad."

Miss Gladys Bush smiled contemptuously.

"Oh, a regular frump, you mean--like the ones we can't persuade to have
tight skirts when they are first the fashion, or loose ones when it
changes--that is easy enough--it is to get 'the look' that is
difficult."

"They probably would not engage me if I had 'the look,'" Katherine
remarked cynically.

"You'd better have something like we made for Lady Beatrice Strobridge
last week, then," Gladys suggested. "One of our hands can copy it at
home, but there won't be time by Saturday. You'd better wear your best
blue serge and get a new hat for the first meeting."

"Lady Beatrice Strobridge must be the Hon. Gerard Strobridge's wife, my
new employer's late husband's nephew. Strobridge is the Garribardine
name." Katherine had looked up diligently the whole family, and knew the
details of each unit by heart.

"She only got married two years ago," Gladys continued. "She was
Thorvil, before--Lady Beatrice Thorvil."

"Wife of the present man's younger brother," quoted Katherine,
remembering Debrett. "He is about thirty-five; the present man is
forty."

"She is a regular dowdy, anyway," Gladys remarked. "One of those--we
have a bunch of them--that wants the things, and yet with their own
touch on them, spoiling the style. They come together generally, and do
make a lot of fuss over each other--calling 'darlings' and 'precious'
all the time--fit to make me and the girls die laughing with their
nonsense."

"What is she like--good-looking?" Katherine asked. She only questioned
when she wanted specific information, never idly, and it was as well to
know everything about her possible new employer's family.

"She would not be bad if she did not stoop so. She hasn't got 'the walk'
neither, no more than the 'look'; sometimes she's all right--at least,
the things are all right when they go home, but she adds bits herself
afterwards, and spoils them."

Here Matilda interrupted.

"Anyway, she is one of the ladies you'll see in your new place, Kitten.
I'd certainly have that same dress, it will just show them you are as
good as they, if you have an Ermantine model."

But Katherine thought differently. She agreed she would have something
in the same subdued style as Lady Beatrice would have chosen, but not
the actual copy, and after settling details the other two sisters left
her for bed.

When they had gone, she sat by the fire and looked deeply into it, while
she thought for a few moments. Then she drew a letter from her blouse
and reread it. It was from Lord Algy. A sweet little love epistle. Just
to tell her he could not possibly wait for the whole month before seeing
her--and was coming up to town the following week--and would not she
lunch with him at the old place--and perhaps stay with him again at the
Great Terminus? It ended with protestations of passionate devotion.

No--never again--she had tasted of the cup of bliss, and Fate was asking
her to pay no price. She must have courage now to renounce all further
pleasure. Once was an experience, twice would be weakness--which could
grow into a habit--and thence lead to an abyss which she shuddered to
think of.

Katherine Bush had never read Théophile Gautier's masterpiece--but there
was something in her character, as Lord Algy had remarked, which
resembled _Mademoiselle de Maupin's_.

She went to her little writing-case and got out a sheet of paper, and
then, in her firm round hand which looked like a man's, she wrote him
these few lines:

    _Dear Algy_,

    I want you to forget all about me--I loved our little trip, but I
    am never going on another. I shall have left Liv and Dev's before
    you get back, and you won't see me again. With best love always.

                                                              K. B.

She folded it, put it in the envelope--addressed it and stamped it--then
she put it ready to post in the morning.

Her face was white and set. It takes a strong will to renounce tangible
present happiness, however profound the beliefs in the future may be.



CHAPTER IV


Sarah Lady Garribardine said to her nephew, Gerard Strobridge, who had
been lunching with her on that Saturday:

"You must go now, G. I am expecting a new secretary."

"How will you get on without Miss Arnott, Seraphim? I thought she was
irreplaceable."

"So she is--I am interviewing quite a new type--she has been a
moneylender's shorthand typist."

Mr. Strobridge raised his eyebrows--and smiled his whimsical smile. His
Aunt Sarah always was original.

"Then I'll leave you--Beatrice has at last made up her mind not to chuck
the Arberrys, so we motor down at three o'clock."

"Has Beatrice been unusually tiresome?"

"N-no--she has been writing odes all the morning."

"You ought never to have married, G.--You would not have if Alice
Southerwood had not become a widow--a man can't always face his obvious
obligations."

Gerard Strobridge laughed.

"Then I shall kiss your hand and say farewell until next week--wisest of
aunts!"

He suited the action to the word, and left the room just as the butler
was about to open the door and announce:

"Miss Bush, Your Ladyship."

He glanced quickly at Katherine--this was the young person who would
take the estimable Miss Arnott's place, he supposed. She was quite
ordinary looking.--He went on down the stairs.

"Come and sit here in the light, please," Lady Garribardine said, as
Katherine Bush came towards her.

It was a very well-arranged Katherine, in the best blue serge--and a new
hat--not of Gladys' choosing. The mop of hair was twisted tight
without the least pretension to express "the look,"--some grey suede
gloves--bought in Paris by Lord Algy--were on the wonderful hands which
remained perfectly still in their owner's lap.

"How old are you?" asked Lady Garribardine by way of a beginning.

"I was twenty-two last September." There was not a trace of nervousness
in Katherine Bush's deep voice--indeed she felt none.

"And what does your family consist of--what is your status in life?"
Lady Garribardine felt perhaps she ought to ascertain this before going
further.

"We are just middle class. My father was an auctioneer at Bindon's Green
where we live. He and my mother are both dead. I have a sister who is a
saleswoman at Madame Ermantine's, the others are at home. My eldest
brother has taken father's place, the younger one is in a bank."

"And how long have you been at this business?"

"Since I was nineteen--before that I kept the accounts at a pork
butcher's."

"Indeed!----And what makes you think you would be capable of filling my
situation?"

"It is not very easy to be a competent moneylender's secretary and a
shorthand writer."

"No--perhaps not."

"Mr. Livingston and Mr. Devereux will tell you that I did not make a
failure of it."

"Really?"

Katherine was silent.

"_Really_," Lady Garribardine repeated again. "You mean that you think
you can pick up things quickly."

"Yes."

"It is certainly an advantage. I hoped to find something exceptional
when I advertised."

"Yes, I noticed that--and it was because your advertisement was unusual
that I applied for the post."

She rather wondered if she ought to have put in any "Ladyships"; she
remembered Hanson, Lord Algy's valet, was very prodigal of such marks of
respect--that is what had deterred her. Liv and Dev often used them,
too--to new and prosperously connected clients--but she did not wish to
be subservient more than was necessary. She would watch and listen--as
she had watched about the oysters.

"Can you read aloud?"

Lady Garribardine was fixing her with her flashing brown eyes, which
contrasted so unfavourably with the bronze-gold wig she wore so bravely.

"I have never tried. If I did it wrong the first time and you corrected
me, I expect I wouldn't do it twice."

"That is something--and your voice is refined--you did not acquire that
at the--er--pork butcher's?"

"No, I acquired it by listening to members of the upper classes who came
to borrow money--I had a cockney twang like my sisters, I daresay, in
the beginning."

"That shows you can learn things."

"Yes, it is only stupid people who can't."

"You are not stupid, then?"

"No, but Mr. Livingston or Mr. Devereux can tell you; either will speak
for me."

Lady Garribardine was amused; she digressed a little from her
cross-examination.

"You found Jews agreeable to work with?"

"Very. You know where you are with them. They do not pretend, and they
are very generous."

"In-deed!"

"Yes--people have a preconceived notion of Jews, I find--quite faulty as
a rule--they know what to pay for--they are far less fools than other
races. I respect them."

"That is most interesting."

Katherine was silent again.

"Why did you leave them?"--after a pause in which Lady Garribardine was
pitilessly scrutinising her possible secretary.

"Because I had learned all that I could there, and I wanted a new
vista----"

"And you think you would find it with me?"

"With any lady in your world--you can learn things wherever you go, if
you wish to."

"Very true. And how about French--you speak that?"

Katherine Bush reddened a little. A memory came to her of the profound
shock that the French of Paris had been to her ear.

"I can write it quite correctly--but I have discovered that my
pronunciation is ridiculous." She confessed it quite frankly.

"How did that happen?"

"I taught it to myself--mostly--and then I heard it spoken--and I knew
mine would sound wrong."

"Do you think you could overcome that?"

"Yes, if I were in France long enough."

"Have you travelled?"

"No--not really. I have been to Paris for a holiday once--I have only
learnt about places."

"And English literature?"

"It is the thing I care most for--I have read a great many books. I read
usually until about one in the morning."

"Have you a good temper? You are not uppish, eh?"

"I suppose it depends--I know that when you take money to do a thing you
have got to do it, and put up with orders and manners that you would not
stand for one second if you were the person paying."

"That is quite a good definition of respectful service."

"It is common sense."

"You appear to have some of that."

Again silence.

"I have not a good temper!" Lady Garribardine laughed--she was greatly
diverted.

"I guessed not."

"How?"

"I had to read characters quickly at Livingston and Devereux's----"

"You are observant?"

"I think so----"

"Can you play the piano?"

"I could once, and I had a queer gift for reading the notes--but I have
never practised since we had a gramophone--I grew to loathe music."

"That is hopeful----"

Then Her Ladyship got up and went to her writing-table, terribly
littered with all sorts of papers. She dived among a conglomerate
mass--and picked up two letters.

"Would you oblige me by answering these, Miss--er--Bush? I could then
better judge of your capabilities."

Katherine took them; on one envelope was written in a spidery hand in
pencil, "Refuse gracefully;" upon the other, "Get out as best can."

She looked for a portion of the blotting pad which was clear enough to
use, then she sat down and selected a pen, while she glanced up with her
steady wise eyes.

"Has Your Ladyship any particular paper for this sort of thing?" Here
was a suitable moment for the use of the honorific she felt.

"Yes, that white paper with the coronet in plain black and the address."

Lady Garribardine sat down by the fire and stared into it. She had not
been so interested in a specimen of humanity for years.

Katherine Bush read the letters through carefully and the first one a
second time, then she began to write:

    To the Secretary of the League for Discouraging Polygamy among the
      Mohammedans of India:

    _Dear Sir_,

    I am asked by Sarah Lady Garribardine, to tell you that while
    sympathising deeply with the admirable object of your League, she
    thinks the field over which it must obviously be spread is too vast
    for a small contribution to be of much avail, and therefore, while
    thanking you for your interesting papers upon the subject, she is
    sorry that she is unable to forward you any more substantial help.

            I am, dear sir,
                  Yours faithfully,
                        KATHERINE BUSH (Secretary).

The other letter ran:

    To the Matron of the Nonconformist Detention and Penitential Hostel
      for Lost Women:

    _Madam_,

    I beg to inform you that Sarah Lady Garribardine is leaving town
    shortly and therefore cannot avail herself of the pleasure and
    honour of visiting your useful institution. She desires me to
    express to you her thanks for your invitation.

            I remain, madame,
                  Yours faithfully,
                        K. BUSH (Sec.).

She looked carefully to see what style of address was necessary and
wrote out the envelope--and when all was ready she rose and took them to
the young-old lady by the fire.

She stood quite still while they were perused, and then smiled inwardly
when Lady Garribardine gave a cynical chuckle.

"I think you will do very well, Miss Bush! Please find some stamps, and
put them in that basket to be posted--and--er--you can ring the bell--I
shall expect you--bag and baggage--on Wednesday next."

This was abrupt, but Katherine Bush felt it was what it should be.

"You do not require the testimony of Mr. Livingston or Mr. Devereux?"

"No--I can judge for myself--er--Good morning."

The bell had been answered almost instantly and so, bowing, Katherine
Bush followed the servant down the stairs, and soon found herself in the
street, a strange sense of content in her heart.

She knew the West End very well--and walked briskly along Hill Street
and so on past Dorchester House--into the Park. All the leaves were off
the trees. The November day was beautifully fine and bright and movement
was a pleasure.

So the first part of her new game was won at all events.

She reviewed the whole set of impressions she had taken. Firstly, that
the house was a fine one--it had "the look," if houses could be said to
show this quality. That is, it was beautifully kept and filled with what
she guessed from study at the Wallace Collection must be rare and costly
furniture. There were some things she thought ugly--but "the look" was
often ugly, she knew by experience--from Gladys' verbose descriptions to
Ethel and Matilda.

Apart from "the look" it had an air of distinction. It was the abode of
denizens of Lord Algy's world--that was evident. The man she had met on
the threshold of the morning room door was certainly of his class--and
rather nice-looking.

As for her future employer, she was a new specimen to her. Katherine
meant what the French call a _type_, but she did not know this
expression.

"She is certainly over sixty," she said to herself. "She is a dark woman
naturally, and her hair ought to be grey. The whole thing is spoilt by
that silly golden wig--curled tight like Royalty's. She would have quite
a nice figure for her age if she were not all pushed up by those
old-fashioned corsets. Why had she such big ears and such red hands for
so great a lady? Her rings were buried in fat. The circulation was
evidently wrong somewhere. As for her voice--it was one of _the_ voices!
The female counterpart of the echoes from over the glass screen--and the
manner was quite as casual.

"Just as insolent as I shall be when I hold the same sort of place. She
was born to it--I shall have acquired it--we both when we are dead will
be said to have well filled our situations."

Thus mused Katherine Bush on a November day in Hyde Park--and turning
out of Albert Gate suddenly she almost walked into the arms of Lord
Algy.



CHAPTER V


"Darling pet! What a delightful surprise!"

"Algy! Where did you spring from?"

Then they both drew quick breaths.

"Come back towards the Serpentine, I must talk to you. Your horrid
little note made me feel quite wretched, and I have been to Liv and
Dev's to-day, and they refused to give me your address--why were you
such a little cat, darling?"

"I was not a cat, Algy."

They had turned and were walking towards the Row.

"I meant what I wrote--I want you to forget all about me. Joys can't go
on--I have other things to do, dear."

"But it is perfectly brutal of you, Katherine, when I love you so--and
you love me--at least you told me that you did!"

Katherine Bush's heart was beating very fast--would she have courage to
keep to her determination now that she saw him face to face?

He looked so extremely delectable, here in the lowering sunshine. He was
everything that a woman could desire in the way of a lover.

"I am in the hell of a mess, too," he sighed. "My father has cut up
awfully rough about my transactions with Liv and Dev--and I had a bad
week at Doncaster. I am in for a regular facer and am obliged to agree
to be transferred to the Egyptian army for three years. Everything, even
you, are against me."

"No, I am not, Algy." There was quick sympathy and distress in her deep
voice. "I hate to think that you are unhappy, and you know that I would
help you in any way I could."

"Then be kind to me, darling--and don't say you never want to see me
again."

Katherine Bush felt this was a supreme occasion--and that she must not
waver. She so longed to comfort him, to let him kiss her and forget all
his cares. The cynical side of her character, even at this moving
moment, whispered that it was fortunate that they were out of doors!

"When do you start for Egypt?"

"As soon as I can get ready--my mother and sisters are going to winter
out there, but probably I shall be sent to the Soudan!"

Katherine had heard that they killed lions or something in that part of
the world, she knew that sport meant a great deal in Lord Algy's life.

"You will get some kind of shooting, won't you?" she suggested by way of
consolation.

But Lord Algy looked full of misery. They had walked on, taking a side
path and were now in sight of two chairs.

"Let us go and sit down," he pleaded. "I want to look at you. I can't, I
won't believe, that you don't mean ever to be my own girl any more."

"Algy, I do mean it--just as much for you as for myself."

They had reached the chairs and sat down, Lord Algy pushed his hat to
the back of his head; his immaculately brushed hair glistened bronze in
the setting sun, and his forehead was puckered with distress. His
attractive eyes sought hers with a fond persistence. Katherine Bush was
obliged to clench her hands tight in the pockets of her coat.

"Why, what in Heaven's name for? Why must we part?" he demanded
fiercely. "Katherine, I have missed you awfully--I have not known what
to do with myself--and before this bother fell upon me, I had determined
to come up to ask you to marry me--we'd be awfully happy married,
darling--like we were in Paris. I have never loved anything half so much
as our time together."

"It is dear of you to say that, but I would not marry you for anything
in the world, it would spoil everything, destroy a memory that has not
got any flaw in it.--Listen to me, Algy--I went with you because I
wanted to--I wanted to understand life, and find out what is worth
while, and what men are like. I am only at the beginning of existence
and I intend to learn most of its meaning before I die. I thought that
whatever cold, tiresome path I might have to follow afterwards, to carry
out my scheme of things, I would at least have some good hours to
remember with you, so I went deliberately--but I never meant to do it
again. Let's both be grateful for what we have had and part friends."

"I simply can't," protested Lord Algy, growing more and more full of
emotion, as he felt the attainment of his desires receding from him. "I
call it awfully cold-blooded of you, Katherine, and I can't and won't
consent to it. I want you--I want you now--to-night," and he stretched
out his arms. "I am sick with longing for you--I mean it, darling. I
have been away with other girls often before, Jack Kilcourcy and I
stayed down the river with Laure de Laine and Mary Green this June.
Laure was my friend, and she simply wasn't a patch on you, pet, in any
way, and I didn't care a straw when it was over, although they are such
celebrities, and it did make Berty Aberhams so mad, and was such a score
off the bounder. I have never felt anything like I feel for you,
darling--I want you to be my wife."

As he spoke, something withered a little in Katherine Bush; his
unconscious placing of the affair galled her, although she knew that it
was perfectly just; she had gone with him under no other pretence than
had gone those ladies of the Frivolity Theatre. She analysed his simple
directness, and appreciated the triumph conveyed to her in the final
expression of his feelings, but it made her task rather easier. She saw
so plainly what a renewal of their relations would mean. She looked and
looked at him, seated dejectedly there beside her, and then she spoke,
and her voice was full of quiet determination and very deep.

"You must be a man, Algy, dear, and go on and make something of your
life, as I mean to do. You must be a great soldier. You come of such a
grand old family, you ought to remember what all your ancestors have
done, and try to be as fine as they were--It's so paltry to drift--You
can remember me if you want to--as someone who wasn't weak, even though
I am only a common girl, and much beneath you in class. If I was of your
class I should now be tempted to marry you, and then I expect with my
sort of nature I'd just shove you on into doing something great. But I
couldn't as it is, all my time would be taken up with trying to educate
myself to keep my own head above water, and trying to suppress my
humiliation at the contempt of your friends. You are only a younger son,
and they would never forgive you, and we would just lead a hole and
corner sort of existence in wretched poverty, and grow to have quarrels
and not love at all."

[Illustration: "'You must ... go on and make something of your life, as
I mean to do.'"]

He was going to interrupt her but she put her grey gloved hand across
his lips. "No, dear, don't say anything--I want to go away from you with
the memory that you have asked me to be your wife--I cannot be that for
both our sakes, and it would cut me to the heart to hear you say words,
now that you know this, which would mean that you want me, failing that,
to go on with the other relation."--She paused, for a second, and
leaning forward, looked straight into his face--"Algy, I want to
remember you as a really perfect gentleman."

She had gained her point with this last appeal. She saw that in an
instant; he straightened himself and raised his handsome head, while the
pride of race looked forth from his eyes for a moment, and then was
quenched by the mist of tears.

"You are a splendid girl, Katherine," he said in a choking voice, "a far
greater lady than the rotters I have to dance with at balls and see as
my sisters' friends. You--by Jove! you have taught me to respect women.
I should be honoured if you would marry me, and my family ought to be
jolly glad to get such a good sort among them!"

"Thank you, Algy!" her voice now trembled, too. "Then you understand,
dear, and I want you to do just as well as you can in Egypt--and,
and--Algy, do try not to spend so much money, and when they have paid up
for you, don't go and get back into any moneylender's hands. They are
not all so honest as Liv and Dev. And now I want to say good-bye! I
don't want to be silly and--cry----"

"Oh! it's too cruel!" he exclaimed, clasping his hands. "Katherine, you
are like--only I think you mean to be kinder than she was--_Mademoiselle
de Maupin_!"

She stiffened, and her eyes, which were growing very misty, became hard
and bright. She thought he was referring to another lady of the
half-world--of Paris, perhaps, this time. He saw that she had
misunderstood him, and he added quickly:

"Darling, she is in a book--by a fellow called Théophile Gautier--she
was a wonder and so are you--I've always thought you were like her,
but--Oh! why do we talk such bosh about books in our few moments, I want
to tell you that I love you. Oh! Katherine, if you knew how much!"

The hardness all melted from the young woman's grey-green eyes and was
replaced by a divine sweetness.

"Algy," she whispered, "it is good to hear that, and you know that I
love you, too, and now good-bye, my dear--I can't bear any more."

She rose quickly and drew her hand away. She passionately longed for him
to take her in his arms.

He got up also, he was extremely pale, and more than a suspicion of mist
hung upon his eyelashes. As a young, splendid lover, he could not have
looked more desirable, but Katherine Bush never lost her head.

"Good-bye, Algy, and God bless you, dear."

Two people were approaching or he certainly would have kissed her--as it
was they only wrung each other's hands and Katherine Bush turned and
walked into the gathering twilight.

He watched her until she had disappeared and then sat down again. He
felt quite wretched. She seemed to him to be a wonderful character.

"What an impotent wretch I am beside her," he said to himself. "But I
should never be able to make the family see it. My mother would rather
I married Elaine Percival with her five thousand a year--" then he
laughed contemptuously--"Elaine Percival!"

For the first time in his life he began to reason about things.
Katherine Bush was of course perfectly right. Marriage would have been
madness, as he had always known before he became too much in love to
think; and he knew he had been lately only entirely influenced by
selfish desire, and had never so much as faced what the consequences
would be either to himself or to her. He had been quite ready to make a
hash of both their lives just because he wanted her so badly for the
moment. What an incredible fool--and she, this fine girl, had pulled
them both on to firm land. He was not of the type who could contemplate
asking a woman to wait for him while he worked to obtain a home for her;
such an idea, of course, never entered his head. He had no romantic
illusions of this sort, and once having realised the hopelessness of the
case he had stoicism enough to accept it. But the things she had said
affected him deeply. He would try not to drift.--He would pull himself
together and do his best to become a fine soldier. They should not say
he had grumbled over going to Egypt. Oh! if there could only be a war,
that he might go out and fight! But wars would never happen again at
this time of the world's day!

The present pleasant, easy stage of his life had come to an end, and
unpleasant realities must be dealt with, but he would keep ever the
memory of this splendid girl in his heart, the memory that she had not
been weak or permitted him to make a fool of himself or of her.

And as he walked on out of the Park he felt a new self-reliance and
determination.

Meanwhile, Katherine Bush had got into an omnibus and was on the way to
Victoria, and once arrived at Laburnum Villa and her attic, she
carefully wrote down on the little book which she kept for jottings,
"_Mademoiselle de Maupin_, in a book by Théophile Gautier," while her
thoughts ran:

"He did not say what was the name of the story, but I can read the whole
lot this man wrote. I'll go to a French library on Monday."

Then she sat down in her armchair by the fire and reviewed the entire
chain of events.

She was embarked upon a new current which would help to carry her to
some definite goal--she was out of the backwater. It was not a voyage to
Cythera, but youth was at the prow, and ambition, not pleasure, at the
helm; and there live philosophers who say these two things bring more
lasting good than all the bliss that is to be snatched from the other
combination.--Who knows!--They may be right!

Matilda was nervous with excitement when after supper she was told of
the definite settlement of her sister's affairs.

"So you are really engaged, Kitten!" she exclaimed. "Now, do tell me all
about it. There's a dear--and what was she like, and is it a grand house
and are you going to be properly treated as a real lady?"

"Yes, I am engaged. I am to go in on Wednesday, 'bag and baggage,' as
Lady Garribardine said."

"My! what a vulgar expression for a lady to use, Kitten--are you sure
she's all right?"

Matilda hated what was not genteel.

"Oh! yes, Tild--she's all right--and the house is beautiful--and, yes,
what you'd call grand--and you may be sure they will treat me exactly in
the way I deserve to be treated. If you aren't respected it's your own
fault--people don't make a mistake as to whom they are with a second
time, even if they do the first. If anyone gets put upon continually, or
gets snubbed, it's her own fault."

Matilda totally disagreed.

"There you are quite wrong. Why, look at Gladys! Bob treats her anyhow
sometimes of a Sunday, and her as good as gold."

"Well, she has made him think that he can by not stopping it in the
beginning. It is never a question of goodness as I often tell you about
things, it is a question of force. Goodness does not count unless it is
so perfect that it is a force, too--like Christ's."

"Oh, my! What awful things you do say, Katherine!"

Matilda felt so uncomfortable when her sister spoke of what she thought
ought only to be mentioned in church!

"No, I merely tell the truth, it is the weaklings who do all the harm in
the world, never the bad or good."

"Well, what was Lady Garribardine like?" Matilda was tired of abstract
speculations.

"She was tall and rather stout, and had a golden wig--and black
eyes--and she understood things. She knows how to order her house,
because the servants had the same awe for her as the office-boy has for
Liv. Her writing-table was awfully untidy, though. I expect she has not
much method, and it is just personality and temper which causes her to
be obeyed."

"You won't stand being ordered about ever, Kitten?"

"It will depend on how much good I feel I am getting out of it. If the
place and people in it are being lessons for me, I shan't mind what she
says--I shall stick it out and try never really to deserve a scolding."

"Was there anyone else there?" Matilda was still curious.

"Yes--a man left when I was going in. He had a clever face. I shall like
him, I believe, if he comes there often."

"You won't go falling in love with any of them gentlemen, Kitten,"
Matilda pleaded affectionately.

She felt that things might develop as they did in the cases of the
innocent actresses and governesses and the villains in her serials.

"Have I ever been given to falling in love?" Katherine asked with a
humorous flash in her eyes.--"You have not seen me tumble into the arms
of Charlie Prodgers or Percy Watson--have you?"

"No, dearie, but these gentlemen in your new biz might be different and
might not mean so honest by you. I do wish I could hope to see you
settled with Charlie some day. He is such a dear fellow, and very
rising. He'll be head clerk at the estate agent's he is in very soon,
and could give you a comfortable home like this is for your own; and no
need to be hanging on for years like Glad and Bob."

"Can you picture me settled in a comfortable home with Charlie Prodgers,
Tild!" Katherine laughed out at the idea, it seemed so comic to her. "He
is as great a snob as Fred, and even more ignorant. I would not let him
button my boots, much less call himself my husband! I'd as soon be dead
as tied to that! At Brixton, too! With the prospect of being the mother
of numbers of sandy-haired little Prodgers. What an outlook!"

Matilda was hurt. They had never spoken in words upon this secret hope
of hers, but she had often hinted at it, and Katherine had been silent
and seemingly preoccupied, but not actually scornful, and to have the
scheme denounced with derision and the happy picture scoffed at was a
blow to her which she could not bear in silence. She felt indignant.

"Charlie Prodgers is good enough for any young lady. Mabel herself
thinks highly of him. He is one of the few of Fred's gentlemen friends
that she thinks worthy to be asked into her mother's house--and I would
have liked to have seen you married into her set safely before she
becomes our sister-in-law, and can patronise you."

"Then I am afraid I must disappoint you, dear," Katherine now tried to
hide her smile. "I have quite another game to play in life. But why
don't you keep him for Ethel--she is nearly sixteen and will soon be
looking out for a young man--or take him yourself?"

This was a new idea for Matilda. She had always been too loyal to dream
of turning her eye in the direction of one whom she regarded as
exclusively her sister's property.

She bridled a little--the picture was so glorious--if it only could be
hers! Charlie Prodgers who scorned to be seen in anything but a frock
coat, unless, of course, he went golfing--Charlie Prodgers who each
Sunday attended the church parade in Hyde Park as a matter of course!
But would he ever look at her? Proud, haughty fellow! and she not so
pretty as Katherine--and not half so nobby as Gladys. But stranger
things than that happened in her serials, and she need not feel that it
was quite hopeless. But how could Kitten willingly relinquish such
triumph? There must be something of a suffragette in her after all,
since no girl in her senses could ask more of fortune!

The Sunday was spent by Katherine in packing up all her belongings and
in selecting the books she meant to take with her, a volume or two of
Voltaire, Bacon's Essays, Kant and Bergson, and a new acquisition, Otto
Weininger's "Sex and Character." This latter had interested her deeply.
There was a great deal of biting truth in his analysis of women, and it
was probably also true that they did not possess souls; but she totally
disagreed with his ending of the matter that the solution of the problem
lay in a voluntary annihilation of the human species through abstinence
from procreation. She, for her part, thought that it was taking things
out of the Hand of God, or the Divine Essence, or whatever the great
Principle should be called--and her eminently practical mind failed to
see the use of such far-reaching speculations. "The poor man was mad, of
course," she said, as she closed the book again before packing it. "But
I will try to watch the feminine traits in myself and crush them. He has
taught me that amount, in any case. And if I have no soul, I have a
brain and a will, and so I am going to obtain as much as a woman can get
with those two things. As for the infinite, men are welcome to that, as
far as I am concerned!"

She looked forward with deep interest to perusing the story with
_Mademoiselle de Maupin_ in it. What could it be about? She had hardly
thought that Lord Algy had read at all, he never spoke of books--but it
was perhaps not surprising; they had been always too occupied in more
agreeable converse. How good it was to remember all that, even though
never in her life she should have such foolish sweetness again!

She had not the slightest sentiment about "leaving home"; she would have
found such a thing quite ridiculous. On the contrary, a sense of
exaltation filled her. She was going forever from this cramped, small
attic and the uncongenial environment of the house. And she must hold
herself in stern command and never waste an opportunity to improve
herself in manner and mind. Of course, she might be liable to make a few
mistakes at first, and the work might be hard, but if will was strong
and emotions were checked, the road to success and development of
her personality could not be a long one. And when she had gained
freedom--how splendidly would she use it! There should be no false
values for her!

Her new dress, the one in the style of Lady Beatrice Strobridge, would
be home by the Tuesday night, and she had got a "dressy" blouse from
Oxford Street, in case she should ever have to appear in the evenings.
She would do very well, she felt.

The family, with the exception of Matilda, were not sorry that she was
departing. The father had left Laburnum Villa and a certain sum to keep
it up for the benefit of the whole bunch of them; and when Mr. Frederick
Bush would move into a house of his own with the refined Mabel Cawber,
Gladys and Bert and Ethel looked forward to an uninterrupted time of
jollity, unclouded by Katherine's aloofness and contempt.

Matilda alone grieved in secret. She thought Katherine was superior to
them all in spite of her reserve, and the last evening, while she sat
with her by the attic fire, she told her so.

"No, I am not, Tild--I am not superior. I am just different--all our
aims are as wide apart as the poles. Glad and Ethel and the boys never
want to learn anything--they resent the thought that there could be
anything that they do not know. Their whole attitude is resentful
towards any knowledge. They like to browse on deceiving themselves over
every question and aspect of life. So they will all just stay where they
are. Fred, an auctioneer, henpecked by Mabel; Bert, a clerk. Poor Glad,
the downtrodden drudge of Bob Hartley, and Ethel probably something of
the same. You, dear old Tild, will be a sentimental old maid looking
after the others' children--because you are entirely a 'mother
woman'--unless you take Charlie Prodgers, as I said the other day, and
have heaps of little Prodgers! Oh! it is all just respectable,
comfortable squalor--and words won't express how glad I am to get out of
it!"

Matilda was quite incensed.

"I'd rather be a lady, however poor, in my own circle, and treated as
such there, than a servant in a grand house as you're going to be,
Kitten. I'd let them see I'd be above taking their orders!"

She hoped this taunt would tell, but Katherine only smiled.

"Poor, dear old Tild," she said. "You do not know, perhaps, that it is a
wise man who understands how to obey those placed over him, and to exact
the same obedience from those beneath. When I have learned my lessons
and have obtained a place of command, then I shall not only enforce
obedience, but I shall remove from my path anyone who crosses my will."

"Oh, my!" gasped Matilda.

"Do you suppose I argued with Liv and Dev and showed them that I would
not take their orders? No, of course not; they valued me and raised my
salary because I did what I was told to do. They were paying me money
and were in a position to command. No one forced me to take their money;
I went there of my own free will, and was to do specified things for a
specified remuneration. I did them to the best of my ability, and so I
am going on to something better. Lady Garribardine is paying me ninety
pounds a year with a rise; and I am to be hers to command for certain
things. When I have learned all that that situation can teach me, I
shall get a larger and higher position, and so on until I reach my goal,
when I shall rule--do not fear, Tild. _I shall rule._"

"I daresay you will," Matilda admitted, awed.

Katherine's face had a strange, compelling force when she spoke thus.

"But we aren't all the same, Kitten. Glad, for instance, has more pride;
look how she left Brown and Melbury's, where she was getting more than
at Ermantine's, because she would not take orders from the new manager
they put over her department."

"That sort of pride was entirely worthy of Gladys' intelligence, and it
had landed her with a less salary, no one's added respect, and not much
to look forward to in the future." And then, with a burst of feeling,
"Oh! Tild, if I only could make laws, I would enforce education to such
an extent that there could not be left any fools like Gladys!"

Then she said good-night to Matilda and gently pushed her from the room,
where she looked as though she meant to stay for another half-hour, and
returning to her armchair, she began to read that book of Théophile
Gautier's which she had bought on the Monday morning, and discovered
that its title was simply "Mademoiselle de Maupin."



CHAPTER VI


Lady Garribardine was having a tea-party with some good music, when
Katherine Bush arrived. She realised immediately that it was stupid of
her to have chosen the afternoon for her entrance into her new post, and
Bronson, the dignified butler, left her in no doubt as to his view of
the matter, as he directed the hurried transport of her luggage through
the hall.

"Her Ladyship expected you this morning, miss," he said, severely.

"Then she should have told me at what hour I was to come," Katherine
answered, quietly; "she mentioned none."

Bronson stared. Miss Arnott, clergyman's daughter though she was, would
never have said a thing like that; she would have been nervous and
apologetic in a minute, poor thing! But this young woman, whom Bronson
had very good reason to believe, from what he had been able to gather,
belonged merely to the lower middle class, had yet the audacity to give
herself all the airs and calm assurance appertaining to a lady of the
world!

Here the entrance of two guests took up his attention, a man and a
woman.

Katherine stood back and waited for directions, while she watched
closely. The man was the same that she had seen on the former occasion.
The woman interested her; she was tall and droopy, with wide vague
eyes, and a wisp of buffish chiffon about her neck inside her furs,
which Bronson assisted her to remove. Then Katherine saw that she wore
the dress which Gladys had described, and which in its general features
had been taken more or less as the model for her own.

This must be Lady Beatrice Strobridge.

"Gerard," the lady said, rather querulously, "I don't mean to stay for
more than ten minutes--so don't get away into some difficult corner with
Läo, if you mean to leave with me."

The man answered with polite indifference.

"Bronson will see you safely to the motor; I promised my aunt to stay to
hear Venzoni; he is sure to be late."

Then they went on up the marble stairs and a young footman was sent with
Katherine Bush in the lift at the back of the hall.

"'Gerard'--it is a nice name--and he looks a nice man," she mused, while
they were carried aloft, "and he is bored with his wife. Gladys was
quite right; why did she have that rag of chiffon? It spoilt the whole
dress."

The housekeeper met her when they arrived in the top passage, and took
her under her wing.

"Some tea will be sent to your room, miss," she informed her, "and Her
Ladyship said she would not have time to see you this evening, but you
would doubtless have things to unpack and arrangements to make for
yourself. Your trunks will be up in a minute."

And then she opened the door into a back room which faced west, so the
afterglow of the setting sun made it not quite dark. There was a fire
burning, and it all appeared gay when the housekeeper turned on the
lights, with its old-fashioned rose-flowered chintz on a bright
parrot-green ground. There was a scent of lavender, too, and Katherine
Bush was pleasantly impressed; nothing looked cheap and gimcrack like
the bedrooms in Laburnum Villa, she thought, or still more those at the
house of Mabel Cawber, which were the envy of Matilda's soul. The
furniture here was solid mahogany of early Victorian make, and the
armchair gave the impression that it would be a pleasant place to rest
in.

When she was alone, Katherine Bush made herself take in every detail.
Lady Garribardine had suggested that she was observant; she must
remember that and always cultivate this faculty, for she realised that
every trifling thing would be different from anything she had ever
known.

She liked the space of the place, she would not feel that she was
tumbling over things. There was an empty bookcase awaiting her books, no
doubt, and a big sensible writing-table there in the window where there
would be plenty of light. The wardrobe was a monster, ample room in it
for any amount of clothes! How pleasant not to have to put most things
away in cardboard boxes under one's bed--often to find them discoloured
by dust when taking them out again! And how pretty and quaint was the
china on the washstand, matching the chintz. And the towels! Of finer
quality--and nearly as many as there had been at the Palatial in Paris,
which she had supposed was a case of French hotel extravagance and not
what would be the custom in private life.

She fingered them softly. They were arranged peculiarly, too, with the
top fold turned back so that one could pick them up in a second.
Katherine Bush smiled cynically when she remembered her two coarse
huckabacks, changed only every Saturday at Laburnum Villa!

Everything gave the impression of spotless cleanliness and order. The
brass hot-water can and the fender and the fire-irons all shone with
superlative polishing.

Presently her tea was brought up by a housemaid in neatest black, with a
cap and apron which would have made Em'ly snort with indignation had she
been asked to wear them, so unmodish was their style! It was a joy to
have a perfectly arranged tea-tray with shining silver and pretty
porcelain, a tray all to herself, too, instead of a breakfast cup
already poured out and mixed with milk and sugar, and probably a little
of the contents upset into the saucer, which also contained a thick
slice of bread and butter and a piece of cake! This is what she had
always been accustomed to at the office, or on Saturday afternoons at
home, while she read her books and a sister brought her tea up to her
attic. And with the exceptions of a Lyons or an A. B. C. restaurant, and
the brief time of glory in Paris, when chocolate was the order of the
day, this one unappetizing cup had represented to her what many women
look forward to as the most delightful meal of all.

The housemaid's manner had been quiet and respectful, as she drew the
curtains and shut out the dying light, the muffin was done to a turn,
and, above all, the tea tasted as tea had never tasted before. She was
too ignorant as yet to know that it was China, not the rankest Ceylon
which she was accustomed to, but she found it particularly nice, though
rather weak. The whole room and the service and the atmosphere spoke of
inhabitants who, somehow she knew, belonged to the same class as those
whose voices she had always admired from beyond the half-high glass
screen.

She sat and dreamed for a while before beginning her unpacking. Her
heart ached underneath for Lord Algy--but aches are possible to bear
when there is an element of triumph and self-glorification about them.
She was quite aware that she had behaved remarkably well, and in a
manner which Lord Algy could never look back upon but with respect. And
to renounce happiness and union when the other person is clamouring for
a continuance of relations, brings a great measure of consolation,
because there is no wound to the self-love, no disastrous feeling that
but for personal stupidity the ache need not be. There is even a
melancholy pleasure in it, giving a pensive sadness not all pain.

After a while, she began to arrange her clothes and books, and it had
struck seven o'clock before all was complete and she had sat down again
to finish "Mademoiselle de Maupin," which had so thrilled her far into
the night.

She read French quite easily, but she was not accustomed to judge of its
style, and as yet hardly appreciated _nuances_, but the story, the
cynical, enchanting, wonderful story, seized hold of her imagination. As
she read the last words, the book dropped into her lap and she stared in
front of her. She saw what Lord Algy had meant--and it flattered her
greatly. She understood entirely _Thédore's_ feelings. How wise she had
been to go! How she had grasped the salient points of life! And she,
Katherine Bush, no great lady, but a daughter of the lower middle class,
had evolved some such instincts herself--had played her game with equal
coolness, and had lived through some such joys.

She thrilled and thrilled. The subtle, whimsical, polished wit of the
book seemed to open some new vista of comprehension to her. She did not
perceive its immorality. She would read it over again and again--and
everything else this man had written. It seemed that she was newly
awakened to a sense of power that she had not known she possessed. If
only she could have read this before she had gone to Paris, what a help
it would have been!

"So Algy was not so ignorant, after all," she mused. "Of course, he must
have thought I was, and so did not let me see that he himself was more
than a fool--darling Algy." But, at all events, he had thought she was
like _Théodore_, only kinder--that was good enough! Well, she would make
that true some day, and meanwhile she was away from stultifying
squalor--away from minds only interested in petty local affairs--away
from sham gentility, away from gramophones and cinemas--away from
pretence, away among the real things where she could learn to understand
every shade of the meaning of life step by step! And at this stage of
her musings, after a gentle knock the same housemaid opened the door
with a can of hot water.

"Your dinner will be served in the secretary's room at eight o'clock,
miss; it is half-past seven now. When would you like me to return to
fasten you up?"

The two red spots appeared in Katherine Bush's cheeks. So she had been
expected to change her dress--and she had not thought of doing so! She
had not even imagined that she would go again downstairs or have any
dinner after that wonderful tea! A little supper probably on a tray
later on, or something like that.

But here was dinner! perhaps the same kind of meal as she had had with
Lord Algy. Of course, she ought to have known that she must change her
dress. She felt very angry with herself, and after the exaltation over
her own instincts this was a fall! But she would never err again, and
fortunately the housemaid would not know that she had been ignorant.

"My things fasten in the front, thank you, so that I need not trouble
you," she answered, graciously; "but will you tell me, please, where I
shall find the secretary's room?"

The housemaid gave directions--but one of the footmen would be certain
to be in the hall and would show her. Thomas, the one who had brought
her up, would wait on her.

"When you are ready, miss, will you please ring, and I will whistle down
to say you are coming. We always did for Miss Arnott, and then they
serve the dinner at once. This bell rings up and this one down; it is
the upstairs one for me. I am Martha, the second housemaid, miss, and
will be pleased to do anything I can for you."

Katherine Bush thanked the girl again and quickly began to dress, and at
a minute or two to eight was on her way. This upper staircase she found
descended to the ground floor independently of the stately, shallow
marble one she had walked up on to the sitting-room on her former visit
and which went no farther than the first floor.

Thomas was waiting for her and conducted her to a room down the
corridor, whose windows she discovered later looked out on a dull, blank
wall. It had comfortable, solid, leather-covered furniture, the relic
possibly of some country smoking-room, and faded crimson silk brocade
curtains, the discarded splendour of a salon, perhaps. These were cosily
drawn, and there was plenty of electric light, and she saw that there
would be space to do her typing on the solid, large table, and to keep
all records in those capacious cupboards which lined the walls. The
feeling that she was in space again gave her satisfaction; she had so
often longed to break down the partition of her attic, or stretch out
and push away the glass screen at Liv and Dev's. The room was very high,
too--another advantage.

"I shall always have large, high rooms when I have won my game," she
said to herself.

A small table by the fire was laid for one. She made herself notice the
silver and the glass and the cloth, and almost immediately Thomas
brought in a large tray with her dinner. There was soup in a quaint
covered cup with two handles, and some hot silver dishes.

He placed them all with regularity within her reach, and then asked
respectfully if she would please to ring when she was ready for her
sweet. Miss Arnott was wont to take claret, he informed her, but what
would she, Miss Bush, desire to drink?

"A cup of tea," almost escaped from the tip of Katherine's tongue--but
she stopped herself. Probably one did not take tea with one's dinner
even alone like this, and if she had it, Thomas would know that she was
not accustomed to the regulation things. Water would be safest. So she
indicated her wishes and Thomas left the room.

A sense of strangeness, almost of awe, stole over her, a sensation she
had not felt even when with Lord Algy in the gilded luxury of the Paris
hotel. She had known then that those surroundings were just part of any
_demi-mondaine's_ life, and could be had by the lowest for money--but
these were quite different. These were rather shabby, but were the
expression of people who had had them for countless years, and were, of
course, ordinary and everyday in their existences--the whole atmosphere
affected her.

She was glad that Thomas had gone out of the room. She knew that at the
present stage she should hate to be watched, while she ate, by a silent
servant.

"But I must accustom myself to that," she told herself, for Algy, she
remembered, had never seemed to remark servants at all, and would go on
talking to her, while his coat was being handed or his boots put on, as
though Hanson did not exist.

She was hungry and began to break her bread. She wished she felt quite
sure whether or no she was expected to turn the soup out into the soup
plate or drink it as it was? She decided to try the former course, since
of what use was the soup plate if it had not been brought for that
purpose?

The food proved to be excellent; and the sweet and fruit just to her
taste, and when all was finished, Thomas removed everything and folded
up the small table and put it back into its, evidently, accustomed
corner, and bringing her the evening papers, he made up the fire and
left her alone.

This, she supposed, would be the time she would have to herself. She
hardly noticed the headlines as she glanced at the news; her mind was
too full of herself and her new life to take interest in outside things.

Where did that door lead to? she wondered--a heavy mahogany door; but
she was soon to know, for it opened suddenly, and the man she had
already twice seen came in, leaving it open after him, so that she could
perceive that the room he had left was a dim, vast library; it was lined
with books.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I have come for some large-sized paper.
My aunt used to have it kept in this drawer, I think."

Katherine Bush rose while he went to get it out for himself--he was not
her employer, and she did not yet know where things were kept, so she
did not offer to help him. He was in evening dress, and his hair was as
well groomed as Lord Algy's, but not cut quite so short, and it was
brushed straight back from his forehead and was brown and thick. His
face was tired and humorous and very distinguished, but for the moment
he looked cross and impatient. The paper was evidently not where he had
thought that it would be.

"Confound it!" he muttered, almost inaudibly, and then aloud, "I am in a
great hurry. Will you please look in those cupboards while I look in
these?"

Katherine Bush did as she was asked, and chanced upon the paper
immediately. She handed it to him without a word. She noticed that he
hardly looked at her, and did not take in her personality at all. She
was just his aunt's new secretary and typist; and more important matters
pressed.

"Thanks, awfully;" then he glanced at the table, where the typing
machine used by Miss Arnott stood. "Oh!--er--I was wondering if you
would be so awfully kind as to type this when I have written it; it is a
letter I must send to the _Times_, and I shall have to go in to dinner
in a minute.'

"I have not seen how this machine works yet," Katherine Bush answered,
"but if you care to dictate, I can take it down in shorthand and then
write it out very quickly afterwards."

"That is most kind of you--will you come into the library then?--my
notes are there."

She followed him silently, and when he had found some scribbled words
written on the back of an envelope, he went to the hearth-rug, and,
leaning against the mantelpiece, began to speak. Katherine had taken up
a block and pencil and was waiting ready.

He was not coherent at first; he had neither Mr. Livingstone's precise,
oily slowness, nor Mr. Devereux's crisp fluency. She took down exactly
what he had said. Then he asked her to read it aloud.

"That is frightful English!" he exclaimed, impatiently. "I never can
dictate properly, I must always write myself or my ideas do not flow."

"If the substance is all right and it is just the English you want
regulated, I can do that when I copy it out."

He looked at her in doubt, and Katherine smiled to herself--this
flattered her.

"It would be awfully kind of you if you would, though," he went on,
hesitatingly. "I have kept them waiting a quarter of an hour as it is.
Could you do it immediately and send it in to the dining-room by one of
the footmen? I have my fountain-pen with me, I will sign it there. It is
to be addressed to the Editor of the _Times_."

"Yes, I will."

Mr. Strobridge thanked his aunt's new secretary courteously as he went
towards the door, and then he left the room. At the moment of his exit,
Katherine Bush heard the sound of voices, male and female; they were
evidently going in to dinner without waiting for him. She looked up at
the clock, it was ten minutes to nine; then she smiled again and, going
to the writing-table, she began her task, a very simple one to her who
was accustomed to frame euphonious sentences. And when she had
completed it, she went back into the secretary's room and rang the bell.

"This is to be taken to Mr.--is his name Strobridge?--Lady
Garribardine's nephew," she told the astonished Thomas.

"Yes, miss. _Her Ladyship's_ nephew is _the Honourable_ Mr. Gerard
Strobridge--if you mean him."

"Yes, I do--he is dining here and wants it at once."

She made no further explanation, but took up the paper and reseated
herself in her chair by the fire; and Thomas could but obey orders.

"A cool card," he whistled to himself, as he disappeared.

Meanwhile, Gerard Strobridge was saying to the lady at his side:

"I had to repudiate Warrington's insolence in the _Central Gazette_
to-night. I have written to the _Times_--that is what made me keep even
you waiting, dearest lady. My aunt's new shorthand typist took it down,
and I shall send it off in a few minutes. I hope it will not be too
late."

"You look quite serious, G.," the lady laughed. "It is too attractive to
see you in earnest over something!"

"I am always in earnest--especially when I tell you that I love you--why
did you not come this afternoon, Läo, I stayed late on purpose and you
never turned up."

"I knew I should meet you to-night, G.--and I do not want soon to grow
bored!"

Mr. Strobridge looked at her reproachfully. She was extremely pleasant
to the eye, with her marvellous skin and dark hair, and her curly
affected mouth. He was a cynic and an epicurean. He was not in the least
disenchanted by his knowledge that the whole woman was a mass of
affectation, from the conscious pouting of her red lips to the way she
held her soup spoon. He rather admired the skill she showed in it all.
She pleased his senses, had just enough wit to chirp like a parrot good
things others had said, and was full of small talk--while she knew the
game to her finger-tips. He did not want the repetition of a serious
affair since he had so happily escaped by the skin of his teeth from
Alice Southerwood. Läo Delemar, widowed and rich and circumspect,
promised an agreeable winter to him, with few complications.

Women were more or less necessities to Gerard Strobridge's life; they
were his choruses, his solaces, his inspirations.

In a few minutes a footman brought the large envelope, and amidst
general chaff he read aloud the letter, his astonishment momentarily
growing at the apt rearrangement of his words.

"She is no fool, your new secretary, Seraphim," he called down the table
to his aunt. "I do thank you for her services to-night."

Sarah Lady Garribardine laughed complacently.

"I told you, G., I had found a treasure in Miss Katherine Bush!"



CHAPTER VII


Over a week had gone by and Katherine Bush had completely fallen into
her duties; they were not difficult, and she continued to keep her eyes
and her intelligence on the alert, and by the second Sunday when she was
to have the afternoon to meet Matilda, she had begun to feel that a
whole ocean had rolled between the present Katherine and the creature of
the days before the outing in Paris with Lord Algy!

She had made one or two annoying mistakes and had had one or two
surprises, some pleasant ones. It was agreeable to have a cup of tea
when one woke, and one's curtains drawn back by an attentive housemaid
every morning, and a deep hot bath, instead of a scramble in a small tin
tub on Saturday nights. There was a bathroom in Laburnum Villa, but
during the week Matilda used it for keeping all sorts of things in, and
there were such a number of them to have the bath in turns on Saturday
and Sunday, that Katherine had preferred the indifferent comfort of a
makeshift in her own attic. It seemed on looking back, after ten days of
modest luxury, that it never could have been possible that she had gone
on month after month, and year after year, in the family circle.

Her heart swelled with gratitude to Lord Algy; but for him she might
never have known that there was anything different. At these moments she
knew that she could easily slip into sentiment about him again, and so
she invariably crushed her emotion and began some active work.

At nine o'clock in the morning it was her duty to go to Lady
Garribardine in her bedroom, where she would find her propped up upon
lacy pink silk pillows, a saucy cap and ribbons covering the greater
part of a more coquettish and rather lighter golden wig than the one she
wore in the day. Her face had not yet been arranged, and presented a sad
contrast to these youthful allurements. Her temper was often very
precarious.

Katherine stood by the bed, block in hand, and took down all
instructions. Lady Garribardine's voluminous correspondence was only
attended to in the morning; the accumulations of the later part of the
day before were heaped up in one basket tray, and the early posts in
another. While a third empty one awaited those communications which were
to be answered either in type or in handwriting.

Now, after ten days of service, Katherine had mastered most of Lady
Garribardine's affairs. She knew the wages of her servants, the
expenditure of the house, the phrasing of her friends' letters, their
points of views, little hatreds and little loves, their want or
possession of good English and powers of expressing themselves--she
fancied she could almost picture the faces, so vivid were these pen
portraits of the writers that the notes showed. Lady Garribardine seldom
answered even the most private with her own hand and Katherine had
grown quite accustomed to signing "Sarah Garribardine" as "yours
affectionately" or "yours sincerely." She even derived a cynical
amusement from the fictions she was instructed to invent to one and
another.

The life of a great lady, she saw, would be a very complicated affair to
a novice, and each day she felt glad she was having the opportunity of
learning its intricacies. She meant to make no mistakes when her own
turn should come.

Lady Garribardine had not continued to exploit her for her personal
diversion as she had done on the occasion of their initial meeting, she
had been too occupied, perhaps; on the contrary, she kept strictly to
her rôle of employer and hardly spoke except on business. Katherine
realised that she looked upon her much as Lord Algy had looked upon
Hanson, and far from its arousing the rageful resentment which it would
have done in Matilda's feminine breast, she saw the justice of it, and
considered it a proper arrangement.

"Some people have the luck to be born to high station," she reasoned to
herself, "and those who would attain it for themselves must make
themselves fitted for it first--besides there would be no good in it to
me, if after I had obtained it I should have to hobnob with my own
secretary. It is the distinctions and barriers that make the thing worth
having."

As yet she had only rarely come across other members of the world beyond
her employer on such occasions as, for instance, if she were sent for
suddenly to the drawing-room to take down some instruction, or bring
some charity list; but whenever she had the chance she observed them
carefully. Some of them were far from what had been her ideal of what
high birth and breeding would certainly show, but they all had that ease
of manner which polished their casualnesses, and once she was still
receiving instructions by the bedside when Stirling, the maid, came to
know if Lady Beatrice Strobridge might come up.

"Confound the woman!" Her Ladyship exclaimed in her angelic voice, its
refinement of pronunciation always a joy to Katherine's ear--whatever
the bluntness of the words might be--"No, certainly not--my face is not
done--but stay, Stirling, it may be something to do with to-night--give
me the rouge and powder and a looking-glass. Don't go, Miss Bush--it is
nothing private and she won't stay for more than a minute."

Katherine discreetly turned her eyes from the bed to the window, and
when she looked round again, two blooming rose-coloured cheeks balanced
the girlish curls, and Lady Garribardine was reposing languidly upon her
pillows.

"Dearest Aunt Sarah, I had to come," cried Lady Beatrice in her
plaintive discontented voice, "Gerard has been perfectly impossible,
actually has refused to let me go to the Artist Model's ball as
Ganymede, and I have got the most ducky dress, a pendant to Hebe
Vermont's Iris."

"A few rags of chiffon, a cup and bare legs, I suppose," Lady
Garribardine retorted not unkindly, as her niece sat upon the bed.

"You may describe it like that if you want to, Aunt Sarah! I assure you,
though, it is most becoming, and it is too ridiculous when everyone we
know is going, and all the Thorvils have such tiny ankles, too."

"The more reason for you not to expose them to the common herd. Go
naked if you so desire to a ball in a private house among your own
class--you'll lay yourself open only to criticisms of your charms
there--but to let hoi polloi gaze at you undressed is to lower your
order; I am with Gerard about that."

Lady Beatrice pouted.

"I really thought you were so up to date, Aunt Seraphim, darling, that
you would be sure to side with me--of course I shall go, all the same; I
should not think of paying any attention to Gerard--only it would be so
much nicer if you had consented to scold him for me."

"I am up to date, I hope, in so far as I try to move with the
times"--Lady Garribardine's face was good-naturedly contemptuous--"only,
I consider that all of you who throw your bonnets over the windmills are
cutting your own throats--You are destroying values, cheapening
pleasures, breaking down hedges, and letting in the swine to feed upon
your grapes--you are often very vulgar, you modern people."

Lady Beatrice got off the bed.

"Then there is no use talking, Aunt Sarah--I dare say we are--but what
matter? I wish I knew what _does_ matter? I am bored all the time; I get
some momentary pleasure out of my poetry, and some out of my dear
precious friends--but the rest of the day is one long yawn. You ought
not to grudge my being Ganymede; every sort of quaint creature is at
this ball, and I get quite amused each year when I go."

"Why don't you take a box, then, and watch them? I could quite
understand that, and intend to do so myself--Miss Bush, by the way, did
you write to say I would have number five?"

Katherine replied in the affirmative and Lady Beatrice suddenly became
aware of her presence as she resumed her place on the bed.

"Oh, this is your new secretary, Aunt Sarah! I am sure you have a
frightfully difficult time--er--Miss Bush!" And she laughed, "Her
Ladyship expects perfection."

"Her Ladyship has quite a right to as good as can be got--since she pays
for it."

Katherine's voice was deep and level, and contained no impertinence,
only a grave statement of fact.

Lady Garribardine chuckled among her pillows.

"Miss Bush is much nearer the truth of things than any of you so-called
psychological philosophers, Bee--analysing matters with little
dilettante methods all day to the laughter of the gods. Miss Bush
realises her obligations as a secretary, but you very often don't
perceive yours as a duke's daughter, and a rising Foreign Office
official's wife."

Lady Beatrice was not the least crushed. She laughed frankly.

"Dear, sweet Aunty! There never has been a scandel about me in my
life--I am a model of circumspectness, demureness and present-day
virtuous wifeliness. Why, I never interfere with Gerard--we hardly meet
in the whole week--and I merely like my own simple friends, my own
simple clothes, and my own simple pleasures!"

"Artless creature!" And the youthful curls shook. "Well, what did you
come for, in so many words? To try to get me to influence Gerard not to
play for once the ineffectual part of husband in authority, and so let
you disgrace the name of Thorvil and Strobridge in peace?"

Lady Beatrice seized and stroked the fat hand lying upon the pink silk
coverlet.

"You darling, ducky Aunt Seraphim! Just that! I want to wear my
enchanting boy's dress--I must be Ganymede, the cupbearer!"

"Well, I'll be no party to it--be off with you. I have serious affairs
to settle with Miss Bush and have no further time to waste."

Lady Beatrice saluted her obediently and got off the bed once more; she
was laughing softly.

"Gerard is coming to lunch," Lady Garribardine called to her, "and Läo
Delemar, and they are going to see a winter exhibition afterwards."

"I can't stand Läo," Lady Beatrice cooed from the doorway; "she
pretends to be so full of sex and other dreadful natural things, she
makes my innocent aesthetic flesh creep--Gerard always had fruity
tastes--Bye-bye, dear Aunt Sarah!" And kissing her finger-tips she was
at last gone, leaving Katherine wondering.

They had said very severe things to each other and neither was the least
angry really--Gladys and Fred were not wont to bicker so.

"Call up Mr. Strobridge, Miss Bush--he will not have left home yet--you
know his number--ask him to speak to me at once."

Katherine obeyed--she was an expert with the telephone and never raised
her voice. Mr. Strobridge was soon at the other end of it, and she was
about to hand the receiver to her employer when that lady frowned and
told her to give the message herself.

"My right ear is troublesome to-day," she said, "you must do the
business for me, Miss Bush."

"Hello! Her Ladyship wishes me to give you a message--will you wait a
moment until I take it?"

"Hello! Yes."

"Say he is to come half an hour earlier to lunch to-day. I have things
to talk over with him about to-night--He is to go to this ridiculous
ball in my box--tell him so."

Katherine repeated the exact message.

"Tell her I am very much annoyed about the whole thing," Mr. Strobridge
returned, "and have decided not to be present myself."

"Stuff and nonsense!" cried Lady Garribardine, when she was told, and,
seizing the receiver from Katherine's hand, she roared:

"Don't be a fool, G.--it is too late in the day to stand upon your
dignity--I'll tell you the rest when you come to lunch."--Upon which she
closed the communication and called for Stirling.

"Take all this rubbish of letters away, Miss Bush--I must get up and
cope with the humiliating defects of old age--you may go."

Katherine had a very busy morning in front of her. She sat steadily
typing and writing in the secretary's room, until her lunch was brought
and even then she hardly stopped to eat it, but on her own way to the
dining-room Lady Garribardine came in. She looked at the hardly tasted
food and blinked her black eyes:

"Tut, tut! You must eat, child--_pas trop de zèle_--Finish your
pudding--and then bring me those two letters upon the report of the
Wineberger charity--into the dining-room--You can have your coffee with
us--Mr. Strobridge and I are alone, Mrs. Delemar is not coming, after
all--By the way, do you have everything you want? The coffee they give
you is good, eh? Servants always skimp the beans when left to
themselves."

"I have everything I want, thank you--but I have not been offered
coffee," Katherine replied.

Lady Garribardine's face assumed an indignant expression, and she
sharply rang the bell.

"These are the things that happen when one does not know of them--you
ought to have complained to me before, Miss Bush!"

Thomas answered the bell and whitened perceptibly when he saw his
mistress's face. He was asked why Miss Bush had not been served with
coffee, in a voice which froze his tongue, and the only excuse he could
give was a stammering statement that Miss Arnott had not taken any,
which aroused further wrath.

"Pampered wretches!" Lady Garribardine exclaimed. "Anything to save
themselves trouble! I will speak to Bronson about this--but see that it
never happens again, Thomas!" And the trembling footman was allowed to
leave the room.

"I am glad you did not try to defend them, as the foolish Arnott would
have done," Her Ladyship flashed. "She was always standing between my
just wrath and the servant's delinquencies, always shielding them--one
would have thought she was of their class. The result was no one in the
house respected her--good creature though she was. See that you are
respected, young woman, and obeyed when obedience is your due."

"I will try to be"--and an inscrutable expression played round
Katherine's full red mouth. "I would never shield anyone from what he
deserved."

"It seems to me you understand a good deal, girl!--Well, come into the
dining-room in half an hour," and, smiling her comprehending smile, Lady
Garribardine left the room.

"G., that is a wonderful creature, that new secretary of mine--have you
noticed her yet?" she said later on to her nephew when they had finished
the serious part of their luncheon, and she had rung her enamelled bell
for the automatic entrance of the servants from behind the screen--they
were only allowed in the room to change the courses at this meal.
Numbers of politicians and diplomats frequently dropped in and preferred
to discuss affairs with their hostess alone.

"No--not much," Mr. Strobridge admitted when they were again by
themselves and coffee had come. "I thought she did my letter to the
_Times_ remarkably well, though."

"She has not done anything badly yet--when she makes a mistake in social
trifles she always realises it, and corrects herself. Her reading aloud
was grotesque at first, but I have never had to tell her how to
pronounce a word twice. I lay traps for her; she is as smart as paint
and as deep as a well."

"A treasure indeed--" but Mr. Strobridge's voice was absent, he was
uninterested and was still smarting under the annoyance of the situation
created by his wife.

Of course he could not make her stay at home by force--and he hated the
idea of Ganymede and the bare legs. He reverted to the topic once more.

"I would really rather not go to see the freakish crew to-night," he
said. "Beatrice is doing it merely from obstinacy; she is not like Hebe
Vermont, a ridiculous _poseuse_, crazy for notoriety; she is a refined
creature generally, though wearying. This is just to defy me."

"As I have always told you, G., you should never have married, you are
made for an ardent and devoted lover, with a suitable change of
inamorata every six months. In the rôle of husband you are--frankly--a
little ridiculous! You have no authority. As Miss Bush put it just now
about something else, you usually act from good nature, not from a sense
of justice; and Beatrice snaps her fingers at you and goes her own way."

"I don't mind as a rule--indeed, I am grateful to her for doing so. Can
there be anything more tedious and bourgeois than the recognised
relation of husband and wife? The only things which make intimacy with a
woman agreeable are difficulty and intermittency. Bee fortunately
expects nothing from me, and I expect nothing from her, beyond acting in
a manner suitable to her race and station, and I don't think Ganymede in
his original costume at an Artist Models' ball a harmonious part for my
wife or a Thorvil to adopt."

"You don't know how to manage her, and you are too indifferent to
try--so you had better swallow your outraged dignity and come with me in
my box after all. Läo will be there and you can sit and whisper in the
back of it." And Lady Garribardine lit her cigarette, but Mr. Strobridge
protested in whimsical distress:

"Heaven forbid! Would you kill this dawning romance, Seraphim? If Läo
and I are to be drafted off like a pair of fiancés, the whole charm is
gone. I wish to _ménager_ my emotions so that they may last over the
Easter recess; after that I shall be too busy for them to matter. Don't
be ruthless, sweet Aunt!"

Lady Garribardine laughed and at that moment Katherine Bush came in, the
finished letters in her hand.

"Give Miss Bush some coffee, G., while I look over them," and Her
Ladyship indicated the tray which had been placed by an attentive
Bronson close to her hand.

Mr. Strobridge did as he was asked. His thoughts were far away, and
beyond displaying the courtesy he used to all women, he never noticed
Katherine at all. She was quite ordinary looking still--with the screwed
up mop of ashen-hued hair, and her plain dark blouse, unless you chanced
to meet her strange and beautiful eyes.

For some reason she felt a little piqued, the man's manner and
phrasing attracted her, his voice was superlatively cultivated, and
his words chosen with polished grace. Here was a person from whom
something could be learned. She would have wished to have talked with
him unrestrainedly and alone. She remained silent and listened when
aunt and nephew again took up the ball of conversation together. How
she would love to be able to converse like that! They were so
sparkling--never in earnest seemingly, all was light as air, while Mr.
Strobridge made allusions and quotations which showed his brilliant
erudition, and Katherine hearkened with all her ears. Some of them she
recognized and others she determined to look up, but his whole
pronunciation of the sentences sounded different from what she had
imagined they would be when she had read them to herself.

This was the first time she had heard a continued conversation between
two people who she had already decided were worthy of note, and this
half-hour stood out as the first milestone in her progress.

Presently they all rose--and she went back to her work with the sense of
the magnitude of her task in climbing to the pinnacle of a great lady
and cultivated woman of the world.

For a few moments she felt a little depressed--then a thought came to
her.

"He could help me to knowledge of literature and art--he could teach
me true culture--and since he is married there can be no stupid
love-making. But for this he must first realise that I exist and for
that when my chance comes I must arrest his attention through the ears
and the eyes. He must for once look at me and see not only his aunt's
secretary--and then I can learn from him all that I desire to know."

That this course of action could possibly cause the proposed teacher
pain in the future never entered her head.



CHAPTER VIII


Matilda had been told to meet her sister, if it should be fine on this
Sunday, in the Park by the Serpentine; they would walk about and then go
and have an early tea at Victoria Station, whence Matilda could take a
train back to Bindon's Green.

They met punctually at the time appointed on the bridge, and the elder
Miss Bush was filled with joy. She had missed Katherine dreadfully, as
browbeating husbands are often missed by meek wives, and she was full of
curiosity to hear her news.

"You look changed somehow, Kitten!" she exclaimed, when they had greeted
each other. "It isn't because you'd done your hair differently; you had
it that way on the last day--it isn't a bit 'the look', but it suits
you. No, it's not that--but you are changed somehow. Now tell me
everything, dearie--I am dying to hear."

"I like it," began Katherine, "and I am learning lots of things."

This information did not thrill Matilda. Katherine's desire to be always
learning was very fatiguing, she thought, and quite unnecessary. She
wanted to hear facts of food and lodging and people and treatment, not
unimportant moral developments.

"Oh--well," she said. "Are they kind to you?"

"Yes--I am waited on like a lady--and generally the work isn't half so
heavy as at Liv and Dev's."

"Tell me right from the beginning. What you do when you get up in the
morning until you go to bed."

Katherine complied.

"I am waked at half-past seven and given a cup of tea--real tea, Tild,
not the stuff we called tea at home." (A slight toss of the head from
Matilda.) "The second housemaid waits on me, and pulls up my blind, and
then I have my bath in the bathroom across the passage--a nice, deep hot
bath."

"Whatever for--every day?" interrupted Matilda. "What waste of soap and
towels and things--do you like it, Kitten?"

"Of course, I do--we all seem to be very dirty people to me now,
Tild--with our one tub a week; you soon grow to find things a necessity.
I could not bear not to have a bath every day now."

Matilda snorted.

"Well--and then--?"

"Then I go down and have my breakfast in the secretary's room--my
sitting-room, in fact. It is a lovely breakfast, with beautiful china
and silver and table-linen, and when I have finished that I take my
block and pencil and go up to Lady Garribardine's bedroom to take down
my instructions for the day in shorthand."

"Oh, Kitten, do tell me, what's her room like?" At last something
interesting might be coming!

"It is all pink silk and lace and a gilt bed, and numbers of
photographs, and a big sofa and comfortable chairs--and when she has
rheumatism she stays there and has people up to tea."

"What! Folks to tea in her bedroom? Ladies, of course?"

"Oh! dear no! Men, too! She has heaps of men friends; they are devoted
to her."

"Gentlemen in her bedroom! I do call that fast!" Matilda was frankly
shocked.

"Why?" asked Katherine.

"Why? My dear! Just fancy--gentlemen where you sleep and dress! Mabel
would not dream of doing such a thing--and I do hope she'll never hear
you are in that kind of a house. She'd be sure to pass remarks."

"Lady Garribardine is over sixty years old, Tild! Don't you think you
are being rather funny?" and Katherine wondered why she had never
noticed before that Matilda was totally devoid of all sense of humour.
And then she realised that the conception was new even to herself, and
must have come from her book reading, though she was conscious that it
was a gift that she had always enjoyed. No one had spoken of the "senses
of humour" in their home circle, and Matilda would not have understood
what it meant or whether she did or did not possess it!

Things were things to Matilda, and had not different aspects, and for a
lady to receive gentlemen in her bedroom if she were even over sixty
years old and suffering from rheumatism was not proper conduct, and
would earn the disapproval of Mabel Cawber and, indeed, of refined and
select Bindon's Green in general.

"I don't see that age makes a difference; it's the idea of tea in a
bedroom, dearie--with gentlemen!"

"But what do you think they would do to her, Tild?" Katherine with
difficulty hid her smile.

"Oh! my! what dreadful things you do say, Katherine!" Matilda blushed.
"Why, it's the awkwardness of it for them--I'm wondering whatever Fred
and Bert and Charlie Prodgers would feel if Mabel had them up to hers
of a Sunday, supposing she had a cold--and what _would_ anyone say!"

"Yes, I am sure Bindon's Green would talk its head off, and Fred and
Bert and Charlie Prodgers would be awfully uncomfortable and get every
sort of extraordinary idea into their heads, and if a person like Mabel
did do such a thing, as to have them up there, she would be fidgety
herself--or she would be really fast and intend them to go ahead. But
Lady Garribardine is always quite sure of herself, and her friends are,
too, and they don't have to consider convention--they are really
gentlemen, you see, and not worried at all as to what others think or
say, and it seems quite natural to them to come up and see an old
rheumatic lady anywhere they want to see her. That is just the
difference in the class, Tild--the upper are perfectly real, and don't
pretend anything, and aren't uncomfortable in doing natural things."

Matilda was still disapproving, and at once became antagonistic when her
sister made reflections upon class.

"I call it very queer, anyway," she sniffed. "And wherever do they find
room to sit--in a bedroom, dearie?"

Katherine laughed--she wondered if she had never had a glimpse of life
and space and comfort with Lord Algy, should she, too, have been as
ignorant and surprised at everything in her new sphere as Matilda was at
the description of it. She supposed she would have been equally
surprised, but would certainly have viewed it with an open mind. After
ten days of peeps at a world where everything new and old was looked at
and discussed with the broadest toleration, the incredible narrowness
of the Bindon's Green outlook appalled her--the forces of ignorance and
prejudice and ridiculous hypocrisy which ruled such hundreds of worthy
people's lives!

She came back from these speculations to the reality of her sister's
voice, reiterating her question as to where the visitors found place,
and she answered, still smiling:

"It is a great big room, Tild, twice as big as the drawing-room at
home--no--bigger still, and twenty people could sit in it without
crowding."

"Goodness gracious!" ejaculated Matilda; "it must be grand."

"You see, you are such an old goose, Matilda. You think the whole world
must be like Bindon's Green, although I have told you over and over
again that other places, and other grades of life, are different, but
you and Mabel and Fred and Bert, and the whole crew of you, measure
everything with your own tiny measure. You make me gasp at your outlook
sometimes."

Matilda bridled--and Katherine went on.

"Lady Garribardine's house does not seem to be a bit grand to her, nor
to any of the people who come there. They are not conscious of it; it is
just everyday to them, although some of them live in quite small houses
themselves and aren't at all rich. She has two cousins--elderly ladies,
who live in a tiny flat--but oh! the difference in it to Mabel's villa!
I had to take them a message last week and waited in their mite of a
drawing-room--it was exquisitely clean and simple, and they are probably
poorer than we are."

Matilda felt too ruffled to continue this conversation; she always hated
the way Katherine argued with her; she wanted to get back to the far
more interesting subject of carpets and curtains and arrangements in the
rooms of Lady Garribardine's house. Numbers of the people in her
serials, of course, were supposed to own such places, and she had often
seen bits of them on the stage, but until she found Katherine really
lived now in one, somehow she had never believed in them as living
actualities, or rather their reality had not been brought home to her.
So she questioned Katherine, and soon had an accurate description of her
ladyship's bedroom, and the rest of the house, then she got back to the
happenings of her sister's day.

"Well, when you have got up there, you take down orders, and then?"

"I sort everything that has come by the post and mark on the envelopes
how I am to answer them, and I sometimes read her the papers aloud if
her eyes are tired."

"Yes?"

"And then I go down and write the letters; she hardly ever answers any
herself, and I have to write them as if I were she. Her friends must
wonder how her hand and style have changed since Miss Arnott left!"

Here was something thrilling again for Matilda.

"Oh, my! What a lot you must get to know about the smart set, Kitten;
isn't it interesting!"

"Yes, as I told you, I am learning lessons."

"Oh, bother that! Well, what do they write about, do tell me--?"

"All sorts of things; their movements, their charities--invitations,
little witticisms about each other--politics, the last good story--and,
some of them, books."

"And you have to answer as if you were her? However do you do it,
Kitten?"

"She gives me the general idea--she showed me the first time for the
private letters, and now I know, but sometimes perhaps I write as if it
were me!"

"And don't they know it is not her hand?"

"Of course, but they don't care. She is a great lady and a character,
and she is very powerful in their circle of society, and it is worth
everyone's while to be civil to her."

"It is all funny. Well, what else do you do?"

"Sometimes I have to do errands--shopping and so on--and then my
luncheon comes--the food is lovely, and I am waited on by a footman
called Thomas; he is the third; and on Wednesday Lady Garribardine took
his and the butler's heads off because I had not been given coffee. She
means me to be perfectly treated, I can tell you!"

"Coffee after your lunch, how genteel! And my! what a lot of servants.
Whatever do they all do?"

"Their work, I suppose. You forget it is a big house and everything is
splendidly done and beautifully clean, and regular and orderly."

Here Matilda insisted upon a full list of all the retainers, and an
account of their separate duties; her domestic soul revelled in these
details, and at the end of the recital her awe knew no bounds. Katherine
was able to give her a very circumstantial set of statements, as all
accounts passed through her hands.

"Well, your old lady must spend pints of money," Matilda said, with a
sigh, "but we've not got to your afternoons yet, dearie. Do you work all
them, too?"

"When I am very busy--it depends how much I have to do; if I am not very
occupied and I have not been out in the morning, I go for a walk before
tea. I have to take her ladyship's two fox-terriers, Jack and Joe; they
are jolly little fellows, and I love them. We scamper in the square, or
go as far as the Park."

"And your tea? They bring you up a cup, I suppose, every day--regular?"

"Not a cup--a whole tray to myself, and lovely muffins and cream, Tild.
Lady Garribardine has a Jersey herd of cows at her place in Blankshire,
and the cream comes up each day from there."

"My! how nice!" Matilda sighed again. Her imagination could hardly take
in such luxury. It seemed to her that Katherine must be living in almost
gilded vice!

"Then after tea, if I am not sent for to do any special thing, I read to
myself. I look up anything that I don't know about that I have chanced
to hear spoken of by the people who come--I am allowed to take books
from the library."

"Then you do see people sometimes?" Matilda's interest revived again.
"What are they like, Kitten?"

"Sometimes I do, but not often--only when I chance to be sent for, but
next week Her Ladyship has got a big charity tableaux entertainment on
hand, that she is arranger and patroness of, and I shall come across
lots of people of society, some of the ones you know the names of so
well in the _Flare_."

"The Duchess of Dashington and the Countess of Blanktown--really,
Kitten!"

This was fashion, indeed!

"Probably--but I don't know about the Duchess of Dashington. I don't
think Lady Garribardine approves of her."

"Not approve of the Duchess of Dashington!" Matilda exclaimed,
indignantly. "Her that has gentlemen to tea in her bedroom to give
herself airs like that! Well, I never!"

This particular Duchess' photographs were the joy of the halfpenny
illustrated papers, and Matilda was accustomed to see her in skating
costume waltzing with her instructor, and in golf costume and in private
theatrical costumes, almost every other week.

"No--she speaks of her very cheaply--but I will tell you all about it on
Sunday fortnight. I'll have heard everything by then, because the
tableaux will be over."

Matilda returned to her muttons.

"Then you have supper, I suppose?"

"No--I go up and dress myself and put on my best blouse and have my
dinner at eight o'clock; after that I generally read the paper or French
books--and at ten I go to bed."

"Gracious! what's the good of dressing if you don't see anyone? How
you'll use up your blouse!"

Matilda was aghast at such folly!

"I am supposed to be a lady, Tild, and a lady is expected to dress in
the evening if she is alone on a desert island."

"What stuff! Whatever for?"

"Self-respect."

"Fiddlesticks."

Presently Katherine grew reflective, her catechism over. "I wish you
could see it all, Tild; it would enlarge your brain--it is all so
different from Bindon's Green. If you could only hear their point of
view, I assure you, dear, it might be two different nations--those
barefoot urchins climbing on the rails are much nearer their level than
we are."

But Matilda could not stand this; her wrath rose.

"Those dirty boys nearer your new people than a real lady like Mabel
Cawber, and your own brothers and sisters! Katherine, how dare you!
Horrid little guttersnipes with no pride of themselves; why, they aren't
even ashamed to be here of a Sunday among decent people--they'd do
anything!"

"That is just it, Tild--so would the aristocrats if they wanted to, and
wouldn't be a bit ashamed or even think of it, and they have 'no pride
of themselves,' either--but you'll never understand, Tild, not if you
live to be a hundred years old."

"And I don't want to, there!"

"Then it is perfectly useless my talking, I see that. We had better go
and have some tea."

And so they turned out of Albert Gate and walked to Victoria.

Matilda, when she had smoothed her ruffled feelings, began now to relate
the home news. Gladys and her fiancé were not happy together; they had
not been so since that visit which Katherine would remember they had
taken to Brighton to stay with his aunt--it was nearly six weeks ago now
and both grew more and more gloomy.

"And so uppy as Glad is with Fred, too, and never a bit back on Bob
Hartley!"

Matilda felt things would be better for her sister if a little more
spirit were shown. Mabel and her betrothed had been up for church parade
as usual in the Park that morning, and this lady had also supped with
them at Laburnum Villa the night before, and they had had oysters and a
jolly time.

Katherine felt a strange emotion when she heard of this. She seemed to
see a picture of Lord Algy enjoying oysters, and all the reflections
this action had called up--oh! how long ago it all appeared!

"And have you met that gentlemen you spoke of?" Matilda asked, before
they parted at the station.

"Mr. Strobridge, you mean--Lady Garribardine's nephew. Yes--he is
husband of the lady Glad dresses, the one who had the model she wanted
me to have. He is a clever man--we have not really spoken yet, but I
mean to know him very well some day."

"Oh! Kitten, do be careful! And him a married man, too!"

"For what I want of him, it does not matter whether he is married or
single," Katherine reassured her, and soon the train moved off.

How good Matilda was! Katherine thought, as she walked briskly back to
Berkeley Square--an unselfish, worthy, honest, hopelessly stupid
creature, whom somehow she was fond of. But what could it be that made
her herself so utterly different from them all? Nothing could be
chance--everything had its reason, only we were generally too blind to
perceive it. So was there some truth in that vague story of the
great-grandmother having been someone of high family fallen low in the
world and married to the auctioneer great-grandfather, whom her own
father remembered very well? Could it be that some drop of gentle blood
flowed in her veins, transmitted from this source and concentrated in
her, having escaped the others--or was it simply from the years of her
reading that her mind had developed? But it could not be altogether
that, because she remembered instincts and tastes in uneducated early
childhood completely aloof from the family's.

"Father gave me this business capacity," she mused, "but something
beyond must have given me this will to achieve--and I _shall_
achieve--all I desire--in time! Only I must be ruthless and have no
emotions. I must follow what Bacon asserts about great spirits," and she
quoted softly: "'There is not one that hath been transported to the mad
degree of love, which shows that great spirits and great business do
keep out this weak passion.'"

Yes, she would keep out this weak passion! She had tasted its joys, and
that memory must last her a lifetime.

On the doorstep she encountered Gerard Strobridge just coming out--he
raised his hat and said politely that it was an abominably cold
day--then he passed on down the steps and so towards Hill Street.

And Katherine Bush went up to her room.



CHAPTER IX


The week of the tableaux had come and gone, and had opened yet another
window for Katherine Bush to peep at the world from. She already knew
many of the people who came to the luncheons and rehearsals, from their
letters, and now she judged of them face to face. She had been in great
request to take down innumerable orders, and arrange business details,
and had listened and inwardly digested what she heard.

Her contempt for some of the company was as great as for Miss Mabel
Cawber--she discovered a few with titles and positions who were what she
disdainfully dubbed, "Middle class underneath!"

"Only that they have been more used to things, they are as paltry as
Mabel," she said to herself, and set about, as was her custom, to find
out why--and from what families they had sprung--and obtained some
satisfaction in the confirmation of her theory of heredity, in
discovering that most of these could lay small claim to blueness of
blood. The insolence of others she approved of.

Many of the American peeresses who were posing as queens, and nuns, and
Greek goddesses, she truly admired--they must have been at one time like
herself--out to learn--and now were conscious that they had made good.

"But I mean to have more repose of manner when I am there," she told
herself.

Of Sarah Lady Garribardine's sayings and views, she kept a great store
in her mind. This was a real aristocrat she felt. A human, faulty,
strong woman, incapable of meanness or anything which could lower the
flag of her order. She was supremely insolent, too, but then she never
did anything which could impair people's respect.

She was hard and generous--and acted up to the doctrine that "_noblesse
oblige_" and entirely believed in the divine right of kings and of Sarah
Lady Garribardine! She had not been a thirteenth century Baron's
daughter for nothing! Katherine Bush shared every one of Her Ladyship's
views and moulded all her ideals upon them.

Each day she was enlarging her vocabulary of words to use--adapting
sentences which she had read of fine English to modern requirements,
pruning colloquialisms, cultivating pronunciation, polishing her
critical faculties. She was perfectly conscious that she had often
employed homely phrases in the past, and had not always paid enough
attention to grammar in speaking, though for some time she had not used
"whatever for," or "of a Sunday," as poor Matilda always did.

She learned as much comparatively of the general world of society in
that one week, as she had learned of the nature of man in her three days
with Lord Algy. He was her first step--these women were her second. Lady
Garribardine was her head master, and Gerard Strobridge should be her
tutor--when the moment she was ready for him came.

Her suspicions as to her employer's disapproval of the Duchess of
Dashington were realised fully one day, in the beginning of the week.
The poor young-old lady's rheumatism was very painful, and she remained
in her room having her favourite nephew and Mrs. Delemar up with her
there to lunch, on a little table close to her gilt bed.

Katherine was writing at an escritoire near, having finished her own
meal downstairs.

"You need not go, Miss Bush, if you can continue those invitations with
our chatter."

So Katherine stayed.

The three talked of many things at first and Katherine hardly noticed
them, but presently her attention was caught by a name. Mr. Strobridge
was saying:

"Seraphim, it will be very difficult to refuse Dulcie Dashington, she
has written to Beatrice this morning--she is quite determined to play
the part of Nell Gwyn as the orange-girl."

"Then she can play it in some other _tableaux vivants_--but not in these
that I am arranging." Her Ladyship's voice was acid.

"But why, dearest Sarah, are you so down on poor Dulcie?" Mrs. Delemar
protested. "She is really a very good sort, and looks so splendid in
these short-skirted, rather common clothes."

"I am not hard on her, Läo; I am sure, had she been the wife of a jolly
young stockbroker addicted to low practical jokes and rowdy sport, she
would have been a most admirable creature. It is not the woman I am down
on; there is just such another at Blissington, she helps me with the
bazaars and the school treats, her husband is a local brewer, and we are
capital friends. It is the Duchess of Dashington I ostracise, as I
consider she has done more to degrade her order in these socialistic
days than any other member of our sadly humbled peerage."

The other two laughed amusedly, but Lady Garribardine went on, raising
her voice a little. It was a subject upon which she felt so deeply, that
it overcame for the moment her usual dryly humorous handling of any
matter.

"Let her have her lovers--we have all had lovers--No one in the least
objects to them, arranged suitably, and of one's own class. I am not
concerned with her or any other woman's physical morality.--Such
morality is a question of temperament and geography and custom--but I am
profoundly concerned to endeavour to keep up some semblance of dignity
in the aristocracy, and Dulcie Dashington has lowered the whole prestige
of Duchesses because she is of gentle birth--though Heaven knows what
her father was with poor dear Susan's irresponsible ways!"

Gerard Strobridge smiled as he lit a cigarette.

"There is a great deal in what you say, Seraphim; she has certainly
dragged the title down a good deal, with her fancies for professional
gamesters of all sorts for friends, and her total disregard of tradition
at Dashington--but you forget that she has had a good deal to put up
with from Toni, who is an impossible husband."

"No man is an impossible husband if he is a Duke; at least no Duchess
ought to find him so--and if he were, that is not the slightest excuse.
When a woman undertakes a great position she should realise that
personal feelings have ceased to count. She has, so to speak, accepted
the responsibility of guarding the safety of an order, just as a sentry
is responsible when he is on duty. He would be shot in war time if he
fell asleep on duty--however pitiful his case might be from hardship and
want of rest. He would be shot as an example to the others not to allow
even nature to overcome them and endanger the post."

[Illustration: "'No man is an impossible husband if he is a Duke.'"]

"It seems very cruel," piped Mrs. Delemar.

"Not at all!" Lady Garribardine flashed while her voice vibrated with
scorn. "We are at war now with the Radical masses and cannot afford to
jeopardise positions--either keep up prestige, or throw up the game and
let the whole thing go by the board, but while we pretend there is still
an aristocracy in England we, the members of it, should defend it.
Dulcie Dashington and her ways and her photographs in the papers, and
her vulgarity, and the flaunting of her unsavoury domestic affairs, are
a byword and as long as I have a voice in society, and can lay some
claim to power, I shall let it be known what my opinion is, and why I
will not receive her. To me there is no sin like betraying an order."

"I suppose you are quite right," Mrs. Delemar now agreed meekly, "but
there are such lots of odd people in society who do unheard-of things;
it is these boys marrying these wretched actresses or Americans which
has changed everything."

"Not at all!" contradicted her ladyship. "Boys have always married
actresses from time to time, and some of them have proved very decent
creatures, and if they do err, what does it matter? No one expects
better from them, they are making no real breach in the wall.--And as
for Americans, they are often very pretty and so clever that they seldom
disgrace their new station; they are like converts to Rome, more zealous
than the born papists. The only evil which can lie at their door is that
they have too much money, and have given false values to entertaining,
and perhaps have encouraged eccentric amusements.--No, my dear child, it
is the English-women themselves who have lost self-respect, and have
lowered the flag, and when one of really high birth does it, like Dulcie
Dashington, she should be made to pay the price."

This was unanswerable Katherine Bush thought as she listened, and she
wondered why the other two should chaff lightly, as though it were just
one of Lady Garribardine's notions. That is what generally astonished
her a good deal; no one appeared to have any convictions or enthusiasm,
they seemed to her to be a company of drifters, so little energy
appeared to be shown by any of them. They were unpunctual and
unpractical, but they were amusing and deliciously happy-go-lucky. If
they had any real feelings none appeared upon the surface; even Lady
Beatrice and her coterie of highly evolved poetesses and other artistic
worldings, flew from theme to theme, turning intent faces upon new fads
each week.

Most people's manners were casual, and their attitudes, too, would often
have shocked Mabel Cawber, so far were they from being genteel. The few
who truly fulfilled Katherine Bush's ideas of the meaning of the word
"lady" stood out like stars. But with all these flaws, as a collection
of people, there was that ease of manner, that total absence of
self-consciousness, about them which never could be known at Bindon's
Green.

"I suppose times are changed," Katherine told herself, "and the laxity
is producing a new type--I do wonder how they would all behave if some
cataclysm happened again, like the French Revolution. But when my day
comes I mean to uphold the order which I shall join, as Her Ladyship
does."

At the last moment, Lady Beatrice did not go as Ganymede to the Artist
Models' ball. The history of her alteration of character was a rather
bitterly humorous story for Gerard Strobridge's ears. She had been
trying on the dress when a note had arrived with a parcel for her from
her husband's aunt, which contained a very beautiful Greek mantle with
these few words:

    _Dear Child_,

    I send you this mantle which I hope you will wear; it will not
    really spoil the character of your Ganymede dress, and from the
    back it will hide the fact that your legs are very slightly bowed.
    Your charming face will help to distract eyes from the front view,
    and this very small flaw in your anatomy will pass unnoticed.

        Affectionately yours,
        SARAH GARRIBARDINE.

She had written it with her own hand. Lady Beatrice stamped with rage,
and then flew to her looking-glass. She stood this way and that, and
finally came to the conclusion that there might be the faintest
substratum of truth in the accusation. The rest of the limbs were not so
perfect as her tiny ankles. It would not be safe to risk criticism. So
the costume was altered and became a Flora with garlands of roses and
long diaphanous draperies--and Gerard and Lady Garribardine watched her
entry with the Vermont party with relieved eyes, and the wily aunt said:

"You can achieve the impossible with women, G., if you only appeal to,
or wound, their vanity. You must never give orders to one unless she is
in love with you--then she glories in obedience--but a modern wife can
only be controlled either on the principle of the Irish-man's pig
being driven towards Dublin when it was intended for Cork, or by a
Machiavellian manipulation of her self-love."

"And then the game is not worth the candle," Mr. Strobridge sighed with
a little discouragement. "I wonder, Seraphim, what is worth while?
Striving for the infinite, I suppose--certainly the finite things are
but Dead Sea fruit."

"Gerard, my poor boy, you make me fear, when you talk like that, that
one day you will be profoundly in love!"

"Heaven forbid!--It would upset my digestion. I was thirty-five last
month and have to be careful!"

And in her comfortable bed in Berkeley Square, Katherine Bush read "The
Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu" far into the night.

Society had not altered in many respects since these hundred and sixty
odd years ago, she thought!

The tableaux were the greatest success and a large sum of money was
secured for one of Lady Garribardine's pet charities.

Time went on, Christmas was approaching. It was to be spent at
Blissington Court, the place Lady Garribardine had inherited with the
barony of d'Estaire from her father. Garribardine was a Scotch title
while her ladyship was rabidly English. They would go down to
Blissington and have a family party. Her three grandchildren (her
daughter, Lady Mereton, was far away, the bored wife of a Colonial
Governor), Gerard Strobridge and perhaps Lady Beatrice and the two old
cousins with a young niece of theirs, and a stray man or two, and Mrs.
Delemar--but no one could be sure who would turn up at the end.
Katherine was not to have any holiday; she had come too recently, her
employer explained to her, and the Christmas accumulations were quite
beyond her power to tackle alone.

Katherine was grateful--she looked forward to seeing this country home
with pleasure. She had been kept unusually busy and so had very rarely
seen any one except Her Ladyship. But one morning about ten days before
they were to go down into Blankshire, Lady Garribardine informed her
secretary she was to be given for the whole afternoon to Mr. Strobridge
to type a quantity of letters about a new charity he was arranging for
her.

"My nephew dictates abominably, but he said that you had understood him
so well that first evening when you arrived a month ago, that he has
asked me to lend you to him to-day for this business, and I have
consented. He will lunch here, so have plenty of paper ready for the
afternoon." Then as Katherine was leaving the room, she handed her a
ten-pound note.

"Here is a little present for you, Miss Bush, for Christmas; I want you
to buy yourself an evening frock--you must dine with us on Christmas Day
and perhaps you had not provided for this possibility. I am very pleased
with you, girl--you work splendidly."

Katherine coloured to the roots of her ashen-hued, glistening hair. She
could not analyse her emotions. She hated presents, and yet she was
gratified at the kindliness and appreciation which lay in the manner of
the gift.

"Your Ladyship is too good," she said very low. "I have simply done my
duty--but I will endeavour to buy something suitable with the money
which is far more than enough."

The old lady looked at her critically with her head a little on one
side--she understood what the blush had arisen from and she appreciated
the pride in the girl.

"The creature must have some breeding in her somewhere in spite of the
auctioneer parentage. I must talk to her when we get to Blissington. She
may prove a great interest for my old age."

But she said aloud:

"Well, get what you like with it. I leave it to you, your taste is
excellent--and while you are out, pay these two bills for me, and take a
little walk--you have been looking rather pale; I fear you have not
taken enough outdoor exercise lately."

Katherine thanked her and went rapidly to her room, a sense of
excitement and anticipation in her heart. This might prove an
interesting afternoon. There she reviewed her wardrobe. Her "dressy"
blouse from Oxford Street was too ornate for the daytime, and she
thought now in rather bad taste, and her morning ones were too dowdy.
This was a great occasion and one which she had been waiting for. She
was to go home late on this Friday to stay the night at Bindon's Green.
Matilda had insisted upon it, because it was her birthday; she would be
thirty years old. She had been quite tearful about it on the second
occasion on which she had met her sister in the Park.

"You need not cast us all off like this, Kitten," she pleaded, "and we
shall have Mabel and a few other friends on Friday night, and Fred has
given us a lot of lovely new nigger song records for the gramophone, and
it will all be so awfully jolly."

So Katherine had promised to go, and this fell in admirably with her
plans. There would be a real excuse for her to have her hair waved. She
had been given the evening off and it was known that she was going home.
She would consult Gladys again for the frock for Christmas night and buy
what was necessary on her way back to Berkeley Square on the morrow.

It was the first time in her life that a hairdresser had ever touched
her thick mop of hair, and she had no idea of the difference to her
appearance that it would make. But so critical and observant of all
things had become her eye that she realised with her first peep in the
mirror, when the ondulation was complete, that it had turned her into
almost a beauty. The broad waves fell back from the parting and showed
the admirable planting of her brow and the Greek setting of her magnetic
eyes. She allowed no elaboration of fashion, but had her ample tresses
bound tightly to her head--the effect was distinguished and gave her
satisfaction. Then from the hairdresser's she went and bought another
blouse--something pale grey and becoming, and with the parcel she got
back to Berkeley Square in good time for luncheon and began to dress
herself.

She was glad her hands were so white, she had lately taken to giving
great care to the polish of her nails--she wished her feet were smaller,
but they were well shaped and no one's feet were really small nowadays,
Lady Garribardine had said!

She was quite content with the picture she saw in her looking-glass
before she went downstairs. It was of a tall, slim girl with a very
white, smooth face--extraordinary eyes under level, dark brows, and a
big red mouth, and hair of silvery fairness that glistened grey, not
gold, in its lights. She knew very well that she was attractive, and
gave one of her rare soft laughs.

A month and more of mental discipline and acute observation of those in
that status of refinement to which she wished to attain had given her
numerous subtle distinctions of manner which she had not possessed
before. She looked like a lady, and felt that she was approaching the
time when she herself--most severe of all critics--might consider
herself to be one. She was nearly as excited as on that afternoon when
she had left Livingstone and Devereux's to go on a three days' honeymoon
with Lord Algy. She made herself eat her luncheon as calmly as usual,
and then when the tray had been taken away she opened the window wide
and poured a packet of cedarwood dust on the fire--and she was sitting
demurely at the table when from the library Lady Garribardine and Mr.
Strobridge came in.

Gerard Strobridge carried a bag full of papers and looked cross and
harassed.

"Now G. you may have the services of Miss Bush until five o'clock; that
will give you two hours and a half--you must not keep her, as she is
going home to-night--then come up to my sitting-room to tea," and Lady
Garribardine went out of the other door which her nephew held open for
her.

Katherine had risen and gone immediately to a cupboard, ostensibly to
get something out for her work, so she hoped Her Ladyship had not
remarked her hair--which indeed had happily been the case.

Mr. Strobridge had not even glanced in her direction, but her moment
came when she sat down at the typing machine, and looked straight up
into his eyes as she asked in her deep alluring voice:

"What do you wish me to begin upon, please?"

Then he took in the whole effect and a wave of intense astonishment
swept over him. What had happened? Was he dreaming? Was this beautiful
creature the ordinary, silent, admirable typist, Katherine Bush?



CHAPTER X


He pulled himself together and took some papers from his bag without
speaking, and when he had selected two or three, he drew a chair up to
the other side of the table and began to dictate, stopping every now and
then to explain the purport of his arguments.

They worked so for perhaps an hour.

"One has to do these things," he said at last, as Katherine had not
uttered a word. "One wonders sometimes if there is any good in them."

"I suppose all effort has some merit," she responded, without looking
up. He began to long to make her raise her eyes again.

"You think so?--On what grounds?"

"It exercises a useful faculty."

"What faculty?"

"Will, of course; to use effort is an exercise of will, because if there
was no effort needed, no will would be required either."

He smiled whimsically; this was obvious.

"Then I must look upon the organisation of this very intricate charity,
of doubtful use to mankind, as profitable to me because of the effort
entailed."

"It is as good a way as any other of looking at it.--Did you say
quarterly or monthly returns upon the capital?"

"Oh--er--" glancing at his papers--"the confounded thing! Where is
it--Yes--quarterly."

The machine clicked uninterruptedly. Katherine never looked up.

He began to allow himself to take in details. Why had he not remarked
before that she had an extraordinarily well-shaped head?--And what
wonderful hands--in these days of athletic, weather-beaten paws! She
would be very stately, too, when she filled out a little. The whole
thing was agreeably symmetrical, throat and shoulders, and bust and
hips.

"Why, in the name of all the gods, have I never noticed this young woman
before! She thinks, too! That was a curious reflection about will--I'd
like to talk to her--The devil takes this d--d--charity!"

So his thoughts ran and his eyes eagerly devoured Katherine's face.

She was perfectly conscious of the fact; she knew with unerring instinct
that the spark which she had dispatched by that first steady gaze of her
eyes had struck tinder, the flame of interest was ignited, and the more
difficult she made things now, the more complete would be her triumph
presently. She resolutely kept her attention upon her work, never
raising her head.

"To be so meritoriously industrious, are you using effort?" he asked, in
a moment or two. "You look as though you had a most formidable will!"

"Very little effort; it is second nature to me now."

"Even if the subject is as uninteresting as this?"

"That is all the better; one can let one's mechanical brain tackle it,
and one's real thoughts can wander."

"Where to?"

She put in a fresh sheet of paper--and now glanced at him again for one
second.

"Into dreamland."

"Yes, that is a ridiculously pleasant place devoid of draughts and of
chilling surprises. It would be very impertinent, I suppose, if I asked
you where is your dreamland?"

"Perhaps not impertinent--out of place. You are dictating a letter to
the Lord Mayor of London at the moment."

"To be sure I am--you made me forget it--he is an infernal bore, the
Lord Mayor of London, compelling me to branch off from this very
interesting conversation to his confounded letter!--I beg your pardon!"

Katherine read aloud the last coherent sentence he had given her, and
she permitted one of her faint sphinxlike smiles to play about her
mouth, while her eyes sought the typing.

Gerard Strobridge moved a little nearer--he felt a sudden strong thrill.

"I shall not give you another word to type until you tell me about your
dreamland--Is it in sea or sky or air?"

"It is half-past three o'clock and you are only to stay until five--had
you not better attend to your work first, sir?"

She was waiting in an attitude of respectful attention, infinitely
provoking.

"Certainly not! I shall ask my aunt to lend you to me for another day if
we do not finish this afternoon--Indeed, on second thoughts, I do not
think I shall try to finish to-day--we can complete the matter at
Blissington--" And then he stopped abruptly--Läo Delemar would be there!
He had melted her into a mood from which everything could be hoped
during this week of uneventful family party--Beatrice would only stay
for Christmas Day, and was indeed no great obstacle in any case. But he
feared he would probably not be able to have interesting business
interviews during the holidays with his aunt's typist.

He laughed shortly to himself, and dictated a long sentence, concluding
the letter to the Lord Mayor. He had better control the interest he was
feeling, that was evident!

Katherine made no remark, while she wondered what had stopped his
questioning so suddenly. She smiled again a little. It had the desired
effect--Mr. Strobridge jumped up from his chair and went to the
fireplace.

"Well--what are you thinking about?" he demanded, from there.

"My work, of course! What else should I be thinking about?" Her eyes at
last met his in innocent surprise.

"I don't believe you are quite truthful--one does not smile in that
enigmatic fashion over work--dull, tedious work like this, statistics of
bodies who are to benefit by this absurd charity--Oh! no, fair scribe! I
feel there lies a world of malice in that smile."

"Even a scribe is permitted sometimes to make reflections."

"Not without confessing what they are."

"We are not in the days of the Spanish Inquisition--" taking up a paper.
"On the first list there is a letter for the Mayor of Manchester."

"Confound the Mayor of Manchester!"

"Poor gentleman!"

"I must know all about dreamland and cryptic reflections first."

He drew the armchair now over towards her and flung himself into it. He
was a graceful creature, not so tall or so ideally perfect of form as
Lord Algy, but a very presentable Englishman, with a wonderful
distinction of manner and voice.

Katherine Bush was experiencing intense pleasure--there was something
feline, if not altogether feminine, in her well-balanced brain. It was
peculiarly gratifying to find that her plans were being justified. How
glad she was that he had not remarked her in her raw days! How wise she
had been to have made ready--and then waited! The whole thing was the
more effective because of the complete absence of all dramatic emotion
in her. She was like a quiet, capable foreign minister playing his game
of statecraft with the representative of another country, his face
permitted to express--or conceal--only what he desired.

At this moment, she shrugged her shoulders very slightly, as though to
say, "I am only an employe. I cannot force you to work if you will not";
but she did not speak, so he was obliged to demand again.

"Won't you tell me what made you smile?--We can drift to dreamland
afterwards."

"No--I will not tell you what made me smile, because I do not know
exactly; the aspect of life generally, perhaps."

"And you sit and work in this gloomy back room all day--What do you know
about life?"

"I am observing--I know that one must pretend interest in what one is
bored by--and one must show attention to those one despises--and--keep
from laughing at things."

"What a dangerous young woman, watching and coming to cynical
conclusions--but you say truly; one must keep from laughing at things--a
very difficult matter generally." He lay back against the brown leather
cushion, and proved the truth of this by laughing softly, while he
looked at her quaintly.

Katherine Bush suddenly felt that a human being understood _with her_;
it was a delightful sensation.

"Practically the whole of life is a ridiculous sham and must arouse the
sardonic mirth of the gods--Here are you and I spending an afternoon
arranging a charity in which neither of us takes the least interest--I
am dictating fulsome letters to Lord Mayors to induce them to influence
others to open their purses--I don't care a jot whether they do or they
do not--You are mechanically transcribing my asinine words, and we could
be so much better employed exchanging views--on each other's taste,
say--or each other's dreamlands."

Katherine Bush looked down and allowed her hands to fall idly in her
lap--he should do most of the speaking.

"The only good that I have been getting out of it as far as I can see,"
he went on, "is the contemplation of your really beautiful hands at
work--Where did you get such perfect things in these days?"

She lifted one and regarded it critically.

"Yes, I have often wondered myself. My father was an auctioneer, you
know, and my mother's father was a butcher."

Gerard Strobridge was extremely entertained. She was certainly a very
wonderful product of such parentage.

"May I look at them closely?" he asked.

She showed not the least embarrassment; if he had been asking to see a
piece of enamel, or a china vase she could not have been more detached
about it. She held them out quite naturally, and he rose and took them
in his own. Their touch was cool and firm, and every inch of his being
tingled with pleasure. He examined them minutely finger by finger,
stroking the rosy filbert nails in admiration, while an insane desire to
clasp and kiss their owner grew in him.

Katherine Bush was perfectly aware of this, and when she thought he had
felt emotion enough for the occasion, she drew them back as naturally as
she had given them.

"I am always asking myself questions about such things," she remarked,
in a tone of speculative matter-of-factness. "I am so often seeing
contradictions since I have been here--My former conclusions are a
little upset."

"What were they?" He had returned to his chair. He was no novice to be
carried away by his sensations, and he knew very well that to indulge
them further at present would be very unwise, and perhaps check a most
promising amusement.

"I believed that birth and breeding gave fine ears and fine ankles and
fine hands--as well as moral qualities."

"And you have been disappointed?"

"Yes, very--have not you?"

"No, because I have had no illusions--one never can tell where a side
cross comes in, or what will be the effect of overbreeding--that runs to
enormities sometimes."

"I suppose so--"

"And have the moral qualities surprised you also?"

"Oh, yes--more than the physical; I have seen and heard what I would
have thought were common things even at Bindon's Green."

He laughed again--If the crew who had attended the tableaux rehearsals
could have heard her!

"You are perfectly right--looked at in the abstract, I suppose we are
rather a shoddy company nowadays."

"There are individuals who come up to the measure, of course, but not
all of them, as I had imagined. You must have opened the doors to quite
ordinary people to have made such a mixture."

"We have grown indifferent; we no longer care about a standard, I fear."

"That is why you let all these Radicals be in power, perhaps--You have
become effete like the nobles before the revolution in France, who could
only die like gentlemen, but not live like men."

Gerard Strobridge was startled. This from the granddaughter of a butcher
of Bindon's Green!

"She picks it all up from Seraphim, of course," he reflected presently.
"And yet--look at her strange face!--it is a woman of parts from
wherever it has come!"

"That is an apt phrase--where did you find it--'die like gentleman, but
not live like men'?"

"I don't know, it just came from thinking and reading about them--so
much was fine, and so much--foolish."

"Yes--and you think we are growing also to that stage in England?
Perhaps you are right; we want some great national danger to pull us
together."

"You will rust out otherwise, and it will be such a pity."

"You think we are good enough to keep?"

"In your highest development--like Her Ladyship--you are, I should
think, the best things for a country in the world."

She knew he was drawing her out and was very pleased to be so drawn.

"Tell me about us--what have we that is good?"

"You have a sense of values--you know what is worth having--You have had
hundreds of years to acquire the quality of looking ahead. No person of
the classes from which the Radical statesmen are drawn has naturally the
quality of looking ahead; he has to be told about it, and then get it if
he can--it is not in his blood because his forebears only had to snatch
what they could for themselves and their families day by day, and were
not required to observe any broad horizon."

"How very true--you are a student of heredity then, Miss Bush?"

"Yes--it explains everything. I examine it in myself; I am always
combating ordinary and cramping instincts which I find I have got."

"How interesting!"

"No common Radical could be a successful foreign minister, for
instance--unless perhaps he were a Jew like Disraeli--but they have
sense enough to know that themselves, and always choose a gentleman,
don't they?"

"You wonderful girl--do you ever air these views to my aunt? They would
please her."

"Of course not--Her Ladyship is my employer and she knows my place. I
speak to her when I am spoken to."

"You think we on our side are too casual, then?--That we are letting our
birthright slip from us--I believe you are right."

"Yes--you are too sure of yourselves. You think it does not matter
really--and so you let the others creep in with lies and promises--you
let them alter all the standards of public honour without a protest,
and so you will gradually sink to the new level, too--I feel very sorry
for England sometimes."

"So do I--" his face altered. He looked sad, and in earnest and older.
For the moment he forgot that he was wasting valuable time in the most
agreeable task of exploiting the ideas of a new species of female; her
words had touched a matter very near his weary heart.

"What can we do?" he cried, in a tone of deep interest. "That is the
question--what can we do?"

"You should all wake up to begin with, like people do when they find
that their houses have caught fire--at least, those whom the smoke has
not suffocated first. You ought to make a concentrated, determined
effort to save what you can to build a new shelter with."

"Admitted--but how?"

"Have common sense taught from the beginning in the schools, the reasons
of things explained to the children. If you knew the frightful ignorance
upon all the subjects that matter which prevails among my class, for
instance! They have false perspectives about everything--not because
they are bad; in the mass they are much better than you--but because
they are so frightfully ignorant of the meaning of even the little they
have learnt. Everything has a false value for them. There is hardly a
subject that they can see straightly about; they are muffled and
blighted with shams and hypocrisies."

"You should address meetings among them."

"They would not listen to me for a moment; the truths I would tell them
would wound their vanity; it would only be in the schools among the
children that anything effectual could be done."

"You think so?"

"Oh, yes, I know--My own sisters and brothers are examples. I could
never teach them anything, and there are millions in England just like
them. Good as gold--and stupid as owls."

"It does not sound hopeful, then."

"No, the rust has gone too far; there should have been no education at
all, or a better one--but the present system looks as if it would swamp
England if the children are not taught things soon."

"You are a Tory, it would seem."

"No, I don't think I am. I think everyone has an equal right, but only
according to his capacity; and I certainly don't think the scum of the
earth of idiots and wastrels have equal rights with hardworking,
sensible artisans."

"Indeed, no?--Go on!"

"I think aristocrats are things apart from the opportunities they have
had, and should know it, and keep up the prestige and make their order a
great goal to strive for. You see, if they were stamped out, it would be
like cutting down all the old trees in Kensington Gardens; they could
not be produced again for hundreds of years, and all the beauty and
dignity of the gardens would be gone. But aristocrats ought to act as
such, and never slip into the gutter."

"There you are certainly right. I am more than with you--But what can
one do?"

"You should have the courage of your opinions, as Her Ladyship has--you
only laugh when she is saying splendid things sometimes. So few of you
seem to have any backbone that I have seen."

"You shame me!"

Her face became filled with a humorous expression--they had been serious
long enough, she thought. His caught the light of her eyes; he was
intensely fascinated.

"You did not, of course, come from--Bindon's Green--is it?--You came
down from Parnassus to teach us poor devils of aristocrats to stick to
our guns--I will be your first disciple, priestess of wisdom!"

"It is five minutes to four, sir--it will be quite impossible to finish
that pile of papers to-day--And I _did_ come from Bindon's Green--and I
am going back there by the six o'clock train from Victoria, to a supper
party at my home--That is why my hair is crimped and I have on this new
blouse."

He got up and stood quite near her.

"And what will you do at the party? I can't see you there."

"I shall look disagreeable, as I generally do. We shall have supper of
cold pressed beef and cold meat-pie, and cheese-cakes and figs and
custard, and some light dinner ale or stout, and cups of tea--and then
when we have finished that, there are a whole lot of new nigger song
records for the gramophone, and my brother Bert will recite imitations
of Harry Lauder, and my future sister-in-law, Miss Mabel Cawber, will
sing 'The Chocolate Soldier' out of tune--We shall make a great deal of
noise, and then we shall push the furniture back and dance the turkey
trot and the bunny hug, and some of the elder ones, like my sister
Matilda, will make up a whist-drive, and at about one o'clock I can get
to bed."

"It sounds perfectly ideal; but you return from this to-morrow?"

"Yes--by an early train. I am not a favourite at home. Now will you
please begin again to dictate."

He walked up and down the room for a minute; he was not a boy
accustomed only to acting from inclination; he knew very well that it
would be much wiser now to resume attention to business. So he took up
his memoranda and started once more, and for over half an hour nothing
but dictation passed between them; the pile of papers grew considerably
less.

"If you care to give me directions for the rest quickly, I will take
them down in shorthand, and then I could finish all this to-morrow, some
time. Her Ladyship, I am sure, would be better pleased if her whole
scheme is complete."

He agreed--he truly admired her perfect composure and common sense; she
was so capable and practical, a person to be relied upon. He would do as
she suggested, though he had not heard about dreamland yet.

He set his mind to the affair on hand, and before the clock struck five
all was done and ready for this admirable young woman to type when she
had leisure. And now he took her hand again.

"A thousand thanks, Egeria," he said. "You ought to discover a likely
lad and turn him into the Prime Minister. You would make an ideal Prime
Minister's wife--but--er--don't look for him at Bindon's Green!"

"No, I won't--good-night, Mr. Strobridge. Thank you for your wishes--but
I have other views. I shall not turn my 'lad' into anything; he shall
turn me--"

"Into what?"

"That is still in the lap of the gods," and she made him the slightest
curtsey, and went with a bundle of receipts to the cupboard in the wall,
while her grey-green eyes laughed at him over her shoulder.

As Gerard Strobridge walked up the shallow marble steps to his aunt's
sitting-room, he felt like a man in a dream.



CHAPTER XI


"What are you thinking of, G.?" Lady Garribardine said, noticing after a
little while his preoccupation. "That wretched charity has tired you
out, dear boy--I hope Miss Bush was efficient?"

"Quite--" and he lay back in his very comfortable chair and devoured a
bit of brown bread and butter. "The whole thing is practically finished.
Your secretary very kindly said she would complete alone the last
directions, which she took down in shorthand."

"Then it will be done, G.; she is a young person of her word."

Mr. Strobridge did not become expansive; it was fortunate, he thought,
that he had never yet shown any interest in Katherine Bush, because very
little escaped his aunt's perceptions.

She was already wondering what caused his absence of mind. He surely was
not being so foolish as to have allowed himself to become seriously
enamoured of Läo Delemar! Her precious Gerard! This must be ascertained
at once.

"Läo telephoned just now that she would not come to the play
to-night--Really, the caprices of these pretty women are quite
intolerable, throwing one over at a moment's notice--masses of
selfishness and conceit."

"Yes,--aren't they?" languidly.

This did not sound a lover's disappointment, but perhaps he was
prepared for her news, and Läo's proposed absence was what caused his
depression.

"What excuse has she given you?"

He looked surprised.

"None. I did not know that she had chucked; did she give any reason?"

"Some nonsense about a friend of her mother's having turned up. I was so
annoyed that I put the receiver down."

"You must console me, _carina_," and he leaned forward and took his
aunt's fat hand. "Läo would never be missed if a man might count upon
you for his partner."

"Flatterer!" but she smiled complacently. "The Colvins can both talk to
Tom Hawthorne then. I had intended Henry Colvin to be my portion; he is
a bright creature, and distracted me at dinner last week--but I am
tired, and I always prefer you, G. Ah! if you had only been my son!"

"It would have destroyed the happiest of relationships in the
world--and you know it. A son you could overscold--a mother I could
overrespect--Let us thank Heaven for the charming courtesy tie that we
enjoy."

"I wish you would have a son, though, G.; you know I am perfectly
indifferent to Emmeline's boy."

"I shall never have any Strobridge children, Seraphim. Beatrice would
faint at the idea. We only touched upon domestic pretences and got them
all over with the very lightest effort in the first week. Besides, one
would not want a Thorvil child--there is a mad streak in the whole
family, I have often thought. I am much interested in heredity."

He did not add how greatly the afternoon had augmented this interest!

"Yes--did you chance to notice my secretary's hands?--The mother must
have had a lover, of course."

"I don't think so--they seldom do in that class. They become so
intolerably unattractive at once; nothing human could come up to the
scratch. It is just a freak, or a harking back--many of the exquisitely
aristocratic features one finds in old villagers, for instance, date
from the _droit de seigneur_."

"The whole question of heredity is a frightfully serious one, of course,
and we are in a stupendous muddle at the present time, with the inroads
of the Lord knows who to muddy the stream."

"Do you suppose that is the cause of the dry rot which has got into
us?--Or is it that we are really rusting out?"

"It is luxury and humanitarianism, and absence of national foes, which
have sent us to sleep--and forgetfulness of dignity and duty. We eat the
food of those whose fathers fed in our fathers' kitchens, and not
because they are worthy and nice--that would be quite justifiable if
so--but just because they are rich and have a superb chef, or because
they are giving our younger sons a lift in the city--I loathe all
money-making and trade--I am thankful that I, at least, can stand on my
own feet, though I see the sad decadence in all around me--But I must
not talk like this; it depresses and ages me!--By the way, Sterling had
the impertinence to tell me that she thought my new toupées from Paris
are too light!--What do you say, G.?"

He looked at her critically, at the clever, shrewd, painted old face and
the ridiculous girlish wig--and then he kissed her hand again, and told
her the truth. Something about her words touched him infinitely.

"I adore very dark hair when it is going grey, Seraphim. I have often
thought how beautiful you would be if you burnt all those things. Your
sense of humour is so supreme, they always seem incongruous."

"I will, then, this very New Year, while we are at Blissington. It will
be the sensation when we return to town. Sarah Lady Garribardine with
snow-white hair!"

"No, iron grey. It will make your eyes brighter."

"It shall be done!" Then she laughed softly. "G., how goes it with
Läo--you are not in love?"

Mr. Strobridge shook his head regretfully.

"Alas! not an atom. I fear it won't last until the Easter recess."

"She is artificial."

"Extremely."

"And hopelessly vague."

"Yes--but quite charming."

"Beatrice says she pretends to be full of sex and other dreadful natural
things--you always had fruity tastes, Beatrice avers!"

"My tastes _are_ fruity, but are never gratified in these modern days,
alas! She is quite wrong about Läo, though; she is as cold as ice. She
smiles with equal sweetness upon the waiters when we are lunching at
restaurants. She is merely a lovely woman demanding incense from all
things male.

"Beatrice said 'pretends,' remember--Beatrice is not at all dense!"

"No, quite a subtle companion when not composing odes, or discussing the
intensity of blue with Hebe Vermont."

"--Are you glad Läo is coming for Christmas?"

"Y--es. I shall want some of your very best champagne."

"You shall have it, G., and I will try to make things difficult for you
as a sort of appetiser. I have some kind of feeling that you are
depressed, dear boy?--I am putting Läo in the parrot suite."

"It will suit her admirably."

Then they both laughed.

"But you are depressed, G.?"

"A shadow of coming events, perhaps! not exactly disaster, or I should
be what the Scotch call 'fey,'" and he sighed. He felt very fatigued and
disturbed, and he hardly knew what.

Lady Garribardine did not press the matter. She had enormous tact.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Delemar at that moment was lying upon her sofa in a ravishing
saffron gauze teagown smoking scented cigarettes, while she discussed
her heart's secrets with a dearest friend.

"Gerard is madly in love with me, Agnes. I hardly know what to do about
it. I have chucked for to-night on purpose to give him a setback."

"It will be most cosy dining here alone with Bobbie Moreland and Jimmy
and me. You were quite right, darling."

"Poor Bobbie, back from that horrible India where he has been for a
year--of course, I could not refuse him--But Lady Garribardine is wild."

"It would not do to offend her really, Läo sweet. You must be penitent
and send her some flowers to-morrow."

If Katherine Bush had been there, she would have seen a strong likeness
in Mrs. Delemar to her future sister-in-law, Mabel Cawber; her
cigarette ash was knocked off in almost as dainty a fashion as that lady
employed in using her spoon. Mrs. Delemar _never_ ceased remembering
that she was a beautiful woman, and must act accordingly; the only
difference between them was that Mabel Cawber _never_ forgot that she
was a perfect lady, and was determined that no one should miss this fact
if she could help it. Their souls were on a par--or whatever animating
principle did duty as a soul in each.

Mrs. Delemar returned to the subject of Gerard with a sigh, telling her
friend Agnes the most intimate things he had said to her and giving her
pleasing descriptions of her own emotions, too. Gerard was a feather for
any woman's cap, and Agnes should know how crazily in love he was with
her.

"I think he'll do something desperate, darling--if I don't give way
soon--I wish men were like us, don't you?"

"One must please the creatures, or they would not stay."

"Yes--but oh! isn't it a shocking bore--that part--if they only knew!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Katherine Bush, meanwhile, was arriving at Laburnum Villa, where a crowd
of sisters and friends welcomed her home.

Fresh from the entrancing fencing match with Gerard Strobridge, their
well-meant chaff and badinage sounded extremely bald. But among them
poor Gladys was silent, and sat with flushed cheeks and overbright eyes,
looking at Katherine.

"I want to talk to you, Glad," this latter said, kindly. "Lady
Garribardine has given me ten pounds to get a real evening frock with.
I must have it to take down to Blissington for Christmas--we go
to-morrow week. But can I get it in the time?"

Gladys was all interest at once. Clothes were a real passion for her.
She devised something pretty; but five pounds would be quite enough.
Katherine had better have two dresses, a black and that lovely new shade
of mauve.

"I'll have the black, the very simplest that there can be, if you know
of one of your hands who could make it for me. I'll leave it entirely to
you."

Gladys was delighted, and then her large prominent eyes grew haunted and
wistful.

"I'd like awfully to talk to you to-night, Kitten," she said. "May I
come to your room?"

Permission was given, and they all went to supper. It was exactly as
Katherine had described it that afternoon, and Mr. Prodgers was there in
his best frock coat, more full of what Miss Ethel Bush called "swank"
mixed with discomfort than Katherine had ever known him. If she had not
felt so deeply that these people were her own flesh and blood, she could
have been amused by the whole thing.

Nothing could equal the condescension of Miss Cawber. Lady
Garribardine's name was not entirely unknown to her--although, to be
sure, it was not in the same class as that of the Duchess of Dashington,
Lady Hebe Vermont or any of the "smart set"--but still it had chanced
once now and then to have appeared in the society column of the _Flare_,
she rather thought as the patroness of some dull old political
thing--and yes--more recently in connection with those _tableaux
vivants_, which Miss Cawber was dying to hear the details of; perhaps
Katherine could gratify his need?

"Did Hebe Vermont look a dream as Sicchy and Lord St. Aldens as Cupid?
My! they must have been a pair! I always do say to Fred when we meet
them at church parade of a Sunday that they are the real thing."

Katherine for once took up the gauntlet, while one of her sphinxlike
smiles hovered about her mouth.

"_Lady_ Hebe Vermont played Psyche--if that is who you mean by
'Sicchy'--but who is Lord St. Aldens, Mabel? Mr. John St. Aldens, who
acted Cupid, is an 'Honourable'; he is a Baron's son, his father is Lord
Hexam."

Mabel reddened; while maintaining for the most part a rather chilling
silence with her, Katherine had never before deliberately crossed
swords. She felt indignant! A paid companion to try to make her look
foolish before the others! She who had never done a stroke of work even
in a business house in her life! She would have to put this future
sister-in-law in her place, and no mistake! Her manner plainly showed
that Katherine was in disgrace, as she answered loftily:

"Really, I ought to know--My father was a great friend of his father,
and often went to their place."

"In what capacity, Mabel?" Katherine smiled. "We none of us remember
your father, but Liv and Dev told me once when I asked them that he had
been an under-clerk at Canford and Crin's--the St. Alden solicitors--and
then passed the examinations. From what I've learned about his sort of
people by living among them for a month, I don't expect Lord Hexam was
very intimate with Mr. Cawber--but we are all acquainted in the same
way, aren't we, Tild? You remember hearing of this family from mother's
father, who was their butcher for the river house at Maidenhead."

Mabel glared; this was sheer impertinence; her queenship of this circle
was not being treated with proper respect--How vulgar of Katherine, she
thought!

Mabel's refinement was almost of the degree of the Boston lady who
insisted upon the piano's "limbs" being put into pantaloons with frills.
She would hardly have spoken of a butcher! She felt particularly annoyed
now also, because the clerk episode was a fact which she thought was
quite unknown--the solicitorship at Bindon's Green having gloriously
advanced the family fortunes.

Poor Matilda was quite upset and reproached Katherine when she succeeded
in getting her into a corner alone.

"Whatever did you speak to Mabel like that for, Kitten?--And I am sure
we need not tell everyone about Grandpa--since he did not live here."

"Her nonsense makes me feel quite sick, Tild--she is always pretending
some ridiculous knowledge and acquaintanceship with the aristocracy. She
gets all the names wrong, and gives herself away all the time; it does
her good to be found out once in a way."

Matilda could bear this side of the affair, but resented the allusion to
the butcher with undiminished fervour.

"Oh! what awful snobs you all are!" Katherine exclaimed, exasperated out
of her amused tolerance at last. "I am not the least ashamed of him: I
am proud, on the contrary. He was honest and made money. Why are you and
Mabel and all your friends such absurd shams, Tild!--There is nothing
disgraceful in being lower middle class; it is honourable and worthy.
Why on earth pretend to belong to another, when anyone who knows can see
it is untrue--or if you hate your real station, then do as I am doing,
educate yourself out of it."

"Educate myself out of it!" Matilda was incensed. "Why, I'm sure we are
all as fairly educated as any ladies need be."

This point of view naturally ended the argument for Katherine; she could
only smile again.

"All right--it is your birthday, dear old Tild, so I won't quarrel with
you! By the way, where is Bob Hartley? I don't see him here to-night."

The fiancé of Gladys was prevented from coming by a severe cold, she was
informed.

And so the evening passed with the Bunny Hug and games, and the
gramophone shouted forth its nigger songs, in which they all joined.

"Hasn't it been too lovely, Kitten," Matilda said affectionately--her
whilom indignation fled as they walked up the narrow stairs. "I've never
had such a perfect birthday party, and I am sure you could not have had
a more refined, enjoyable evening, not in any home."

Katherine kissed her as she turned into her room.

"You dear old Tild," she said, and then presently Gladys came in.

Katherine was seated in a shrunk dressing-gown which she had left
behind, and Em'ly had lighted a fire in the attic grate.

The two girls looked at one another, and then Gladys was asked to sit
down.

"I know what you are going to say," and Katherine's voice was deep and
level. "You would not have to say it if you had not always been such a
fool, my poor Glad--you have got into trouble, of course, and Bob
Hartley is not playing the game."

Gladys burst into passionate sobs.

"However did you guess, Kitten! Why, Tild doesn't know a thing!"

"Most likely not--Well, what do you want him to do--marry you?"

"Why, of course, Katherine; that is what he promised most solemnly
beforehand--at Brighton. You know it is his mother who has kept him
back; his Aunt Eliza, with whom we stayed, is quite willing for me. I am
sure I'm as good as him, anyway."

Further sobs.

"Oh! that part does not matter a bit, as good or not as good--these
awful men like Bob Hartley always seduce women with promises, solemn
promises, of matrimony and that sort of stuff; if they meant them, they
would not forestall matters--vile brutes!"

"There is no good in abusing Bob, Kitten; he has always meant kind; it
is his mother, I tell you, has got at him!"

"Does she know?"

"Oh, my! I hope not. No one knows but you--and Bob."

"Have you told him he must marry you at once?"

"Yes, I've implored him to on my bended knees."

"And he has refused?"

"Yes--he can't break his mother's heart, he says, and speaks of going to
Australia."

"Very well--go to bed now, dear--I will see him to-morrow and see what I
can do. I think he will marry you next week, perhaps, after all. You
must undertake the inventing of a reason for the suddenness to the
family, if I accomplish the fact. Go now, dear--I want to think."

Gladys sobbed her gratitude.

"And you don't believe I am really bad, Kitten, do you? Indeed, I never
wanted--anything--but Bob--We went to the theatre one night and had a
bit of supper--and afterwards, I was so afraid he would be off to Carry
Green if I did not do as he wished."

Two great tears grew in Katherine's beautiful eyes, and rolled slowly
down her white cheeks.

"I think--most men are devils, Glad--but nine-tenths of the women are
fools--and fools always have to pay the price of everything in life. A
woman always loses a man if she gives way to him against her conscience.
You felt you were sinning all the time, I suppose?"

"Why, of course, Kitten--I'm really a good girl."

"Then what else could you expect? If you feel you are doing wrong, you
must know you will be punished--that attitude of yours was bound to have
drawn--this. I tell you, Glad, no one of your sort can afford to step
one foot aside out of the narrow path. You've 'sinned,' as you call
it--for love. It gave you no pleasure and you have practically lost
Bob--remember this, and never give way to him in anything again."

"Why did you have the tears in your eyes, Katherine--? You so cold!"

"It was stupid of me, but the incredible pitifulness of some parts of
life touched me for a moment. Now go to bed, dear--and keep your courage
up--don't let Tild know; it would break her heart--and think of Mabel!"

"Oh! My!" wailed Gladys, and went towards the door.

Katherine jumped up suddenly, and gave her the ten-pound note which had
been lying under a box of matches on the imitation oak dressing-chest.

"Here, Gladys, get the little black frock for me just as cheaply as
ever you can. Lady Garribardine will never know what it cost; she is
accustomed to pay forty or fifty pounds for her evening dresses--and you
keep all the rest. If--if--Bob should not be reasonable to-morrow, it
might be useful for you to have some money that you need not account to
Tild for--I know she looks after everything that you have got."

"But you will make him, Katherine, oh! you will if you can--you are so
clever--and he'll be in the train if you go by the early one. You'll
have him alone."

"Very well. Bring me up a slice of bread or anything you can find when
you first go down; I can't stand the family breakfast, and I will just
rush off by the eight-five."

What she said to Mr. Bob Hartley she never told anyone--but it was
extraordinarily effectual--it contained biting scorn and heavy threats.
Among them, his chief should know of his conduct that very day, before
he could possibly sneak off to Australia, unless he went and got a
special license. The Registry Office would do very well, but by the
following Wednesday Gladys must be his wife, or Katherine's scorpion
whip would fall. He should be thrashed by Fred and Bert and Charlie
Prodgers, too! She would have no mercy upon him--none at all.

"You poor, mean, sanctimonious, miserable cur," were some of her parting
words to him. "Come into this telegraph office with me and send this
wire to Gladys this minute. 'Will you honour me by marrying me on
Tuesday? If so, get ready.' You can pretend you had a secret wedding to
save expense, and tell them at home on Christmas day."

Mr. Hartley was a thorough coward; his plans were not matured enough yet
to go to Australia, and his present berth was a good one, so he felt it
was wiser to give in and do what he was bid. And presently Katherine got
into a taxi and was whirled back to Berkeley Square, where later in the
day her sister's telegram of rapturous thanks came to her.

But when she was alone that night by her comfortable fire, she let a
volume of Flaubert drop on her knees and looked into the coals, her
thoughts going back to the painful incident. Here was a plain indication
of the working of laws shown in her own case and the difference between
it and that of Gladys. Alas! the piteous fate of weaklings!

And then she set herself to analyse things. "Whether the accepted idea
of morality is right or is wrong--of God or of man, those who break its
laws are certainly drawing to themselves the frightfully strong current
of millions of people's disapproval and so must run great risk of
punishment." Thus she mused and then her eyes grew wide as she gazed
into the glowing coals. _What_ if some day she should have to pay some
price for her own deviation from recognized standards?



CHAPTER XII


Christmas Day fell upon a Tuesday in 1911, and on the Saturday before
Katherine Bush accompanied her employer, and the two dogs, down to
Blissington in the motor. She had only been in one for short drives in
the Bois with Lord Algy, so to tear through the frozen country was a
great joy to her, although, not possessing proper wraps, she was rather
cold.

"You must have a fur coat, Miss Bush! I am greatly annoyed that I did
not remark that you were insufficiently clad before we started. Here,
crouch down under this rug--and there is an extra one at my feet you
must wrap round you."

Katherine was grateful.

"Stirling must find you some warm garment of mine while we are at
Blissington. I have no patience with idiots who deliberately take cold."

Katherine agreed with her.

"Do you know the English country, or are you quite a cockney girl?" she
was then asked.

"No, I hardly know it at all. I know Brighton, and a lot of seaside
places, but we never chanced to go to the country for our holidays."

"It is a wonderful place, the English country, the most beautiful in the
world, I think; it will interest me immensely to hear your impressions
of it; after a week you must tell me."

"I shall be very pleased to do so."

"We pass Windsor; you must go over it some day--it is only twenty miles
from Blissington--. Are you interested in historical associations?"

"Extremely--any places which are saturated with the evolution of man and
nations are interesting, I think. I am afraid I would not care to go to
Australia, or a new country."

Lady Garribardine turned and looked at her secretary. The creature
evidently had a brain, and this would be a good opportunity to draw her
out.

"You feel the force of tradition, then?"

"Oh, yes--in everything. It acts for generations in the blood--it makes
people do all sorts of things, good and bad, quite without reason."

Lady Garribardine chuckled--she loved discussions.

"How does it act in yourself, for instance?"

"I have tried to stop its action in myself, because I saw the effects of
the traditions of my class in my brothers and sisters, and how
stultifying it was."

"You certainly seem to have emerged from them in an extraordinary
manner--how did you set about it?"

Katherine thought a little and then answered deliberately.

"I always wanted to know the reason why of everything and I soon felt
sure that there was no such thing as chance, but that everything which
happened was part of some scheme--and I always desired to be able to
distinguish between appearance and reality, and I got to understand that
personal emotion distorts all reality and creates appearance, and so I
began to try to dissociate things from personal emotion in my judgments
of them."

"Yes, but how about tradition?"

"Tradition suggested certain views and actions to me--but looked at
without emotion, I saw that they were foolish. I analysed my brothers'
and sisters' ideas and instincts because I wanted to see if what I did
not like in them was inevitable in myself too from the force of
tradition or if there was any way to get rid of stupidities."

"And you found?"

"Of course, that everything, even instincts, can be eradicated if only
their origins can be traced and the will is strong enough to overcome
them."

"Yes, everything depends upon will. And you found time for all this
reasoning while you kept the accounts at the pork-butcher's?"

Lady Garribardine's eyebrows ran quizzically up into her forehead, and
there was a twinkle in her eye. She was greatly amused.

"Yes--in the evenings."

"No wonder you have emerged! You do not allow yourself to have any
emotions then?"

Katherine looked away demurely.

"I try not to indulge in them; it is more prudent to watch their action
in others."

"Have you ever been in love, child?"

"It depends upon what one calls love." The tone was dignified. Katherine
did not think this quite a fair question.

Lady Garribardine laughed appreciatively.

"You are quite right. I should not have asked you that, since we were up
upon a plane of discussion in which even women do not lie to one
another!"

"If Your Ladyship will permit me to say so, women have very little
notion of truth, I think!"

"Oh! that is too bad. You must always stand up for your sex."

"Forgive me for differing, but I should be acting from good nature in
that case, not from justice."

Lady Garribardine was delighted.

"So you think we are not truthful as a company?"

"Oh, no, we have no love of abstract truth, truth for itself. When we
are truthful in our general dealings with people, it is either because
we have decent characters or religious views, or for our own ends, not
from a detached love of truth."

"What a cynic! And how about men?"

"A man is truthful because he likes truth, and to tell lies he feels
would degrade himself."

"And yet men always lie to women--have you remarked that, girl?"

"Yes--that seems to be the one exception in their standard of truth."

"How do you account for this? Have you found the 'reason why' of this
peculiarity?"

"It seems presumptuous of me to give my views to Your Ladyship."

"I think I am the best judge of that matter," and Lady Garribardine
frowned a little. "I asked a question."

Katherine answered then immediately. She was not quite pleased with
herself for her last remark, it had laid her open to a snub.

"Original man had no regard for women--they were as the animals to
him--he would not have felt degraded in lying to animals--because such a
thing could not occur. He would not consult animals--he simply ordered
them."

"Well?"

"Then as soon as he had to consider women at all he found it easier to
lie to them because of their want of understanding, and chattering
tongues, and as he did not consider that they were his equals in
anything, no degradation was entailed in making things easy for himself
with them, by lying to them."

"How ingenuous!"

"That is how it seems to me, and so things have gone on--tradition and
instinct again! Until even now when man is forced to consider women, the
original instinct is still there making him feel that it does not matter
lying to them."

"I believe you are right. You are not a suffragette?"

"Oh, no! I like women to advance in everything, but unless you could
destroy their dramatic instinct, and hysteria, I think it would be a
pity for a country if they had votes."

"You despise women and respect men, then?"

"Not at all; it would be like despising bread and respecting water. I
only despise weakness in either sex."

"Well, Miss Bush, I think you have a wonderfully-stored mind. I don't
feel that ninety pounds a year and drudgery is the right thing for you.
What is to be done?"

Katherine gave one of her rare soft laughs.

"Believe me, madam, the lessons I am learning in Your Ladyship's service
are worth more to me than my salary. I am quite contented and enjoy my
drudgery."

"So you are learning lessons--are you!" Lady Garribardine chuckled
again. "Of the world, the flesh or the devil?"

"A little of all three, perhaps," Katherine answered with shy
demureness.

"Look here, young woman, I have remarked more than once that you possess
a quality--almost unknown in ninety-nine females out of a hundred, and
non-existent in the middle classes--a fine sense of humour. It is quite
out of place--and like the royal rose imprinted upon the real queen's
left shoulder, I expect we shall discover presently that the butcher and
baker forebears are all moonshine, and that you are a princess in
disguise.--See, that is Windsor--isn't it fine?"

"Ah! Yes!" cried Katherine. "It makes one think."

They were rushing along the road from Staines where they could see the
splendid pile standing out against the sky.

"All those old grey stones put together by brutes and fools and brains
and force. I will take you there myself some day."

"I shall love to go."

Then Her Ladyship became quite silent as was her custom when she felt
inclined so to be. The obligation to make conversation never weighed
upon her. This made her a delightful companion. They arrived at the park
gates of Blissington Court about one o'clock, and Katherine Bush felt
again a delightful excitement. She had never seen a big English country
home except in pictures.

The lodge-keeper came out. He was an old man in a quaint livery.

"I cannot stand the untidy females escaping from the washtub who attend
to most people's gates. This family of Peterson have opened those of
Blissington for two hundred years, and have always worn the same sort of
livery, from father to son. Their intelligence is at the lowest ebb, and
they make capital gate-keepers. There is generally a 'simple' boy or two
to carry on the business. The women folk keep out of sight, it is a
tradition in the family--they take a pride in it. I give them unusually
high wages, and whatever else grows more and more idiotic, the
gate-keeping instinct survives in full force. There are three
lodges--all kept by Petersons."

"How wonderful," said Katherine.

"Good day, Jacob!--The family well? Jane quite recovered from the
chicken-pox, eh?"

"Quite well, Your Ladyship," and the old man's wandering eyes were fixed
in adoration upon his mistress's face. "And Your Ladyship's godchild,
Sarah, is growing that knowing my daughter can hardly keep her from the
front garden."

"I am delighted to hear it. I shall be stopping in to see you to-morrow,
tell Mrs. Peterson. This is my new secretary, Miss Bush, Jacob--you will
know her again, won't you?"

"I'll try to, Your Ladyship," a little doubtfully, and he bowed deeply
as the motor rolled on along a beautiful drive through the vast park,
with its groups of graceful deer peering at them from under the giant
trees.

Katherine was taking in the whole scene, the winter day, and the brown
earth, and the blue sky, and the beauty of it all!

Yes--this sort of thing was what must be hers some day when she had
fitted herself to possess it. They came to another gate--and yet
another--iron ones with no lodges, and then they swept through a wide
avenue with sprucely kept edges and so on up to the front door.

It was a long irregular building which Katherine saw, principally built
in the middle of the seventeenth century, and added to from time to
time. It was very picturesque, and when they were inside, the hall
proved to be very fine. It was huge and square and panelled with some
good Grinling Gibbons carving, and quantities of indifferently painted
ancestors, for the most part in stiff peers' robes.--They had been a
distinguished crew, not of the fox-hunting type.

"These are my people, Miss Bush, not Garribardines," Her Ladyship said,
pointing to the portraits. "They were not handsome, as you see, and
evidently did not encourage the best artists--the few who did are in the
other rooms and the picture gallery. Come, we will go straight in to
lunch; I am as hungry as a schoolboy--You will lunch with me."

Bronson had gone down much earlier and was awaiting them with two
footmen, as dignified as usual.

The dining-room was in a panelled passage to the right and was a long,
low room of much earlier date.

"A relic incorporated later in the present structure," Katherine was
told.

It was perfectly beautiful, she thought, with its deep brown oak, wax
polished to the highest lustre, and its curtains of splendid Venetian
velvet in faded crimson and green, on a white satin ground all
harmonious with age and mellowing.

"I had a terrible struggle to oust the Victorian horrors I had been
brought up with, and which had insinuated themselves, as all vulgar
things do, into almost every room among their betters--taste was quite
dead sixty years ago in my father's day. I had to combat sentiment in
myself and ruthlessly condemn the whole lot."

"It is most beautiful." Katherine's admiration was indeed sincere.

"Yes--it has been a great pleasure to me getting it perfect. You shall
see the whole house presently, but now food is the only important
matter.--Bronson--I distrust the look of that ham soufflé--are you sure
it has not been kept waiting? A second or two alters its consistency.
Take it away at once, man!"--with an indignant sniff--"and tell François
never to hazard so precarious a dish again for arrivals by motor!"

"Very good, Your Ladyship."

"One can eat bread and cheese, but one cannot stomach an indifferent
soufflé--it is like an emotional woman, its charm is just as capricious
and just as ephemeral!"

The rest of the lunch was to her taste and no further disapproval was
expressed.

It was the first time Katherine had broken bread with her mistress, or
indeed had even assisted at a whole luncheon. Coffee was the extent of
her knowledge hitherto. It interested her to see the varied dishes, to
watch the perfect service, the style of the placing and removing of the
plates--the rapidity and noiselessness of it all. She thought of the
pressed beef and the stout and the cheese-cakes and the frightful
untidiness of everything at Laburnum Villa. That was the strange
difference, the utter want of method and order which always rendered the
home table a mass of litter and miscellaneous implements towards the end
of a repast, plates and cups pushed here and there and everywhere.

How very good to be out of it all!

To her great surprise, Her Ladyship drank beer--clear golden stuff
poured from a lovely crystal and silver jug into a chased silver
tankard.

"The best beverage in Christendom!" that epicure said, as she quaffed
it. "Have some, Miss Bush. You are young enough to have no dread of
gout. It is a vice with me, the worst thing in the world for my
rheumatism, and yet I cannot resist the temptation! The day I return
home I must fall to my tankard! To-morrow, Bronson removes the accursed
thing to the sideboard, out of sight, and I keep up my courage on
ridiculously thin Zeltinger."

Katherine tasted it; it was delicious, and as different from what she
knew as beer as the tea had been from her original idea of tea.

"Isn't it a heavenly drink, girl! I am glad to see you like it."

Then Lady Garribardine chatted on, giving crisp, witty descriptions of
the village and the inhabitants, in language which would often have
shocked the genteel sensibilities of Mabel Cawber, but the tones of her
voice, whether loud or soft, were the dulcet tones of angels. She had
indeed that "excellent thing in woman."

Katherine's workroom was the old schoolroom up in a wing which contained
rooms as ancient as the dining-room, and her bedroom adjoined it; and
from this a little passage led to a narrow staircase going down to a
door which opened into the small enclosed rose garden. Up another set of
steps from her corridor you were brought into the splendid gallery which
ran round two sides of the hall, and into which Her Ladyship's own rooms
gave. But in Katherine's corner she was isolated and could come and go
abroad without ever passing the general living rooms--what an advantage,
she felt!

And when, later in the afternoon, her things were unpacked, and she was
sitting before a glorious wood fire in the old chimney, sniffing
the scent of the burning logs and taking in the whole picture of
quaint chintz and shining oak, she felt a sense of contentment and
satisfaction.

Fate was indeed treating her handsomely.



CHAPTER XIII


Katherine saw nothing more of her employer on the Saturday, but on the
Sunday morning a message came to say she would expect her to go to
church with her. As no mention of church had ever been made in London,
Katherine was quite unprepared for this, and was obliged to scurry to be
ready.

"In the country and at one's home, one must always go to church, Miss
Bush," she was informed when they were in the motor. "It is tradition
again."

Then there was silence until they were almost at the door.

"It is rather a fine little church, with some good tombs of my ancestors
in it, prolific people who seemed to have married either widows
with like proclivities, or to have commemorated their own marital
achievements.--There are two very curious monuments, one of a marriage
with about seven or eight children behind both the man and the woman,
proofs of their former activities, and another of a second pair with
numerous olive branches owned mutually. They were of an enchanting
ingenuousness in those days. You will face these figures during the
sermon. You can examine them, a not unpleasing pastime I used to find it
in my youth."

Lady Garribardine's walk from the church was a kind of triumphal
progress. All the faces of the clustering local groups beamed with joy
and welcome for her--she had a word and a nod for everyone and to
Katherine's amusement stopped threateningly in front of a biggish boy
who was handling a bandanna handkerchief.

"If I hear one sniffle, Thomas Knoughton--out you go!--It is a habit you
have got into, flaunting these colds every time I get home. I won't put
up with it!"

"Very good, Yer Leddyship," the boy returned stolidly, pulling his
forelock.

It was evident to be seen that their Lady Bountiful was held in deep
respect by her tenants. The service was quite cheerful and merry with
Christmas music from a fine organ, one of the patroness's gifts, and the
monuments were certainly diverting, Henry VII and Edward VI costumes
carved in stone adorning meek-faced women and grave men.

When they came out, a number of the local farmers and their wives had to
be greeted. Lady Garribardine seemed to know all their domestic affairs,
and to wield an absolute dominion over them. She was kindly and
autocratic, and not in the least condescending; they evidently loved her
dearly.

Katherine stood by respectfully, and once or twice her mistress said,
"This is my new secretary, Miss Bush," with a wave of her hand.

Apparently the bounties and teas and Christmas feasting being prepared
for everyone knew no bounds by what Katherine heard discussed.

As they motored back Her Ladyship said:

"Now, before lunch I want you for an hour to explain the country duties
to you as I explained the London ones--and this afternoon you must see
over the house. Mrs. Illingworth will show you round, and to-morrow I
have to start very early to see my poor people--You have those lists
copied out, have you not?"

Katherine lunched alone in her sitting-room and before her inspection of
the house began she went for a little walk. The old park delighted her,
the sense that it was not public property gave her pleasure. She could
go for miles, it seemed, upon the soft turf, or along the smooth
avenues, without meeting a soul. There was something in her nature which
enjoyed this isolation from the common herd.

"I believe if it were mine I should dislike even a right of way!" she
said to herself.

She stopped close to some deer; they were so tame they hardly started
from her. The whole place, when she came to a rising ground and could
look back at the house, exalted her in some strange way. The atmosphere
of it was so different from anything which she had been accustomed to.
It was no wonder that people living in such houses should have wider
scopes of imagination than the inhabitants of Bindon's Green with every
little semi-detached villa watching the habits of its neighbour. She
made up her mind that she would study Lady Garribardine's methods with
her people for her own future guidance. The perfect certainty with which
she looked forward to obtaining the same sort of situation was almost
sublime!

When her inspection of the house came her feelings were further stirred;
there was a great bump of veneration in her for ancient things. Her
artistic sensibilities which had not yet been as awakened as her
practical ones now began to assert themselves. She felt she must read
books upon architecture, and learn the dates and styles of furniture.
She admired, but she was conscious that she had not yet sufficiently
cultivated critical faculties to appreciate fully. Her tour opened a new
field of study for her--a new consciousness of her own ignorance, and a
new determination to acquire the necessary knowledge on these points.

Ever since her outing with Lord Algy, she had been aware that mere
book-learning is not enough. There were many things of interest in life
that she would never have heard of or realised the existence of but for
that first opening to her imagination.

Mr. Strobridge would be an invaluable teacher, but she must get up a
few technical points first. She would at once ask her mistress if she
might take some books from the library, up to her sitting-room for
the evening. She would immediately look up the bald facts in the
Encyclopedia to begin with, and then study individual volumes. Then
there were the painters and the sculptors to learn about more fully,
although she had often gone to the galleries and museums in London, but
not with what--she now knew, after her inspection of this home where for
hundreds of years the owners had been cultivated collectors--was a
critical eye. She felt as if the key to understanding had only just been
given to her. Even the housekeeper (not Mrs. Pepperdon of Berkeley
Square, but this elderly, portly Mrs. Illingworth) knew more about the
beauties that she was showing off than she did. This state of ignorance
must not continue for even a week!

Permission was accorded about the books when Lady Garribardine looked
into the secretary's room before her tea--and until three o'clock in the
morning this indefatigable young woman kept her lights on, cramming
facts into her head--and then when her work was over before lunch
next day she walked again through the picture gallery and the big
drawing-rooms to see if she had mastered anything. The picture gallery
was filled with early and late Italian works, and some fine specimens
of Spanish Renaissance as well as English portraits. She found that with
even this much knowledge gained she had already grown more appreciative,
but she realised that it was a question of training her eye as well as
her brain.

The guests were all to arrive on Christmas Eve and a message came for
Katherine that she was to come down and pour out the tea for them,
because "Her Ladyship's hand was very rheumatic."

She had been extremely occupied with the dispatching of parcels of
presents and various matters all the afternoon. This would be an
occasion to wear the grey blouse again, and she had discovered that the
becoming waves upon her brow could be achieved also by water and
combing, so she would not be at the mercy of a hairdresser in the future
for her improved looks!

She was seated behind the tea-table in the library when the first batch
of the visitors arrived by train. Mr. Strobridge and Lady Beatrice were
motoring; the three grandchildren and their attendants had come early in
the afternoon.

The party consisted of the two old maiden cousins, the Misses d'Estaire
by name, and a young niece of theirs, and two or three stray men, and
Mrs. Delemar. Katherine attended to their wants and watched the whole
scene--no one had greeted her, but whoever chanced to be near her
exchanged a friendly word; Mrs. Delemar was even gracious, it was her
way always to be polite to everyone.

How easy they all were! No stiffness, no self-consciousness, and one of
the men was quite witty and the young Miss d'Estaire a most lively
modern girl. Katherine enjoyed herself although she never spoke unless
spoken to, and then returned monosyllabic answers.

When they had all been chaffing and eating quantities of muffins and
buns and blackberry jam and cream for half an hour, Gerard Strobridge
and his wife came in.

"We have had the most deplorable journey, Aunt Sarah," Lady Beatrice
announced plaintively. "A judgment upon one for travelling with one's
husband. Gerard would drive, and of course collided with a milestone,
and injured one of the wheels so that the tire, which broke, took hours
to put on again and I was frozen with cold."

Everyone sympathised with her, while Mr. Strobridge only smiled
complacently and asked Katherine for some tea.

"As you can guess, I shall require it very hot and very strong to keep
my courage up after these reproaches," and he smiled as though to say,
"I am sure you understand."

Katherine attended to him gravely; she was purposely the stiff
secretary, aloof and uninterested in what was going on; Mr. Strobridge
rather wondered at it, and it piqued him a little, but the lady who had
been asked for his special delectation had no intention of allowing him
any leisure to converse with anyone else. She gave him one of her
ravishing smiles, moved her dress a little to make room for him on her
sofa, and then whispered to him softly for a long time, amidst the
general merry din.

Nothing escaped the eyes and intelligence of Miss Bush. She was
observing behaviour, character and capability in each one of the guests
and was making up her mind what she would do next for the furtherance of
her plan that Gerard Strobridge should be a friend.

For one moment he looked up and met her eyes, and she allowed hers to
show that sphinxlike smile before she lowered the lids. Gerard
Strobridge experienced an emotion. Läo was perhaps making him look a
little ridiculous. She was overdoing her pleasure at seeing him.
However, he was too old a hand at dalliance with women to allow himself
to stay beside her for a moment after he felt this. So he made some
forcible excuse about the post's going, and got up and left the room. He
was completely at home, it was plain to be seen, at Blissington Court.

Katherine smiled again to herself.

After dinner there was to be a cinematograph show for Lady
Garribardine's grandchildren, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy and girls of
ten and seven, and they were dining punctually at eight. Katherine was
to bring them into the hall when the entertainment began, having had
them with her for dinner in the old schoolroom. She was not particularly
fond of children, but she did her best to make them enjoy their
meal. They were stupid, unattractive creatures with none of their
grandmother's wit. They were to go on to their paternal relations for
the New Year, and then with their governess and tutor were to sail to
join their parents in the Antipodes.

The "dressy blouse" had to do duty as evening attire on this night (the
creation of Gladys' arranging must be kept for the grand occasion of the
Christmas dinner in the dining-room) but Katherine had altered it a
little, the wretched thing! and cut down the neck to make it more
becoming. It looked quite suitable to her station in any case, she
thought, as she caught sight of herself in the long glass in her room.
She was beginning to take an interest in dress which surprised herself!

She took a chair in the background, close to the staircase from which
the servants were to be allowed to witness the show--Her whole demeanour
was quiet and unremarkable--and no one paid any attention to her at all
until the lights were turned up in the interval between one set of
pictures and another, when Lady Garribardine called out to her:

"Can you see from where you are, Miss Bush? The next thing ought to be
very funny."

Katherine had the kind of voice which people listen to, and one or two
of the men glanced round at her when she answered with thanks that she
had a capital view. And old Colonel Hawthorne said to a young guardsman
friend of Miss Betty d'Estaire that, by Jove! Her Ladyship's secretary,
or the children's governess, or whoever she was, had a pair of eyes
worth looking at!

Gerard Strobridge had found Läo charming again! He had dined well and
partaken of his aunt's promised very best champagne, and he had indulged
in some obviously subtle insinuations as to his further intentions in
regard to their enjoyable friendship, whispered in her shell-pink ear
while the lights were low.

"Oh Gerard!--I won't allow you to!--Wait--not yet!" Mrs. Delemar had
gasped prettily, expecting him to press the matter further.

But unfortunately it was just then that the lights had blazed up, and
Gerard had turned round and caught sight of the provoking face of
Katherine Bush as his aunt spoke.

"How attractive that confounded girl looks!" he thought. "What a
nuisance she is not married and a guest, instead of the typist--it is
undignified and--difficult!"

But the brief glance had disturbed him and rearoused his interest; he
found that he could not bring himself up to the desired level
of enthusiasm again with Läo, and contented himself by talking
enigmatically about the parrot rooms that she was in--their situation
and their comfort--while he looked unutterable things with his deep grey
eyes. Then presently when they all moved, and the show was over, he
allowed himself to be supplanted in her favours by a promising youth of
three and twenty, a distant cousin of the house, who would not have been
permitted the ghost of a chance at another time! But Gerard's emotions
did not show on the surface and Katherine Bush slipped up to bed
presently in rather a depressed frame of mind.

She realised fully that the goal was yet a long, long way from
attainment, and that it would require all her intelligence to walk
warily through this coming week.

No one had been in the least slighting or unkind to her, but naturally
no one had troubled to converse with her; she was just the secretary and
was treated exactly as she would treat her own, when she had one, she
felt. It would not be safe to attract any of the party; her employer's
good will and contentment with her mattered far more than the
gratification of her vanity.

Mr. Strobridge, however, was one of the chief pieces in her game, and
him she would see often as long as she remained in Lady Garribardine's
service, so there was no hurry--she could afford to wait.

But all the same she settled down to read "The Seven Lamps of
Architecture" without the buoyant feeling of self-confidence which
usually gave her such a proud carriage of head.



CHAPTER XIV


A message came up to Katherine next morning--the morning of Christmas
Day--from Lady Garribardine to say that she could walk across the park
to church with the two elder children and that she was to take them into
the front pew that faced the large carved family one behind the choir at
right angles.

And from this well-placed outlook Miss Bush later on observed the house
party enter by a door in the chancel. They filled the whole long seat
and overflowed into the pew where she and the children sat, and it
happened that Gerard Strobridge was next her and knelt to say his
prayers.

Propinquity is a very curious thing, and when all possibility of
conversation is nil, propinquity has sometimes been known to exert a
very powerful influence. Gerard Strobridge was conscious with every
throb of his pulse of the nearness of Katherine Bush; there was a
magnetic disturbing emanation he felt coming from her, which excited him
unaccountably. He kept glancing at her regular profile from time to
time. Her very pale skin and large red mouth attracted him immensely.
She never once looked at him, and maintained an air of absolute
unconsciousness.

"What is she thinking about, I wonder?" he mused. "I have never seen a
face more sphinxlike; she could be good or devilishly bad, she could
love passionately and hate coldly, she could be cruel as the grave and
hard as adamant. She is a woman that a man were wiser not to know too
well for his own safety."

But reflections of this sort never yet made son of Adam avoid the
object of them, so when they came out and Katherine was waiting for
instructions from her employer as to the disposal of the children, Mr.
Strobridge came up to her.

"A happy Christmas, Miss Bush," he said. "Are you going to walk back
through the Park? Here, Teddy, I will come with you."

"We are going in the motor with Grandmamma," both children cried at
once as Katherine returned his greeting, and they ran off to Lady
Garribardine. So Katherine started to walk on alone, while the rest of
the party lingered about the porch and made up their minds as to whether
or no they would drive.

She had gone some way and was on a path by a copse in the Park, when Mr.
Strobridge caught her up.

"Why did you race ahead, Miss Bush?" he asked. "Did you not want any
companion in your solitude?"

"I never thought about it," she returned quite simply.

"I did--I wanted to walk with you, I have been watching you all the time
in church. I believe that you were in dreamland again; now will be the
very moment to finish our discussion upon it."

"I don't think we had begun it."

"Well, we will."

"How are we to start?"

"You are going to tell me where yours is--in the heart or in the head?"

"Such a conversation would be altogether unprofitable." There was
mischief lurking in the corner of her eye and trembling in the curves of
her full mouth.

"I must judge of that."

"How so? Do I not count?"

"Enormously--that is why I want to hear of your dreamland."

"It is a place where only I can go."

"How unsociable--but you look disobliging."

"I am."

"Very well, I give up the task of trying to make you tell me about it.
By the way, I have not had the chance to thank you for so kindly
finishing those papers for that confounded charity. My aunt said they
were in perfect order."

"I am glad of that."

He raised his head and looked away in front of them down into a dell and
so up again to the house.

"Isn't this a beautiful view? I always think of 'the stately homes of
England' when I walk back from church."

Katherine's eyes followed his to the gabled, irregular red brick house,
with its wreath of blue smoke going straight up into the winter sky.

"I have never seen one before," she told him. "You can imagine how
wonderful this appears to me after the place where I have lived. I had
only seen Hampton Court, but somehow all the people there and its being
a museum did not make it have the impression of a house that is
inhabited."

"This pleases you, does it?"

"Naturally. I love everything about it, the space, and people not being
allowed in. It is Her Ladyship's own--she can shut the gates if she
wants to and have it all to herself--that must be good."

"What a strange girl! You would not like to share anything, then? I have
already remarked this deplorably selfish instinct in you, in reference
to your dreamland--and you would keep poor devils out of your park,
too, if you could!"

"Generally--yes."

"Well, I want to be the exception to this exclusiveness. If I come up
one afternoon to the old schoolroom, for instance, and ask you to talk
to me, will you turn me out?"

"It depends what you want me to talk to you about. If it is upon a
subject only to please you--yes--if to please me then I may let you stay
for a little."

"What subjects would please you?"

"I would like to hear all about the pictures in the house, for
instance--you see, before I came to Lady Garribardine I had never
conversed with anyone educated in art. So I have only a very little book
knowledge to go upon."

"We will talk about art then; the house is full of interesting things,
part of it is so old."

For the rest of the way he did his best to entertain his aunt's
insignificant secretary, and they both knew that the walk had been very
charming. When they got into the shrubbery, Katherine took the path
which led to the small rose-garden courtyard, on which the schoolroom
staircase opened.

"Of course, I had forgotten you have a front door all to yourself."

"Yes--our roads divide here. Good morning, Mr. Strobridge."

"Are you going to shake hands with me?"

"No, it is quite unnecessary."

"_Au revoir_, then. To-night I shall dance with you. I have not danced
for ten years."

"Then probably you will not do it well. Recollect I come from Bindon's
Green where we learn the very newest steps. I never have put up with a
bad partner."

"I can't 'turkey trot,' if that is what you mean."

"Then I am afraid you are too old and too old-fashioned for my taste."
And smiling demurely, she walked off to the quaint, wrought-iron gate
which opened into the rose garden.

Gerard Strobridge laughed as he went on his way. Why was he attracted to
this girl? He was a person of the highest fastidiousness, and had never
had a _liaison_ with any woman beneath him in class in his life, even in
his Oxford days. It was against his idea of the fitness of things. To
flirt with his aunt's secretary! But the creature was so sensible, and
so intelligent it made matters appear in a different light--there surely
could not be much harm in discussing pictures and sculpture with her, or
a poet or two! But at this stage he did put some restraint upon himself,
and made no further attempts to see her until she came down to pour out
the tea again. He bravely made love to Läo, and exercised as much skill
to keep matters from approaching a climax as he was wont to use in
bringing on that happy occurrence. It caused him a cynical amusement.

Katherine had on the dress which rather resembled his wife's, and looked
almost as distinguished, and a good deal more healthy and attractive.

Her demeanour was so admirable, too; she had none of either that
overhumble obsequiousness or touchy assertion, which so often
distinguished these quasi-gentlefolk, he thought. She might have been a
Lady Clara Vere de Vere in her quiet dignity and utter freedom from all
self-consciousness.

It was evident that she was not thinking of herself at all, or wondering
whether or no she was being noticed or slighted, or properly or
improperly treated. She was just gravely pouring out the tea and
attending to people's wants as quietly sure of herself as his aunt would
have been. Indeed, it almost seemed to Gerard watching her that she
stood out, if he could have selected one from the whole party, as the
most perfect specimen of womanhood.

Was it her supreme will--her force of character which had overcome all
class traditions? He remembered what she had said about no ordinary
Radical ever being able to be a foreign minister. How she must have
thought out matters! Her brain was that of a woman in a thousand.

The Christmas tea grew very merry, and old Colonel Hawthorne, friend of
the family for countless years, found it his pleasant duty to be genial
with the good-looking secretary. Gerard continued to watch; she answered
the pleasantries with so much wit, and never the least presumption.

After a while he drifted up to his aunt's own sitting-room for a quarter
of an hour before dressing time--Läo had been cajoled into thinking all
was well between them, and had gone off to make herself especially
beautiful for dinner.

She had been through one or two disquieting moments. Gerard had appeared
all that an eager lover should be, and she felt she must have been
stupid in some way to have given him the impression that she was serious
in her protestation of "not yet." She had no rival--that was plain to be
seen. He never spoke to Betty d'Estaire--who was the only other young
woman of the party. Perhaps it was because of Beatrice! Gerard was
such a perfect gentleman, perhaps in some corner of a foolishly
overpunctilious heart he was deterred by--Beatrice! But fortunately
Beatrice was leaving the day after Boxing Day.

In any case her usual method of rigid circumspection--until the very
last moment--had not been quite successful with this would-be lover; he
had been deceived by it and slightly rebuffed. It was merciful as far as
her own emotions were concerned, but she knew men well enough to know
that unless she herself had damped his ardour, this state of things was
not altogether natural, and therefore it might imply some lack in her
own charm, which was not an agreeable thought. However, she need not
feel really disquieted while his attentions were still so _empressé_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Seraphim, I walked back from church with Miss Bush," Gerard said,
stretching himself out in a huge chair by his aunt's fire, while he
lighted a cigarette. "You are quite right, she is a most intelligent
young woman; how do you account for that something about her which is
not at all of her class?"

"I don't know, it has puzzled me. I was watching her to-day pouring out
the tea; she is the first secretary I have ever had, not excepting poor
Arnott, who on such occasions did not feel that one or other of the
guests was trying to snub her--Katherine Bush is never on the
defensive--it is quite unique in a person of her station."

"I watched her, too, and was struck with the same thing; and to-day she
talked so well. She wanted to hear about the pictures--she is absolutely
frank and tells one in the naïvest manner about what things she is
ignorant of--but one finds that she must have read considerably."

"She is full of theories about tradition and evolution. I let her tell
me them motoring down--she seems to have dissected herself and her
family in an endeavour to eradicate what she disapproves of in the way
of instincts."

"It is astonishing, isn't it, Seraphim?"

"Very--she made one or two rather dreadful gaffes when she first came,
especially during the tableaux week--it was quite interesting to see her
face when she realised this. She did not once try to explain them
away--she drew in her lips and I could see she was registering a vow
never to make the same mistake again. That kind of nature always wins
any game it is playing."

"I wonder what hers is--don't you?"

"The immediate one obviously is to turn herself into a lady--She means
to do in a few years consciously, what nature takes many generations to
accomplish in the ordinary course of events--Her progress is quite
remarkable even in these six weeks."

"What shall you do with her, Seraphim?"

"Keep her as long as she will stay with me, G., and perhaps take her
education in hand myself when you all leave." And then Lady Garribardine
laughed softly. "Läo is a huge joke, dear boy--I think the parrot rooms
suit her, don't you? Are you pleased with my arrangements for my
guests?"

There was something exquisitely whimsical in Her Ladyship's old black
eyes, his met them delightedly. Aunt and nephew understood each other so
well, these two perfect citizens of the world!

"Läo is charming! And I am sure she is deriving all sorts of
inspirations from the blue macaw's amourettes with the yellow-crested
cockatoo, which she looks at from her downy couch--Seraphim, I am going
to persuade Beatrice to stay on--Beatrice is an excellent creature in
spite of her contempt for my powers as a chauffeur! She is quite amused
with Victor Thistlethwaite. I paved the way by suggesting to her this
morning that she should take the early train on Thursday, and she said
at once, that she rather thought she was not leaving until Saturday with
the rest."

Lady Garribardine chuckled delightedly; the noise was as of cream
bubbling--if cream can bubble!

"_Tiens!_" was all she said and then went on to speak of other things.
"Betty d'Estaire is going to catch young Allonby, G. I believe they will
settle it to-night. For one of my blood she has a number of overmodern
faults, and Gwendoline and Arabella will be glad to get her off their
hands."

"She is a promising young person."

"Even blood can't stand against the total want of discipline which
prevails among the present generation, G. When these impossible girls'
children have grown up there won't be any ladies left."

"I don't think they will have many children--we are breeding a neuter
race, Seraphim. All the games are making their bones too rigid, and all
the want of discipline is weakening their nerves--very few of the future
ones will be able to stand the agonies of child-bearing."

"You are not in a position to criticise, G., with no offspring of your
own!"

"I am not an eldest son; there is no obligation entailed upon me! Dick
has three boys, fortunately, and Alec, two."

"I consider that the poorest excuse."

Mr. Strobridge sighed.

"Perhaps it is--the whole thing is rather played out with us all, isn't
it? Seraphim, when I talked with that balanced, healthy young woman
to-day, I felt we want an admixture of new blood in a number of our
families, if only to bring back our enthusiasm. Dick's children are fine
enough fellows physically, but there is not half a peck o' wits among
them--and as you know, Alec's little Yankee chaps are what their mother
calls 'brainy' to a degree, but masses of overstrung nerves as well."

Lady Garribardine leaned forward from among her sofa cushions and looked
at her nephew with a quizzical eye.

"G., if you were free and my heir, I'd marry you off to Katherine Bush
just for the pleasure of the experiment!"

Then the little Sèvres clock chimed. "Why, it is striking the
quarter--rush off at once, dear boy!--and don't forget to put on your
hunt coat; the scarlet pleases the children."

       *       *       *       *       *

In another part of the house, Her Ladyship's secretary, quite unaware
that she was under discussion, was joyously dressing in her pretty
oak-panelled room, with a delicious sense of excitement. Martha was
coming in to help her presently for this wonderful first occasion in her
life when she should put on a real evening dress, showing pearl white
neck and arms. Gladys had given her every instruction as to its
fastenings and had supervised the making of it with a zeal which she
would only have bestowed upon an order from the richest customer. The
frock fitted to perfection, and was astonishingly becoming in its black
simplicity.

Martha had brought her in some beautiful lilies of the valley, when she
came with her hot water, accompanied by the information that Mr.
Strobridge's valet had handed them to her for Miss Bush, from his
master.

Gerard had been robbing the hothouses evidently. The head gardener was a
particular friend of his. They were just the touch wanted to complete
the picture; their snowy whiteness and brilliant forced green gave the
note of freshness which went so well with Katherine's skin--of an
astonishing purity--by candle-light as clear as ivory and as pale in
tone.

She gazed into her looking-glass and felt satisfied with what she saw,
and presently she held her shoulders back and her head up, and walked
down the corridor with the grace of a Comédie Française queen! So
greatly does the consciousness of fine raiment affect the morale of
young women!

Lady Beatrice came out of her room in the great gallery and they went
down together.

"You do look so pretty, Miss Bush," she said. "What a duck of a frock!
It looks like an Ermantine."

"Yes, my sister is a saleswoman there, and she had it made for me,"
Katherine told her.--"I am glad you think it looks well. I have never
had on a real evening dress before."

"You know how to wear it so that is all right! Ah, children, come
along!" as three joyous calls came from over the banisters. And
Katherine slipped on alone. Lady Garribardine had told her, before she
went to dress, to go to Bronson to see that a special order about the
presents was carried out.

All the party were assembled in the great drawing-room when this duty
was done, and so her entrance did not pass unremarked.

"By Jove!" was the significant exclamation of old Colonel Hawthorne.

"And I am to have the pleasure of taking you in to dinner," said the
charming young man who had so far succeeded in diverting Lady Beatrice.

Gerard Strobridge felt a strange sensation as he looked at Katherine
presently, between the great bowls of camellias--there was no comparison
with anyone at the table; Her Ladyship's secretary had blossomed forth
into the beauty of the night.

"How clothes can alter a person!" Mrs. Delemar said without
conscious spite--dependents, even pretty ones, were not things which
counted.--"Look, G.--dear Sarah's typist appears quite pretty to-night,
and how kind she is to her servants; see, she has let the girl have
those beautiful lilies of the valley which Hawke told me to-day when you
were making him give me the orchids, it just breaks his heart to have to
cut!"



CHAPTER XV


The sudden accession to beauty in Lady Garribardine's secretary had a
double--nay, treble--result! It caused Mr. Victor Thistlethwaite plainly
to show that he perceived it at dinner, and thereby considerably to
annoy both the Lady Beatrice and Mr. Gerard Strobridge during that meal!
Lady Beatrice considered it impertinence on the part of Miss Bush and
Mr. Strobridge found it "ridiculous cheek of that insufferable puppy
Thistlethwaite."

Katherine for her part enjoyed herself! She had got over the awe of
servants--and the strangeness of well-bred companions--She was now sure
of the methods of eating, too, and so had leisure to enjoy conversation
and she was filled with that delicious sovereign complacency which only
a woman discovering that she is undeniably a success can know.

While remaining exceedingly demure, she managed to arrest the exclusive
attention of her partner for the feast, and Lady Garribardine watched
the whole thing with a whimsical eye.

Gerard Strobridge was too good a diplomat to allow the vaguest trace of
his disturbed equilibrium to show in his face, and talked to Läo with
renewed passion, so that before they began to pull crackers she was
feeling perfectly contented in the certain conviction that it was
Beatrice's presence alone which kept him within bounds! He had not made
love to women ever since he left Eton, or served his country at the
Foreign Office until the age of thirty-five, without acquiring a
certain experience in feminine psychology, and a knowledge as to the
best manipulation of diplomatic situations, and even though he had been
irritated by Mr. Thistlethwaite's evident admiration, he saw that it
would certainly cause Beatrice to stay until the Saturday, and so in it
there lay good.

There were quantities of silver charms in the blazing plum-pudding, and
some received omens of wealth, and some of princely mates or lengthy
journeys, but Gerard Strobridge could only secure the emblem of an old
maid--a thimble was his portion--and he turned the unhappy augury to
much good account in a suitable reproach to Läo.

When the caps from the crackers were put on, an early English gold paper
crown fell to Katherine's share, and became her mightily.

"Why, Miss Bush looks just like Queen Victoria when she came to the
throne, Grandmamma!" called out the elder girl grandchild. "We have her
picture on the nursery screen."

"And I wonder what her end will be," Gerard Strobridge thought; "she
looks remarkably well in a crown."

The hall had been cleared for dancing and when the excitement in opening
the wonderful little presents which lay hidden in a rose by each
person's plate was over, the company poured in there, while three local
musicians struck up a merry tune. It was a two-step and Miss Betty
d'Estaire must try it with some new variations which were just coming in
from America at that date (it was before tango days). Katherine was an
adept in them, for was not Bindon's Green always in the forefront of
modernity? And any kind of dancing she really loved. It was the one
pastime of her sisters which she had shared with delight, and often
practised with Ethel in their tiny drawing-room before going to bed.

Mr. Thistlethwaite asked her for a turn with him, and they started off.

"It is much better than a stupid old valse, isn't it?" he said to her
while they careered smoothly ahead. "And by Jove! how well you dance!"

The blood was rushing in Katherine's veins; it was so good to be young
and admired, and forgetful of relative positions for once in a way. She
knew very well that she was a far finer performer than the other young
girl, and all that was sensuous in her nature came uppermost and
quivered through the rhythmic movements of her supple body. Gerard
Strobridge watched her silently. He was conscious of profound and
increasing emotion; it was as if some primitive, strong, vital thing was
there before him, dwarfing the puny make-believes at passion which were
so well assumed by Läo Delemar. She was standing beside him looking as
beautiful and as artificial as the orchids in her dress.

"How that girl could love!" he breathed to himself as he watched the
dancers, and Läo seemed as utterly meaningless as a wax doll!

Once was enough of this sort of thing, Katherine Bush thought; she was
keenly alive to atmospheres and she felt that for a secretary to do more
than show that she was proficient in these steps would be a breach of
taste. So no persuasions of her partner would move her after the first
few rounds, and she left him and went off with the youngest grandchild
in a polka step.

Thus the Lady Beatrice recovered her whilom admirer, and when another
tune had begun and Läo had been safely lured into the arms of the
distant cousin, Gerard Strobridge came over casually to where Katherine
stood.

"Am I to be allowed a turn of this old-fashioned valse, Miss Bush?" he
asked.

But Katherine was not to be beguiled so easily--she must parley first!

"I do not know if her Ladyship expects me to dance any more," she
answered. "If you think she will not mind my accepting this honour, I
shall be very pleased."

"Foolish thing! Is it not Christmas night, and are you not the belle of
the ball?" And he held out his arm and they whirled off. It gave him
immense pleasure to hold her in his embrace--but something in the scent
of the violets in his scarlet hunt coat brought back to Katherine with a
sickening thrill of anguish and longing the remembrance of Lord Algy and
the Saturday night in Paris when they had danced in masks and dominoes
at a Bal Tabarin. Oh! the pain of it!--Suddenly the whole present melted
away from her--the dreams of the future, the pride in her conquest of
the past! The passionate woman in her cried aloud in wild longing for
him, Algy--her darling, her dearly-loved mate! How plain were these
other young men!--How tired and old Gerard Strobridge looked! At that
moment she would have thrown her whole ambitions away into nothingness,
to be clasped once more to Algy's heart! Her cheeks became ashen white
and her strange eyes grew shadowed and fierce, and Gerard Strobridge was
brought up sharply out of his intoxication of emotion by the look in her
face.

"What is it, child?" he asked anxiously, holding her close.

"Let me go--let me go!" she cried wildly, breaking from him near the
staircase recess. "I--I--cannot bear it--I would like to get out of all
this!"

He was intensely astonished, but he saw that she was trembling, and well
as he knew women he could not fathom the reason of this strange
outburst. Katherine recovered her composure almost immediately and gave
a short mirthless laugh.

"I am awfully stupid," she faltered. "I cannot think what came over me.
I believe it must be because I am unaccustomed to parties, and it is
getting late."

"It is not yet eleven o'clock--but come and have something to drink--I
see a tray down there in the long hall," and she let him lead her to it
and pour out some champagne and seltzer for her, and then they sat down.

He saw very well that something had deeply moved her, and his perfect
tact would not permit him to refer to the occurrence, but caused him
rather to talk soothingly of ordinary things--and in a few minutes he
saw that the normal whiteness had come back to her face. But nothing
would induce her to dance any more, and although she continued doing
whatever was expected of her during the rest of the evening--and
snatched flaming raisins in the snapdragon with dashing indifference to
pain--he knew that she was doing it all as an automaton, and that the
living, vital, magnetic Katherine was no longer there, and that this
pale, quiet girl whose hand he held presently in the deserted corridor
was only too glad to say good-night.

"Dear child," he whispered, as he kissed it with homage, "I don't know
what it was that caused it, but you have evidently seen a ghost, and now
go to bed, and forget everything but that we have all had an awfully
happy Christmas, and I want to tell you how pleased I am that you have
worn my flowers to-night."

"--Your flowers! Oh! yes, I ought to have thanked you for them
before--they were lovely, but now they are dead," and she unpinned them
carelessly--almost as if she did not like them any longer to touch
her--and threw them in the big open grate.

"Good-night--and thank you for your kindness," and she was off down the
passage and up the side stairs.

And when Gerard Strobridge joined the rest of the party in the
drawing-room, he had a cigarette between his lips, as though he had been
having a smoke, and it required all his polished skill to bring himself
back to talking gaily, and to looking what he did not feel, into Mrs.
Delemar's sparkling eyes, before they all parted for the night.

Meanwhile, Katherine Bush had reached her room and had flung herself
into the armchair. This would not do--she must steel herself against
giving way to weakness like this. Why had the scent of the violets in
another man's coat had power to affect her so that every part of her
being cried out for Algy? As though the suppressed emotions of her heart
would no longer obey her will--and must proclaim themselves her master!
It was shameful feebleness, and she indignantly resented the dominion
that love still held over her. She sat there reasoning with herself, but
nature reigned stronger than any other thing at the moment, and the
memory of her lover obsessed her. She seemed to hear his voice and feel
his kisses, until the agony of longing for reality grew unbearable, and
she fell forward and lay there on the rug before the fire beating the
floor with her hands. It was as the despair of some fierce savage caged
animal crying out for its mate. Her whole face altered, the most intense
passion blazed from her eyes--and whitened her cheeks. Could Gerard
Strobridge have seen her he would indeed have been moved.

"Algy! Algy--My darling, my love--Come back to me, I want you. My dear,
my dear!--"

She sobbed with agony--and then worn out at last--"Oh! God!" she wailed.
"Can whatever comes be worth it--after all!"

But by the morning she had crushed emotion and came down ready to assist
with the huge Christmas tree for the tenants' children, with her usually
composed face.

But that passion denied should have exacted this anguish frightened her
a little. All her will should be used to prevent such madness ever
holding sway again.



CHAPTER XVI


Lady Beatrice remained until the Saturday, greatly to her husband's
satisfaction and relief. He had manoeuvred this arrangement with much
skill, and Läo's vanity felt satisfied, and indeed gratified, by the
belief that the presence of his wife was causing Gerard untold suffering
and disappointment! The preliminaries of the game were so very
agreeable! and when they could be prolonged by fate so that there was no
fear of losing the other participant in them, nothing could be more to
her taste.

Passion, like that which Katherine Bush knew, would have appeared as
something absolutely shocking and horrible to her--indeed, she would
have agreed with Mabel Cawber in considering it as most unladylike!

The circumstance of the Christmas night dance had left a feeling of
mystery with Gerard Strobridge, which did not detract from his interest
in Katherine Bush. That some strong upheaval had taken place in this
strange young woman's soul he did not doubt.

But what in Heaven's name had caused it? Did it concern him?--Or was he
only the medium connecting some memory?--He wished he could feel sure.
Then there was the incident of his flowers; why had she worn them, and
then thrown them from her as if they had burnt her?

His rather tormenting thoughts kept him too frequent company--especially
as the provoking girl seemed to have retired from sight, and except on
rare occasions, before everyone, he never had the chance of even a
word.

Lady Garribardine's rheumatism was better, so Miss Bush had not even
been required to pour out the tea.

It was with a sigh of intense relief that he returned into the hall
after tucking Läo and his wife into the motor en route for London town,
on Saturday morning an hour or two before lunch.

The hostess was not down to speed her parting guests; she was very much
occupied in her boudoir, and they had gone thither to bid her farewell.

As Mr. Strobridge mounted the stairs, he met Katherine coming out of the
room with her arms full of papers and small parcels, and a couple of big
books, which she had some ado to carry.

"Let me help you," he said, eagerly--and she gave him the heavy volumes
without a word.

A sense of exasperation arose in him. He would not be flouted like this!
He followed her to the old schoolroom, merely remarking on the way that
now all the guests, except Colonel Hawthorne, had departed, he felt
there was breathing space.

Katherine seemed quite unconcerned and indifferent as to whether he did
or did not; and she took his burden from him and thanked him absently,
with a look towards the door evidently expecting him to go back again
whence he came.

But he showed no signs of moving.

"Am I to be offered a chair on this my first call upon Miss Bush?"

"It isn't a call--you helped me to carry the books. I am very busy
to-day."

"I don't care. I am here now, and I am going to stay--I shall tell my
aunt how inhospitable and ungracious you are!"

"Sneak!" and she began sorting the little parcels into a row, her sullen
eyes smiling. "I always hated tell-tales at school."

"So did I--but I could commit any crime to be with you. I have been
tantalized all the week--Miss Bush not even seen at tea--and only
glimpses of her scurrying along passages and up stairs!"

"What then do you want with Miss Bush?--Have you some more charity
business to do?"

"No--The charity will be quite on the side of the fair Katherine, if she
will allow a weary wayfarer to bask in the sunshine of her presence for
a little while."

"Mr. Strobridge, you are talking nonsense, and I have not a moment's
time to waste on you."

"I love to talk nonsense. It annoys you, and I want to see your eyes
flash. I have seen them laughing--and full of pain--and snakily
cold. Now I want them to flash--and then I would like them to grow
tender.--They would be divine like that."

Katherine sat down and took up a pen, with a glance of withering
indifference; then she began to address the labels of the packets from a
list.

He came quite close to her; he was feeling a number of things.

"What a temptress you are--aren't you?--teasing me like this!"

Katherine now opened her eyes wide and stared at him, but she did not
move away an inch.

"The whole thing is only in your imagination," she said, calmly. "You
are a proof of my theory that personal emotion creates appearance, and
hides reality."

"You understand then that I do feel emotion?"

"Why, of course. A man of your brains and cultivation could not behave
in so foolish a way otherwise."

He drew back and leaned against the mantelpiece while he laughed
shortly.

Katherine continued to work.

"I am merely waiting until you have finished directing those confounded
parcels, which I presume are for this post--and then I am going to coax
you to talk to me--May I smoke?"

"Yes, if you like--" still with lowered head.

"Won't you have a cigarette?"

"Thanks."

He handed her one from his case. She pulled a box of matches near and
lit it casually, going on with her work as a boy might have done--There
was no knocking off of ash or graceful movement of the hand in the
fashion of Läo, who loved her white jewelled fingers to be seen to
advantage.

Neither of them spoke. He might not have been in the room as far as she
was concerned! He, on the contrary, was profoundly aware of her
presence. Emotion such as he had not felt for years was surging through
him.

She was the most damnably attractive creature, he thought, he had ever
met. She awoke primitive passions, and stirred his blood. There was that
intense note of reality and strength about her. She was like some
dangerous lazy lioness. She made him feel that civilisation was slipping
from him, and that he could willingly seize her for a jungle mate.

She, however, continued to smoke and to write for quite ten minutes,
until all the parcels were addressed, and several papers examined and
annotated and filed. Then she looked up. His eyes had never left her
face.

"I can't think how you can stare like that," she said, with abominable
matter-of-factness. "It would make me blink."

"I can enjoy looking at the sun--Now are those infernal things finished?
I have been waiting with the patience of Job."

"But I can't think what for?"

"To talk to you."

"Well, talk then! I must do some typing," and she got up and went to her
machine, which was on another table by the window. She knew perfectly
well that she was driving him mad; it gave her a savage pleasure, and
seemed a sort of balance to her own emotions on Christmas night about
Algy.

He came and leant against the mantelpiece and looked down at her and
quoted Dryden:

    "She knows her man, and when you rant and swear
     Can draw you to her with a single hair."

and stretching out his hand, he touched for an instant the faint broad
waves on her forehead.

And now he saw her eyes flash brilliantly enough!

"If you are going to be impertinent, Mr. Strobridge, the staircase into
the garden is quite close, and the sooner you find your way to it, the
better I shall be pleased."

"I would not be impertinent for the world--the temptation was
overwhelming; it is so lovely, your hair--"

His voice was quite sincere, and it was not in her plan to quarrel with
him.

"Very well."

"I want to hear so many things about you, child--tell me what made you
come to my aunt's?--I somehow cannot ever feel that you should be in
any dependent position."

"I came to educate myself--I do not mean to be dependent always--What do
you do in the Foreign Office?"

He gave her a brief sketch of his days.

"Well, then," she said, "you have to do what you are told to
also--nothing matters as long as the spirit is not dependent. You will
be a Chief some day, I suppose?"

"Perhaps--and are you learning here?"

"Yes--and you could teach me if you liked."

"I should quite adore it--what wages should I have?"

"None."

"Then that means, by the rules of all games, that I should be working
for--love----"

She shrugged her shoulders and put in another piece of paper in the
typing machine. She had no intention of talking about--love----

"You are the queerest creature--you make me feel--I do not know
what--Well, if you won't discuss wages--tell me what I am to teach you?"

"Literature--Do you remember a day when I came in and had coffee in the
dining-room?--It was before you knew I existed--You and Her Ladyship
talked of the things then which I would like you to talk to me about."

"Yes, was it not strange?--I must have been blind all those weeks."

The sphinxlike smile hovered round Katherine's mouth; it was enigmatic
and horribly tantalizing. Gerard Strobridge felt a rush of wild emotion
again; the temptation to seize her in his arms and passionately kiss
those mocking lips almost overcame him. It is quite doubtful what might
have eventuated, if at that moment he had not caught sight of old
Colonel Hawthorne in the rose garden. He had come out through the same
little door which Katherine used, the passage from which, on the ground
floor, led to the smoking-room. He waved his hand and beckoned to
Gerard.

It broke the spell, and drove some sense into the latter's head.

"Colonel Hawthorne is calling you; had not you better go and get some
air?" Miss Bush suggested graciously. "It would be most beneficial, I am
sure, to you, on this fine morning!"

"I daresay you are right--Well, I will go--only some day perhaps you
will pay me some wages after all!"

"Is that a threat?"

"Not in the least"; he went towards the door. "Don't be cross--and when
you have time will you come and see the pictures in the gallery?"

"Yes--I would love that," and her face brightened. "But you had better
ask Lady Garribardine if I may."

"All right--Leave it to me--_Au revoir!_" and he was gone.

As he went down the stairs, he thought that it was a good idea of his
aunt's to have had the smoking-room removed to this wing of the house.
It had only been done that autumn, so that the shooters could go
straight in if they pleased, by the side door.

Katherine did not continue her typing for a moment after she was left
alone. Her brows were contracted. She was thinking deeply.

Mr. Strobridge might not be quite so easy to rule as Charlie Prodgers.
She had heard that thoroughbred racers required the lightest hand, and
also that there were moments when nothing would control them, neither
bridle, nor whip, nor spur. She must think out her plan of action
coolly. It was necessary for what she required of him that his desire to
please her should surmount all other things. At the present stage it
would be difficult to get him to talk sense--but she would do her best
to make him do so. This point settled, she went on with her work again
undisturbed.

Gerard Strobridge found old Tom Hawthorne a tiresome companion, on their
prowl round the stables, and soon escaped to his aunt's sitting-room; he
must somehow arrange for Katherine to see the pictures with him after
lunch.

Lady Garribardine was reading the _Times_ when he came in, and looked up
delightedly. She enjoyed converse with her favourite at any hour.

They talked of many things; politics in chief. Her Ladyship's views were
Tory to the backbone, but she had a speculative cynical lightness which
leavened any retrogressive tendencies. Gerard often disagreed with her
just to draw out her views. She loathed the Radical government. It
aroused her fiercest sarcasms and contempt.

How could such a class of people, she argued, from their heredity, no
matter what clever brains they had, have the right qualities in them to
enable them to govern England? How could they with personal and
financial axes to grind possibly concentrate honestly upon the welfare
of the country above their own necessities? It was quite ridiculous in
logic, whether their views were Radical or Tory. The supreme voice in
the government of a country should only be in the hands of those
raised by their position above all temptation for merely personal
aggrandisement, so that the glory of the country could be their
legitimate and undivided aim. It could not be that the little Mr.
Browns and Greens with their parochial lawyer instincts and bitter class
hatreds, greedy for their salaries and own advancement, could rise to
the necessary heights of sublime prevision to enable them to see far
enough ahead to have the final decision on any great question. She was
all in favour of the most advanced views for the advantage and raising
of the lower classes in freedom and education, no matter from which side
they emanated. But she resented the pushing up of individuals totally
unfit in integrity of character for the positions of authority they
occupied, and who year after year were exposed as having in some way
lowered the standard of honour in their office.

She would receive none such in her house.

"I eat with no one who lowers the prestige of my country in the eyes of
other nations," she declared. "Making us a laughing-stock in Europe
where we were once great!"

And for her that settled matters!

Mr. Strobridge coasted warily among the shoals of her opinions, and
gradually got the conversation on the topic of the pictures in the
gallery, some of which she really thought ought to be sent to London to
be cleaned--had Gerard noticed lately?--particularly two early Italians?
This was a most fortunate suggestion! Mr. Strobridge had noticed--and
had meant to speak about them.

"We must have a critical examination to-day after luncheon while the
light is good. One ought not to delay over such matters."

He knew incidently that his aunt was going to drive Tom Hawthorne into
the town in her phaeton, to try a new pair of cobs which she had bought
just before Christmas, and would be starting the moment that meal was
finished--but he showed just the right amount of regret and surprise
when she informed him of this fact.

"Never mind. I will go round alone, or better still, if you could spare
Miss Bush for an hour, I will get her to make shorthand notes of what I
think should be done to each picture."

Lady Garribardine looked at her nephew shrewdly; his face was innocent
as a babe's.

"I believe Miss Bush would make quite an agreeable companion in a
picture gallery," she remarked.

"I am sure you are perfectly right."

Then they both laughed.

"G., you won't flirt with the girl, will you, and turn her head?"

"The sad part of the affair is that it is the girl who is more likely to
turn my head. Her own is far too well screwed on."

"Upon my word, I believe you! Well, then, innocent of thirty-five,
don't be beguiled into idiocy by this competent _séductrice_ of
twenty-two!--If you were forty-five there would be no hope for you, but
a glimmer of sanity may remain in the thirties!"

"She _is_ attractive, Seraphim--and will love to see the pictures. She
says she wants to learn about art and literature--and kindred things."

"And you have offered to teach her?"

Mr. Strobridge put on a modest air, while his humorous grey eyes met his
aunt's merrily.

"I have applied for the post of tutor--with no salary attached."

"She won't put up with inefficiency; you will have to keep your wits at
high-water mark, then."

"I feel that."

"Well, G., perhaps you deserve a treat. The Christmas entertainment I
had provided for you in the way of Läo fell rather flat, did it not!"

"One grows tired of soufflé."

"Yes, but do not forget that more substantial food can cause shocking
indigestion, unless partaken of with moderation."

"Heavens, Seraphim! I am no gourmand!"

"Gerard, my dear boy--you are at a stage of hunger, I fear, when
intelligence may not guide discretion. You see, Nature is apt to break
out after years of artificial repression."

"We are overcivilised, I admit."

At that moment, the luncheon-gong sounded and they both rose from their
chairs.

Lady Garribardine slipped her fat hand into her nephew's arm, as they
went down the stairs.

"G.--I leave the afternoon to you--only don't burn your fingers
irretrievably; this young woman is no fool like poor Läo. I look upon
her as a rather marvellous product of the twentieth century."



CHAPTER XVII


After lunch the two in the picture gallery passed a perfectly delightful
half-hour. Mr. Strobridge had sagacity enough to know that he must stick
loyally to art, and indeed after the first few minutes he found he was
carried away himself, his listener was so interested, and gave such
intelligent response. He almost began to believe that she had really
come there to learn something; and not to flirt with himself! Her taste
also surprised him, and her want of all pose.

She wrote systematically the reflections he made as to the condition of
the canvases.

"It is a great thing to learn how to look at pictures," she said when
they halted before a particularly primitive Madonna. "Of course I could
not have seen anything to admire in this if I had come by myself, and I
do not suppose that I shall ever be able really to appreciate it--except
the colour--because there is something in me which likes the real so
much better than the ideal; I like prose far more than poetry, for
instance."

"Will you let me come up again to the schoolroom and read to you some
day?"

"I should like that very much."

"I would try to make you love poetry; you are endeavouring to convince
me that you are a very material young woman, you know!"

"Well, I suppose I am material. I like facts and solid things."

"And yet you spoke of dreamland once not so very long ago--do you
remember!"

"Yes--but you do not know that this dreamland of mine may not be a place
where wished-for facts and solid things appear realities, not fancies."

"You would not tell me if I asked you; I recollect how you eluded me
before, and said it was a place which only admitted yourself."

"Even materialists must have some corner where they can be alone."

Then he questioned her.--How had she learned all that she knew?--And his
interest did not diminish when she gave him a brief outline of the
manner of her education.

"It was very difficult sometimes, because I never had anyone with whom
to talk, and one grows one-sided _if_ one has only oneself to argue
with, and I don't really know how to pronounce numbers of words. I
should be grateful if you would tell me every time I make a mistake."

"It is quite evident that we must ratify this compact that I shall be
your tutor, though I am to get no wages--even love!"

"Who would be supposed to give the love?"

Her strange eyes glanced at him provokingly for a second, and then
resumed their steady look. He was quite uncertain as to whether in this
there lay a challenge.--He proceeded to act as if there did.

"When I come up to give my first lesson I will tell you all about the
giving--and taking--of love."

"That would be of no advantage to either of us. Love is a thing which
can cause only pain."

"You are quite mistaken--it is the only divine joy in this
unsatisfactory world."

Her face changed; she felt this was cruelly true--and she did not wish
to be reminded of the fact.

"You shall only come to the schoolroom if you talk sense. I will not
listen to a word of speculation about love; it is pure waste of
time--but in any case I do not see how you can come there at all. I
would not receive you without Her Ladyship's permission--it was very
kind of her to let me have this afternoon."

"What a circumspect darling!"

Miss Bush looked at him with scorn.

"I am not a darlings--I am a lower middle class young woman, trying to
learn how to be a lady, and whatever you think, if you want to be with
me, you will have to treat me as if I had arrived at my goal already."

"I think you have, but the greatest ladies are often darlings."

"Yes, but married men do not tell them so, on very short acquaintance,
Mr. Strobridge."

In his case he felt this was rather true, since he never spoke to girls
at all if he could help it. He suddenly wondered in what light he really
did consider her?--As an abstract and quite adorably provoking woman, he
supposed.

"Is there anything else to be written down?" she asked. She had become
the conventional secretary. "Because if not, I must go back to my work."

"My aunt gave me full permission to keep you for two hours. I told her
all we had to do would take quite that time."

"Well, you see it has not--we have come to the end of the gallery."

"Then there is a very comfortable sofa not too far from the fire, where
we could sit down and discuss what we have learned."

They walked to it. As long as he was being of some use to her Katherine
Bush desired his company. So they talked uninterruptedly until dusk
fell, and the footmen would soon be coming to close shutters and draw
curtains.

They flitted from subject to subject, Gerard Strobridge exerting his
brain to interest and amuse her, in a way that he had seldom done
with Englishwomen, even of his own class. Her receptive power was
exceptional, and she was completely frank. She was honestly and deeply
interested in all he had to say, and the subtle flattery of this was
eminently soothing. He began to take pride in his pupil. They touched
upon the spirit of the Renaissance and its origin--and upon all the
glorious flood of light which it brought to art and learning. He was
astonished to find her so advanced in certain branches of literature,
and absolutely ignorant of the names even of others--showing that it had
merely been chance and no helping hand which had guided her.

"I must send you some books upon the Renaissance," he said, "if you will
let me."

"That will be very kind--If I had had some master to give me an idea
what to read, as a kind of basis to go upon, it would have been much
better, but I had no guide--only if I saw one subject that I did not
know about mentioned in what I was reading, I looked it up, but of
course with really educated people there must be some plan."

"Well, shall we begin upon the Renaissance; that is rather a favourite
period of mine?"

"Yes--do you not wonder if we shall ever have another?--What a lot of
good it would do us, would it not?"

"Probably--some learned professors think that we must go through a
second series of dark ages first; when we shall get back to primitive
ideas--and primitive passions."

"It may be,--nearly everything natural is distorted now; the world seems
so tired to me, just looking on."

He stretched himself and threw out his arms--as it were to break some
imaginary bonds.

"Yes--we have been coerced into false morals and manners--and we have
suppressed most things which make life worth having--sometimes I envy
the beasts."

"I never do that--it is only weaklings who are coerced; the strong do
what they please, even in these days--but however strong a beast may be,
he always finds, as Jack London shows with his wonderful _Buck_ in 'The
Call of the Wild,' that there is invariably 'the man with the club.'"

"You mean to conquer fate, then?"

"I shall do my very best to obtain my desires, and of course shall have
to pay for all my mistakes."

He looked at her curiously--had she made any mistakes? Not many, he
thought, her regard was so serene, and her clever, strong face showed no
vacillation. He suddenly faced the fact that he was falling in love with
her, not as he had tried to do with Läo--not even as he had once
succeeded in doing with Alice Southerwood, long ago. There was a quality
in his present feeling which almost frightened him, it was so lawless.

She felt his eyes searching hers burningly, and rose from the sofa.

"Now I am going to have my tea--so good-bye for to-day. I have really
enjoyed the pictures."

"May not I come and have tea with you? I am all alone."

"Certainly not--Martha would be scandalised. It does seem so
extraordinary that I should have to tell you such things--it shows
either great disrespect to me, or else--"

"What?" eagerly. He had risen, too, and was following her as she walked
down the long room.

"--That you cannot help yourself."

"Yes--that is it. You have bewitched me in some way--I cannot help
myself."

"Do you want all I have taken down typewritten? I can do it after tea,
if so?"

"And you will sit up there all by yourself from now until you go to
bed?"

"Of course."

"You must feel awfully solitary."

"Not in the least. I have books which are the most agreeable companions.
They have no independent moods--you can be sure of them, and pick up
those which suit yourself. Good-night."

And she turned at the bend of the great staircase from which the gallery
opened, and rapidly walked on to the entrance to her passage.

He looked after her with a rapt face, and then he went discontentedly
down into the library, and waited for his aunt's return.

He was extremely disturbed; it was horribly tantalizing to feel that
this girl whom he was so passionately drawn to, was there in the house
with him, and that he might not talk with her further, or be in her
presence.

He walked up and down the room--and those who knew the casual Gerard
Strobridge, cultivated, polished and self-contained, would have been
greatly surprised could they have seen his agitated pacings.

Lady Garribardine had a quizzical eye when she finally came in--how had
the afternoon progressed? Her opinion of the mental balance of her
secretary was exceedingly high. She felt convinced that she would know
exactly how to tackle her nephew, and if Gerard desired to amuse himself
he would certainly do so whether she smiled upon the affair or not!

It did strike her that he was rather a dangerous creature to be left a
free hand with any young woman--and that after to-day she would see that
Katherine ran no more risks from too much of his company.

The pupils of his eyes were rather dilated, she noticed; otherwise he
seemed his usual self at tea--and when Colonel Hawthorne left them
alone, she got him to read to her, and did not mention her secretary at
all.

The afternoon had been most instructive, Katherine thought, as she ate
her muffin, and looked at the papers before the old schoolroom fire. She
had learned a quantity of things. Mr. Strobridge was undoubtedly a
charming man, and she wondered what effect he would have had upon her if
she had never met Algy? As it was he mattered no more than a chair or a
table, he was just part of her game. And he was rapidly approaching the
state when she could obtain complete dominion over him.

"He knows quite well that he is married and that I can never honestly be
anything to him. He is only coming after me because he is attracted and
is not master of his passions or his will. If he is a weakling he must
pay the price--I shall not care! He is not thinking in the least as to
whether or no it will hurt me--he is only thinking of himself, just like
Bob Hartley, only he is a gentleman and therefore does not make any
hypocritical promises to try to lure me."

And then she laughed softly. "Well, whatever comes is on his own head,
I need have no mercy upon him!"

So she calmly finished her tea and wrote to Matilda whose excited letter
with the family news of Gladys' secret marriage she had not yet replied
to. Gladys had written her a little missive also--full of thanks for her
part in the affair. Bob was being rather rude and unkind to her about
it, she said, but it was not altogether his fault, because on Christmas
night he had had rather too much to drink, and had been quarrelsome for
two days since. She was going to keep the expected event from being
known as long as possible, and then she supposed they would go and live
somewhere together. It would be wretched poverty and struggle, and she
was miserable, but at least she felt an "honest woman," and could not be
grateful enough to her sister for bringing this state of things about.
Katherine stared into the fire while she thought over it all. It seemed
to her too astonishing that a woman should prefer a life tied to a man
who was reluctant to keep her--his drudge and the object of his
scorn--to one of her own arranging in America, perhaps--along with the
child, but free. Gladys had sufficient talent in her trade to have
earned good wages anywhere, and must have enough money saved, could she
have got it from Matilda's fond guardian clutches, to have tided over
the time. But weaklings must always suffer and be other people's slaves
and tools. Poor Gladys! Then she fell to thinking of Algy--why was he
haunting her? For the first month the complacent satisfaction from the
conquest of self had upheld her splendidly, but now the pain felt as
keen as on the first day of separation.

_She would crush it._

Except on the path coming out of church she had no words with Mr.
Strobridge on the morrow--and then it was only a few sentences of
ordinary greeting. Lady Garribardine claimed his entire attention. She
did see him from the window, smoking a cigar in the rose garden in the
afternoon, whither he had come from the smoking-room. She deliberately
let him catch sight of her, as she stood there, and she marked the look
of eager joy on his face, and then she moved away and did not appear
again.

So the Monday arrived--the last day of the old year.

Lady Garribardine was having no party for it as was her usual custom;
her rheumatism was rather troublesome, and she stayed in the house all
the day, up in her boudoir, where Katherine was in constant attendance.

Gerard and Colonel Hawthorne were out rabbiting with the keepers in the
park, and only came in to tea.

Katherine found her mistress rather exacting and difficult to please,
and she felt tired and cross--so it gave her some kind of satisfaction
to be as provoking as possible when she was ordered to pour out the tea
for the shooters in the sitting-room. She remained perfectly silent, but
every now and then allowed her magnetic eyes to meet Mr. Strobridge's
with the sphinxlike smile in them.

On his side Gerard had found the hours hell.--He knew he was now madly
in love with this exasperating girl, and that she was exercising the
most powerful attraction upon him.

He gazed at her as she sat there, white and sensuous-looking, her red
lips pouting, and her grey-green eyes full of some unconscious
challenge, and gradually wild excitement grew in his blood.

As soon as her actual duties were over, Katherine said respectfully:

"If Your Ladyship has no more need of me, I must get some letters
finished before the post goes."

And when a nod of assent was given, she quietly left the room.

So Gerard Strobridge knew he would see her no more that night; and there
would be a boring dinner with the parson, and his wife and daughter, to
be got through, and on the morrow he was returning to town!

For the first time in their lives he felt resentful towards his aunt.
That Seraphim should not have been more sympathetic, and have made some
opportunity for him to talk again to Katherine, was quite too bad!

She, who usually understood all his moods and wants! Her silence upon
the subject of her secretary, ever since her return from that drive, was
ominous, now that he thought about it. Evidently he need hope for no
further coöperation from her, and because he was feeling so deeply, he
could not act in the casual and intelligent way to secure his ends which
he would have used on other occasions. So the incredibly wearisome
evening passed. The guests left early, and Lady Garribardine went gladly
to bed, leaving her nephew and Colonel Hawthorne to drink in the New
Year together--the New Year of 1912.

But the old gentleman was fatigued with his day's shooting and when
half-past eleven came he was glad to slink off to his friendly couch.

Thus Gerard was alone.

He lit a cigar and stretched himself in a huge leather armchair, an
untouched drink close at hand.

The house was quite silent. He had told Bronson that he would put out
the lights in the smoking-room when they left. No one was about and not
a breath of wind stirred a tree outside.

He sat there for some minutes--and then his heart began to beat
violently.

Whose was that soft footfall directly overhead? With the departure of
the grandchildren from the old nurseries there was no one left in the
wing but Katherine Bush!

All sorts of visions came to him; she had not yet gone to bed--perhaps
she, too, was waiting for the New Year?

He got up and listened, his pulses bounding so that he seemed to hear
his heart thumping against his side.

There was the sound again!

It was not to be endured. Fierce emotion shook him, and at last all
restraint fell from him, and passion became lord.

Then he extinguished the lights and softly crept up the stairs.



CHAPTER XVIII


Katherine had that instant removed her dressing-gown after the brushing
of her hair, which now hung in two long plaits. She was in the act of
slipping into bed. The carpet in the passage was thick, and she heard no
sounds, so that the first thing which startled her was the actual
opening of the door of her room, which it had not been her custom to
lock.

For one second a blind terror shook her, and then all her nerve and
resource returned. She stood there magnificent in her anger and
resentment. She had no female instinct instantly to seize the
dressing-gown to cover herself. She stood straight up in her cheap
nainsook nightgown, all the beautiful lines of her tall, slender figure
showing in the soft shaded light.

Gerard Strobridge was like a man drunk with wine. His eye flamed and he
trembled with excitement. The bed, a small old wooden one, was between
them with a writing-table at the foot. So that to reach her he must go
round by the fire.

This he did, while he whispered hoarsely:

"Katherine--I love you--madly--I had to come to you, darling girl!" Then
he stopped within a few feet of her, literally sobered by the expression
of her face. It showed not an atom of fear--rather the proud contempt of
an empress ordering the death of a presuming slave.

She did not speak for a moment; she seemed to draw up to her full
height, and even to grow taller; she was only an inch or two less than
himself. And if the scorn of eyes could kill, he would have lain there
dead.

"Darling!" he cried, and went forward to take her in his arms.

She stepped back only one step and spoke at last, her deep tones low.

"If you dare to touch me, I will kill you--I am not afraid of you, you
know--You are only a beast, after all--and I am the man with the club."

"Beautiful fiend!"--but he hesitated--He was no coward, and cared not a
jot for her threats, only his fastidiousness was assailed by the thought
of a struggling, fighting woman in his embrace, when he had come there
for--Love! It would be wiser, perhaps, to cajole her. He was too
intoxicated with passion to realise that it would also seem more
dignified!

"Katherine, do not be so horribly unkind, darling girl! I love you
wildly, I tell you, and I want you to be mine."

"What for?" She was perfectly calm still, and never moved from her
place.

"That we may be happy, you sweet thing. I want to hold you in my arms
and caress you, and make us both forget that there is anything else in
the whole wide world but our own two selves!"

And exalted by this enchanting picture, he drew a little closer and held
out his hands.

"I tell you plainly--if you come one step nearer to me, you do so at
your own risk. I will tear the flesh from your face with my nails, and
strangle you." Her voice was absolutely deadly in its icy intentness. "I
am not weak, and I despise your mean action in coming here to-night too
greatly to have any fear."

The breeding in him responded to this sting.

"My mean action--!" but his voice faltered a little, and she interrupted
him before he could argue further.

"Yes--I am a dependent in your aunt's house here, earning my living, and
you chance my being disgraced and sent away for your own shamefully
selfish ends. Indeed, you are teaching me the lesson of the depth to
which an aristocrat can sink."

He drew back, and some of the fire died out of him. Her words cut him
like a knife, but he was too overwrought with emotion yet to give in and
leave her.

"Katherine--my darlings--forgive me!" he cried, brokenly. "I admit I am
mad with love, but you shall never suffer for it--give yourself to me,
and I will take you away from all drudgery. You shall have a house where
you like. I will protect you and teach you all you desire to know. You
shall lead an intellectual life worthy of your brain. We can travel in
Italy and France, and I shall worship and adore you--Katherine, my
sweet!"

The tones of his cultivated voice vibrated with deep feeling, and he
looked all that was attractive as he stood there in his faultless
evening clothes, pleading to her as though he were but a humble
suppliant for grace, and she a queen.

But Katherine was not in the least touched, although her awakened
critical faculties realised fully the agreeable companion he would
probably make as a lover, with his knowledge of the world, and his
polished homage to women. There was something fierce and savagely
primitive at this moment in her faithfulness to Algy. For all the
strongly sensuous side of her nature, any other man's caresses appeared
revolting to her. It was _the man_, not _men_, who could arouse her
passionate sensibility.

"You ask me to be your mistress, then--is that it?" her voice was coldly
level, like one discussing a business proposition.

His whole face lit up again--there was hope perhaps after all.

"Of course, darling--What else?"

"It is an insult--but I am not concerned with that point. My views are
perhaps not orthodox. I am merely interested in my side of the affair,
which is that I have not the slightest wish for the post. I will be no
man's mistress--do you hear?"

"Katherine, can I not make you love me, sweet?"

She laughed softly. It was a dangerous sound, ominous as that which a
lioness might make when she purrs.

"Not if you stayed on your knees for a thousand years! I have loved one
man in my life with the kind of love which you desire--I know exactly
what it means, and probably I shall never love another in that way--I
sacrificed him for my idea. I had will enough to leave him, feeling for
him what perhaps you feel for me. So do you think, then, that you could
move me in the least!--You whom I do not love, but--despise!"

All this time, she stood there utterly desirable in her thin raiment,
which she had never sought to cover. Indeed, now that she saw that she
was going to win the game, she took joy that he should understand what
he had lost, so that his punishment should be the more complete: there
was nothing pitiful or tender about Katherine Bush. Her strange, strong
character had no mercy for a man who had shown her that he was not
master of himself--above all things, she admired self-control.

Gerard Strobridge suffered, as she spoke, as perhaps he had never done
in his life before. If he had been one whit less of a gentleman, he
would not now have conquered himself; he would have seized her in his
arms, and made her pay for her scalding words. The effect of tradition
for centuries, however, held him even beyond the mad longing which again
thrilled through his blood as he looked at her.

He flung himself into the armchair and buried his head in his hands.

"My God!" he cried, hoarsely, "how you can torture--can you not? I knew
when I watched you in church that you could be cruel as the grave--but I
thought to-day when you looked at me there in my aunt's sitting-room,
that to me perhaps you meant to be kind; your face is the essence of
passion--it would deceive any man."

"Then it is well that you should be undeceived--and that we should
understand one another. What did you think you would gain by coming here
to-night?--My seduction? And some pleasure for yourself." She was
horribly scornful again. "You never thought of me--It does not matter
what my personal views are about such relations; you do not know them,
and I do not believe that I have given you reason to think that you
might treat me with want of respect; but your action shows that you do
not respect me, I can only presume, because of my dependent position,
and because you despise my class--since you would certainly not have
behaved so to any of your aunt's guests."

He writhed a little at her taunt, and his face was haggard now as he
looked up at her.

"There is no use in my asking you to forgive me--but it is not true that
I do not respect you, or that I have acted as I have for the reason
that I despise your class--That is a hateful thought. I came here
to-night because I am a man--and was simply mad with longing for you
after the tantalization of the last two days, and never being able to
speak a word to you." His breath came rather fast, and he locked
together his hands. "I love you--I would have come had you been the
highest lady in the land. My action was not premeditated--it was
yielding to a sudden strong temptation because I was sitting there in
the smoking-room thinking of you, and I heard the noise of your soft
footfall overhead, and suddenly all the furious passion in me would no
longer be denied and cried out for you!"

He rose and came over to her, and sitting down on the edge of the bed,
he held out his arms to her in supplication. "It swept away all the
civilisation in me. Nature breaks asunder all barriers in the best of us
at times--and you are so adorably dear--Katherine--darling--I have done
this thing, and now it is too late for me to plead for your pardon--but
I love you more wildly than I have ever loved a woman in my life.--You
could make me your slave, Katherine, if you would only give yourself to
me. I would chase away the memory of that other and teach you all the
divine things of love there are to learn in life."

She moved and stood by the fireplace. She was shivering a little, half
from cold.

"I forbid you to say another word on this subject," she said gravely,
but with less of her former scorn. "Neither you nor any other man could
rob me of the memory of my once dear lover--but I would rather not hate
you--so I appeal to that part of you that I still think is a gentleman
to go at once out of my room."

He followed her to the fire almost overcome again by the picture she
presented in her straight thin garment, virgin white and plain. He
wildly desired to unplait that thick soft hair and bury his face in
it--he longed to hold her to his heart. But he restrained himself.

There was complete silence for a second or two, and then across the park
in the church tower, midnight pealed, tolling the dying year.

They both lifted their heads to listen, unconsciously counting the
strokes, and then when the last one struck, and the joyous bells rang
out, something in their sound melted the anger and contempt in
Katherine's soul. She looked at him, his refined, distinguished face
very pale and utterly dejected now. And the broad-minded, level-headed
judgment which she brought to bear on all matters told her that she had
no right to great anger and made her realise for the first time that she
was actually to blame perhaps for this situation having developed since
she had not sufficiently considered what might be the possible result of
arresting a man's attention through the eyes and ears.

"Listen," she said gently, holding out her beautiful hand. "Here is the
New Year--I do not want to begin it with any hard thoughts--After all, I
understand you--and I forgive you. I believe I have been in some measure
to blame. I cannot ever be your love--but I am very lonely--won't you be
my true knight and friend?"

She had touched the deepest chord of his being. The tears sprang to his
fine grey eyes; he knelt down upon the rug and bent and kissed her
knees.

"Indeed, I will--I swear it, darling--And whatever suffering it brings
to me, I will never make you regret your sweet forgiveness of me, and
your resumed trust in me to-night."

She leaned forward, and for an instant smoothed his thick brown hair in
blessing.

He took her hands and kissed the palms, and then without another word,
he rose and went towards the door. There he turned and looked at her,
standing in the firelight, the dark oak-panelled room only lit by the
one small electric-shaded lamp by the bed. He looked and looked, as
though his famished eyes must surfeit themselves with the vision. It was
fair enough to see!

And then he noiselessly quitted the room and went on down the stairs to
the smoking-room as silently as he had come.



CHAPTER XIX


The months went by. It was Easter time before Katherine Bush again saw
Gerard Strobridge. He went off to Egypt about the middle of January, and
Lady Garribardine was up in London for a few days alone before he left
seeing her grandchildren off. Katherine missed him, and unconsciously
his influence directed her studies. She remembered isolated sentences
that he had used in their talk that day in the picture gallery. He had
certainly shown a delightfully cultivated mind, and she wished that
things had not reached a climax so soon between them. She regretted
deeply that she had caused him any pain and determined never to deviate
from loyal friendship so that he should have no cause to suffer further.
He had not forgotten about the books, and she was now the proud
possessor of several volumes on the Renaissance, including, of course,
Symonds and Pater. They opened yet another door in her imagination, and
on days when she was not very busy, she would wander in the picture
gallery and go over all the examples of the Italian masters again and
again, and try to get the atmosphere of the books.

Lady Garribardine watched her silently for the first few weeks after her
nephew went, without increasing their intimacy. Her shrewd mind was
studying Katherine, to make sure that she had made no mistake about her.
Such a very deep creature might have sides which would make her regret
having dropped the reserve which, accompanied by a high-handed
kindliness, she showed to all her dependents.

The great event of New Year's day had been the advent of the grey wig so
beautifully arranged with her ladyship's own snow-white hair, that the
whole thing seemed growing together! With her dark, sparkling eyes and
jet brows, she now looked an extremely handsome old lady; and Katherine
who did not see her until the afternoon when they were alone, was unable
to keep a faint, almost inaudible "Ah!" of admiration from escaping,
when she first saw her. She was furious with herself and bit her lip,
but Lady Garribardine smiled.

"You would say something, Miss Bush? Pray speak."

Katherine coloured a little; she felt this was one of those slips which
she very seldom made, but frankness being always her method, she
answered quietly:

"I only thought how beautiful Your Ladyship looked--just like the
Nattier in the gallery."

"You find my grey locks an improvement, then?"

"Oh, yes!"

"The Nattier was an ancestress of mine.--A French entanglement of a
great great-grandfather, which ended, as these affairs are seldom
fortunate enough to do, in a marriage all correct with the church's
blessing--the husband being most conveniently killed in a duel with
another man!--So the then d'Estaire brought her here to Blissington,
where she was shockingly bored, poor thing! and died a year or two after
producing an heir for him. When I was young, I always went to fancy
balls as the charming creature--it is amusing that you see the likeness
even now."

"It is very striking."

"I always felt a great pity for her--transplanted from Versailles and
all the joys of the Court, to this quiet, English home--Have you ever
read Lord Chesterfield's letters to his son, girl?"

Katherine had not.

"Well, then, you had better read them; there is a good edition in the
library. They are, you will find, the most instructive things in English
literature. If I had had a son, I would have brought him up upon them. I
was reminded of them now by thinking of my twice great-grandmother.
Chesterfield always quotes the French nobles of that date as the _ne
plus ultra_ of good breeding, and rather suggests that the Englishmen
were often boors or blockheads. So although d'Estaire may have satisfied
her, the general company could not have done so, one feels."

"I would like to see Versailles," Katherine ventured to remark.

"You will some day--I may go to Paris after Easter--one must have
clothes."

Katherine realised this necessity--her own wardrobe would require
replenishing by the springtime, but she had not dreamed of Paris.

Her immediate action after this was to get from the library the
Chesterfield Letters, the reading of which she always afterwards looked
back upon as being the second milestone in her career. She devoured
them, and learned countless advantageous lessons of the world therefrom.
The first and chief being the value of graciousness and good manners.
She now began to realise that her own were too sullen and abrupt, and a
marked change in them was soon perceivable to anyone who would have
cared to notice. This was during the time when she was still only on
probation in her employer's favour, but it was not lost upon that astute
lady; nothing ever escaped her eagle eye. And she often smiled to
herself quietly when she watched the girl.

Now and then they would go up to the London house for a few days and
"picnic," as Her Ladyship called it, which meant taking only her
personal footman to wait on her, and a maid or two for the house.
Katherine went with her nearly always, and was sent shopping and allowed
to go and see her family, if she wished.

But she did not wish, and always met Matilda at some place for tea. The
gulf between them was growing wider and wider, and while Katherine was
far more agreeable than of old, Matilda stood in much greater awe of
her.

She felt, although she would not have owned it for the world, that her
sister had really gone into another class, and she was not quite
comfortable with her. Katherine seemed to look more stately and refined
each time, and Matilda gloried and grieved in secret over it.

Gladys accompanied her on one occasion.

"I suppose Kitten will be marrying one of them gentlemen, some day,"
Matilda said on the way home to Laburnum Villa. "You'd never know she
wasn't someone tip-top now, would you, Glad?"

"No--she is quite like any of our 'real thing' lot who came into
Ermantine's--they're dowdy, but you'd know they were it."

"Well, I hope she'll be happy." Matilda sighed doubtfully.

"Yes, she will," Gladys returned a little bitterly. "Katherine would
never do anything to get herself into a mess; she is quite just, and she
can be awfully kind--but she looks to the end of things and doesn't care
a rush for anyone but sticks to what she wants herself. I tell you what,
Tild, I used to hate her--but I don't now--I respect Katherine. She is
so perfectly true."

"She seems to talk different, don't you notice, Glad?"

"She always did--but now more than ever; she is like our best lot--I
suppose she did learn something extra at those evening classes she was
so fond of?"

Matilda shook her head regretfully.

"I never did hold to them--she'd have been happy at home now and engaged
to Charlie Prodgers all comfortable, but for that nonsense."

"Oh! but, Tild, I expect what she has got is better even than that."

"What! to be a grand lady's servant, Glad! My! I'd far rather be Mrs.
Prodgers, junior, a lady myself, and keep my own general! Mabel's
forever saying Katherine can't be anything but a slave--And Mabel
knows--her cousin's aunt's daughter who married that gentleman with the
large city business was presented at Court!"

But Mrs. Bob Hartley only sighed. Life was growing particularly grim for
her just now. She felt horribly ill, and had to stand about all day, and
conceal every sensation to keep up the appearances that all was fair.

Katherine reflected deeply upon the moral of the situation, after her
sisters had left her. What martyrs many women were in life! and what
hideous injustice it all seemed--and more than ever she saw how
merciless nature is to weaklings.

About three weeks before Easter, Lady Garribardine was alone down at
Blissington; she had lately taken to having her secretary with her
sometimes on her frequent visits to her cottagers.

She would start in a rough, short suit, and a pair of thick boots, with
a serviceable walking-stick, and would tramp for miles carrying a
basket, in which were sweets and medicines. She was worshipped by her
people, arrogant, commanding, kindly great lady!

On one of these occasions they had the motor to meet them at the end of
the home village, and drove six or seven miles to another in her
outlying property.

She was very gracious as they went along.

"What books have you been reading lately, girl? If they are the
Chesterfield Letters I think I may tell you that you have profited by
them. Your manners generally are greatly improved."

Katherine reddened with pleasure.

"I have read them over and over again. I have found them more
instructive to me than any other book."

"In my young days they were considered highly immoral and pernicious, by
most of the canting Victorian hypocrites--when, of course, everyone of
the world knew that Chesterfield's advice on all points was the most
sensible and sagacious that could be given--but hypocrisy had risen to a
colossal height in the sixties and seventies."

"I suppose so."

"Nowadays not one person in ten thousand reads them, more's the pity. If
the young men with their great personal beauty--which sport and suitable
feeding have produced--could have been brought up to understand the
advantage of cultivating 'the graces,' what godlike creatures they would
be!"

Katherine thought of Lord Algy; he must have done so unconsciously, she
felt.

"People are so apt to judge such a book upon the letter, not the
spirit--naturally one must make allowances for the different customs and
habits of the times; but the spirit of the advice adapted to modern
requirements would make any man or woman into an eminent person if it
was faithfully followed. I recommend it to you strongly, since I believe
you are steadily trying to educate yourself, Miss Bush."

"I am, indeed--I hope I am not overconfident in believing that if one
probes the meaning of everything, and can see the faults in oneself,
including those of instinct, it is possible to do, by will, what only
the evolution of centuries accomplishes by natural process. The
Chesterfield Letters have encouraged me in my belief."

"Of course, it is possible, but people will hardly ever face the truth,
and would not dream of examining their own instincts; it would wound
their self-love; they would rather be mediocre and blinded to their
stupidities, than teach themselves any useful lesson. Your determined
effort interests me deeply, child."

Katherine turned a radiant face of gratitude; this was praise indeed!

"I will do all I can to merit Your Ladyship's goodness to me."

"No, I am not good--I have no altruistic or humanitarian proclivities--I
would not bother with you for five minutes if you were not so
intelligent that I have grown to take a kind of pride in you."

"I can't say how I appreciate Your Ladyship's kindness."

Lady Garribardine turned and looked at her for a second, and then she
said slowly:

"I am going to ask you a question not strictly justifiable--and you need
not answer it if you would rather not--but you may have formed some
opinion of my integrity in these months, which will perhaps allow you to
be frank with me--Did my nephew, Gerard Strobridge, make violent love to
you when he spent Christmas with us? It seemed to me at the time, and
afterwards, that he grew considerably depressed."

Katherine felt a twinge of distress.

"Mr. Strobridge showed some interest in me which I felt it wiser to
discourage--He was very kind to me though, and agreed to be my friend,
and sent me some books."

For a second, Lady Garribardine felt irritated. Her precious Gerard to
have been a suppliant to this dependent in her house!--And then the
broad justice of her nature regained its mastery; the girl was worthy of
the homage of a king.

"I think he must have been extremely hard hit--I am quite devoted to
him, as you know. I rely upon you not to hurt him more than you can
help, when he comes back."

"I never wished to hurt him at all--I did wish to talk to him, though,
because he is so clever, so at first I was glad to attract his
attention. I know now that that was wrong."

Lady Garribardine looked at her secretary critically. She was astonished
at this frank avowal which she realised not another woman in a million
in Katherine's situation would have made.

"You deliberately attracted him then, girl, eh?----" her voice was
stern.

"Yes--on the afternoon he first spoke to me when we typed the charity
papers. I was so anxious to learn about books and art, and before that
he had not noticed me at all."

"You did not calculate that it might hurt him?"

Lady Garribardine wondered at herself that she did not feel angry.

"No. I never thought about that--he seemed older and of the world, and
able to take care of himself, and he was married."

"None of which things ever saved a man when Eve offered the apple--I
suppose I ought to be very annoyed with you, child--but I believe it has
done him good; he wanted rousing, he is, as you say, so clever.

"He could have done brilliantly, but he is lacking in perseverance--If
he had married a woman like you, he would have risen to great things.
The finest gift of God is an indomitable purpose _to do_. My nephew
drifted, I fear."

Then their talk branched off to other things, and this proud old
aristocrat, having made up her mind now once for all that Katherine
possessed a character and qualities after her own heart, she from this
day treated her as an equal and a valued companion whenever they were
not in actual relation of employer and secretary; when in that, she
would always resume her original aloof manner of one in command.

Katherine delighted in this _nuance_, and appreciated the subtle tribute
to her own sense of the fitness of things, and never once took the ell
when she was given the inch, showing in this the immeasurable distance
she had risen above her class.

And so Easter came, and with it a large party--and Gerard Strobridge. At
first sight, he did not appear at all changed. Katherine saw him from
the window of the schoolroom just at sunset on the Thursday afternoon,
when the guests arrived. He was walking in the rose garden with a tall,
beautiful woman. The lowering globe of fire was making a blaze of
reflected light from striking the row of mullioned windows of the
picture gallery on the opposite side, and the flower-beds were a mass of
daffodils and hyacinths. It was a nice background. He looked up, so
Katherine saw his face plainly--then she stepped behind the curtain and
the pair went on.

She felt very glad to see him, and wondered when they would meet. At
these huge parties she never came down, even to pour out the tea if Her
Ladyship's hand ached, as at the smaller family Christmas one. So unless
he made the chance deliberately, it was quite possible no words would be
exchanged.

This uncertainty added to the interest, and made her decide when Sunday
should come to take especial pains with her appearance for church--Under
Gladys' direction, she would be most simply and charmingly garbed, in a
new blue serge suit, and becoming black hat. Before Saturday when they
actually met, however, she had seen Gerard twice, once from the gallery
as she was leaving Lady Garribardine's sitting-room, and he was talking
to the same beautiful lady in the hall--and once from her window when he
paced the rose garden alone.

Katherine was familiar with the names and characteristics of all the
guests, for had she not written their invitations and read their
answers? Did she not type the cards which slipped into the little plates
on their doors, and those for their places at dinner?--And on Saturday
night a message came for her that she was to print two more, and go
immediately to Bronson with a fresh arrangement of the table, as two
extra men were going to turn up by motor at the last moment, guardsmen
quartered at Windsor.

She was coming from the dining-room down the passage which led to her
staircase, and also the smoking-room, when Gerard emerged from there,
and met her at the foot of the stairs.

He put out his hand with cordial friendliness, while he cried gaily:

"At last I can greet you!--I would not go to dress on purpose, because I
saw you rush down the passage, and I knew you would have to come
back--It is good to see you again!"

She answered suitably and would have passed on, only he barred the way.

"I thought you were going to let me be a friend," he said reproachfully,
"and here you snub me at once and want to run away."

"No--but you will be late."

"I care not a jot!--When can I possibly see you to-morrow?"

His eyes began to grow hungry; he was taking in the subtle improvement
in her--which had happened even in these few months. His interest in her
had not diminished, he discovered, much as he had hoped that he had
crushed it to within bounds.

"I cannot say--in church, I suppose."

"That is small comfort! May I not come up the stairs just for half an
hour before lunch?"

"Yes, if you find it possible--remember, I trust you not to do anything
unwise."

"I promise--if you prefer it, I will ask my aunt's permission."

"Do as you think best--but now I must go. Good-night!"

He took her hand and kissed it--his lips were burning. Then he watched
her as she went up the stairs, never looking back. And a sudden anguish
came over him. How hopeless the whole thing was! He had better not have
relied upon his self-command, and have stayed away.

He did not go to church on the Sunday. Katherine rather wondered at
this, as she walked back alone across the park. In the country, Lady
Garribardine expected the inmates of her house to be very orthodox.

The fine spring wind had blown two faint pink roses into her cheeks, by
the time she reached the schoolroom, and there found Mr. Strobridge
seated in her favourite armchair reading a book!

He rose eagerly as she entered, but he did not shake hands.

"I thought possession would be nine points of the law, so I ensconced
myself here, and awaited you, and I am going to stay until you turn me
out."

"Very well--that will be at ten minutes to one--at five minutes to,
Thomas comes to lay the table for my lunch."

"That gives us just under half an hour--Katherine, you beautiful thing,
let me look at you!"

And now he took both her hands and pulled her to the light.

"You have grown much prettier, you know--and are more attractive than
ever, alas!"

"If you are going to talk like that, although you may stay, I shall
leave you alone."

"No, I am going to be reasonable. Tell me everything, what you have been
doing, and reading, and thinking, since I went away?"

"I have been doing my work--and reading all the books you gave me--and
many others--and thinking about life."

"Never once of me, I suppose?"

"Yes--you are part of my life--my one friend."

He started forward.

"Darl----" but he checked himself before the word came quite out, and
said instead:

"Ah! that is joy to hear! And now I want to know what you thought of
Symonds and Pater and the rest?--You will have quantities of things to
discuss with me, I am sure."

Katherine began taking off her hat and coat, and then put them neatly on
the long, hard sofa; she never glanced in the glass or patted her
hair--She was boyish in her unconsciousness.

Gerard Strobridge watched her, and then suddenly looked away; the insane
desire was rising in him again to take her in his arms. So he exerted
extra control over himself, and spent the rest of the time in truly
friendly converse, in which he assumed the character of stern tutor,
examining a promising pupil upon a holiday task performed in his
absence.

Katherine was enchanted, and when ten minutes to one came, she wished he
had not to go.

"It has given me so much pleasure to talk to you--I am so glad you have
come back." But she held her hands behind her when he would have taken
them again, in gladness at her words.

"So much touching is undesirable if we are going to remain friends," she
told him.

"When may I come again?"

"You must arrange that."

"After tea, just until it is getting dark enough for Martha to be coming
to draw the curtains?"

"Yes, perhaps."

And with this he left comforted.

But when he had gone, Katherine Bush went and looked out of the window,
and very slowly shook her head in perplexity.

"It will certainly hurt him--and what will Her Ladyship say? She may
think I am not playing the game."

And then she remembered Lord Chesterfield's advice in one of his maxims:

    When a man of sense happens to be in that disagreeable situation in
    which he is obliged to ask himself more than once, "What shall I
    do?"--he will answer himself--"Nothing." When his reason points out
    to him no good way, or at least no one way less bad than another,
    he will stop short and wait for light.



CHAPTER XX


Katherine Bush always looked back upon that Easter party as being the
third milestone in her career.

It happened that a certain guest wished to try some new songs she was
going to sing on Sunday night, and instead of the agreeable gloaming
Gerard Strobridge had been looking forward to enjoying with Katherine
alone, he was forced by his aunt to take this lady up to the schoolroom
after tea and request Miss Bush's services as accompanist.

Katherine had been practising her old gift of reading music almost every
evening when alone and was now very proficient. Lady Garribardine knew
this, because she had sent for her secretary to play to her several
times in her sitting-room when she was there without visitors and was
suffering from rheumatism.

Mr. Strobridge introduced Katherine to the visitor, who turned out to be
the beautiful lady he had walked with in the rose garden; and they got
on extremely well. It was the first time Katherine had ever chatted, as
practically an equal, alone with a member of society except her
employer.

The stranger was charming, and insisted that she should come down to
play again in the drawing-room after dinner.

Another occasion for the black frock to be worn! And a chance not to be
wasted for observation as to behaviour! Katherine, when evening came,
made herself look her very best, and was waiting demurely by the piano
as the ladies entered the room. From this position she attracted no
attention until some of them wanted to play. The guest she had
accompanied was again graciously sweet to her, and some of the others
joined in the conversation while they strummed and pulled about the
songs.

There was something arresting in Katherine's type which called for
notice when people were near enough to observe details of her mousy fair
hair that had no touch of gold in it, but always glistened grey, and her
wonderfully pale skin and dark brows, giving her strange eyes that
intense shadowed mystery which aroused interest.

Gerard, who joined the party by the piano when the men came in, watched
her silently. She had studied to obtain an air of distinction, and
Gerard, whose love did not blind his fastidious critical faculties,
remarked that there was a real advance in this direction since the
Christmas night when he had last seen her in evening dress. She did not
look so sullen either and answered with fluency and ease when she was
addressed, and not in the monosyllabic fashion of former days.

An elderly politician spoke to her. He seemed delighted with her
conversation, and indicated by a gesture that she should sit down beside
him when the songs were over and she was about to slip away out of the
room.

Katherine was not at all certain whether she ought to stay or not, but
Lady Garribardine at that moment came up and said casually, "You must
not go to bed yet, Miss Bush, perhaps they will sing again; wait here
and talk to Sir John."

And so bidden, Katherine was delighted to obey and used her
intelligence to be agreeable and sympathetic. Gerard continued to watch
her and felt pride in her.

"Your secretary is having a great success to-night, isn't she,
Seraphim?" he said to his aunt.

"Yes--and it is deserved; the girl is one in a thousand. I think I shall
encourage Sir John for her; he is longing for a wife, and has a tidy
seven thousand a year, and only rare attacks of gout. She could manage
him capitally and be of real use to the party. She will never let her
heart interfere with her ambitions!"

"He would make an ideal husband!" Mr. Strobridge's tone was sardonic. "A
lover in that case would be an immediate necessity--by all means,
Seraphim, press the match!"

Her Ladyship gave him one of her shrewd glances and then she said:

"Come and breakfast with me in my sitting-room to-morrow morning, G. We
can talk it over," and she chuckled softly.

When Katherine sat by her fire an hour later she set herself to look
carefully over the last five months of her life, and to mark what they
had brought her.

The gain was immense! She had emerged from being an ordinary shorthand
typist at Liv and Dev's to be an inmate of the house in Berkeley Square,
and from that to be the passion of Gerard Strobridge, and the valued
companion of Lady Garribardine at Blissington. And now she had spent the
evening almost as their equal and had heard twenty eminent people all
talking the shibboleth of the great world of politics and fashion; and
had not felt totally out of place in their company, which she knew was
not composed of the agreeable fools of the Christmas party, but
contained several politicians of distinction, a diplomat or two and a
foreign ambassador.

The contrast was delightful to think about; it even gave her pleasure to
recall Bindon's Green as a foil! She laughed without any bitterness to
herself when she remembered the bath and the oyster incidents, and
several others of the Lord Algy Period--and how she had secretly admired
the "rather awful" rooms at the Great Terminus Hotel; her eye and her
taste then so totally uneducated that in spite of many walks in museums,
she had not been able to distinguish her deplorable deficiencies in both
respects. Oh! What an immeasurable gulf now separated her from those
days! It was a praiseworthy achievement for only five months. But she
realised more than ever from the conversations she had heard to-night
that she was still very ignorant, and that constant mixing with this
society would be the only way to give her that polish and confidence
which could enable her to display the really cultivated thoughts of her
mind.

The quickness and lightness with which subtle and clever sallies were
answered--the perfect ease of everyone! She knew that she was able to
control her own face and manner to appear at ease, but she could not
pretend that she felt so altogether as yet, except with Gerard
Strobridge, but then Gerard, while her literary master, was her
worshipping servant--so that was different!

To please companies of women must now be her aim, and to avoid talking
to any attractive men at all until she had obtained such a sure place
that the jealousy of her own sex would be immaterial to her. She had
observed that Lady Elton, whose songs she had accompanied, had a
distinct penchant for Mr. Strobridge--unreturned she knew--but it
behooved her to be more particularly careful. Another woman who had also
spoken to her, a Mrs. Bosanquet, was really interesting--about fifty and
highly intelligent. Katherine had carefully watched how she led the
conversation in the group where she stood. As a company all these ladies
were much gentler and more refined in manner than some of those who had
assisted at the tableaux. She gathered from their remarks that they
rather held themselves apart from these others and indeed laughed at
them good-naturedly. There were sets within sets evidently, and this was
the very inner _crême de la crême_.

Katherine wondered how long it would be before some distinct goal
presented itself--that would be for Fate to decide--and only those who
had made themselves fit to profit by Fate's chances could hope to
succeed in such a difficult game as she was playing; with every
prejudice of class and sex against her, there was no time to be wasted
in any foolish relaxations!

She wondered if Lady Garribardine had approved of her behaviour. The old
gentleman she had talked to had been intelligent if pompous, and she had
enjoyed their discussion. She thought of the Chesterfield Letters--of
what great use they had been to her! She saw the pitfalls they had
enabled her to avoid. Now her next immediate aim must be to come down
into the drawing-room as frequently as she was allowed. She determined
to make herself of great use, and, if she had the chance to tackle any
bore, so that her mistress should feel that she was of real service.

At last she retired to bed well pleased with her evening.

When Mr. Strobridge came into his aunt's sitting-room next morning he
found her in a charming negligée and cap pouring out the coffee.

"I could not wait for you, G.," she told him. "Sit down, quickly--there
are only two dishes besides bacon and eggs--chicken curry and devilled
sole--they are all on the table at your elbow."

They chatted of several things, the party principally.

"Now I have time, G.--to hear how it fares with Läo. How did you
escape--with dignity--or rather in disgrace?"

"She believes she threw me over; it is extremely fortunate. Beatrice was
an invaluable help." Mr. Strobridge put some chutney in his curry. "Läo
and I are the greatest friends--she feels that I fought hard with my
inclinations and made a noble conquest--by absenting myself in Egypt!
Now she is greatly amused with a Hussar boy at home on leave from
India--she must be older than one thought."

His aunt laughed delightedly.

"It is a bad sign certainly. Läo is ageless, though, anything between
twenty-eight and forty-five. We stay like that for years and then
suddenly grow ridiculous! I believe you have extricated me from the
appearance of that at all events, G. My new toupée has given me a new
perspective."

"You are quite beautiful now, Seraphim."

"My golden ones were a habit. It has been a source of great
gratification to me to watch how my friends have taken the
alteration--even Miss Bush made a faint exclamation when she first saw
it!"

"She is usually very self-contained."

"G., that girl is a wonder--have you anything to tell me about her?"

"Nothing except that I agree with you that she is the most naturally
intelligent creature I have ever met."

"Are you in love with her, dear boy?"

"Yes--extremely."

"To the point of unhappiness?"

"I have not analysed the point--but it is bound to be unhappiness since
she does not care one atom for me."

"You burnt your fingers that day in the picture gallery, then? It was a
pity I let you."

"The fire was lit before that--I think it was better that it flared
up--now I am trying to settle down into being friends. Seraphim, I want
to help her. I do so admire her courage and her profound common sense.
She frankly desires to cultivate her mind and improve in every way; the
change in her even since Christmas is remarkable--do be kind to her and
let her come down sometimes as you did last night."

"I intend to." Lady Garribardine helped herself to honey. "I am going
to take her to Paris with me next week and then we shall be in
London--there it will be more difficult."

"Seraphim, have I your permission really to teach her things?"

Her Ladyship laughed her bubbling laugh.

"It quite depends what things--to love you, a married man? Certainly
not! To improve her own intellect--perhaps."

"It is, alas! to do the latter, dearest of aunts, but----" and here his
voice vibrated with unwonted feeling, "I tell you frankly that if I did
not know that the case is perfectly hopeless, and that I could never
succeed in making her care for me, I believe I would brave even your
wrath and attempt to win her."

"As what--your mistress?" rather tartly.

Mr. Strobridge shrugged his shoulders slightly.

"I would marry her willingly if Beatrice would divorce me--such things
can be arranged."

"Yes, Beatrice is an excellent creature, as you often say--but since
Miss Bush will have none of you, you had better stick to Beatrice, she
has done you so many good turns. Think of Läo!"

Then as she saw the look of pain and weariness upon his much-loved face,
she got up and did what she had perhaps not done for quite ten years,
she put her kind arm round his neck and pulled his head back against her
ample bosom.

"Dearest boy," she whispered softly, "I cannot bear that anything should
really hurt you. What course is the right one to pursue, so that you
shall not have more pain? We must think it out."

He was deeply touched and rested there comforted by her fond affection.

"Let me see her now and then in peace without subterfuge, so that I may
help her with her education--and then in the autumn I think I will take
that chance of being sent to Teheran--Seraphim, do you remember the
afternoon she typed the charity things, when I came up to tea with you,
you said I was depressed, and I said it was the shadow of coming events?
Well, how true it has proved--that is the first time I ever noticed her,
and once before you had remarked that you feared I should one day be
profoundly in love."

Lady Garribardine stooped and kissed his forehead.

"Alas!" she said. "But you were too fine, dear G., to go on drifting
forever from the Alice Southerwoods to the Läos; it was bound to come
with your temperament. I really wish you could marry this girl and have
some splendid little sons for me to adopt and leave some of my money
to."

"I would ask nothing better of Fate," and his eyes became suffused with
light at the thought. His aunt sat down again and began peeling an
apple.

"You would have no objection to that despised domestic relationship,
then--it would not even appear bourgeois, eh?"

"Not in the least."

"G.,--how the whole world is full of shams. This ridiculous thing called
marriage! What a problem, and no light on the subject! A suitable
marriage is perfect happiness, the obligations are joys and pleasures,
and it does not seem to be allowed to occur more than once in a hundred
years. All the rest are in gradations of unsuitableness and fret and
boredom. It makes me shudder now when I see people standing at the
altar, swearing to love forever--nine-tenths of them not even taking in
the meaning of the vows they are making--and a large percentage going
through them for some ultimate end entirely disconnected with love or
desire for the partner they are being bound to--it is tragic."

Mr. Strobridge agreed.

"I am convinced," Her Ladyship went on, now warmed to her subject, "that
much unhappiness would be avoided if no vows were made at all, but the
parson merely joined the hands and said a prayer over them to ask that
they might go on desiring each other, and that ended the business. I
believe truly that the actual breaking of the vow acts in some
mysterious occult fashion and draws penalties of misery upon the
breakers."

"What a disturbing thought!"

"Yes--because it is not really the infidelities which can be sins, they
are merely human nature--it is the breaking of the given word which
draws the current of disaster."

"I expect you are quite right--the whole thing is infernal--and yet we
must have some sort of union recognised by the state or chaos would
ensue."

"Obviously--and as marriage now stands there seem to be only three ways
of supporting it. One," and she ticked them off on her fat fingers--"to
grow to that abstract state of good when to keep a vow against
inclination in itself brings happiness; two, to behave decently to
the legal partner, and with propriety before the world, and then
if necessary to have mistresses or lovers as the case may be;
or--three--for the state to allow a man to have several wives, and the
woman, if she desires it, a change of husbands!"

Mr. Strobridge handed his cup for more coffee.

"Most of us are quite out of the running for the first, the third would
be unworkable, Seraphim, so I see no help for it; the second course is
the only possible one for half the poor devils in the world."

"Probably--then the greatest pains ought to be taken to keep up
appearances so that those who live up to the first may not have their
feelings outraged. No one should show a bad public example. The facts of
straying fancy cannot be altered until human nature changes--an unlikely
event!--so the best we can do is to hide irregularities under a cloak of
virtuous hypocrisy. It helps many good and weak people to keep up a
general standard, but there must be something wrong in the original
scheme, G., if we are obliged to do this."

"Undoubtedly. It is the one, however, which has kept all sensible
societies going since the beginning of civilisation and will continue to
do so while there are two sexes in the world. But all this does not help
me in my present case of being madly in love with a woman whom I may
not have as either wife or mistress. Friendship is the only cold comfort
left to me!"

"Tut, tut! Half a loaf is better than no bread!"

"You think she might marry Sir John?" There was hope in his tone.

"Why not? Only I don't feel sure that he deserves such a prize. For me
she is quite a marvellous character, and we could perhaps find her
something young and handsome."

Mr. Strobridge jumped up with a start. This idea was altogether
unpalatable to him.

"How shocking! Seraphim, that might be a creature a woman would adore!"

"Well?"

"Well----"

"Concentrate upon friendship, my dear boy!--If she has once said you
nay, the rôle of lover is not for you--no matter whom she marries!"



CHAPTER XXI


Time passed. A year went by after this with a gradual but unmistakable
upward advance on the part of Katherine Bush. Moments of depression and
discouragement came, of course, but her iron will carried her beyond
them. All would go well for a while, and then would come a barrier, as
it were, which was difficult to climb, and which would baffle her
intentions for a week or two, and then she would surmount it, and race
onward.

Her manipulation of Gerard Strobridge was masterly. She never permitted
him to go beyond the bounds of friendship, and he gradually grew to
entertain the deepest worship and respect for her, which influenced his
whole life. She spurred him on in his career, while obtaining from him
all the polish his cultivated mind could bestow. Lady Garribardine
watched the passage of events with her wise old eyes, assisting them,
moreover, when she deemed it necessary.

If Katherine's dominion over her beloved nephew was for his good, she
must not let class prejudice stand in the way of her sympathy. The world
for Sarah Garribardine was full of incredible fools, who, however strong
their desire might be for a given end, were yet too stupid to see that
their actions and methods--nearly always inspired by personal
vanity--militated against the attainment of that end, and so they went
on their blundering way, continually surprised at their own want of
success!

It was the quality of reasoning and of analysis in her secretary which
grew to interest her most deeply. Katherine was her perpetual study,
inasmuch as she stood so far apart from the world of fools.

Their visit to Paris had been a great experience for Katherine. She took
the place historically, not as she had taken it before, as the setting
for a love dream. She had had a recurrence of the violent longing for
Lord Algy when they arrived at the Gare du Nord, that strangely sudden
seizure of passion to which she seemed periodically subject; when she
knew that if at the moment Fate were to offer him to her again she would
find the temptation of acceptance too strong to resist. She was
afterwards always extremely thankful that this did not occur, and that
she was given time to resume her self-command.

When first she drove down the Champs Elysées, a strange sense of fear
came over her--what if after all that Palatial Hotel episode in her life
should have power one day to raise up its ghost and destroy the fabric
of her ambitions? The more she saw of the great world, the more she
realised that such a breach of convention, such a frank laying aside of
all recognised standards of morality, would never be forgiven if
discovered. Incidents of the kind occurred every day, but must always be
rigorously kept out of sight. She grew to understand that it is a much
more punishable offence to hold unorthodox views and act honestly by
them, than to profess orthodox, stringent virtue, and continually blink
at the acting against conscience, by secret indulgences!

One day it chanced that she could discuss the point with her mistress.

"You must remember the good of the community always first, girl," Lady
Garribardine had said. "If you want to benefit humanity you must not be
too much occupied with the individual. For the good of the community
certain standards must be kept up, and sensible people should put on
blinkers when examining the frailties of human nature. Nature says one
thing and civilisation and orthodox morality another; there must
logically be an eternal conflict going on between the two and the only
chance for souls to achieve orthodox morality is for hypocrisy to assist
them by hiding bad examples given when nature has had an outburst and
won the game. If you won't conform to these practical rules it is wiser
and less harmful to your neighbours for you to go and live in the
wilds--I am all for _tenue_, I am all for the uplifting of the soul
where it is possible, and decency and good taste where it is not."

"I see," responded Katherine. "One must in this, as in all other things,
look to the end."

"You have indeed said it!" Her Ladyship cried. "That faculty is the
quintessence of statesmanship, as it is of wisdom, and one we never see
displayed by a radical government!"

As the season went on in London, various peeps at society were afforded
Katherine, and as her eyes opened, and the keenness of her understanding
developed, she learned many useful lessons.

On rare Saturday afternoons, she visited the museums again with Gerard
Strobridge, to her intense delight, and with much pain as well as
pleasure to him, and when the big Saturday to Monday parties came down
to Blissington, Lady Garribardine often found her secretary invaluable
for the entertainment of unavoidable bores.

Thus by the autumn, when Gerard's aching soul and denied passions
thought to take solace in flight on that mission to Teheran, Katherine
Bush was an established institution at tea time, and had acquired the
art of conversation in a degree which would have pleased Chesterfield
himself!

To make herself liked by women was the immediate objective she had laid
down for herself. Of what use to gain the little pleasure by the way, of
the gratification of her vanity from the incense of men? She must wait
until some one man appeared upon the scene, the securing of whom would
be her definite goal--then she could pursue her aims without the
stumbling-block of female antagonism.

She learned many things from her employer: tolerance--kindness of
heart--supreme contempt for all shams, apart from that of necessary
moral hypocrisy, which seeming paradox she grew to realise was a
sensible assistance to the attainment of a general moral ideal. Her wits
sharpened, her brain expanded, her cultivation increased and her manners
assumed an exquisite refinement and graciousness; and when the second
Christmas came and the New Year of 1913, no one could possibly have
discovered the faintest trace of Bindon's Green, or of the lower middle
class from which she had sprung.

Lady Garribardine had materially augmented her salary, and substantial
cheques found their way to poor Gladys, whose baby was born dead, much
to Matilda's disappointment.

"But it is often like that," she told Katherine as they walked in the
park one Sunday, "with a seven months' child, and Glad don't take on
about it as I should."

Mrs. Robert Hartley was firmly determined to go to America.

"We've had enough hell in these few months, Bob," she informed her
husband as she was getting better, "and I am going to be like Katherine
and make a career for myself. I'm tired of your grumbling and your
rudeness to me, and every bit of love I had for you is gone--We've no
baby--There's nothing to keep us chained up together like a pair of
animals, and I'm off to make my fortune--so I tell you flat."

Mr. Robert Hartley asserted the rights of an English husband, but to no
avail. Gladys had the money from her sister in her hand to start herself
with, and a warm recommendation from Madame Ermantine, and so in the
early autumn sailed for New York and almost immediately obtained
lucrative employment.

Thus the family at Bindon's Green was reduced to Matilda, Ethel, and the
two young men, and still further diminished in the New Year by the
marriage (and retirement to a villa of his own!) of Mr. Frederick Bush
with the genteel Mabel Cawber!

The wedding of the pair was a day of unalloyed pleasure to Matilda.
Katherine had manoeuvred so that she could not possibly be spared to
attend it; thus the festivities were unclouded by the restraint which
her presence--quite undesired by herself--always imposed upon her
relations. They were all admittedly uncomfortable with her, not she with
them. They felt in some vague way that they were of less account in
their own eyes when in her company, and that an impassable gulf now
separated them. They had nothing to complain of, Katherine gave herself
no airs, she neither patronised them nor talked over their heads, but a
subtle something divided them, and all were glad of her seemingly
enforced absence. All except the bride, who was sorry the poor secretary
sister-in-law should not be chastened by witnessing her triumph!

For was she not having four bridesmaids dressed in pink pongee silk with
blue sashes, and two pages to carry her court train! Pages in
"Renaissance" costume. The Lady Agatha Tollington's were so described in
the _Flare_, and why should not hers be also? "Renaissance!" She did not
know what the word meant, but it had such a nice sound and seemed so
well to fit the picturesque suits advertised as copied from Millais'
immortal Bubbles which had been secured at the local emporium to adorn
the two smug-faced infants who would carry--very shamefacedly it must be
admitted--the confection of cheap satin and imitation lace which would
depend from Miss Cawber's angular shoulders.

If Katherine could have seen all that! Miss Cawber felt that a humbler
mien in this obstreperous creature might have resulted!

But Katherine never saw it, and when Matilda recounted all the glories
to her, she had the awkwardness to ask why Mabel had indulged in a court
train?

"Bridesmaids were natural enough," she said, "if you all wanted to have
some gaiety and a jolly party, but Fred's wife will never go to Court,
so why pages and a train?"

"Oh--well," Matilda returned in annoyance, "who's to know that at
Bindon's Green? And it has given her ever such a tip-top position to
begin her home upon. The Perkins girls and Bob Hartley's mother and
cousins were just mad with envy, and Fred as pleased as Punch to have
such a stunning turn-out at his side to down the aisle with."

"I am so glad you are all happy then," Katherine said kindly.

How merciful, she reflected when she had left her sister at Stanhope
Gate, that their ambitions were so easily satisfied! How merciful also
that only Matilda's affection for her need count in her future
connection with the family--and Matilda might at no distant date be a
bride too! The bride of Katherine's old devoted admirer, Charlie
Prodgers! While Ethel announced her intention of following Gladys'
example and migrating to America the moment she was seventeen, in the
spring.

Thus, visits to Bindon's Green were no longer desired by the inhabitants
of Laburnum Villa, nor of Talbot Lodge, where Mr. and Mrs. Frederick
Bush were installed, and Katherine felt she could drift from them all
without hurting their feelings, indeed, with mutual satisfaction.

So the winter of 1912 drew to a close, and the spring of 1913 came, and
with it Gerard Strobridge.

He was well and sunburnt and seemed more resigned on his first visit
after he returned to Blissington accompanied by Lady Beatrice.

Katherine was pouring out the tea--now her daily task--when he came in,
and a glad thrill ran through her. Would he see any change in her? Would
he be pleased with her advancement? He was her friend, and her helpmate
in literature, and never by word or look did she recognise that he could
feel any other emotion but a platonic one for her.

Her attractions always struck Gerard afresh after his absences, and made
him remark upon them each time he returned.

"How beautiful you have grown, Katherine," he said when presently they
had a chance of talking a little apart. "You are the most wonderful
thing in the world--I came back hoping to find you less attractive, and
you are just as fascinating as ever--more so--Oh! shall I never make you
care the least for me?"

"Never."

"It is a wonder that I should love you so madly, when you are as cold as
ice to me, and never melt--I believe you could see me on the rack
without turning a hair--if it suited your purpose!"

"Probably."

But she smiled softly, so he asked eagerly:

"Is it so, Katherine?"

"Will you never understand even after the hundreds and hundreds of talks
we have had? I have marked out a settled, determined path in life which
I intend to follow--so that even if I loved you I would crush all
emotion out of myself, since indulging in it would ruin my aims, and
drag us both to social perdition meanwhile. It is extremely fatiguing to
have to recommence explaining our positions every time you come back
from abroad. As a friend I delight in you--I love our talks, our
discussions and controversies. I have tried in every way to improve
under your tuition, but if you will be weak and give way to other
feelings--it is you who put yourself on the rack--And if you do it I
cannot help it, it cannot change my determination, even if I see you
suffering."

"How can a man worship anything so logical?"

"I don't know; what I do know is that I never mean to admit that you
have any feelings for me but those I have for you, of warm friendship. I
shall always act as if you were only my friend, and only consider any of
my actions as affecting you from that point of view. If you are hurt it
is your own fault, I cannot be responsible for the pain."

He clenched his hands with sudden violence.

"And if I refused to bear it--if I broke all friendship and never spoke
to you again--what then?"

"You would be quite right to do so if it gave you any satisfaction. I
should miss you--but I should understand."

He gave a faint groan.

"Well, I have not the strength to throw off your influence. I always
think I have done it when I go to foreign climes, and I dwell upon the
pleasure that your intellect gives me. I come back quite resigned, but
the first sight of you, the sight of those red, wicked lips and that
white skin drives me mad once more, and I feel I do not care whether you
have any brain or no, in the overwhelming desire to hold you in my
arms."

Katherine gave an exclamation of weariness.

"Oh, it is tiresome that you must always have these scenes when you
return, they spoil everything. You force me to seem cruel. Why can't you
accept the situation?"

"Because I am a man and you are a woman," and his eyes sought hers with
passion, "and all the rest of emotion is but make-believe; the only real
part is the tangible. To have and to hold, to clasp and to kiss, to
strain the loved one next the heart--Katherine, you make me suffer the
tortures of the damned."

"No--you permit yourself to suffer them, that makes all the difference.
If I made you, then I should feel as wicked as you say my lips look."

Here Lady Beatrice interrupted them in her plaintive, drawling voice.

"Gerard, can you imagine it! Aunt Sarah has just had a letter from Tom
Hawthorne by the evening's post, announcing that Läo has quietly married
that boy in Paris, and they are going to Monte Carlo for their
honeymoon! Isn't it quite too tragic for them, poor things!"

Lady Garribardine joined the group, with the epistle in her hand.

"Läo was always a fool, but I believed even the sense of a rabbit would
have kept her from this!"

"They are madly in love, dear Sarah!" old Gwendoline d'Estaire said
sentimentally.

Her ladyship snorted.

"Tut, tut! Läo is forty-two years old and the boy not more than six and
twenty, sixteen years between them! Quite an immaterial discrepancy
while he remained a lover--but a menace which even the strongest brain
cannot combat when the creature turns into a husband. The situation is
ridiculous at once. It means that the woman has to spend her time not
only fighting old age as we all have to do, but watching for every sign
of weariness in the youth, trembling at every fresh wrinkle in herself,
and always on the tiptoe of anxiety, so that she loses whatever charm
lured the poor child into her net."

"But really Läo had made it so evident--the affair--perhaps she
thought----"

"That a second wedding ring was essential! Ridiculous nonsense,
Gwendoline! We are not of the _bourgeoisie_--there is an epidemic of
these rich widows rushing these penniless young men into matrimony. No
one objects to their amusing themselves, but these respectable unions
offend the sensibilities at once from their obvious unsuitableness. The
woman loses prestige--almost caste, I was going to say. The man grows
either sheepish or intolerably insolent, and if you notice, the pair
eventually drop out of all agreeable society."

"How awful to contemplate!" and Lady Beatrice sighed sadly. "To think
that after one had _pretended_ for years that one was full of emotions
and sex and horrible things, one should succumb to them really--It is a
cruel retribution--Gerard, aren't you interested?"

For Mr. Strobridge had raised a whimsical eyebrow.

"Perfectly thrilled. I am amply revenged for her indifference to me!"

"Is it not possible for them to be happy, then?" Katherine whispered to
him in the din of a chorus of remarks the news had provoked.

"They have about a hundred to one chance for a few months; then either
will suffer, probably both. Oh! the intolerable bond of
matrimony!--Unless, of course----"

Katherine shrugged her shoulders.

"Yes, I suppose so, if one was not quite sure what the reason was that
one was marrying for, and had not weighed it and found out if it would
be worth while or no."

"What will you marry for?"

"Contentment, I expect."

"And what is contentment--only the obtaining of one's heart's desire."

"I shall not marry unless it is to obtain my heart's desire," and that
sphinxlike smile grew round her mouth, which always roused Gerard
Strobridge's curiosity. After all this time, he could never quite fathom
what was going on inside that clever brain.

"I refuse to think about it--Let us talk about something else--books
you have been reading--something I can do for you."

"There is one thing I would like you to do very much--only I do not know
if it could be managed. Last week, Her Ladyship allowed me to go with
Miss Arabella d'Estaire to see the House of Commons. I would so much
like to see the House of Lords and hear a debate there before the Easter
recess. I am trying to study politics."

"That will not be very difficult. I can get an order from Blackrod;
there will be something to listen to next week, when I believe my aunt
will be in town. I shall love to gratify your wish, Katherine."

"We must ask Lady Garribardine first if I may."

"Model of circumspection! Of course."

Then the company drifted from the tea table and Miss Bush returned to
her sanctum, while Gerard Strobridge went up to his aunt's sitting-room.

They talked of numbers of things, and at last that lady said:

"G.,--more than ever I understand your passion for my secretary. I do
not even find your fidelity ridiculous; she is one of the most
fascinating creatures I have ever met. A masterpiece of balance and
common sense, she will rise to the highest position one day--mark my
words, boy!"

"I daresay--I cannot feel interested in that. I am still horribly in
love. I thought Teheran had dulled the ache for her, but it has not."

Lady Garribardine sighed as she arranged a cushion.

"I live in terror that one day she will come and tell me quite honestly
that she has learned all that my situation can teach her, and that she
is going on to something new."

"She could not be so ungrateful."

"It would not be ingratitude--she works for money, not for love. It
would be part of her plan of life. Sentimental emotion does not enter
into it--that is what makes her so interesting, and so invaluable."

"But I know, Seraphim, that she has a deep affection for you--she has
expressed it to me many times. You are her model for all fine conduct
and point of view."

"Yes--the girl is devoted to me, I think. Well, we must hope that she is
content here, for I do not know how I could quite get on without her. I
have had her down for a little at each party during the winter, G. She
literally devours bores for me, and gets all the cranks into good
tempers. And all the women like her; that shows triumphant astuteness on
her part."

"Triumphant! You did not after all marry her to Sir John while I was
away. I almost hoped that you would do so when I left in October."

"Sir John was willing; he wanted but a hint from me to have shown all
the ardour of a young lover. One even pictured verses--it is in this way
that it takes aged politicians. One imagined a discreet wedding and
almost by now the inevitable preparatory layette!--But Miss Bush would
have none of it! When I approached her upon the subject she looked me
straight in the face and said quite respectfully, but with a hauteur
befitting a D'Estaire, that she had other views, and while sensible of
my kindness she must decline the honour! I was immensely diverted."

"Danger is still ahead, then--She has told me just now that she means
only to marry when she can gain her heart's desire--but what that is
God--or the devil--alone knows."

Lady Garribardine looked at him shrewdly for a second; she did not
speak, so Mr. Strobridge went on:

"By the way, she wants me to take her and Arabella to hear a debate in
the House of Lords--may I?"

"Of course."

If he had not been so preoccupied with his own thoughts he would have
remarked his aunt's tone, but he was absently staring out of the window
and did not even see her face with its sagacious, querying expression.

"She is greatly interested in politics, I believe; she is well up in
them already--she is well up in everything. I daresay she could open a
bazaar, or give an address better than I could myself. I can spare her
next Wednesday afternoon when the debate on the Land Bill will be in
full swing. You can arrange it."

"I will.--Seraphim, isn't it pitiful about poor Läo!--Younger or older
it would not have mattered quite so much--but at forty-two--Heavens! The
only thing the poor darling had--her beauty--won't be worth looking at
in a year or so. The mentality of women is beyond me, so utterly
unaccountable their actions are."

"Not at all, my precious G. They are as plain as a pikestaff--only any
man can be bamboozled by the silliest of them. They all answer to type
and sex. Läo has the brains of her type, the female guinea pig, raised
under artificial conditions which have altered, but not stifled, the
guinea pig's strongest instinct--prolific reproduction. It came out in
Läo, not in the desire to have a numerous family, but in an intense
desire to attract the male--_pas pour le bon motif, bien entendu!_--but
for variety--Then she falls in love at a foolish age, and the emotion,
being one of nature, the instinct rights itself for the moment, and
swamps the effect of artificial conditions. Hence the passion for the
wedding ring--vows--the male in the cage, all unconscious preparation
for a family--the last thing she would desire, in fact--and all sense of
proportion lost sight of."

Mr. Strobridge laughed delightedly.

"You should write a 'Guide to the Knowledge of Women,' Seraphim, for the
enlightenment of your men friends."

His aunt smiled, showing all her strong, well-preserved white teeth.

"I would like to, but not one of them would speak to me again, they
would tear my new grey _toupée_ from my snowy locks, and denounce me as
a liar, because I would tell the one thing they strongly dislike--the
truth!"

"Yes, a thoroughly lovable feminine woman loathes the truth, doesn't
she! I have always found my greatest success with her lay in a
distortion of every fact to suit her personal view. Katherine Bush and
yourself, sweet Aunt, are the only two of your sex that I have ever met
whom a man need not humour, and can speak his real mind out to."

And with this he kissed her fat hand and took his way from her presence
down the gallery to his room to dress for dinner.

But all the while Stirling was coaxing the real silver and auxiliary
iron grey waves into a superbly simple triumph of hairdressing, her
ladyship wore a slight frown of concentrated thought.

What did it mean, this desire on the part of her secretary to see the
House of Lords?

"Vermondsay--Hankhurst--Upper Harringway." She counted over a long list
of the names of peers who frequented Blissington and Berkeley
Square--but at the end she shook her head. "No--none of these--Who
then--and what for?"

Katherine Bush was no guinea pig answering to type. What type was she,
by the way? A complicated, conglomerated mixture, not easy to dissect at
any time, was this new move a manifestation of sex--or type?

Time alone would show--Until then the solution must remain in the lap of
the gods. And in all cases, dinner should not wait, and it behooved a
hostess to be punctual.



CHAPTER XXII


The outside of the Houses of Parliament had always affected Katherine.
They looked stately and English--and when they--herself and old Arabella
d'Estaire and Gerard--walked through the corridors of the House of
Lords, and came at last to the huge vaulted chamber itself, and so to
the pen where they might stand to hear the debate, her heart began to
beat with some strange excitement.

They went into the left side enclosure, and so could have a facing view
of the Opposition benches.

Some member of the Government had just begun a speech as they entered,
and Katherine had time to look about her. What types to study! And what
an atmosphere of calm, after the scene in the House of Commons she had
witnessed on her visit there! A din of angry voices and uncontrolled
emotion. Here if people felt anything it did not appear on the surface.
Katherine leaned upon the second carved griffin which helps to adorn the
partition which separates the pen from the sacred floor of the House
itself. From there her eyes travelled from face to face opposite her.
She recognised several, indeed many whom she had seen either in London
or at Blissington--but who were those others, some with features far
from aristocratic?

She now examined the Ministerial benches, and made many reflections,
while she only half listened to the rather lame string of sentences
which were falling from a very refined-looking, carefully preserved
gentleman, who seemed little interested in his subject, and almost
ashamed to be speaking from that side of the House.

Then from the end by the throne two newcomers entered, and took their
seats, one on the front Opposition bench.

For the moment, Katherine's eye had followed the younger of the two who
went towards the back, so that she did not become conscious of the
personality of the other until, at the conclusion of the Minister's
speech, he rose and laid some papers down upon the table in front of him
amidst a sudden thrill of interest which noticeably ran through the
assembly.

He was a very tall and arrogant-looking person, rather thin and upright;
and in everything about him there was a strange old-world suggestion,
which characterised even the cutting and brushing of his hair and the
shape of his coat. The brow was lofty and broad, and the thin iron-grey
locks were combed straight back from it, and seemed to be perhaps rather
longer than those of the young men. He had very large eyes deeply set,
probably dark blue, Katherine thought, and his nose was prominently
aquiline. He was clean-shaven, all but a small pair of close-cut
whiskers, and this with some peculiarity about the shirt, and the
frockcoat he wore, as well as a black satin stock, stamped him as
someone of an altogether different generation--century, Katherine had
almost said to herself!

Who could he be?

There was some picture she had seen which he reminded her of. She
thought for a minute. Yes, it was a certain print which hung in a
passage at Blissington, of the Duke of Wellington in evening dress, a
profile, with the ribbon of the Garter across his breast. This man had
something of the same personality.

His whole appearance was so unusual, so almost startling, that had
anyone else attempted to achieve the same result he would have looked
either vulgarly dramatic or quite grotesque, but with this man even the
old-fashioned clothes with their suspicion of a by-gone dandyism seemed
to add to his immense distinction. Katherine thought that if she could
have drawn a picture of a typical aristocrat of the Tory persuasion, of
perhaps a hundred years ago, this man would have made a perfect model.

And now he began to speak!

And of all the voices she had ever heard or admired from beyond the
half-high glass screen at Liv and Dev's, or listened to in her present
situation, none had ever struck her as so ultra refined as the perfectly
modulated tones now vibrating through the house.

His words were selected with judgment and grace, and showed the command
of an uncommon vocabulary. She had thought Gerard Strobridge's sentences
were well-chosen, and cultivated, but they would sound quite modern and
almost colloquial, she felt, compared with the highly-polished flow
of language which poured forth from this clear-cut mouth. The whole
mien of the man expressed intense pride and dignity, and a perfect
unself-consciousness. He gesticulated very little and kept one hand with
the thumb resting above a button of his fastened coat, so that she could
see his hand plainly, and its shape, which was in keeping with the rest
of his appearance, and on his little finger was a great graven emerald,
or some green stone in a ring, which caught a ray of light and sparkled
for a second.

How was it that so noticeable a personage had never been to Berkeley
Square or Blissington?

He was of Her Ladyship's political convictions, too, and must be of
importance to occupy so prominent a place. And presently she began to
take in the words he was saying, and gathered from a sentence which
remarked upon his "long absence from your Ladyship's House" that he must
have been for some time out of England.

Then she grew fascinated with the speech itself, it was so witty and
filled with an exquisite sarcasm. Such must have been the speeches of
Chesterfield, she thought, in this same House of Lords more than a
century and a half ago.

How old could he be? Fifty--forty-five--forty? It was impossible to say.

Suddenly she was conscious of a deep enthralled interest affecting her,
and she turned and whispered to Mr. Strobridge at her side:

"Who is that man speaking now--I would so much like to know?"

"The Duke of Mordryn--is he not a type? The last real Tory left in this
age."

And then Katherine remembered that letters addressed to this name, and
written in Lady Garribardine's own hand, had often gone with the rest to
be posted, always to addresses abroad, ever since she had been in her
service. And often, too, she recalled, the Duke had been spoken of as
being here or there, and gradually on his way home, but nothing about
him had particularly interested or struck her, except the name
Mordryn--it was a perfect name!

She began piecing together what she knew about him. At Liv and Dev's she
had been obliged to know a good deal about all Dukes; their sub-titles,
son's courtesy titles, and family names. This string came back to her
mechanically--"Duke of Mordryn, Marquis of Valfreyne, Earl of Rievaulx"
and a number of Baronies, while the family appellation was Monluce, and
the chief place of several residences Valfreyne in Dorsetshire. She
remembered too that the Duchess had died less than two years ago.

After this her absorbed interest concentrated upon the man himself and
she almost felt a little breathless when he sat down; and a moment or
two after, when he seemed to have leisure to look about him, she met his
eyes and she could see that they were indeed a very dark blue and that
his gaze consciously rested upon her.

She did not turn hers away; she was fascinated, and slowly there came a
thought to her:

"This is what fate means for me--" And for a few seconds she felt faint
and icy cold, so great was her emotion.

The unknown goal of all her striving was revealed at last! The position
of this man's wife would be the greatest to be achieved in England, for
prestige and influence. _And it should be hers._

She heard and saw and knew nothing which happened after this, only what
was spoken and done by the Duke, and presently, Miss Arabella d'Estaire
growing tired, they went out, their exit accelerated by Katherine who
saw that His Grace had risen and was coming their way. They stopped for
a second just at the place where the hats are left and he caught them up
and shook hands with Mr. Strobridge and Miss d'Estaire.

"I am very glad to see you, Gerard," he said, "it is good to be at home
again," and then he gave some gallant greeting to Miss d'Estaire, and
paused, absently looking at Katherine, who stood by demurely, presenting
an attractive picture in her grey suit and hat. All care was now taken
of her ample tresses, which were arranged to show the smallness of her
head, and every article of her garments was chosen to express
unobtrusive distinction. For many months her astute intelligence had
been turned upon the enhancing of her attractions, with wonderful
result.

"Miss Bush--the Duke of Mordryn," Mr. Strobridge was obliged to murmur,
and Katherine bowed and waited to see if the Duke would speak. He did,
with that aloof but gracious courtesy which he showed to all women.

"You have come to hear our highly futile debate in this mutilated
chamber--I hope you were not too bored."

"I was very much interested," and she looked straight into his eyes in
the way she did when she intended to compel attention.

As Gerard Strobridge watched her, he suddenly felt a twinge of fear. He
refused to acknowledge the thought which presented itself, but indicated
that they should go on.

The Duke meanwhile had not been unaffected by Katherine's magnetic
eyes--he felt a spark of interest and so continued the conversation for
a minute, but finally had to give way to Gerard's evident desire to move
forward.

"Tell Her Ladyship that I am coming to lunch to-morrow. I only crossed
last night, and have had no time to answer her note awaiting me. I hope
she is well and has not allowed this modern rush and turmoil to spoil
her enchanting wit."

When they got out into the open air, Katherine noticed that Mr.
Strobridge had a fierce and rather hunted expression on his face. He got
into the taxi after the two ladies without a word, and said very little
as they drove to Miss d'Estaire's tiny flat in Knightsbridge.

"Perhaps as it is so fine you will let me dismiss the cab and we might
walk across the Park," he suggested as he rejoined Katherine after
seeing Miss Arabella in at the door. And she consented.

The air was crisp and fresh and the dusk was gathering. It was a quarter
to six o'clock.

They turned towards Stanhope Gate and walked in silence. Then Mr.
Strobridge stopped suddenly and drew Katherine to a chair.

"Katherine," he said, and his voice was husky. "Is it so?"

"Is what so?" she questioned, to be quite certain what he meant.

"Is the Duke to be your objective?"

She did not answer. She was weighing things. Gerard's assistance would
be necessary for the pursuance of a plan which had been forming in her
head since she had left the Houses of Parliament. She was swift to
decide, and swift to act at critical moments in her life.

"Do you think you have any right to ask me such a question?"

"Yes."

"What right?"

"I love you."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"No, I will never admit it."

"It is true enough--Oh! Katherine, there is nothing I would not do for
you and you know it, only I cannot help wanting to be certain if I am to
expect the worst. I feared it at once when you looked into his eyes. Has
my doom come at last then?"

"You are paying me a great compliment; you seem to think that the matter
lies only in my hands."

"You will accomplish anything you desire."

She did not speak.

"Katherine," he pleaded, and there was anguish in his voice, "tell me
the truth, whether I have the right to ask it or no. The idea has come
to you that this would be worth winning, this position--has it not?"

"Yes."

"He is fifty-three years old, Mordryn--but a fifty-three which women
adore--You would probably fall in love with him also."

"It is possible."

"Can you expect me to be anything but pained then?"

"I have always told you that I consider you only as a friend, and that I
only view your emotions for me as those of friendship; therefore there
should be no pain even in such an idea according to my view."

"There is."

"I am sorry."

"But it does not change your determination?"

"No."

"I understand a man's killing a woman sometimes," and he clenched his
hands passionately.

"So do I--when she deceives him, never because she is honest and
unvarying. I have never deceived you or led you to hope for anything but
friendship--that you have in full, and you have hundreds of times
promised me yours; if you meant it I now ask you to give me a proof of
it."

"What proof?"

"I wish to meet the Duke--not as Lady Garribardine's secretary; that
would prejudice him too much, naturally! I want to meet him in the
evening at dinner as a guest. I want to talk to him and see for myself
what he is like, and if he is as wonderful as he looks. Only you could
arrange this. If you asked him to dinner and asked me and Miss Arabella
or Miss Gwendoline d'Estaire it would be possible, would it not?"

He was staring at her now, overcome by her masterly frankness. No--she
would never deceive him, he realised that and also that nothing of his
will could ever impose upon hers. He knew he was impotent as a factor in
the determining of her plans; all he could do to keep her favour was to
fall in with them.

Her face, white as a lily in the growing dusk, was calm and cold and
beautiful. He had never desired her more--but that fastidiousness in
him, that power of detachment which could appreciate skill even when
exercised against his own interests, asserted itself, and helped him.
She was so wonderful a character, he must assist her even to his own
pain.

"I suppose it would be possible--Beatrice goes down to Allerton
to-morrow until after Easter. I expect I could arrange it for Friday
night if I can only get the Duke--he will be awfully busy these
days--but perhaps if I ask him at once I might catch him--" Then he
thought a moment--"Yes--I've got a new case of miniatures I bought last
week at an odd sale. I could beguile him on the pretext of giving me his
opinion as to whether or no two of them are really Cosways. You see to
what a state of abject slavery you have reduced me."

"No, I have not--you are being merely a loyal friend."

"To-night at dinner I will ask my aunt if you may dine--I have some
boring country friends coming in any case that night and she will let
me have you to help to entertain them, I expect. You are supposed to be
extraordinarily talented as an entertainer of bores!"

He could not keep some of the bitterness he was feeling out of his
voice. Katherine looked at him reproachfully.

"I thought you would perhaps have understood--and been kind."

He responded at once to her tone.

"Darling--I will--you know it. I will show you that I am indeed your
devoted friend; will that please you?"

She inwardly appreciated his sacrifice and her eyes shone softly upon
him.

His face was haggard and looked hungry--its expression would have
surprised the many women who had loved him, and on whom he had turned a
transient smile.

"Yes, that will please me," and her voice was sweet. "Now tell me about
him. I remember to have read in the papers some time ago that the
Duchess had died."

"He has had an awful life--the Duchess was mad. She was a Thorval, a
cousin of my wife's, and went more or less off her head soon after they
were married about twenty-eight years ago. Then for more than fifteen
years she was extremely peculiar, but not quite bad enough to be
entirely shut up. Only of course it made it impossible for him to have
friends or to entertain and enjoy his great position. Then she became
quite mad and had to be isolated and by this time Adeliza, the only
child, began to show signs of derangement, too, and so he had the horror
of seeing the same thing occurring over again. About two years ago the
Duchess died and fortunately soon after Adeliza caught scarlet fever and
died also, just before you came to my aunt's--and then Mordryn started
on a long voyage round the world to try and make a break and forget--and
he has been abroad ever since, and only returned last night."

"Poor man, then he did not obtain much pleasure from his great
position?"

"Not in England--but one must suppose that he has had some kind of
consolations in all these years. He was often in Paris and has always
been extremely attractive, but he is a great gentleman, and there have
never been any scandals about him."

"And now all those ugly shadows have been removed from his life and he
is free--" Katherine drew in her breath a little.

"Yes, he is free," Gerard concurred gloomily. "He is a most intimate
friend of my aunt's; you will see him constantly at Blissington."

"Where I am the secretary--yes. Ah! if you knew how I long sometimes to
be--myself--and not to have to act meekness--Ah! you would know then how
grateful I shall be if you can give me this one evening of happiness."

He was touched, she so seldom showed any emotion. He felt rewarded for
some of his sufferings.

"You shall have as perfect a time as I can secure for you, Katherine,
dear girl--" and he bent forward and took her hand. "You would adorn any
position in the world--but if Mordryn were not a most splendid character
I would not help you to meet him--He is--One of the finest in the
world--and I will try--I promise you I will try not to let any jealous
envy stand in your way."

"You are a dear after all," and she returned the pressure of his fingers
before she drew hers away.

There was a strange light in her eyes as she walked up the stairs to her
room in Berkeley Square. A wonderful vista had suddenly opened itself
before her, with a mountain in the distance all of shining gold. It
seemed that it must always have been there but that some mist had hidden
it which was now rolled away.

What if she should be able to reach this splendid gilded mountain
top--some day?----

A glorious end to aim at in any case, and she shut her white teeth
firmly--and sitting down by her open window began steadily to think.

That night fate held a surprise in store for her. She was going to the
theatre with Matilda, a periodical treat which that sister greatly
enjoyed. They went in the dress circle and saw the show, two unobserved
units in the crowd. As it was for Matilda's pleasure she was left to
choose what she would see. It was always either a Lyceum melodrama or a
musical comedy, and this night it chanced to be the latter, and one
newly put on, so the audience was less remarkably homely than usual.

Who and what were the audiences at theatres? This Katherine often asked
herself. And while Matilda enjoyed what was happening on the stage, she
studied the types around her.

Who invented such hairdressing? Who designed such clothes? Whence came
they and whither did they go?

This particular night Katherine and Matilda were rather at the side of
the dress circle a row or two back, so that they could see a good deal
of the stalls; and towards the end of the first act Katherine's languid
attention suddenly became riveted upon two particularly well brushed
male heads in the front row. Their owners must have come in while she
had been looking at the stage. There was something quite uniquely spruce
about young Englishmen's heads, she knew, and they were all very much
alike of a certain class, but the fairer of these two was painfully
familiar; it belonged to Lord Algy and to no one else. He had returned
from Egypt then! He was there within a few yards of her. Oh! why was it
such pain to see him again?

Her heart beat to suffocation, she felt every pulse in her body tingle
with excitement, and then she felt a little sick--and for a few minutes
she could not have risen from her seat.

Matilda turned for a moment and exclaimed:

"Oh, my goodness gracious! Kitten! Whatever is the matter, dear?"

Then Katherine recollected herself and answered a little shakily:

"I don't know--the heat I suppose--I am all right now though, and isn't
this a funny scene! Don't let us talk and spoil it."

And Matilda, reassured, gladly again turned to the stage. So Katherine
sat on, fighting her battle alone. She forced herself to look at her
whilom lover with calm--and watch every movement of his attractive head.
He appeared well and bronzed and handsomer than ever, she could see as
he turned to speak to his companion, and she almost fancied she could
hear the tones of his voice. Then she made herself analyse things. Did
she really love him still?

Then gradually she became more controlled as she realised that if she
kept her eyes fixed upon him like this the magnetic power of her gaze
would certainly cause him to look round presently and see her, and that
above everything she did not want this to occur.

So she turned her attention to the stage and forced herself to listen to
what was being sung.

The act was soon over, and then she saw Lord Algy's perfect figure rise
to go out. That was "Jack Kilcourcy" she thought, probably, with him,
about whom she had so often heard--and perhaps they had come to see some
special beauty in the chorus, and would go on to supper later at the
Savoy or elsewhere. Oh, no!--she would not allow herself to feel any
more; she had surely passed beyond such things!

The second act came and went, and the third, and when it was over she
hurried Matilda out, in a desire to escape before the stall crowd could
mingle with theirs in the doorway.

It was raining a little when they came to the door, and there stood Lord
Algy talking with his caressing devoted air to a lovely woman in black,
whom Katherine had noticed in one of the boxes. He did not see her, as,
clutching Matilda's arm, she shrank away among the bedraggled people
beyond the lights, and there she paused and turned for a last look at
him, and saw him follow the lady into a smart car, the door of which was
being held open by a motor groom; it had just driven up.

"We will have a taxi, Tild," she said. "Let us walk on and find one. I
can't stand an omnibus to-night."

She drove Matilda to Victoria first, and then went back to Berkeley
Square, a rather damp creature in body and soul. And when she was in
bed, the tears would trickle down her cheeks. It was all hateful! The
dress circle--the rain--the cab--the dependence--and last of all Lord
Algy and the lovely woman in black!

Then her sense of the value of things came back again; her indomitable
spirit revived, and before she fell asleep she knew that once for all
she had banished any lingering regrets and that she would play for the
great stakes in the game of her ambition with a zest as strong as the
desire for love--that love which she now realized had been mainly an
affair of the senses and which was over and dead.



CHAPTER XXIII


That night after dinner when the guests had left the house in Berkeley
Square, Mr. Strobridge asked his aunt if she would lend him Miss Bush
for Friday night to help him to entertain some bores. Beatrice would be
away, and he really felt he could not face them alone. Gwendoline or
Arabella would come, too. Katherine had dined at the Strobridges' house
in Brook Street once or twice before, for similar reasons, and the
request therefore did not seem unusual. But Gerard knew his Seraphim too
well not to be aware that when she heard that Mordryn had dined also she
might suspect some plot, and would then very possibly be mildly annoyed
with him, and really angry with Katherine. Every scrap of his diplomatic
gift would have to be employed over this. He was going to be at the
luncheon next day which the Duke had announced his intention of
attending. He must so manage the conversation that miniatures were
discussed, and then in aunt's hearing Mordryn could be asked to come and
inspect them as a mere afterthought. If this failed to allay all
suspicion of underlying intention in the affair, he would have boldly to
tell his aunt the truth, only taking the whole credit--or blame of the
idea--upon his own shoulders--No reflection must fall upon Katherine.

Her Ladyship announced casually that, yes, he might take the secretary
and welcome if he returned her not too late at night; she had to be up
early in the morning as she was starting on a holiday of a few days'
duration. The dutiful nephew thanked his aunt, and requested her to let
Miss Bush know that she would be wanted on Friday if she would be kind
enough to come.

But Lady Garribardine was preoccupied with a subject much nearer her
heart, and turned to it at once.

"I am dying to see Mordryn, G. I wish I had known he was going to speak
to-day and I would have gone to the House; he felt it his duty, I
suppose--this wretched Land Bill! How did he look? And did you get a
word with him? I shall see him to-morrow, of course."

Mr. Strobridge gave the message that he had been asked to give, and
vouchsafed the information that the Duke had appeared as usual and was
altogether charming as ever.

"It is to be hoped he will get some good out of life now that he is free
at last from those mad women."

Her Ladyship's face assumed a strange expression. She sat down in her
usual armchair with an air of fatigue.

"Your words strike home, G.--for you know I made his marriage--in those
far back ignorant days when no one thought of heredity or such things. I
literally married him off to Laura almost against his will, because he
was utterly devoted to me and I to him, and the situation was becoming
impossible, over ten years between our ages, his immense position and
mine--and Garribardine jealous--There was nothing else for it. Laura was
a sweet, foolish creature then, beautiful and of no account. I felt she
would never replace me in his affection, and in those days, nearly
thirty years ago, it would have been considered almost indecent to talk
of what future children might turn out--They were supposed to come from
the cabbage beds and to have nothing to do with their parents!"

"Of course, one had always heard he was devoted to you, Seraphim--He is
still."

"Dear Mordryn!--Laura gave him trouble on the honeymoon, and once made
him look ridiculous--He never pardoned that. By the time she was shut
up, I was fifty, G., and had mercifully a strong sense of humour, so
Mordryn and I had no lapses and have remained firm friends as you know."

"One has often wondered what his inner life could have been during all
those years of horror at home. He was a model of circumspection
outwardly, but the adoration of women must have affected him now and
then."

"Not greatly, I think--Naturally he has had some consolation, but when
one thinks of it, it is perfectly marvellous that no woman in England
has ever been able to flatter herself that she possessed an influence
over him--and, of course, in these last years he has not even seen any."

"I suppose he will marry again now, having no heir?"

There was a very interested note in Mr. Strobridge's voice.

"He must--And he must find a sane and strong woman--the family is on the
verge of being overbred. I must look out a suitable bunch for him to
select from."

"I should leave it to fate this time, Seraphim."

"If I do that some totally unsuitable creature with a clever mother will
grab him."

Mr. Strobridge laughed.

"Has not the man a will of his own?"

"No man has a will of his own while the vanity of his sex is still in
him. He is as defenceless as a baby, and at the mercy of any cunning
female. I could not bear to see Mordryn suffering a second time," and
Lady Garribardine sighed.

       *       *       *       *       *

After luncheon next day, when the rest of the company had departed, the
Duke stayed on and accompanied his friend up to her own sitting-room
where they could talk undisturbed.

They understood each other completely. They spoke for a long time of his
travels and of his release at last from bondage and strain, and of how
he was going to open Valfreyne once more and see the world of his
fellows and take up the thread of his life.

"You must not keep a grain of mawkish sentiment, Mordryn," Her Ladyship
said at last. "You must banish all remembrance of Laura and Adeliza and
begin life afresh."

"At fifty-three?--It is a little late, I fear, for the game to have much
zest."

"Tut! tut! You have never found the youngest and most beautiful woman
recalcitrant, I'll wager. One had heard not so many years ago that a
certain fine creature in Paris almost died of love for you!"

The Duke smiled, and when he did this it was an illumination, his face
in repose was so stern.

"Not of love--of chagrin, because the ruby in the bangle she received
was reported to her--by her masseuse--to be of less pure pigeon's blood
than the duplicate--which I gave to the Spaniard. It is impossible to
gauge the love of a mistress; it is equally kindled by rubies and the
charms of a youthful Apollo."

"But you need not now confine your attentions to _ces dames_ any
longer, Mordryn; there are numbers of our world who would console you."

The Duke smiled again.

"None of them ever mattered to me very much, as you know, dear friend,
from the days when my whole soul was yours. Since then women have been
rare relaxations, ephemeral diversions leaving no mark."

"We are going to change all that!"

Then their talk drifted to other things, and before His Grace left he
had promised to spend Easter at Blissington.

While luncheon had yet been in full swing and a propitious moment had
come, Gerard had carried out his plan. The subject of miniatures was
introduced, and a heated argument ensued about the likelihood of the new
acquisitions being by Cosway, and then the suggestion that the Duke
should come in and dine the next night and decide the matter came out
quite naturally.

Lady Garribardine made no remark at the time, and indeed hardly thought
about it, but that night when she sat by her bedroom fire, she suddenly
remembered that her secretary would meet the Duke, and for a long time
she stared into the glowing embers in deep thought.

No, it was not possible that the girl had known that he would speak;
that was not her reason for wishing to go to the House of Lords; but she
had seen him there, and now she would meet him at dinner!

A number of expressions chased themselves over Her Ladyship's
countenance, while her eyes never left the one point in the coals. The
frown of cogitation deepened on her forehead and then cleared away. She
had come to a decision.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mordryn had retired with his hostess after luncheon, Gerard
Strobridge had sought Miss Bush in the secretary's room.

"The deed is done, Katherine," he announced, with an attempt at gaiety
while his heart was heavy within him. "The Duke is coming to dinner on
Friday night, and Gwendoline not Arabella, and a couple of bores from
the country, so all my duties and sacrifices are completed. Now are you
going to give me a reward?"

"It depends upon its nature."

"Yes, I know that. It is quite a reasonable one. It is to come down in
my motor with me this afternoon and see the spring borders at Hampton
Court?"

Katherine hesitated. She would love to go, but she had work to do before
to-morrow, and unless she sat up late at night it could not be
accomplished.

He came over and spoke earnestly.

"I feel that this will be the last time that we can be pupil and
teacher, Katherine. Fate is going to change for us both. I want to keep
a memory of you, dearest, when you were my friend alone, without the
shadow of any other interest between--Won't you try to give me this one
last great pleasure?"

Katherine was touched.

"Yes, I will," she agreed. "I cannot go up and ask Her Ladyship now, but
I believe she would let me go. I have no business with her until
to-morrow morning. Do you want me to come at once?"

"Yes, I will walk on round to the garage and get the motor, and you can
meet me at Stanhope Gate."

It turned out to be an afternoon which neither of them would ever
forget, and Katherine Bush had never been so near to emotion for her
friend as when at last they sat down upon a bench and looked away to
the broad green avenue between the giant trees.

Gerard Strobridge had exerted every power he possessed to please her. He
had enchanted her fancy, and had drawn out all that was finest in
herself. They had studied the flowers, and talked of their favourite
books; and Katherine was conscious that she herself was being brilliant,
and that now his flights were not beyond her, but that she could fully
hold her own.

"If I had been unwed, Katherine, would you have married me?" he asked
her at last. "Divine as to-day has been, think what it would have meant
with love between us--and further joys to come. Katherine, I would have
done my utmost to make you happy. Will you answer me this question? I
think it may be the last one I shall ever ask you."

She let her hands fall into her lap and she looked at him critically for
a while before she spoke. And her voice was reflective when she did
reply.

"I think if you had been free at that first Christmas, yes--I would have
married you, I would have let you take me away and teach me all that I
now know--And then I would have made you use all your gifts and rise,
rise to the top of your tree. I would never have rested until you had
reached the summit, and I with you."

He gave a little groan and covered his face with his hands.

"I forged all the barriers to joy by weakness long ago, Katherine. I
drifted idly down life's stream, and now am caught in the rushes and
cannot get free. The thought is bitter sweet, dear love--this picture of
what might have been. And I would have taught you to love me at last.
Ah! God! the pain! But now I do not want to finish this day with
sorrowful repinings. I will keep this memory of your words and go my
way, and when you come into your kingdom remember me, and let us renew
our friendship on calmer shores."

He took her hand, and pulling her glove off backwards kissed each white
finger, and then his eyes grew misty and he said farewell. And in
Katherine's heart there was a strange sadness, and they hardly spoke at
all as they sped homewards.



CHAPTER XXIV


When Friday night came and Katherine was ready to get into the taxi with
Miss Gwendoline d'Estaire, she felt exalted as she had never done in her
life.

This evening would be the test of her powers--If she failed, then she
would know that such high goals were not for her, and so she must
curtail her aspirations. _But she would not fail._ It might be that the
Duke would not be drawn to her--it was impossible to tell from that one
afternoon what his temperament could be--but at all costs she must not
fail in being a cultivated lady, a guest among equals, and so to take at
least that place in his regard.

There was something almost diabolically whimsical in the fact that one
passionate would-be lover was deliberately arranging that his lady
should meet a possible rival! Gerard Strobridge appreciated this point
as he stood before the cheerful wood fire in the morning-room in Brook
Street, awaiting his guests.

The bores, of course, came first, and then Katherine and old Miss
Gwendoline d'Estaire, and last of all, not more than five minutes
late--His Grace.

He was quite abnormally distinguished looking in evening dress, which
when dissected did not prove to be remarkably different from that of the
others, but which yet possessed some subtle quality entirely apart from
theirs, in its bygone suggestion. His manners were most courtly; he
recognised Katherine at once and shook hands with her. And then dinner
was announced.

Gerard sent the lady bore in with the Duke--himself taking old
Gwendoline, and leaving Katherine to the husband, so that Katherine sat
next His Grace at a little round table.

She was looking quite beautiful in a new black frock, as simple as the
old one, and with some of her favourite lilies of the valley tucked into
the belt. Mordryn felt constrained to talk to his partner until after
the fish--the host, by a tactful interruption, drew away her attention
and left him free, and then without hesitation he turned to Katherine.

Her heart was beating fast, and the excitement made her eyes dark and
her cheeks pale, but she did not lose her head, and indeed felt an extra
stimulant to her brain power.

He began about the debate on Wednesday. The whole thing was rather a
mockery since they were robbed of all power now in the House of Lords,
and could only make mild protests, but not enforce their opinions. Was
Miss Bush interested in politics?

Katherine said that she was, but thought it rather a degrading
profession now, with paid members making their living out of their
seats. And so they spoke for a little upon this theme, and the Duke
found himself agreeably entertained. He liked her deep voice, and above
all her extraordinarily good hands.

"Bush?" he said to himself. "I do not remember to have heard the name
before--the mother perhaps had the breeding. Those hands do not come
from the shrubbery or the common!"

Now Katherine began to talk of travels. She knew that all people enjoyed
discussing theirs on their return.

She would much like to visit the East. She had always been thrilled with
Kinglake's description of Damascus in "Eothen." Was it really a city "of
hidden palaces, of copses and gardens, and fountains and bubbling
streams"? His Grace's eyes expressed real interest now, not so much that
they should discuss Damascus, but that a modern girl should have read
Kinglake and deeply enough to quote him correctly! He also knew his
Kinglake, and had that potent gift of memory which never stumbles in its
manifestations.

He continued the subject with enthusiasm and found that this charming
young woman was familiar with all the subtlest shades. They had touched
upon passages of peculiar beauty concerning the Dead Sea, and the girls
of Bethlehem and the wonderful desert sun, and were in the middle of
those dedicated to the Sphinx, when the Duke became aware that a sweet
was being handed and that dinner was more than half over! With infinite
discretion the host had never allowed the flow of conversation to flag,
so that no pause among so small a company should bring this promising
_tête-à-tête_ to a close. Katherine should have a fair field if he could
procure it for her.

But His Grace's good manners reproached him for his negligence to the
lady he had taken in, and he turned from the contemplation of
Katherine's regular profile with reluctant dutifulness, inwardly
determining to continue Kinglake and other things when they should all
be safely in the drawing-room. These people would surely play bridge.
What a capital thing cards were if one had strength of mind enough to
enforce one's own selfishness in not playing them!

Katherine now used her best endeavours to be agreeable to the bore
husband, and spoke of subjects which were in his ken. And Gerard,
watching her, admired the progress of his pupil. No one of his world, or
any world, could have been a more polished or enchanting guest. And his
pride in her numbed the pain he had felt all the day.

Then the conversation became general, and gave fresh opportunity for
Katherine to show her powers of repartee.

Yes, the quartette played bridge, and began it almost immediately the
men joined the ladies upstairs. Mr. Strobridge had carefully not allowed
the talk to stray to any personal subject while they were alone in the
dining-room, in case the Duke should question him about Katherine. If
so, he would have been forced to say who she was, and that would spoil
her plans perhaps. How she meant to get out of the dilemma afterwards he
did not speculate. All pretence was so foreign to her nature. But that
was her affair; his only concern was that this evening should be without
flaw.

The Duke found a place on the sofa beside Katherine as soon as the rest
began their rubber, and here he could look at her undisturbed and
without craning his neck.

He admired her extremely. She was the exact type which pleased him,
distinguished and well-bred looking. He liked the way she spoke, with no
distressingly modern slang in her phrases. She must evidently have been
most carefully brought up in a really refined home! Could she be a
relation of the d'Estaires? But to ask questions of this sort was not
his method, and he turned the conversation back to "Eothen" again and
kindred things.

Katherine was in the seventh heaven; she was blooming like a glowing
hot-house plant and seemed to radiate sweetness and serenity. Every now
and then she let her eyes meet his dark-blue ones, with that strange
magnetic look in hers which she knew would compel his interest.

They spoke of music and poetry, and then of pictures--pictures in
general--and lastly those of Blissington.

"Did she know Blissington well?"

Yes, she knew it very well, and that enigmatic smile hovered for a
moment round her lips. Mordryn was surprised at it.

"It contains some recollections for you which are humorous, then?"

"Yes--very humorous."

"Won't you tell me what they are?" His most attractive clear-cut face
came a little nearer to her in his interest.

"Some day you will know."

"How fraught with meaning! 'Some day I shall know!' Not to-night, then?"

"No, for to-night we are guests at a dinner-party and are talking about
literature and music and art."

"But I want to talk about you--May I not?"

"I do not see why you should. I am just a person whom you will never
really see again--I mean, never really talk to again--so why waste time
in unprofitable investigations?"

"How do you know that they would be unprofitable?"

Katherine looked down at her own white hands folded quietly in her lap,
then up again and straight into his eyes.

"This night week if you chance to think of this evening, you will
realise how right I am as to their complete unprofitableness!"

[Illustration: "'You are ready for the great adventure?'"]

"You speak in riddles."

She shrugged her shoulders slightly and smiled.

His Grace found himself distinctly curious.

"Why should you be so sure that I shall never really see--or was it
speak to--you again? Do you then live on some desert island off the
north of Scotland, by chance?"

"In a much more inaccessible place than that." Her eyes sparkled with
some unfathomable expression.

"Iceland?"

"There is an ice barrier surrounding it."

"I shall have to give it up, and you will tell me yourself out of
gratitude, for ceasing to tease you."

Katherine leaned back on the soft green silk cushions of the sofa. She
was looking most alluring in her new rôle of honoured guest. It was so
delightful to be perfectly at ease and able to lean there, and not sit
bolt upright in a chair in an attitude of respect. The Duke found the
sight of her extremely soothing.

"You come to London sometimes, I expect?"

"Yes, for a part of the year."

"Ah! I thought so! I did not believe that Iceland produced such a
polished creature. You know you are quite unusual, Miss Bush. You have
consented, without apparent reluctance, to talk upon interesting
subjects to a wearied and middle-aged man, and you have not spoken of
golf or dancing--and you have not smoked!"

"I do smoke sometimes, but only when I am doing some tiresome mechanical
work like typing."

"Typing?--I suppose it is useful--but what can you have to type? Are you
writing a book?"

Katherine gave a sudden soft laugh, infinitely provoking; it made the
blood run in Gerard Strobridge's veins, and he viciously played a knave
while quivering with a sense of rebellion. He knew what it meant when
she laughed like that! When would this ghastly evening end?

And Katherine half whispered: "No, not writing one, but trying to learn
out of that greatest volume of all time--the book of life!"

"What can you know of life?" The Duke asked the question as Gerard
Strobridge had asked it long ago. "Protected and pampered and kept from
all but its pleasant sides--what can girls of our class know of life?"

"Tell me, then, what it is--since I could not be supposed to know?" and
her mouth still looked mischievous as well as her eyes.

The Duke thrilled a little.

"Life is either a muddle through, or an achievement. And it contains
good things and bad things, and passions--and it is forever trying to
express itself, and proclaim its meaning quite regardless of laws."

    "'Tis not to stalk about and draw fresh air,
     From time to time, or gaze upon the Sun."

"Oh! it is a splendid thing!" Katherine cried, and her voice vibrated.
"And unlike the _Spanish Student_, I shall not 'grow weary of the
bewildering masquerade,' 'where strangers walk as friends and friends as
strangers.' And even if they did, the unexpectedness of it would be
delightful!"

Mordryn looked at her. At the fresh, young firm, smooth cheeks, the
living red, voluptuous mouth, the ashen-hued hair, every strand of which
seemed to be specially alive and to hold its own silvery glitter. And
then at her strange, compelling eyes, and he sighed a little. She seemed
such an embodiment of vital things.

"You are ready for the great adventure?"

"Quite, and I mean to know everything before I grow old and
indifferent."

He sighed again.

"Age does not always produce indifference; it would be merciful if it
did."

"There can be no need really to grow old. Age comes because people lose
their grip on things."

"Probably. But responsibilities and sorrows and disappointments age. You
have no doubt a very sheltered life, and so it seems to you that all is
easy."

Katherine laughed again softly. It was so delicious to think of the
reality in contrast to his supposition!

"My life is indeed sheltered--by a very strong shield, but not by the
one your words would suggest."

"No? What then?"

"It is not at all interesting to talk of me; I have already told
you so--Why do you persist? I would much rather hear of foreign
countries--Italy, for instance. I have never been there."

There was not the least subjective deference in her manner to him. It
was as if an equal were talking to one of her own brain calibre and that
equal a woman, who had a right to be humoured. Women--especially
girls--were not wont so to treat him, but were always more or less
impressed by his great position, or his aloofness, or his satirical but
courteous wit. He had sometimes an expression of contemptuous, amiable
tolerance, which was eighteenth century and disconcerting. It made all
but the most simple or most highly cultivated among them slightly
uneasy--Was he laughing at them? They were never quite sure.

He found himself piqued now, and in no mood to be balked, so he
contradicted Katherine.

"You may not find yourself interesting to talk about; it chances that I
do. I wish to know what it is that shields you so effectively."

"A clear idea of what I want, I expect, and a strong enough will not to
be much buffeted about by any wind of opinion."

"What a _rara avis_! And you look so young!"

"I am twenty-three; that is fully grown."

"And what is it you want?"

"To be free to soar--to see the world--to feel its throb--to demonstrate
some of my ideas."

"On what subjects?"

"The meanings of things--and why they are--and the common sense aspect
of them. Then one could help humanity. Lady Garribardine is my ideal of
what a woman should be. There is nothing small about her; she is as big
as a great man and far more sagacious."

"There I am with you!" and his voice became eager. "Her Ladyship has
always been the perfection of things feminine, in my opinion. You know
her well?"

"Extremely well. She is not afraid of her views and principles. She is
really an aristocrat. She believes in herself, so everyone believes in
her, too!"

"Most of us are shaky about ourselves."

"You are not--I shall turn the tables now and say I want to talk about
you! What does it feel like to be a Duke?--A real Duke, not a _parvenu_
or one who makes a laughing stock of his order."

He smiled; she was a most engaging and audacious young person, because
she did not speak with childish artlessness, but with deliberation.

"It feels a great responsibility sometimes, and a thing of very little
consequence at others. It enforces perhaps a standard of behaviour which
it is difficult always to follow. If the circumstances of my life had
been different when I was younger, I should have endeavoured not to let
our order slip into impotency; now the whole modern political outlook
disgusts me so that I seldom speak in the House."

"That is very wrong of you, and cowardly." She was quite fearless. "You
should never give up a fight or remain passive when what really belongs
to you is being filched from you. If you do, as a band, you deserve to
be put aside. You should fight with the same fierceness with which those
Radicals do who know they are shams, but are indeed in earnest to obtain
their own ends."

"You are quite right. There are some women who stimulate in all ways,
who are, as it were, sent into the world as electric dynamos. They get
the best out of everyone; they make men work better and play better--and
love better."

He looked at her now with his fine eyes sparkling, but flirtation was
far beneath his feet. To his mistresses he was a master, a generous,
tolerant, contemptuous master; to his friends like Lady Garribardine the
essence of courtly consideration; to the general company politely aloof.
But to the woman who could arouse his love, what might he not be!
Katherine thought this, and a quiver ran through her of a kind she had
never experienced before, so that her composure was not so perfect as
usual when she answered:

"If one really knew exactly what is love!"

"You have no dim guess at it, then?" He was quite surprised that it
should interest him to know what her reply would be.

"Yes, I have--more than that. I know that some phases of it make
one feel mad, agitated, unbalanced, animal, even motherly and
protective--but what it could be if it touched the soul, I cannot
fathom."

The Duke did not speak for a moment; he was filled with wonder and a
growing admiration, admiration which extended even beyond the very real
appreciation of her beauty. Her mentality was so far above the average,
her directness so interesting. There was not the slightest trace of pose
in anything she said--And that last speech--what possibilities it opened
up! She knew something of one side of love then, evidently!

"Do you realise what your words imply?"

"Yes."

"That you have loved someone--in that way--once?"

"Yes, I have--It is a way that frightens one, and makes one more than
ever sure that there must be something else. Do you know that there
is--you who have lived your life?"

Her face was pale and cool as moonbeams. She seemed to be talking in the
abstract, for all the personal question. The Duke found himself quite
unaccountably moved, and was just about to answer eagerly, when at that
moment the host joined them from the other drawing-room; the rubber was
over, and he felt he must do his duty and not make too obvious a point
of leaving the pair alone.

"Come and see the miniatures, Mordryn," he said. "We must not forget
that it was their lure which brought you here to-night."

His tone Katherine well understood, it contained for all its surface
graciousness some bitterness underneath.

There was general movement after this, and no more private confidences
could be exchanged, so that Miss d'Estaire and Katherine left, with His
Grace's answer to the latter's question still unspoken.

And Gerard Strobridge, as he pressed Katherine's hand in good-nights,
whispered:

"Have I done well--and are you satisfied?"

The firm clasp of her cool fingers was his answer.



CHAPTER XXV


Lady Garribardine was unable to spare her secretary from the Easter
party, so it had been arranged that she was to have a few days holiday
from the Saturday following the dinner-party, but she must catch the
three o'clock train from Paddington on the Thursday before Easter, and
return then.

Katherine did not go home to Bindon's Green. She went off alone to a
little place by the sea on the east coast, and there she set herself to
review events, and think out her plans while she lay upon the sands
unheeding the east wind.

Gerard Strobridge had served her loyally--the interest which she had
meant to kindle was kindled. The Duke now had made a mental picture of
her, unmarred by possible qualifications which, if he had known she was
his friend's humble secretary and typist, he would have been bound to
have made. Not that he was in the least a snob, but that he would have
naturally considered it unbefitting his situation to go about looking
for interesting companions among his friend's dependents. He would
simply not have observed her at all when he came to Blissington, any
more than she herself had observed either of the footmen at Gerard
Strobridge's dinner. Not that she despised footmen as footmen, or the
Duke secretaries as secretaries; they were worthy and necessary
servants; but guests did not remark them except in their professional
capacities, people who were there to serve at table or write letters
and attend to business.

Not the slightest irritation or resentment mingled with these
reflections of Katherine's. She was much too wise and just, and never
under the influence of hurt vanity or dramatic instinct, so this point
of view, that she knew the Duke would naturally take, seemed to her
perfectly right, and instead of resenting it, she had used her brain to
nullify it, knowing full well that if she played her part at the dinner
effectually, interest would be aroused which no barrier of different
statuses could entirely obliterate afterwards. Now on this last
afternoon at Bayview, she must think out what she would do next, for the
Duke would be arriving at Blissington by a train from the west which got
in a few minutes after her own from Paddington. She had known before the
dinner-party that he was coming for Easter, and that morning had
received a command from her mistress that she was to look out for him,
and tell him he was to take the small coupé and not get into the other
motor, which would await her and be loaded up with fragile hat-boxes
which were coming by Katherine's train. There would be the luggage car
for his servant and his trunks as well. All the rest of the guests were
arriving by motors or by the express an hour later.

Thus the plunge from equal to humble secretary would have to be made at
once, and she must see to it that it was done with tact and skill, so as
not to mar the effect already produced, but rather enhance it. There was
only one drop in her cup. She did not feel altogether happy in keeping
this secret from her beloved mistress. A secret, too, which concerned
her, perhaps, most valued guest. But it was absolutely impossible that
she could frankly avow her intentions to Lady Garribardine, as she had
done to Gerard; so much she would keep to herself, but she would speak
of her enjoyment at meeting the Duke, if Her Ladyship did not herself
begin the subject, and she had not reason to believe Mr. Strobridge had
told his aunt of the encounter. She had not seen Lady Garribardine since
the dinner, having left for her holiday very early on the Saturday
morning. All the way down in the train to Blissington she was conscious
of suppressed excitement. She had been most careful about her
appearance, and looked as charming and yet unobtrusive as it was
possible to look.

She waited, when once arrived, at the entrance where the subway from the
departure platform emerged--and she felt a quiver when she saw the top
of the Duke's hat and then his face.

How attractive he looked! And how unlike other people! Among a crowd he
was a magnificent personality, one to whom porters and officials and
strangers naturally showed deference. Peers could look like very humble
and sometimes even vulgar people, she knew, but no man, woman or child
could mistake His Grace of Mordryn for anything but a great noble.

When he caught sight of Katherine standing just at the inside of the
stream of passengers, his whole stern face changed, and an illuminating
smile came over it, while he stretched out his hand cordially.

"Miss Bush! Are we to be fellow guests? You are coming to Blissington?
How delightful!"

Katherine made as though she did not see the hand, and with deference
and lowered lids, she said:

"Yes, I am going to Blissington, but Your Grace is under a
misapprehension which I must correct. I am Her Ladyship's typist and
secretary, and I am here now to give you a message, that you are to take
her Ladyship's own small coupé and not the motor which is waiting for
the bandboxes and me."

But with all her demureness, she could not prevent an irresistible and
humorous quiver from dimpling round her lips, and then she raised her
steady eyes and looked at him suddenly as she bowed and moved off
quickly, leaving him for the first time in his life completely
nonplussed! What was the meaning of this comedy? He felt rather angry.
What business had Gerard Strobridge to trick him so? But had he tricked
him? He recollected now that Miss Bush had not been mentioned by Gerard
at all one way or another. She was simply treated as any other guest,
and had come apparently with Gwendoline d'Estaire. That she was a
high-bred lady his own senses had told him, whether she were a typist or
no!--Highly bred and educated and exceptionally cultivated and refined.
She must certainly be the daughter of some friend of Sarah's who had met
with financial misfortune, poor charming girl! And he hurried after
her--but only got outside the station to see her disappear in a motor
already piled up inside with milliner's boxes. So, baffled and still
deeply interested, he entered the coupé awaiting him and was whirled
off. Seraphim would, of course, tell him all about it, and so he
dismissed the matter from his mind; but his first thought when he got
into the hall was to wonder if Katherine would be at tea. She was not.
Tea was a _tête-à-tête_ affair in his old friend's boudoir, where a
hundred thousand things of interest had to be discussed between them,
and no time or chance was given for reference to obscure secretaries.

After tea on her way down to receive the guests, who would continue to
arrive in relays until dressing time, Lady Garribardine went into the
schoolroom to see Katherine.

They spoke of business, and Katherine received orders, and took down
notes, and then she said:

"Your Ladyship will be amused to hear that I met the Duke at dinner at
Mr. Strobridge's. He did not know my position, and I am afraid at the
time I did not undeceive him. It was such a very great pleasure to me to
be taken for a lady and a guest just for once. Of course, I told him at
the station my real position, and he appeared much surprised."

Lady Garribardine walked to the window and pretended to be looking out
at something. She wanted to hide all the expression which might come
into her eyes. The simple words, "It was such a very great pleasure to
be taken for a lady and a guest just for once," had deeply touched her.
She seemed to realise what such a spirit as Katherine's must feel,
always in a subordinate position of no particular status--And with what
dignity she carried it off!

"Child," she answered, without looking round, "no one who knows you
would ever take you for anything else--the theory of blood being
absolutely necessary for this, you have proved to be nonsense. The Duke
is one of my oldest friends and a very fine gentleman. I am glad you had
a chance of talking freely to him."

After she had left the room, Katherine folded and unfolded a bit of
paper, a very unusual agitation moving her.

"Oh! I wish I could tell her outright, my dear lady!" she cried to
herself. "I almost believe she would sympathise with me, but if I see
that she would not, and that it would hurt and anger her, I will give
up even this, my ambition."

       *       *       *       *       *

Gerard Strobridge was not of this party; he had been obliged to go to
his brother's, so Katherine would have no collaborator and would be
forced to act alone.

She did not dine downstairs, but was required in the drawing-room
afterwards, and until ten o'clock she stayed alone in her sitting-room,
wondering what the Duke had thought, and if it would have been wiser to
have stayed for a minute after firing her bomb.

Had she known it, nothing to chain his interest could have been better
than her swift disappearance, for he was now thinking of her, and at the
first opportunity between the soup and fish, he said to his hostess:

"Seraphim, I met your secretary, it seems, the other night at
Gerard's--a very intelligent girl. I had no idea at the time that she
was in any dependent position--and was greatly surprised when she
addressed me at the station to-day as 'Your Grace'! She is some
misfortunate friend's daughter, I suppose. Anyone I knew?"

Lady Garribardine's eyes beamed with a momentary twinkle which she
suppressed--She thought of the auctioneer father and the butcher
grandfather and then she said casually:

"No--she came from an advertisement, but she is a splendid creature,
with more sense in her little finger than most of us have in our entire
bodies--What do you think of my grey locks, Mordryn?"

The Duke assured her he found them bewitching; he saw that she did not
mean to speak of her secretary.

"They cause you to look ten years younger, dear friend. I could find it
in my heart to make love to you once more--and be repulsed with unabated
violence, I fear!"

"Love was good when we were young, Mordryn; ten or twelve years do
not matter when a man is twenty-five and a woman thirty-five to
thirty-eight--that is, if they are not married. The discrepancy in age
only becomes grotesque later. We loved and laughed and lived then, and
should be grateful--I am--As for you, you will love again--fifty-three
for a man is nothing. You are abominably attractive, you know, Mordryn,
with your weary, aloof air--and your Dukedom--And now that you are
altogether free from anxieties, you should take the cup of joy in both
hands and quaff it--Look round the table. Have I not provided some sweet
creatures for you?"

"You have indeed--Which one in particular have you destined for the
cup-bearer?"

"Any one of the three on that side towards the top. You can't have
brains and beauty. Lily Trevelyan has beauty, and enough tact to hide
her absence of brain. Blanche Montague has no beauty but a certain
chic--and I am told wonderful variety of talent. She does not satiate
her admirers with sameness--While Julia Scarrisbrooke is all passion so
well assumed as to be better than the real article, and always handy.
These credentials I have collected from a cohort of past admirers and
they can be vouched for. You have only to choose. Any one of them will
be enchanted. They are only waiting to spring into your arms!"

"I believe that would bore me. I want someone who is not
enchanted--someone who leaves the whole initiative to me."

Her Ladyship cast up her eyes. "My dear Mordryn, your unsophistication
pains me! Who ever heard of a Duke of fifty-three, well preserved,
good-looking, unmarried and distinguished--known to be generous as a
lover and full of charm--being allowed to take the initiative with
women--Fie!"

The Duke laughed, and by some curious turn of fancy he seemed to see the
white, perfectly composed face of the stately, slender secretary, who
had treated him as naught that night at Gerard's, and then looked almost
mockingly respectful when she called him "Your Grace!" in the station.
Would she be in the drawing-room after dinner?--Perhaps.

Yes, she was, over by the piano at the far end; but Lily Trevelyan and
Blanche Montague and Julia Scarrisbrooke had surrounded him before he
could get half-way down the long room, and escape was out of the
question. No manoeuvring enabled him to break free of them. So he had
to sit and be purred at, and see with the tail of his eye a graceful
creature in black talking quietly (and intelligently he felt sure) to
some less important guest--and then playing accompaniments--and then
slipping away through a door at that end, presumably to bed.

He cursed civilisation, he profoundly cursed beautiful ladies, and he
became sarcastic and caused Julia and Lily who were for the moment bosom
friends to confide to each other, over the latter's bedroom fire, that
Mordryn was "too darling for words" but spiteful as Her Ladyship's black
cat.

"I do hate men to be so clever--don't you, Lil? One never knows where
one is, with them."

"Oh! but Ju, dearest, he isn't deformed or deadly dull or diseased, or
tipsy, he is awfully good looking and very rich and _a Duke_--Really you
can't have everything. I thought Blanche Montague was shockingly open
in her desire to secure him, did not you? I wonder why Sarah asked her
here with us!"

Meanwhile Katherine Bush did not permit herself to wonder at His Grace's
possible feelings or his future actions at all. She had seen the eager
look in his dark blue eyes once or twice across the room and being a
wise woman left things to fate.

"I wish G. were here," the hostess said to herself as she, too, stood by
a bedroom fire--her own. "I have no one to exchange unspoken confidence
with. He would have understood and appreciated the enchanting comedy of
female purpose, male instinct to flee, and one young woman's supreme
intelligence!"

The next day the Duke, who knew the house well, and in what wing Miss
Arnott had worked, took it into his head to walk before breakfast in the
rose garden. Miss Bush saw him from the window and allowed herself to
bow gravely when he deliberately looked up; then she moved away. He felt
a distinct sensation of tantalization. After breakfast everyone would
play tennis. He played an extraordinarily good game himself, and was in
flannels ready. Katherine thought he had a very fine figure and looked
much younger in those clothes. She wanted to ask him about the emerald
ring--she wanted to ask him about a number of things. She had work to do
all the morning, but came out to the tennis lawn with a message to her
mistress just before luncheon, during an exciting single match between
the Duke and an agile young man--the last game was at 30 all--and
Katherine paused to watch the strokes--40-30--And then Mordryn
won--amidst shouts of applause.

Katherine had remarked that he ran about very little and won by sheer
style and skill and hard hitting.

She did not loiter a second when he was free to move, but flitted back
to the house before he could get near her.

She lunched alone in her schoolroom.

By the afternoon, when she did appear at tea, the Duke was thoroughly
ill-tempered, he knew not why or for what reason, merely that his mood
was so. Katherine, busy with the teapot, only raised her head to give a
polite, respectful bow in answer to his greeting. He was infinitely too
much a man of the world to single out the humble secretary and draw upon
her the wrath of these lovely guests. So he contented himself by
watching her, and noting her unconcerned air and easy grace. Some of the
people seemed to know her well and be very friendly with her.

She showed not the slightest sign of a desire to speak to him--Could it
be possible that this was the girl who only that night week had talked
with him upon the enthralling subject of love!

Those utterances of hers which had sounded so cryptic at the time were
intelligible now. How subtle had been her comprehension of the
situation. He remembered her face when he had asked her if she knew
Blissington! And again when she had told him that that night week he
would know how altogether unprofitable any investigations regarding her
would be! And now in the character of humble secretary she was just as
complete as she had been when apparently a fellow guest and social
equal. It was all annoyingly disturbing. It placed him in a false
position and her in one in which she held all the advantages! And there
she sat serene and dignified, hedged round with that barrier of ice of
which she had spoken. He had not experienced such perplexing emotions
for many years.

He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to ask her what it all meant--He
would like to know her history, and whence she had come. Gwendoline
d'Estaire had treated her, he had noticed, not as a dependent, but as a
friend. He felt himself rather awkward--he, a man of the world
accustomed to homage from women!

He did manage to say that it was a bore that the rain had come on, and
it looked as though to-morrow would be wet. And he felt humiliated at
the fine, instantly suppressed smile which flickered round her mouth at
this brilliant remark from an acknowledged wit!

Then he became angry with himself--what matter to him whether she smiled
or did not smile? It was obvious that he could not be on terms of
familiar friendship with Seraphim's secretary, at his age and with his
position. So he had strength of mind to move away from the table, and to
allow himself to be purred over by one of the trio of charmers who had
been asked for his benefit--but rage mounted in his breast. He was not
enjoying himself at all, and if he did not see more of his old friend
herself, he really would not stay over Monday as he had intended, but
would go back to town on Sunday night!

Lady Garribardine knew the signs of the times and took him off to her
sitting-room after tea when most of the others began to play bridge.

"I think modern women have less charm than they had, Seraphim," the Duke
said from the depths of an armchair, rather acidly. "They are almost as
illiterate as ladies of the ballet used to be when I was young; they are
quite as slangy and noisy, and they are full of affectations. If one
does not know the last word of their fashionable jargon and cannot keep
up a constant flow of 'back talk'--which, incidentally, it would require
the wit of the St. James Street cabmen of twenty years ago to be able to
do--one is asphyxiated by them. I shall have to become acclimated, I
feel. I have been too long away and have lost touch with the movement--I
sigh for repose and peace."

"Nonsense, Mordryn--it will do you a great deal of good to be shaken up,
you must move with the times."

"But I entirely decline to do so. To what end?"

"You must certainly marry again now that you are at last free."

"Undoubtedly it is my obvious duty, as otherwise the title will die
out--but surely you do not suggest that I should convert any of these
charming creatures who were good enough to try to lighten my mood last
night and to-day, into my wife! I had hoped they were at least safely
married, and now you make me tremble in case you are going to announce
to me that some are widows!"

"Blanche Montague is; I merely asked the others to accustom you to the
modern type. They are to break in your sensibilities, so to speak, and
next time you come, if you don't fancy Blanche I will have a selection
of suitable prospective Duchesses."

"Will they make as much noise as these '_ballons d'essai_'?"

"More--nothing modern can be dignified or quiet, so get the idea out of
your head. They are all so out of door and so hearty, such delightful,
fresh, knowing, supremely uninnocent, jolly good fellows, they can't be
silent or keep still. There are too many new _révues_ to be talked
about, and too much golf to be played, and new American nigger dances
to be learned.--Come, come, Mordryn! You do not want to be ridiculously
old-fashioned--and really Blanche Montague is most suitable. Montague
left her well provided for--and she was only thirty-two last birthday."

"But I don't like her voice, and what should we converse about in the
_entr'actes_?"

"Blanche is famous for her small talk, she will start upon any subject
under the sun you please--and change it before you can answer the first
question. No fear of stagnation there!"

"Even the description tires me. I prefer the lady who you assured me was
all simulated passion. I adore passion, though I confess I prefer it to
be real."

"How captious of you! The thing is unknown in these days, it has to be
reconstructed, like the modern rubies--lots of little ground-up
fragments pressed into a whole by scientific chemistry.--A good
imitation is all you will get, Mordryn."

"I loathe imitations," and His Grace shuddered.

"I think you had better give me an exact description of what you
do want, for, my poor old friend, you seem to be out to court
disappointment. I earnestly desire to help you into a second noose more
satisfactory than the one I originally placed around your neck--so out
with it! A full description!"

The Duke deliberately lit a cigarette, and a gleam of firelight caught
his emerald ring.

"Your famous talisman is flashing, Mordryn, the lyre shows that it
approves of your thoughts!"

"The woman I should like to marry must be, and look--supremely
well-bred--but healthy and normal, not overbred like poor Laura, and
Gerard's wife, Beatrice.--She must be able to talk upon the subjects
which interest one--a person of cultivation in short. She must have a
sense of humour and fine ideals and a strong feeling about the
responsibilities of the position, and be above all things dignified and
quiet and composed.--And I should like--" and here a faint deprecatory
smile flickered about his mouth for a moment, "I should like her to love
me, and take a little interest in the human, tangible side of the
affair--if you do not think I am asking too much of fate at my age?"

"It is a large order--I only know of one woman who answers to your
requirements and she of course is entirely out of the question."

"Who is she--and why is she out of the question?"

"Useless to answer either query, since, as I say, she is altogether out
of the running. It was only an idea of mine, but I will diligently seek
for your paragon--for, Mordryn, I shall never feel my conscience clear
until I see you happily told off--and the father of at least six sturdy
boys."

The Duke raised his hands in deprecation.

"Heavens, Seraphim! You would overwhelm me with a litter, then! My wants
in that direction are modest. The 'quiver full' has never appealed to
me. I want my wife to be my loved companion--my darling if you will--but
not, not a rabbit."

When he was dressing for dinner he thought over his friend's words--He
had not insisted upon knowing who the "one woman" could be--He himself
had lately seen a creature who seemingly, as far as he could judge from
one evening's acquaintance, possessed quite a number of the necessary
qualifications--but as in the case of Seraphim's specimen, his was also
completely out of the running, and not to be thought of in any
capacity--Alas!

It was strange, with this resolution so firmly fixed in his mind, that
after dinner he should have broken loose from the bevy of ladies waiting
to entrap him, and have deliberately gone to the piano to talk to that
dull little Lady Flamborough who was leaning upon the lid, chatting with
Miss Bush!

Katherine kept her eyes fixed upon the keyboard with that meek,
deferential demureness suitable to her station when amidst such exalted
company; but her red mouth had an indefinable expression about it which
was exasperating.

Mordryn seized the first second in which Lady Flamborough's attention
was diverted by a remark from someone else, to bend down a little and
say softly,

"Are you not even going to say good evening to me, Miss Bush?--It is
'this night week.'"

She looked up with perfect composure.

"Good evening, Your Grace."

He frowned. "Is that all?"

"As Your Grace very truly remarked, it is 'this night week.'"

"And you think that has answered all the riddles?"

"Of course."

He frowned again, he knew Julia Scarrisbrooke was swooping down upon
him, there was not a moment's time to be lost.

"I do not--to-morrow I will make an opportunity in which you will have
to answer them all categorically--do you hear?"

Katherine thrilled. She liked his haughty bearing, the tone of command
in his perfect voice.

She remembered once when she and Matilda had been eating lunch at a
Lyons popular café, Matilda had said:

"My! Kitten, there's such a strange-looking young man sitting behind
you--Whatever makes him look quite different to everyone else?"

And she had turned and perceived that a pure Greek Hermes in rather
shabby modern American clothes was manipulating a toothpick within a few
feet of her--and her eye, trained from museum study, had instantly seen
that it was the balance of proportion, the set and size of the head, and
the angle of placing of eyes which differentiated him so startlingly
from the mass of humanity surrounding them. She had said to Matilda:

"You had better look at him well, Tild--You will never see such another
in the whole of your life. He is a freak, a perfect survival of the
ancient Greek type. He is exactly right and not strange-looking really.
It is all the other people who are wrong and clumsy or grotesque."

She thought of this now. The Duke stood out from everyone else in the
same way, although he was not of pure Greek type, but much more Roman,
but there was that astonishing proportion of bone and length of limb
about him, the acknowledged yet indescribable shape of a thoroughbred,
which middle age had not diminished, but rather accentuated.

She again noticed his hands, and his great emerald ring--but she did not
reply at all to his announcement of his intentions for the morrow. She
bent down and picked up a piece of music which had fallen to the floor,
and Julia Scarrisbrooke swooped and caught her prey and carried it off
into safety on a big sofa.

But as Katherine gazed from her window on that Good Friday night up into
the deep blue star-studded sky, a feeling of awe came over her--at the
magnitude of the vista fate was opening in front of her eyes.



CHAPTER XXVI


The Duke found great difficulty in carrying out his intention on that
Saturday. For a Duke to escape from a lady-pack brought there especially
to hunt him is no easy task! He had reason to believe that his hostess
would not aid him either, and that it would be impossible to appeal to
her sympathy, because he was quite aware that he would withhold his own,
had he to look at the matter dispassionately as concerning someone else.

It was a fool's errand he was bent upon in all senses of the phrase. But
as this conviction forced itself upon him, the desire to see and talk
with Katherine grew stronger.

It happened that she lunched downstairs. At such a large party as this,
that meal was consumed at several small tables of six each, and of
course the secretary was not placed at His Grace's! Indeed, she sat at
one directly at his back, so that he could not see her, though once in a
pause he heard her deep, fascinating voice. When later in the hall
coffee and cigarettes had come, Katherine passed near him to put down a
cup, and he seized the moment to address her.

"In twenty minutes, I am coming from the smoking-room to the
schoolroom--please be there."

Miss Bush gave no sign as to whether or no she heard this remark, which
was made in a low voice with a note of pleading in it. If he chose to do
this, she would make it quite clear that she would have no clandestine
acquaintance with him, but at the same time she experienced a delicious
sense of excitement.

She was seated before her typewriter busily typing innumerable letters,
when she heard his footsteps outside, and then a gentle tap at the door.

"Come in!" she called, and he appeared.

His face looked stern, and not particularly good-tempered.

"May I stay for a moment in this haven of rest, Miss Bush?" and he shut
the door. "In so large a party, every sitting-room seems to be
overflowing, and there is not a corner where one may talk in peace."

Katherine had risen with her almost overrespectful air, which never
concealed the mischievous twinkle in her eyes when she raised them, but
now they were fixed upon the sheets of paper.

"Your Grace is welcome to that armchair for a little, but I am very
occupied. Lady Garribardine wishes these letters to go by this evening's
post."

"I wish you would not call me 'Your Grace'," he said, a little
impatiently. "I cannot realise that you can be the same person whom I
met at Gerard Strobridge's."

"I am not," she looked up at him.

"Why?"

"It is obvious--I was me--myself, that night--a guest."

"And now?"

"Your Grace is not observant, I fear; I am Her Ladyship's secretary."

"Of course--but still?" he came over quite close to her.

"If I had been the same person as the one you met at Mr. Strobridge's,
you would not now have been obliged to contrive to come to the
schoolroom to speak to me."

A dark flush mounted to his brow. She had touched a number of his
refined sensibilities. Her words were so true and so simple, and her
tone was quite calm, showing no personal emotion but merely as though
she were announcing a fact.

"That is unfortunately true, but these are only ridiculous conventions,
which please let us brush aside. May I really sit down for a minute?"

Katherine glanced at the clock; it was half-past three.

"Until a quarter to four, if you wish. I am afraid I cannot spare more
time than that."

She pointed to the armchair which he took, and she reseated herself at
the table, folding her hands. There was a moment's silence. The Duke was
feeling uncomfortably disturbed. There had been a subtle rebuke conveyed
in her late speech, which he knew he merited. He had no right to have
come there.

"Are you not going to talk to me at all, then?" he almost blurted out.

"I will answer, of course, when Your Grace speaks; it is not for me to
begin."

"Very well, I not only speak--I implore--I even order you to discontinue
this ridiculous humility, this ridiculous continuance of 'Your Grace,'
resume the character of guest, and let us enjoy these miserable fifteen
minutes--but first, I want to know what is the necessity for your total
change of manner here? Gerard and Gwendoline knew that you were Lady
Garribardine's secretary that night, but they did not consider it
imperative to make a startling difference in their relations towards
you because of that, as it seems that you would wish me to make now."

Katherine looked down and then up again straight into his eyes, a slight
smile quivered round her mouth.

"That is quite different--they know me very well--and dear Miss
Gwendoline is not very intelligent. I have been there before to help to
entertain bores for Mr. Strobridge and Lady Beatrice, but that night I
was there--because I wanted to see--Your Grace."

Here she looked down again suddenly. The Duke leaned forward eagerly;
this was a strange confession!

"I wanted once to talk to a man as an equal, to feel what it was like
to be a lady and not to have to remember to be respectful. So I
deliberately asked Mr. Strobridge to arrange it--after I had heard you
speak."

The Duke was much astonished--and gratified.

"How frank and delicious of you to tell me this! I thought the evening
was enchanting--but why do you say such a silly thing as that you wanted
to feel what it was like to be a lady? You could never have felt
anything else."

"Indeed, I could; I am not a lady by birth, anything but! only I have
tried to educate myself into being one, and it was so nice to have a
chance of deciding if I had succeeded or no."

"And your verdict was?" he raised amused eyebrows.

She looked demure.

"By Your Grace's words just now, I conclude that I have succeeded."

"Only by my words just now? I thought we had had a rather pleasant and
interesting hour of conversation as fellow-guests."

"Yes--You are not shocked, then, when I tell you that I am not really a
lady?"

"No. The counterfeit presentment is so very perfect, one would like to
hear the details of the passage to its achievement."

Then she told him in as few and as simple words as she could--just the
truth. Of her parentage, of her home at Bindon's Green--of Liv and
Dev's, of her ideals, and her self-education, and of her coming to Lady
Garribardine's.

Mordryn listened with rapt attention, his gaze fixed upon her face--he
made brief ejaculations at times, but did not otherwise interrupt her.

"You can understand now how entertained I was at the things which you
said to me that night, can you not?"

Thus she ended her story, and the Duke rose and sat down upon the edge
of the table quite close to her; he was visibly moved.

"You extraordinary girl. You have upset every theory I ever held. I
shall go away now and think over all you have said--Meanwhile, I feel
that this is the only way in which I can show my homage," and he took
her hand with infinite respect and kissed it.

Then he removed his tall form from the table and quietly left the room.

And when she was alone, Katherine gently touched the spot where his lips
had pressed; there was a quite unknown emotion running through her.

She found it very difficult to go on with her work after this, and made
a couple of mistakes, to her great annoyance. Nearly an hour passed. She
got up from her typing, and after changing her blouse, went down to tea,
her thoughts not nearly so calm as usual.

Was her friendship with this man finished? Had her frankness
overreached itself? Just what did that kiss mean? Here was a character
not so easy to read as Gerard Strobridge's. Here was a will perhaps as
strong as her own. Her face was very pale, and those concentrated
grey-green eyes looked stormy and resentful.

The Duke reached the smoking-room and was seated at the writing-table
only one moment before the room was invaded by Lady Garribardine.

"Poor Mordryn! You had to take refuge here! I fear those charming
creatures I have invited for you are proving a little fatiguing."

"Frankly, Seraphim, they bore me to death."

"Two others are coming of a different type presently. But you are safe
in this corner. Most of them do not know I have moved the smoking-room
to this wing."

"I think it is a great improvement."

Her Ladyship looked at him out of the tail of her eye, but she said,
quite innocently:

"Yes, Gerard always says so." Then she left him to his letters, with a
word as to tea and a cosy talk in her boudoir after it.

So Gerard liked this room, too! Miss Bush was with him at the House. She
dined at Brook Street. Then Mordryn frowned and looked the very image of
the Iron Duke, and did not even begin to write an order which he had
intended to send his agent. His mind was disturbed. Every word Katherine
had said had made a deep impression upon him.

The father an auctioneer--the grandfather a butcher! And this girl a
peerless creature fit for a throne! But if she were fit for heaven,
there were still quite insurmountable barriers between even ordinary
acquaintance with her. He rather thought he would leave Blissington on
Sunday night.

Then he frowned again. Gerard Strobridge was a charming fellow. Seraphim
adored him--he was often here--he liked the smoking-room! Somehow the
conversation must be turned, when he was alone with his friend
presently, to the subject of Gerard.

Then he found himself going over every minute sentence that had fallen
from Katherine. What a wonderful, wonderful girl! How quite ridiculous
class prejudices were! How totally faulty the reasoning of the world!

At tea, he did not converse with Miss Bush, but he never lost the
consciousness of her presence, and was almost annoyedly aware of a
youngish man's evident appreciation of her conversation. So that his
temper, when he found himself in Lady Garribardine's sitting-room, was
even more peevish than it had been on the evening before.

Katherine had preceded him there, but had left ere he arrived. She had
brought some letters for her mistress' inspection. When this business
was finished, she said quite simply:

"His Grace came up into the schoolroom after luncheon to-day. He appears
to have been confused over my two identities. I explained to him, and
told him who my father was, and my mother's father, and how I have only
tried to make myself into a lady. It did not seem fair that he should
think that I was really one born."

Lady Garribardine looked disagreeable for an instant. She, too, had to
conquer instinct at times, which asserted itself in opposition even to
her heart's desire, and her deliberate thought-out intentions. One of
her ancestors had put a retainer in chains for presumption! But her
intelligence crushed out the folly almost as quickly as it arose, and
she smiled:

"And, of course, the Duke at once said he could not know common people,
and bounced from the room! Katherine Bush, you are a minx, my child!"

Katherine laughed softly.

"He did not say that exactly--but he did go away very soon."

"'He that fights and runs away!'" quoth Her Ladyship; "but I don't think
you had better let him come to the schoolroom again. Martha will be
having her say about the matter."

Katherine reddened. That her dear mistress should think her so stupid!

"I did not intend to. It is very difficult--even the greatest gentlemen
do not seem to know their places always."

"A man finds his place near the woman he wants to talk to--you must not
forget that, girl!"

"It is a little mean and puts the woman in a false position often."

"She prefers that to indifference. There is one very curious thing about
women, the greatest prude is not altogether inwardly displeased at the
knowledge that she exercises a physical attraction for men. Just as the
greatest intellectual among men feels more flattered if exceptional
virility is imputed to him, than all the spiritual gifts! Virility--a
quality which he shares with the lower animals, spirituality a gift
which he inherits from God. Oh! we are a mass of incongruities, we
humans! and brutal nature eventually wins the game. Animal savagery is
always the outcome of too much civilisation. And unless the dark
ages of ignorance fall upon us once more, so that we can again be
sufficiently simple to believe _en masse_ in a God, I feel our cycle is
over and that we shall be burnt out of time."

Then presently, as her secretary was moving towards the door, Her
Ladyship remarked irrelevantly:

"Look here, girl--Do you think it is in your nature ever to love really,
or are you going to let brain conquer always?"

"I--do not know," faltered Katherine.

"Love is the only thing on earth which is sublime. This evening until
you come down after dinner, I recommend you to read the 'Letters of
Abelard and Heloise'."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Duke talked of politics for a while when he came into his old love's
sitting-room--and then of books and ideas, and lastly of Gerard. Was he
happy with Beatrice, after all?

"Yes, they do very well together. Beatrice is bred out of all natural
emotions. She is sexless and well-mannered and unconsciously humorous.
They go their own ways."

"But Gerard was always an ardent lover. Has he had no emotions since the
Alice Southerwood days?"

"A transient passion for Läo Delemar, and since then a deep devotion
elsewhere--quite unreturned, though. It has rather improved him."

The Duke unconsciously felt relief.

"Unreturned?--that must be a new experience for him: Gerard has every
quality to attract a woman."

"This one is infinitely too proud and too intelligent to waste a thought
upon a married man."

"It is a girl, then! How unlike Gerard's usual taste!"

"Yes--Mordryn, shall you open Valfreyne quite soon?"

"Immediately--I shall have a party for Whitsuntide, if you will honour
me by acting hostess."

"All right--if I may bring my _personnel_ with me--a large order! I
can't stand the racket without Stirling and James and Harmon, my
chauffeur--and Miss Bush."

"All are perfectly welcome--especially Miss Bush. She appeared an
extremely clever girl when I had the pleasure of talking to her."

"Yes, she is a wonderful creature. I am thinking of marrying her off to
Sir John Townly."

The Duke leaned forward, his voice was quite shocked.

"How inhuman, Seraphim! John Townly must be sixty, at least."

"My dear Mordryn, that is only seven years older than you are, and I
look upon you as hardly yet at the prime of life--and beggars cannot be
choosers, the girl is of no family. Neither for that matter is Sir John.
It will be suitable in every way----I suppose you will let me have a say
as to the guests for the Whitsuntide outbreak, eh?"

"Naturally--but spare me any too overmodern widows, or any further
breakers in of my sensibilities!"

Seraphim laughed, and they set about making the list.

But when the Duke had gone to dress, she looked long into the fire,
something a little sentimental and yet satisfied in her gaze.

"Dear Mordryn--Gerard and the smoking-room caused him uneasiness; it
would not have done for that to continue, because of the unpleasant
reflection that G. is a married man. Sir John was splendid--but Mordryn
is no fool. I must now really oppose him in every possible way----I am
not sure if, after all, I shall take her to Valfreyne."

And the Duke, as he dressed, said to himself that he did not understand
women. Here was Seraphim, a creature with the kindest heart, yet so full
of that distressingly feminine matchmaking instinct which was the curse
of her sex, that she was ready to pitchfork this charming, living,
fascinating young person into the mouldering arms of old John Townly!
The idea was simply revolting to contemplate, even if beggars could not
be choosers! And then suddenly he seemed to see the auctioneer father
and the butcher grandfather and the home at Bindon's Green!

He walked down to dinner in a subdued mood.



CHAPTER XXVII


On Easter Sunday in church, Katherine sat in the overflow pew, and so
could be looked at by those highly placed in the chancel seat of honour
without the least turning of their heads. It was not surprising, then,
that the Duke found the sermon a very good, and a very short one, as his
thoughts ran on just as Gerard Strobridge's had done in that same church
once before.

What a charming oval face the girl had--and how purely white was her
skin! What was she thinking about with that inscrutable expression? The
mouth was so firm and so was the chin. Full red lips, which were yet
firm, were dangerous things. Her air was very distinguished and her
garments showed great taste. The whole thing was incredible, of course;
there must be some harking back to gentle blood. Not one of the party
looked so like his ideal of a lady as she.

And she had spoken, too, of love! She had admitted that she knew of one
side of it. What were her words, "It makes one feel mad--agitated,
unbalanced, animal, even motherly and protective," but what it could be
if it touched the soul she could not fathom----Well, the phase which she
did know was not without its charm! What extraordinary, alluring eyes
she had! Who could the fellow have been? Not a person from--er--Bindon's
Green, of course; she must always have been too refined for that--and
not Gerard. A woman who had once felt those emotions for a man did not
look at him with that serene calm with which Miss Bush had looked at
Gerard. What a most damnably exasperating circumstance it was that she
was not a guest--and that he could not spend the afternoon discussing
love, and its aspects, while pacing that sunny walk in the walled
garden, safe from the east wind!

How beautifully her hair grew! The brow was queenly. How well it would
look with an all-round crown of diamonds surmounting it. Sir John would
probably give her something of the sort. These rich parvenus--people
with but a grandfather, perhaps--would buy some flashy modern thing!
That kind of head would do justice to family jewels. He knew of one
particular crown which had belonged to a certain Duchess of early
regency days, which was reposing now at Garrards, and which would be
specially becoming. Italy--she had spoken of Italy, she had never been
there; what a companion to take to Italy! She grasped the spirit of
countries. How she had understood "Eothen!"

But the people were rising--the sermon was over. Capital fellow,
Woolman, his sermons were much shorter, though, than they used to be.
Would she walk back across the park? Yes, of course, and he would have
to motor. What contemptible slaves civilisation made of people!

As everyone was assembled in the hall on the way to luncheon, the
exasperated Duke came over to Katherine.

"Can I find shelter in the peaceful backwater again this afternoon, Miss
Bush? It is a vile day, you see, and no tennis is possible."

"No, I am afraid not."

"Does that mean no tennis or no backwater?"

"Both."

"Why?"

"The schoolroom is not intended for visitors, and Sunday afternoon is
the only time in which I can sit in the armchair myself and read."

"I would not take more than the edge of the table, if you would let me
come," eagerly, "and we could talk over what you are reading."

Katherine looked at him, and there was reproach in her eyes.

"Your Grace must know that it is altogether impossible for you to come
to the schoolroom; it could but bring censure upon me--is it quite
kind?"

He was contrite in a moment.

"Forgive me! I see my suggestion was not chivalrous--forgive me a
thousand times."

She moved on with the general company without answering and it chanced
at luncheon that the Duke could see her face, and it looked to him
rather sad. He felt a number of things, and even though it rained he
went for a walk in the early afternoon alone.

There was obviously only one post which a woman in her position in life
could fill, in regard to a man in his----But every fine sentiment in him
revolted at the picture of it. That proud head could never bow to the
status of mistress. He must dismiss such vagrant thoughts, he must
dismiss all thoughts of her except that she was a pleasant companion
when chance allowed him to be naturally in her society, for a minute now
and then.

There were so many other interests in his homecoming which he must think
of. His public duties, which the tragic circumstances of his life had
forced him to waive for so long. There were politics, too. The
renovation of the London house--the plans for the Season--the reopening
of Valfreyne. By the way, which rooms should he give to Seraphim and her
secretary for Whitsuntide? The Venetian suite on the ground floor in the
west wing. Seraphim should have the bedroom and dressing-room and
sitting-room, which looked on to the park, and Miss Bush the smaller
bedroom hung with green damask adjoining--and how would things be? She
would be his guest then, and should be treated with all honour. There
should be no more coming into the drawing-room after dinner--and
lunching if the numbers had to be made up!

But to what end? This was ridiculous weakness, this allowing his
thoughts to dwell upon her so much. He had better go back to the house
and talk to one of the newcomers--quite a nice woman, who was not intent
upon falling into his arms.

And Katherine sat in the schoolroom for a little, but she did not read.
She had seen the Duke from the window for an instant passing the end of
the rose garden. The sight of him had made her sit down in her armchair
and begin to think.

Could the barrier of the enormous difference in their positions ever be
surmounted, after all? Dukes had married even actresses in the past, but
she would never accept such a position as had been the lot of such
Duchesses. She must only wear the strawberry leaves if they could be
given her in all honour, and with the sympathy and the approval of her
own immediate world. It almost looked as though her mistress's
acquiescence would be forthcoming. But there was yet another side of the
question; there was the recollection of the three days with Lord Algy.
No faintest uneasiness or regret about that episode had ever entered her
brain during all her friendship with Gerard except on that one evening,
after hearing of the misfortune of Gladys and upon that one occasion
when first she had again seen the hotel in Paris. Now she was faced with
the thought what would the Duke say if he knew of this circumstance in
her life? With his lofty point of view, his pride and his present great
respect for her, the knowledge would inevitably part them. And if he
should remain in ignorance and marry her, the secret fear of his ever
discovering the truth afterwards would hang like Damocles' sword over
her head. It would insidiously and inevitably destroy the harmony and
perfect balance of her mind, necessary for her to carry through the
great task of playing successfully the part of Duchess, and it would
eventually spoil her whole life.

She more than ever realised the certain reaction of every single action
committed, and of every thought thought. Therefore the tremendous
necessity of forethought.

Unless the mind is perfectly at peace with itself, she knew it could
never have magnetic force to propel its desires, and must lose
confidence and so fail to reach its goal. This she realised fully. Her
particular type and logical brain, weighing all matters without
sentiment, totally uninfluenced by orthodox ideas as to morality if such
orthodox ideas did not seem to be supported by common sense, caused her
to feel no guilt, nor any so-called conscience prickings on having taken
Lord Algy as a lover. They had both been free and were injuring none. To
her it appeared no sin, merely that such actions, not being sanctioned
by custom, would inevitably draw upon those who committed them the
penalty attached to breaking any laws, even should they be only those of
conventionality.

But beyond all this, there was another and quite newly experienced
emotion troubling her. It had arisen sharply and suddenly in her breast,
born of that strange thrill she had felt when the Duke had kissed her
hand----What if he--the man himself--should grow to matter to
her--matter as Algy had done, quite apart from his Dukedom and his being
the medium through which she could gratify her ambitions?

What a unique, subtle, extraordinary emotion she had experienced! She
must keep her head; she must not give way to such things. How hateful,
how unbearable it would be if one day she should see disgust and
contempt in those dark-blue eyes, instead of the look of homage which
had preceded the kiss!

Then she scolded herself. To fear was to draw inevitably the thing
feared. She must have no fears and no regrets. She must pursue her plan
with intelligence, and if the feeling that she was using deception grew
to be insupportable, then she must have courage to face the result of
her own past action, and she must admit herself beaten and retire from
the game. She went over the chances of discovery. Lord Algy would never
give her away; she had calculated upon that fact when she had chosen an
aristocrat for her partner in initiation. There remained only the valet
Hanson, who had seen her often enough possibly to recognise her again.
But he did not know her real name, and had shown no interest in her--too
accustomed, probably, to the changes in his master's fancies to remark
upon individuals. Also, she was so completely altered since those days,
no casual remembrance Hanson might have kept of her would be likely to
revive if he chanced to see her now.

The odds were ten thousand to one that neither the Duke nor anyone else
would ever know of her adventure. It thus resolved itself only into a
question for her own honest soul to decide.

The common sense way to look at everything was that the time for these
heart-searchings was not yet; and that her energies must be concentrated
upon continuing to profit by the results of her first sensible action in
making the impression upon the Duke's imagination unbiased by class
prejudices.

So presently she grew quieter and at last fell asleep over the wood
fire, the volume of the "Letters of Abelard and Héloise" still in her
hand.

She was awakened after a while by the entrance of Lady Garribardine, and
quickly rose from her seat.

"I am sorry to disturb your well-earned Sunday peace, Miss Bush, but
some of the guests are growing restive with the wet. Go and take charge
of those in the drawing-room and accompany their songs. I don't think
this party has been well chosen, the elements do not assimilate."

Katherine was laboriously doing her duty when the Duke came in. He did
not attempt to come near her, but stayed by the great centre fireplace
talking to one of the newcomers without his usual air of making a virtue
of necessity, which his attitude towards the three charmers had hitherto
suggested to Katherine.

She could get a good view of him from the piano, and found her eye
greatly pleased. He was certainly very attractive. He had that same
humorous and rather cynical expression which so often distinguished her
mistress. His figure was so perfect and his clothes, with their air of a
bygone day!

For a second, Katherine's hand seemed to tingle again in the place which
he had kissed, and she experienced that nameless thrill which is half
quiver and half shock. She felt that she hated having to play the
accompaniments, and resented her position. It gave her some relief to
crash loud chords. None of the younger men could approach the Duke in
charm. What was he talking to that woman about? Interesting books? some
of their mutual friends, perhaps? She wished she could hear--but she
could not. His voice was lazy again; she caught its tones now and then,
but not the words, and the firelight made his emerald ring sparkle. She
wondered if there was some history connected with it; it was so large
and so unusual a signet for a man to wear. How exquisite it would have
been to have been able to have let him come up to the schoolroom, then
she could have asked him about it, perhaps. She sighed unconsciously,
and presently they all went in to tea.

There was some inscrutable expression in her eyes as they met his in
handing him his cup. They were a little shadowed and sorrowful. They
drew him like a magnet, so that desire made him at last use sophistry in
his arguments with himself.

What harm could there be in a little casual conversation? and he took a
seat near.

"Had you profitable repose this afternoon in your armchair, Miss Bush?"

"Yes, I hope so--I was sorting things and getting them into their niches
in my mind. I hope you had not too wet a walk; I saw you from the window
passing the end of the rose garden."

"I wish you had come out; the air was fresh and it is rather nice to
have the wet in one's face at times----So you put everything into niches
in your mind? Was it in chaos before, then?"

"Yes, partly."

"What has caused this upset?"

"That----" and there was a peculiar tone in her voice--"I should much
like to know--We seem to come to new vistas in life, do we not--when
everything must be looked at in a fresh perspective?"

"That is very true----"

"And then we must call up all our sense of balance to grasp the new
outlines accurately, and not to be led away into false conceptions
through emotion."

The Duke was greatly interested. How exactly she was describing his own
state of mind--but what had caused such thoughts to arise in hers?

"It is extremely difficult to see things as they are when emotion enters
into the question," he said, "and how dull everything appears when it
does not!"

She looked at him, and there were rebellion and suppressed passion in
her compelling eyes--and the Duke's pulses suddenly began to bound; but
this was the sole exchange of sentences they were vouchsafed, for
Blanche Montague subsided into a sofa close to his side and beamed at
him with a whispered challenge. So Katherine turned and devoted herself
to some other guests beyond.

She did not come into the drawing-room again that night. She asked her
mistress if she might be excused, for if not really wanted, there were
numbers of letters to write. And Mordryn looked for her in vain, and
eventually manoeuvred the conversation round to the reason for her
absence, when speaking to old Gwendoline l'Estaire who, he had
perceived, was devoted to the girl.

"I think she must be tired to-night, having asked Sarah to excuse her. I
don't remember her ever to have done such a thing before. She is such a
dear child, I don't know what Sarah would do without her--we are all
very fond of her. A perfect lady, wherever she came from, but I really
do not care from where."

"Of course not!" cordially responded the Duke. And he wondered what had
made her tired, and why her eyes had been rebellious and sad. Was she
wounded because he had suggested coming to the schoolroom, with the risk
of drawing down censure upon her head? She needed some explanation
certainly from him, he felt, upon this matter. It had been thoughtless
on his part and not really kind. He would not leave to-morrow, after
all. Why should not Gwendoline, who was stupid and good-natured, be used
to further his plans if the chance to see Miss Bush looked too
impossibly difficult of attainment? But he went to bed with no sense of
happiness or satisfaction in his heart.

He liked rising early, and escaped to the rose garden alone about nine
o'clock on Easter Monday morning. No windows but those of the
smoking-room wing and those of the picture gallery and the main hall
looked out upon this secluded spot. He had walked to the end when he saw
in the distance at a turn in the shrubbery, the figure of Katherine
disappearing towards the park. This was luck, indeed! He hurried after
her, and overtook her as she opened the shrubbery gate. She carried a
basket of fresh eggs and a black bottle.

"Whither away, Mistress?" he asked, as he raised his cap and walked by
her side.

"I am going to take these to old Mrs. Peterson at the far lodge; she has
not been well these last days."

"Jacob's wife?"

"Yes."

"Then may I come, too? I must have some exercise; look upon it like
that, since I strongly suspect if I told you that it was simply for the
pleasure of being with you, you would send me back."

"I should not want to, but I suppose I should have to say that."

She was looking very pretty in her rough homespun suit and green felt
hat. The wind had blown no colour as yet into her cheeks, but had made
her little ears almost a scarlet pink. She seemed the embodiment of
sensuous youth and health and life. Her type was so far from being
ascetic. What ever the mental gifts might be, Nature would have a strong
say in everything concerning her. The Duke admired her supple, slender
limbs, and he reflected, just as Gerard had done long before, how
very stately she would become presently--if she married and had
children----Sir John--but he banished Sir John!

"Shall we forget all those stupid conventions on this wild March
morning, and return to the stage in our acquaintance at which we were
when we said good-night at Gerard Strobridge's?"

"That would be nice."

"Is it a bargain, then?"

"Yes."

"I am not to be 'Your Grace,' and you are not to remind me every two
minutes that you are Lady Garribardine's secretary."

"Very well."

"If you remember, the last words we had together then were finished by
a question from you to me, as to whether there was not something else in
love beyond that passionate side which you intimated that you already
knew."

"Yes, I remember."

"I think there is a great deal more, but it would not be complete alone.
Love to be lasting must be a mixture of both passion and idealism, but
where can one find such a combination in these days? The emotion which
most people call love is composed of self-interest, and a little
transitory exaltation of the senses. But such old-fashioned and divine
qualities as devotion and tenderness and self-sacrifice are almost
unknown."

Katherine did not speak; the "Letters of Abelard and Héloise" were very
fresh in her memory; one passage in _Héloise's_ first letter had struck
her forcibly:

    If there is anything that may properly be called happiness here
    below, I am persuaded it is in the union of two persons who love
    each other with perfect liberty, who are united by a secret
    inclination and satisfied with each other's merits. Their hearts
    are full of love and leave no vacancy for any other passion; they
    enjoy perpetual tranquillity, because they enjoy content.

And now, with sudden illumination of the spirit, the conviction came to
her that this was the truth, and that this man walking by her side
talking in his exquisite voice to her, looking at her with his deep blue
eyes, could inspire in her all the passion and all the devotion, and all
the tenderness which _Héloise_ had felt of old. And the magnitude of the
discovery kept her silent, with lowered lids.

He waited for her to speak, but when no words came, he bent forward and
looked into her face. The eyes which at last met his were troubled and
sweet, and not falcon-like in their proud serenity as usual.

"Do not let us talk about love," she said at last. "It is a moving
theme, and better left alone. Yesterday I was reading the 'Letters of
Abelard and Héloise,' and it is wiser to remember the wisdom in this
phrase of _Abelard's_ than to talk of love: 'What great advantages would
philosophy give us over other men, if by studying it we could learn to
govern our passions.'"

Mordryn smiled.

"Finish the quotation," he commanded, "or shall I? 'What efforts, what
relapses, what agitations do we undergo. And how long are we tossed
in this confusion unable to exert our reason to possess our souls,
or to rule our affections. What a troublesome employment is love!'
Philosophers remember _Abelard_ as a great scholar and ethical teacher,
but he lives not by his learning or his philosophy, but by the memory of
his profound and passionate love."

Katherine sighed.

"I suppose it is indeed divine, but please do not let us talk of it; it
makes everyday life grey and commonplace by contrast."

The Duke was sufficiently master of himself to realise that it was wiser
to take her advice. To discuss love on a March morning with this most
attractive and forbidden young woman was not wisdom, so he changed the
subject by expressing his contrition at having come to the schoolroom.
He hated to think that his chivalry had been at fault.

Then they talked of many things, all in the abstract, evolution and
ethics and aspirations and theories, and at last Katherine said:

"How glorious to be you! To have all that is noble your own by right,
and so to have leisure to let your soul expand to the highest, without
wasting it in the struggle to emerge from clay."

Her deep voice had a passion in it, and her eyes flashed. "You, and all
aristocrats, should be grateful to God."

Later in the day, Mordryn felt that it was fortunate that at this
particular moment they had reached the gate of the far lodge, the
opening of which broke the spell, of what he might have answered he did
not feel altogether sure, so deeply had she affected him.

Mrs. Peterson was a good deal better, it seemed, and Katherine proposed
to stay with her for half an hour--so she came out of the door and asked
the Duke not to wait for her.

"Go back without me--I have been so happy--and please--do not talk to me
any more to-day--and, oh! please, remember who you are and who I am, and
leave me alone."

And to his intense surprise and sudden unhinging, her fearless glance
was softened by a mist which might have presaged tears.



CHAPTER XXVIII


Mordryn spent a most unrestful day; he found it very difficult to settle
to anything. He felt it wiser whenever his thoughts turned to Katherine
Bush, immediately to picture Bindon's Green and the auctioneer father
and butcher grandfather!--they acted as a kind of antidote to the very
powerful intoxicant which was flooding his veins.

And Katherine sat typing mechanically her morning's work, but some third
sense beyond eye and hand was busy with agitating thoughts. No, she
could play no further game with the Duke, fate had beaten her. It would
be no acting. She knew that she was just a woman, after all, and he was
a man, and the Dukedom had gone into shadowland.

He possessed everything that Algy had lacked, there would be no blank
half-hours when passion was lulled, with him. His perfectly cultivated
intellect could enchant her always. She adored his point of view, as
unconsciously arrogant as Lady Garribardine's, and yet as free and
expanded. How she could soar with him to guide her! What happiness to
take refuge from everything in his arms.

He did not seem old to her; indeed, except for his thick, iron-grey hair
and the expression of having greatly suffered, which now and then showed
in his proud eyes, there were no unlovely signs of age about him. He
could still call forth for many years the passionate love of women. And
what was age? A ridiculous phantasy--the soul was the thing.

Katherine was beginning to believe that she herself had a soul, and that
Otto Weininger was altogether wrong about individuals, even if his
deductions were correct concerning the majority of women.

       *       *       *       *       *

Several guardsmen from Windsor came over to luncheon, which was so
crowded that there was no necessity for Katherine to go down, and tea
came before she again saw the Duke. He deliberately allowed himself to
be entrapped by one of the trio of Graces, and did not come near her;
and when Katherine got into the drawing-room after dinner, he was
nowhere in sight. A Cabinet Minister, one of the few Her Ladyship
considered sufficiently worthy to be allowed to visit Blissington, had
arrived in the afternoon, and the Duke and the hostess, and another man
and woman, made a group in the small, red drawing-room in earnest
converse; while most of the rest of the company danced in the hall. And
Katherine went among these, and presently she slipped up to her old
schoolroom.

His Grace was carrying out her request, it appeared, but therein she
found no joy.

And later, Mordryn drank his final hock and seltzer in his old friend's
boudoir, where they had a little talk together alone.

"It has been dear of you to stay so long, Mordryn," she told him.
"Especially as the diversions which I hoped I had provided for you
turned out of no more use than a plague of gnats. I hope you have not
been too bored?"

"I am never bored with you, dear friend."

"No, I know that; but in a big party, I cannot give you as much time as
I should like. You will come again when we are quiet, though, just as
you always used to, and I will really find you a suitable bride."

The Duke was in a cynical mood, it seemed, for he treated this proposal
not at all in the light fashion he had done at the beginning of the
visit.

He replied gloomily that he had decided to select something steady and
plain, if he must marry--he knew he could never care for a woman again,
and a healthy, quiet, well-bred creature with tact, who would leave him
alone, was all he asked. Life was a hideous disappointment and very
difficult to understand, and to try to do one's duty to one's state, and
get through with it, was all that anyone could hope to accomplish.

But to this Her Ladyship said a vigorous, "Tut--tut! You speak like a
boy crossed in love, Mordryn! If you were five-and-twenty, you could not
have a more delightful vista opening out in front of you, '_Si jeunesse
savait. Si vieillesse pouvait_'--that was cried from a wise and envious
heart! Well, you both _know_ and _can_, so what more could a man ask of
fate! I have no patience with you! I don't want you now only to do your
duty, to fulfil the obligations of your station. You have always done
so. Your life has been one long carrying out of _noblesse oblige_. I
want you to kick over the traces and be happy, Mordryn! Ridiculously,
boyishly happy!--do you hear, conscientious martyr!"

Mordryn heard, but his smile was still bitter, as he answered:

"We are not so made, Seraphim, neither you nor I--we could not do as you
say, even when we were young, and tradition and obligation to our order
will still dominate us to the end of time, dear friend."

Then he said good-night and good-bye--for he was leaving at cock-crow
for a place of his in the North.

When Lady Garribardine was alone, she did not look at all disturbed at
the passage of events, as she reviewed her Easter party. She smiled
happily, in fact, and decided that she would take her secretary to
Valfreyne for Whitsuntide, after all!

Man "proposed," but, she reflected sagely, God often "disposed" in
favour of intelligent women!

       *       *       *       *       *

In the following week, the establishment from Blissington moved up to
Berkeley Square for the season, and Katherine's duties became heavy
again.

Her first meeting with Gerard Strobridge happened quite soon; he came
into the secretary's room from the library after luncheon.

"Now tell me all about everything," he said. "I have gathered from
Gwendoline that you came down every night and had your usual success at
the Easter party, and that Mordryn evidently liked you, for he told Gwen
that you were the most intelligent girl that he had ever met."

Katherine half smiled, a little sadly.

"Yes, he may have thought so, but eventually the secretary swallowed up
the guest. I do not know if he will ever speak to me again."

"He felt as badly as that, did he! Poor Mordryn! No doubt you tormented
him; but Mordryn is no weak creature like me. If he feels very much
about you, he will either defy convention, or break away from all
temptation"--then his voice changed, and he asked a little anxiously:

"Katherine, do you begin to care for him?"

"Yes."

"How much?"

"I do not know--I could care a great deal--he pleases me in every way--I
love his looks and his mind--and he--he makes me feel something which I
have never felt before--is it the capability for devotion?--I do not
know."

For the first time in their acquaintance, Mr. Strobridge saw her
undecided, gentle, a little helpless even--it touched him deeply. He
loved her so very dearly. He would rather see her happy if he could aid
her to become so. He came over to her and leaned upon the table.

"Dearest girl--everything is a sickening jumble in this world, it seems.
I have a kind of premonition, though, that you will emerge triumphant,
however it goes; but after to-day, Katherine, I shall not see you until
late in the autumn. I am going away--to Russia this time--and I am going
to try once more not to care."

So even her one friend would be far from her. Well, she must not lose
her nerve. She gave him her blessing for his journey, and they said
good-bye. And the days went on apace.

Matilda was engaged to be married to Charlie Prodgers, and was full of
importance and glee, and had drifted further and further away from her
sister ever since the engagement was announced. Some instinctive
feminine jealousy made her feel that she would prefer Katherine to be as
far as possible from her fiancé.

"After all, Kitten," she said, when they met in the park to discuss the
news, "you aren't one of us and we aren't one of you. I shall be moving
up now into Mabel's set, and there is no use in hiding it, Mabel don't
seem to dote on you."

"Yes, I feel that," agreed Katherine, meekly lowering her eyes, so that
her sister might not see their twinkle. "I expect we shall not meet
often in the future, Tild."

"Well, of course, Kitten, I'd always be very pleased to have tea with
you up here now and then," and Matilda gave an uncomfortable laugh; "but
it is always best to avoid awkwardness, isn't it, dearie, and you are
only a paid servant, aren't you--living in--not like you were at Liv and
Dev's, out on your own, and everyone starts better in considering her
husband's position, don't they--and Charlie is manager in his department
now, and very particular as to who I know."

"You are perfectly right, Tild," Katherine's voice was ominously soft,
"and so is Charlie. You go ahead, and very soon you will have got above
Mabel, and, of course, I would not be a drag on you for the world. I
think, after to-day, we will just write to one another now and then, and
you must not bother to come up to see me. We do not think alike on any
point--but I shall always remember how good you were to me when I was a
tiresome little girl."

"Oh, Kitten!" and Matilda felt almost tearful; for apart from her fear
of reawakening her fiancé's interest in her sister, she still had a
secret affection for her.

"Yes, you were very good to me, then, Tild, but now we have come to a
final parting of the ways, and we are all satisfied--I shall fulfil my
ideas, and you will fulfil yours."

And afterwards, when she walked back to Berkeley Square, she pondered
deeply. There was no such thing as family affection really in the
abstract--it only held when the individuals were in sympathy and had a
community of interests. They--her family--were as glad at the thought
that they had risen above her, and need not communicate in the future,
as she was that she would not have to bring her mind down to their point
of view. Matilda was the last link--and Matilda had shown that
she desired also to break away. Katherine felt that but for Lady
Garribardine's real affection for her, she was virtually alone in the
world.

If only there were no backward thoughts in her mind, she would have
looked upon her fair future as a certainty; sooner or later, with the
visit to Valfreyne in front of her, and the frequent occasions upon
which she must see the Duke at her mistress' house, she knew she could
continue to attract him if she so desired, and make him love her with a
great love. There was that subtle, indescribable sympathy of ideas
between them. And as Algy had called forth physical passion, and Gerard
the awakening of the spirit, this man seemed to arouse the essence of
all three things, the body, the spirit and the soul.

But there lay this ugly shadow between them, and she began to realise
the meaning of the old saw from Horace, "Black care sits behind the
horseman," and she had not yet made up her mind to dislodge him and defy
fate.

The three days in Paris began to haunt her until she severely took
herself to task, and analysed everything. She must not look back upon
them in that fashion. She must remember them gratefully, she told
herself, since they had opened her eyes for the first time in a way that
nothing else could have done, and she indeed felt that it was very
doubtful if she could ever have obtained Lady Garribardine's situation,
and so her education from Gerard Strobridge, without the experience that
that episode in her life had given her to start upon.

It was contrary to all her principles to allow any past action to
influence with its shadow present events. She would banish the
whole subject from her mind, and leave the future in the hand of
destiny--neither assisting fate by personal initiative, nor resisting
its march by deliberate renunciation.

But she seemed very quiet, Her Ladyship thought, and wondered to herself
at the cause. The Duke was in the North paying other visits for some
weeks, and when he did come to Berkeley Square in between times he did
not see Katherine.

So April passed and May came, and with it the prospect of Whitsuntide,
early that year. Whitsunday fell upon the eleventh of May.

"You must have some decent clothes," Lady Garribardine had said, a week
or two beforehand, "another evening dress and an afternoon frock. I
think I should like the first to be white and the other black, and in
your own excellent taste. You will dine down every night as a guest, and
we shall stay from Saturday until Tuesday."

"It is extremely exciting for me," Katherine admitted. "I wonder so much
what the house will be like."

"It is a huge Palladian Monument, very splendid and ducal, everything is
on an immense scale, and the Duke keeps it up with great state. It is
more like some royal residence than a house, but there are some cosy
rooms to be found in odd corners. It will interest and educate you,
child. You had better read up all about it in one of the old volumes of
_Country Life_--some three years ago, I think, it was described."

Katherine lost no time in doing this, and read of its building in 1680,
and of its wonderful gardens "in the French style"--and of its superb
collections of pictures and art treasures, and of its avenues and lake
and waterways and fountains. Yes, it must be a very noble place.

They were to arrive early in time for luncheon, since Her Ladyship was
to act hostess to the party who would come in the afternoon. And when
they approached the gates, Katherine felt that one of the supreme
moments in her life had come.

The park was vast, larger even than Blissington, and with more open
spaces, and the house could be viewed from a distance--a symmetrical,
magnificent pile. And it seemed that they walked through an endless
succession of halls and great salons, until they were ushered into the
Duke's presence in his own particular panelled room.

It was very lofty and partly filled with bookcases arranged in rather an
unusual way, sunk into the wall itself, with very beautiful decorations
by Grinling Gibbons surrounding them and also the intervening panels
wherein fine pictures hung. The curtains and chair coverings were of the
most superb old blue silk, faded now to a wonderful greenish tone, and
harmonizing with the beautiful Savonnerie carpet with its soft tints of
citron and puce and green.

Katherine was frankly awed. Blissington was a very fine gentleman's
house--but this was a palace. And suddenly, the Duke seemed a million
miles away from her, and she wondered how she had ever dared to be
familiar with him, and rebuke him for coming to her schoolroom to talk!

She was meek as a mouse, and never opened her lips after the first words
of greeting.

The host had come forward with cordial graciousness and bidden them
welcome, and he had looked a very magnificent person somehow in his
morning country riding clothes. And all the glamour of high rank and
power and fastidiousness enhanced his natural charms, so that Katherine
felt a little cold and sick with the emotion which she was experiencing.
He was courtly and aloof in his manner with all his kindness, and in a
moment or two he accompanied them along to the Venetian suite himself.

"I must come, dear friend," he had said to Lady Garribardine, "to be
sure that you have everything you can possibly want."

The Venetian suite was on a par in splendour with the rest of the house.
It was on the same floor as His Grace's own sitting-room which they had
left, and it was reached by a passage place which led to the same
terrace, which the windows looked upon; this was marble paved, with a
splendid balustrade. The ante-chamber had been arranged with a writing
table near the great window, and every convenience for Miss Bush to do
any writing her mistress might require. For the rest, the Venetian
suite was always reserved for the most honoured guest. Here were a
sitting-room, a great bedroom and dressing-room for Her Ladyship--all
with the same lofty ceilings and fine windows as the room they had left,
and behind it came that charming green damask-hung chamber designed for
Miss Bush.

"Here in this apartment you will find yourselves completely quiet and
shut off from the world," the Duke said. "Once you have passed the great
door, as you know, Seraphim, your suite makes the end of this wing, and
only I can approach you from my sitting-room!"

Lady Garribardine, who knew every nook in the house, smiled as she
expressed herself as content, and he left them alone.

Katherine examined her room; it would have struck her as very large if
it had been in any other house. It looked on to an inner courtyard with
a fountain playing, and statuary and hundred-year-old lilac bushes in
huge tubs. The room was hung with pale green silk, and had beautiful
painted Italian, eighteenth century furniture, and on the dressing-table
were bowls of lilies of the valley.

She thrilled a little; was this accidental or deliberate?

She was very well acquainted with the workings of a great house, and the
duties of the housekeeper and groom of the chambers. She saw from a
technical point of view that these retainers of Valfreyne must be of a
very high order of merit because of the result of their work; but even
their intelligence could hardly have selected the volumes of her
favourite authors, which she had discussed with the Duke, and which were
placed in bookstands, with the "Letters of Abelard and Héloise" and a
beautiful edition of "Eothen" out on the top!

These silent testimonies of someone's personal thought gave her
unbounded pleasure; they restored her submerged self-confidence, and
made her eyes glow. It was divine to feel that he cared enough to have
troubled to do this. The subtle flattery was exquisite.

A burning wave of colour overspread Katherine's face, and her nostrils
quivered. If the Duke could have seen her--he would have known that that
quality he appreciated--the quality of real, natural passion--was
abundantly present in her nature. Strong passion controlled by an iron
will--a mixture which he thought quite ideal in the woman whom a man
would choose to be the companion of his life.

It was this particular suggestion about Katherine which had alike
intoxicated the imaginations of these three far different men, Lord
Algy, Gerard Strobridge and the Duke. The human, adorable warmth of
emotion of which her white, smooth-skinned face and red, full mouth
looked capable.

Lady Garribardine had told her secretary to take off her hat, as she
might be required to do a little work after lunch.

"I shall settle with His Grace how I think the party had better sit, and
then you can type anything we want."

So Katherine was particularly careful to arrange her silvery hair
becomingly, and looked the perfection of refined neatness as she
followed her mistress back into the Duke's sitting-room, and then on in
to luncheon in a smaller dining-room in another wing.

They were only three at the meal, and the host talked of politics, and
the party who were coming, and was gracious. He did not treat Katherine
with the slightest condescension, nor with any special solicitude. If
she had been an unknown niece of Lady Garribardine, his manner would
have been the same.

Katherine felt chilled again for the moment, and had never appeared more
subdued.

She slipped off back to her room when they went to have coffee in a
small drawing-room, known as "The Gamester's Parlour," for in it was
hung a world-known picture of the famous thoroughbred of that name, the
riding of whom in a match against His Grace of Chandos' colt, Starlight,
had been the cause of the third Duke's breaking his neck.

There was no immediate work to be done, so Katherine stood and looked
from the window of her green chamber and took in the view. Surely, she
thought, if people even with the intelligence of Matilda could see such
men as the Duke and such splendid homes as this, with every evidence in
it of fine tastes and fine living and fine achievement, stamped upon it
by hundreds of years of noble owners, they could not go on being so
blind to the force of heredity and environment as factors in determining
the actions of the human race.

She stood for a long time quite still, with trouble in her heart, which
every fresh realisation of the beauties around her augmented.

No--the Duke could never overlook the three days even if he could forget
that she had come from Bindon's Green--and she could not banish their
memory either, and so would never be able to rely upon her own power to
carry on the great undertaking untrammelled by inward apprehension and
self-contempt at the deception of so great a man--her serenity would be
gone and with it her power.

Lady Garribardine opened the door presently, and saw her still standing
there.

"Run out for a little walk, child," she said, kindly. "You can reach the
terrace from the passage ante-chamber which has been arranged for you to
write in, and there are steps at the side into the garden. I shall not
want you until just before tea. The Duke has the menus and cards and
door names printed by his own private press. Then come back with your
eyes bright, and put on your new black frock."

Katherine thanked her; there never could be anyone kinder or more
thoughtful for others than was this arrogant great lady.

The girl walked in the fresh May sunshine, but nothing lifted the weight
which had fallen upon her heart, and her cheeks were paler than usual,
and her air had an added delicacy and refinement when she followed her
mistress into the great tapestry salon, wherein tea was laid, and which
was adjacent to the hall where guests were already beginning to arrive.

She was not introduced to anyone else, but several she already knew;
they were selected from the _crême de la crême_ of Her Ladyship's set of
the rather less modern sort.

Mordryn looked at her constantly unobserved. What was the meaning of
this new expression in her face? Why would she never meet his eyes? And
hers, when he did see them, turned upon ordinary things, had a haunting
melancholy in them very different from the sphinxlike smile of old.

He found himself more disturbed than he cared to own. He wished Seraphim
had not brought her, after all--He wished--but he did not even in his
thoughts form words. Had her changed air anything to do with that last
abrupt request on the March morning's walk, that he should remember who
she was and who he was, and leave her alone? Was it possible that she
felt something for him? How wrong he had been in that case to put the
"Eothen" and the "Abelard and Héloise" and the lilies of the valley in
her room--cruel and wrong. He knew now that he saw her again that he had
thought of her very constantly ever since Easter time, and had chafed at
getting no sight of her when he had twice been in London and had gone to
Berkeley Square, though his determination had held at that time, and he
had made no attempt to see her, or even to mention her name. But he knew
that he had looked forward more eagerly each day to Whitsuntide, and
that he had taken peculiar delight in the surreptitious supervision of
the details of her lodgment, and the choice of volumes wherewith to
refresh her mind.

But was this chivalrous on his part? Was he not playing upon the
feelings of one defenceless and in a dependent position--one who could
not even flee?

He grew uncomfortable. He was painfully conscious of her presence, and a
sudden mad longing came to him to take her in his arms, and kiss away
the trouble from her eyes! And then the cynical and humorous side of his
character made him smile at the idea of such feelings in a room full of
guests! Guests of his own world, and for the humble secretary of his old
love! He fretted under the restraint of his unease. And she was here in
his house and he must suffer the temptation of her presence for three
more days. He must not look at her--must not talk to her! He must not
have any subtle understanding with her about the books--must not, in
short, do anything he desired.

Lady Garribardine watched the passage of events with an understanding
eye. Something further must be done, she felt.

So just before dressing time, when the company had dispersed, she went
with her host into his own sitting-room. The evening post had come in.

"Mordryn, I wanted to ask you, can I send a wire over to Hornwell. I
have just heard Sir John Townly is staying there, and I want to suggest
that he motor over to-morrow to tea. It will be a splendid chance for
him to have a quiet hour with my Katherine Bush. I would like him to see
her here as a guest; he is very much in love with her in his heavy way,
and I believe I could get the matter settled all right if you would
only help me, like a dear."

The Duke experienced a most unpleasant twinge. This was rather more than
he had bargained for! Why should Sir John Townly be given this
opportunity in his house!

"The match is quite unsuitable, Seraphim. I can't think how you can
countenance it."

Her Ladyship appeared deliberately to misunderstand him.

"But I assure you, Mordryn, Sir John is not in the least upset by her
origin or her suburban relations; he realises the magnificent qualities
of the creature herself, and he knows very well that she will make the
finest hostess, and the most dignified figurehead for Dullinglea that he
could find; besides, with her health and youth, he can look forward to a
strong little son by this time next year."

Mordryn found himself absolutely revolted--Katherine--(so her name was
Katherine?) Katherine--this delicious creature to be the mother of that
shocking bore John Townly's son!

The red flush mounted to his broad forehead.

"It is not their relative worldly positions I alluded to, Seraphim--but
their ages and appearances--and, oh! tastes! I think it is perfectly
inhuman of you, and I cannot countenance such a thing."

"Mordryn! I am really surprised!--how can it possibly matter to you? You
must have seen for yourself that night at Gerard's what a charming
companion she can make, and how utterly she is wasted in the position of
secretary--and yet you won't help me to do the poor child this good
turn!"

"If you put it in that way--ask whom you like, but I cannot think how
any woman, to escape any position, could sell herself to such a man as
John Townly!"

His tone was heated and his blue eyes flashed.

"That is just the tiresome part of it," and Her Ladyship looked
concerned. "I believe she has your same foolish and romantic ideas, and
so I thought if she could see him here among this fine company, perhaps
the desire to remain in it, and the glamour of the thing might bring her
up to the scratch. Mordryn, do help me like a kind friend. Just think,
if she were to leave me, whom else would she ever see? She has quite
separated from her own family; she has nothing but a life of drudgery in
front of her, and she is fitted in every way to be a queen. She is so
extremely self-controlled, she would never make any slips afterwards,
and her ambitions could be gratified and make up for lack of love."

"I think the idea is disgusting," His Grace snapped impatiently; "but
send your wire, by all means."

Then he abruptly turned the conversation, and presently Her Ladyship
left him alone, very well pleased with her work! And the groom of the
chambers was handed a warmly worded invitation to telegraph to Hornwell,
as she passed to her room.



CHAPTER XXIX


When he was left alone the Duke swore sharply to himself. He was not a
man accustomed to the use of strong language--but occasions arose in
life sometimes when a good sound oath seemed to relieve tension!

Then he paced up and down his long room. His imagination was on fire. He
could see Katherine--he dwelt on the name "Katherine"--in the baboon
embrace of old John Townly--loathsome picture!

Yes, of course, she would adorn any position, and Dullinglea was only a
very moderate house. He could see her tall, slender, graceful figure
sweeping in rich velvets through much larger rooms than it contained.
Such rooms, for example, as these, his own at Valfreyne!

She would sit to-night between young Westonborough and old Barchester,
but in a place where a gap in the flowers would give him, the host, a
continuous view of her.

Then he went off to dress, in a fiery mood!

Katherine, meanwhile, had been looking over "Eothen," and noting the
marked passages, which she found to be the same mutual favourites they
had discovered that night at Gerard's.

Had her host underlined them since then, or were they marked before?
Then she peeped at "Abelard and Héloise" and turned over all the leaves.
None of them had any pencillings, but her eye caught this sensible
paragraph, and it stiffened her jaded spirit, and made her feel more
calm:

"'How void of reason are men,' said Seneca, 'to make distant evils
present by reflection, and to take pains before death to lose all the
comfort of life.'"

She was here at a splendid party as a guest like everyone else, and she
must enjoy it and forget anything but the pleasure of the moment. But
oh! if the Duke would only talk to her!

She wore the new white frock and looked quite beautiful, and some of the
lilies of the valley shone in her belt.

Lady Garribardine was extremely pleased with her appearance and patted
her arm.

"To-morrow Sir John Townly is coming over from Hornwell, child, and I
want you to be agreeable to him for me, as I shall be very busy. You
must take him for a little walk."

Her Ladyship knew that however irksome it would appear to Katherine, her
command would be obeyed!

The Duke's eyes were full of suppressed passion at dinner, and his wit
was caustic. Katherine could not hear it, but could see his face, and
the puzzled expression which now and then came over the two ladies on
either side of him; and once she met his gaze, and there was pain and a
challenge in it. Excitement rose in her before dessert came. She
knew--she felt--he was conscious of her presence--and that it was not
indifference which kept him from her side. What was it all leading to?
It was very evident that he was determined not to succumb to whatever it
might be. It was also evident that he certainly did experience emotion.

Katherine felt unhappy, but this must not prevent her from talking
politely and sympathetically to the ladies she happened to be sitting
next to in the great drawing-room, until the men came in. She remarked
how protective and gracious her own dear Ladyship was being to her,
saying a word in passing and making her feel at home and an equal and a
guest. She must be very grateful for these things and not look ahead.

Why had this new and sudden sense of values come over her? This
realisation of the frightful obstacle created by the blemish of the
three days? At the dinner at Gerard's she had not so much as remembered
them, their meaning had come in a flash with the thrill of the Duke's
kiss of homage upon her hand. Had she been contemplating union with Sir
John, she would have looked upon them as a fortunate experience to guide
her in her knowledge of men. So this was some psychological witness to
the demands of the spirit of--love! Of love that desires to give only
the pure gold untarnished to the lover.

She felt like a caged bird, and her triumphant evening of pleasing
women, and earning the admiration of all who spoke to her, tasted only
as Dead Sea fruit.

Now the Duke, when the men left the dining-room, walked straight
to his own sitting-room. He was a man of rapid action and supreme
self-confidence. He opened the inner door softly and listened--there was
no sound, he could move with impunity. There was no one in the passage
room, but there was not a moment to be lost; the housemaids, he knew,
would be coming round almost immediately with the cans of hot water for
the night. He crossed the space and deliberately entered the green room,
turning on the light as he did so.

He hastily looked about at the books--Yes, she had put the two special
ones by her bed. And "Abelard and Héloise" was underneath; he pulled it
out and quickly found a passage he wanted and with his gold pencil he
scored it deeply underneath, and putting the volume on the top he
swiftly left the room and was again in his own, and on his way to the
white drawing-room. The whole affair had not taken two minutes. And with
the knowledge of this fact accomplished, he looked almost serene as he
sat down by a great lady's side and determinedly avoided looking at
Katherine.

So the evening passed without speech between them beyond good-night, and
Miss Bush retired sorrowfully to bed.

But she could not sleep, and kept on the light to read. There were
"Eothen" and "Abelard and Héloise" close to her side, their order of
placing reversed, since she had left them, this change effected by the
housemaids, no doubt. And the love letters being on the top, she opened
them first. She read many exquisite thoughts, and was just thinking of
sleep when she turned a page and suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, for
this is what she read:

"I wish to heaven you had not such a power over me." And the passage was
deeply underlined.

Her heart beat to suffocation. There had been no such mark in this place
when she had read this very page before dinner. How had it come
there?--Who--Who?--But there was only one person who could have done
such a thing--the Duke!

She bent nearer the lamp and devoured the lines again, and then she
passionately kissed the words and turned out the light.

Next day, Sunday, a number of the party went to church, their host among
them--but Katherine and Lady Garribardine did not accompany them. They
were seated on the tennis lawn watching a game when the church-goers
joined the group.

Three magnificent cedars of Lebanon made a great patch of shade, and
here the chairs were placed. The Duke took one and stretched himself on
it as though fatigued. His grey felt hat was tilted over his eyes. He
made a pleasing picture of length of limb and grace and distinction--the
same curious emotion crept over Katherine again as she had already
experienced--half quiver, half shock--a strong desire to be very close
to him, to touch him, to feel herself caressing and caressed. His hands
were clasped idly upon his knee, and his voice as he spoke softly to a
lady was lazy and complacent. Oh! how extremely bitter the whole
situation was proving to be!

The emerald ring seemed to flash green fire as a tiny glint of sunlight
struck it; it caught the attention of the sprightly dame to whom His
Grace was talking.

"What a very wonderful ring that is you wear, Duke. Has it a history?"

"Yes, a very remarkable one."

Katherine listened, deeply interested, she had so often wondered about
this ring, too.

"It has been in the family since the last Crusade. It came back with the
tradition attached that it was the famous graven emerald seal which
Theodoras made for Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, about 590 B. C., and
which was in vain thrown into the sea to be lost! It was brought back to
Polycrates in the body of a fish next day. Such exampled luck was
considered to be ominous by his ally, Amasis, who broke off all alliance
with him in consequence. And truly enough, he was not long after
murdered from jealousy of his good fortune! The ring then disappeared
and was supposed later to have been found by a Roman who handed it down
for generations until it somehow got back into Greece, and when wrecked
there on his way home from Palestine, the Rievaulx of the day obtained
it from its owner, how, history does not say, and it has always been
with us ever since--a strange belief attaching to it--that if life is
happy it must not be worn, but that if things have gone ill then it is
safe to wear it for the rest of time."

He put out his hand for the lady to look at the stone and a knot of
interested people drew near.

"You see," His Grace continued, "it is deeply graven with a lyre--and
sometimes it seems to be dull and sometimes it flashes angrily."

"Are you not afraid to wear it?" some tactless person said.

The Duke replied gravely--"Why should I be? I have amply fulfilled all
the conditions attached," and then the company, remembering the dark and
ugly shadow of the mad Duchess, which had hung over his life for so many
years, all seemed to talk at once and so the slightly awkward moment
passed.

But Katherine thought deeply upon the subject as she sat in a wicker
chair.

Yes, how ill his life had gone, and he was now fifty-three years old,
and if it were true that he felt enough to have taken the trouble to
score that sentence in her book, his present frame of mind could not be
altogether happy either, and she sighed--why was happiness so often a
forbidden fruit?

For a second before lunch she happened to be standing near him, and so
some kind of words were necessary for politeness' sake.

"I hope you find your room comfortable, Miss Bush, and that you have all
that you want."

She looked straight into his eyes, and there was a world of meaning in
hers as she answered.

"Everything, thank you--and I am especially interested in the books. The
last guest who slept there must have taken liberties with your volumes
and put strange pencillings under some of the paragraphs, which I only
discovered last night."

"It was a man who occupied the room lately. What presumption he showed!"

"Yes, I wondered if you knew about it, the most significant marking is
in the letters of 'Abelard and Héloise.' The scribbler had a turn for
sentiment, it would seem, and probably was suffering from hallucinations
as to his own state, which he imagined to be one of subjection."

"No, he was a level-headed fellow, who was not particularly happy,
though. I remember, and no doubt he found solace in reading about the
despairing passion of those two, and in underlining that passage which
records _Abelard's_ rebellion against pain so like his own."

Katherine sighed. "Happiness, alas! lies in the hand only of the very
strong," and she passed on to another group.

And the Duke frowned a little as they went in to lunch.

Sir John Townly came over in the afternoon, as he had been invited to
do, and Lady Garribardine intimated to her secretary that now she must
take this incubus off her hands; so Katherine obediently proposed a
stroll round the wonderful tulip beds, which were in full bloom. And
Mordryn saw them go off together from the window where he stood.

"I really do not think it looks so ridiculous after all," Lady
Garribardine remarked to him reflectively, complacence in her tone. "He
is quite a fine figure of a man except for his perfectly bald head, and
that does not show now in his hat."

The Duke made an exclamation of disgust.

"Poor Miss Bush!"

"I do hope she won't be foolish, but she has been so odd lately; I
cannot understand these girls."

"Odd?"

"Yes--sad-looking and quiet--Of course I would not force her into
anything she did not like, but still, Sir John would be better than some
attractive and penniless young guardsman with nothing to offer but
love's young dream.--There are one or two who come over from Windsor who
rather hang about."

"Oh! yes, certainly," emphatically agreed the Duke, and then he thought
of another sentence in that book which seemed such a bond between them,
one where _Abelard_ wrote, "What a comfort I felt in seeing you shut
up!" Yes, to marry old Sir John would almost be the equivalent of a
convent. But not quite! There was always the thought that, however old,
he would still be the undisputed possessor of this most desirable piece
of womanhood! His would be the right to clothe and feed her, and give
her jewels. His to hold her in his arms. The realisation of all this was
maddening to Mordryn, for he no longer disguised from himself that he
profoundly desired to exercise these rights himself. And she had said
that happiness only lay in the hands of the very strong.--Yes, but how
could one define strong? Strong in fidelity to tradition and family and
race and class? Or strong to break all barriers and seize that thing a
man's heart cries out for passionately, his mate, his soul's and his
body's mate? These were problems which were distressingly agitating to
think over, and distracted his mind from the duties towards guests.

What a time she spent in pointing out those tulips to that old fool!
What pompous gallantry his attitude expressed! Of course the girl must
be bored to death. Why had she been "odd" lately, "quiet and sad"? Oh,
how divine it would be to go off to the Belvedere presently and see the
sunset from over there by the lake, and ask her many things, and then as
they looked on the water from the marble terrace, if the falcon's eye
grew sweet again and soft, to read dear messages there, and fold her to
his heart!

She was so subtle, she understood every shade in anything he said, they
had the same tastes and the same likings in books and art. She did not
know Italy and France; what supreme pleasure to wander there, and
discover their manifold beauties to her! And above all, she was young
and fresh and passionate--who could doubt it who looked into her fair
face, or knew anything about type? If she loved him she would never be
cold, but would amply repay him for his long starvation and abstinence
from joy. The lonely splendour of Valfreyne would then become a happy
home filled with interest and affection. How was he going to get through
another twenty years of dull duty after his twenty-five of anguish and
grief? He supposed he might live to be eighty, even, the Monluces were a
tenacious race!

Here Lady Garribardine deemed it prudent to divert his thoughts; she
realised that the moment for the final good which would draw him over
the brink into happiness had not yet come, so she spoke of soothing
things, and then amused him and coaxed him into a more peaceful state;
only again to see him restive when the pair eventually came in from the
tulip beds.

Katherine looked tired and depressed, but Sir John had an air of
gratification about him which made Mordryn feel that he could willingly
have punched his head!

His good manners alone enabled him to bid a cordial farewell to the poor
man when presently he left.

The sun was declining and the colours were opal over the lake. The
duties of host to so many charming ladies restrained the Duke and he had
the mortification of seeing Katherine and another girl go off with two
of the young men in two canoes on the topaz waters, and by the time he
went to dress he was almost desperate.

Katherine was in black to-night, and a red rose was in her belt. Where
had she got it from? Had that insupportable young Westonborough, whom
she had been in the canoe with, given it to her? Surely Bilton had not
been so remiss as not to have seen that fresh lilies were put in the
green room!--But perhaps she preferred the red rose; women were
incredibly fickle and capricious!

Lady Garribardine perceived the expression of fierceness in his eyes,
and so contrived that even a single sentence with Katherine was
impossible. And thus the evening passed and good-nights were said, and
there remained only the one more day!



CHAPTER XXX


Katherine read "Abelard and Héloise" far into the night. Her emotions
were complex. She knew now that she was very unhappy and in a corner,
and that she could not see clearly any way of escape. If she attracted
the Duke further it would only increase the complications.

There was something in her nature which she feared was not strong enough
to carry through deceit. Her great power had always lain in her absolute
honesty, which gave her that inward serenity which engenders the most
supreme self-confidence, and so inevitably draws the thing desired. Her
mind was too balanced, and too analytical to give way to impulse
regardless of cost, which in such a situation would have made nine
hundred and ninety-nine women out of a thousand grab at the chance of
securing Mordryn upon any terms. Of what good to obtain the position of
Duchess if it only brought a haunting unease? Of what good to obtain the
love of this true and splendid gentleman upon false pretences? She could
then enjoy nothing of the results. For above all worldly gains she was
well aware that to keep her own rigid self-respect mattered to her most.
If his character had been less worthy of reverence--if she had not grown
so near to passionately loving him--if she had not become aware of the
importance in the eyes of the world of the barrier between them, and so
of the magnitude of the offence involved in the deceit, she would have
played her game to a finish without a backward thought; but as it was
it were better frankly to give it up and perhaps marry--Sir John! For
none of these considerations, she felt, came into the question of
marrying Sir John. He was old and pompous and of no great family. She
would be giving more than she received in bestowing her youth and her
talents and her company upon him. She did not love him, therefore
whether he should ever look upon her with scorn or no was a matter of
indifference to her--and she would not for a moment have dreamed of any
obligation to reveal that episode in her past to him, since the
probabilities were so very remote that discovery could ever happen and
therefore her silence would in no way injure him. It would be merely a
bargain in which an old man bought a young woman "as she stood," so to
speak, for the pleasure of his eye.

But the Duke of Mordryn was different--between them there could be no
deceptions, no secrets, there must be none but the highest things, since
marriage with him would mean the union of their souls. Katherine was far
from being altruistic or sentimental, it was only the strictly common
sense and baldly honest aspect of any case that ever influenced her.

The temptation was overpowering, of course, to brush aside moral
qualms.--To think of reigning in this splendid place!--and she let her
imagination run on--To think of being with the Duke always--his loved
companion. The joy to make him very happy, and do everything he wished.
What pains she would take to fulfil his highest ideal of her--to show to
his world that whatever she had sprung from, at least she carried off
the situation of Duchess in a manner in which they could find no flaw.
She would be gracious and sweet and dignified and capable. She would
bring all her reasoning to bear upon all problems. She would let him
guide and direct her, and she would carry out his least behest.

_But it could not be._ She had made an initial mistake and
miscalculation in her career through ignorance of possible results, and
she could never shuffle out of it. Self-deception was of all mental
attitudes the one she despised the most. She must face the consequence
of her mistake now with courage, and take the second best.

Having once made up her mind in the early dawn, it was not in her nature
to indulge in further repining. She as resolutely shut out the image of
the Duke and the picture of happiness with him, as she had shut out Lord
Algy. Only this time the pain was infinitely more bitter, because she
knew that she was obliged to refrain from sipping this glorious cup
_because of her own miscalculation_. Whereas when she parted from Lord
Algy she had had the moral elation of knowing that she was doing rather
a fine thing.

Extreme pallor showed in her face in the morning, and her great eyes
were shadowed and sad. She remained in the ante-chamber at the
writing-table which had been prepared for her, after she had breakfasted
with Lady Garribardine in her sitting-room. Numbers of letters had come
by the Sunday's post, and she made it seem necessary to answer them at
once.

Her mistress allowed her to have her way. She felt some strong
underneath currents were affecting the girl, and further tantalization
would not be bad for the Duke. So she left her at the writing-table and
joined the rest of the party under the cedar trees on the tennis lawn,
and did not mention Katherine or her whereabouts. If Mordryn wanted to
know why she had not come out, or where she was, he must pluck up
courage to ask himself.

The Duke glanced at her enquiringly, but he said nothing--perhaps
Katherine would follow presently--but could she have gone again on the
lake with Lady Alethea and those empty-headed young men? He would not
ask, he would go himself and see.

So when he had disposed of his important guests, he went to his own
sitting-room from which there was a complete view of the waterways, and
then he took the trouble to get out his glasses and scan the occupants
of the boats.

No, she was not among them.

She must then either be still in her bedroom--or writing perhaps in
front of the window of the passage place which was next this very room!

He would go out on the terrace from one of the windows and look in.

Yes--she was there seated at the table very busy, it appeared.

He came forward and stepping across the threshold, he stood beside her.

"Good morning, Miss Bush--it is quite wrong for you to be working on
this glorious day. You must come out into the sunshine with the rest of
us."

Katherine did not rise or appear to be going to follow his suggestion,
so he added authoritatively:

"Now be a good girl and go and get your hat."

"I am very sorry I cannot before lunch; I have much work to do, and it
becomes disorganised if I leave it unfinished."

"Nonsense! You did not come to Valfreyne to work. There are such a
number of things I want to show you. Everyone is out in the garden,
won't you at least come round the state rooms with me?"

How could she refuse him? He was her host and the pleasure would be so
intense. She rose, but without alacrity and answered a little stiffly:

"I should much like to see them--if it will not take very long."

Her manner was distinctly different, he noticed it at once--a curtain
seemed to have fallen between them ever since the conversation about the
pencillings in the book. It chilled him and made him determined to
remove it.

He held the door into his sitting-room open for her, and took pains to
keep the conversation upon the ostensible reason for their voyage of
inspection. He spoke of carving and dates, and told her anecdotes of the
building of Valfreyne. And so they passed on through all the splendid
rooms, "The King's Chamber," and "The Queen's Closet,"--and the salons
and so to the great state suite of her who should be reigning Duchess.

And Katherine saw priceless gems of art and splendour of gilding and
tapestry, and hangings, and great ghostly beds surmounted with nodding
ostrich plumes. And stuffs from Venice and Lyons--and even Spitalfields.

"How wonderful!" she said at last--"And there are many other places such
as this in England! How great and rich a country it is. We--the middle
class population--shut in with our narrow parochial views--do not
realise it at all, or we would be very proud of our race owning such
glorious things, and would not want to encourage stupid paltry
politicians to destroy and dissipate them all, and scatter them to the
winds."

"It may seem hard in their view that one man should possess, we will
say, Valfreyne."

"But how stupid! How could it all have been accumulated, but for
individual wealth and taste and tradition? Who really cares for museums
except to study examples in? Do you know, for instance, such people as
my sisters would a thousand times rather walk through these rooms on a
day when the public is let in, feeling it was a house owned by people
who really lived there, than go to any place given to the nation, like
Hampton Court or the Wallace Collection."

"That is the human interest in the thing."

"Yes, but the human and the personal are the strongest and most binding
of all interests."

Mordryn looked at her appreciatively--he delighted in hearing her views.

"Then you have no feeling that you wish all this to be divided up among
the people of Lulworth, say--the large town near?"

"Oh! no, no! So strongly do I feel for the law by which all goes to the
eldest son, that were I a younger one, I would willingly give up my
share to ensure the family continuing great. Who that can see clearly
would not rather be a younger son of a splendid house, than a little,
ridiculous nobody on his own account,--if everything were to be divided
up."

"It is so very strange that you should have this spirit, Miss Bush. If
you had not told me of your parentage I should have said you were of the
same root and branch as Lady Garribardine. Are you sure you are not a
changeling?"

"Quite sure. How proud it must make you feel to own Valfreyne, and what
obligations it must entail!"

"Yes," and he sighed.

"It must make you weigh every action to see if it is worthy of one who
must be an example for so many people."

"That is how you look upon great position--it is a noble way."

"Why, of course--it could not be right to hold all this in trust for
your descendants, and for the glory of England, and then to think
yourself free to squander it, and degrade the standard. All feeling
would have to give way to worthily fulfilling your trust."

The Duke felt his heart sink--a strange feeling of depression came over
him.

"I suppose you are right," and he sighed again.

"I was so much interested in the story of your ring," she said
presently, to lift the silence which had fallen upon them both. "It is
such a strange idea that great good fortune is unlucky--since we always
draw what we deserve. If we are foolish and draw misfortune at the
beginning of our lives, we must of course pay the price, but if people's
brains are properly balanced they should not fear good fortune in
itself."

"You think then that a whole life need not be shadowed with misery, but
that if the price of folly is paid in youth, there may still be a chance
of a happy old age?"

"Of course--One must be quite true, that is all, and never deceive
anyone who trusts one."

"That would mean living in a palace of truth and would be
impracticable."

"Not at all. There are some things people have no right to ask or to be
told--some things one must keep to oneself for the carrying on of
life--but if a person has a right to know, and trusts you and you
deceive him, then you must take the consequences of unhappiness which
is the reflex action of untruth."

"How wise you are, child--that is the whole meaning of honour, 'To thine
own self be true and it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not
then be false to any man.'"

She looked straight up into his eyes, hers were pure and deep and
sorrowful.

"Now I have seen your beautiful home I must go back to my work--I shall
always remember this visit, and this happy morning--all my life."

Mordryn was deeply moved, passionate emotion was coursing through
him--with great difficulty he restrained the words which rose to his
lips. He did not seek to detain her, and they retraced their steps,
speaking little by the way, until they came to his sitting-room.

"When you go to-morrow, will you take with you the 'Eothen' and the
'Abelard and Héloise?' I would like to know that you read them sometimes
and there is one passage in _Abelard's_ first letter which I know I
shall have to quote to myself--It is on the fifty-fourth page, the
bottom paragraph--you must look at it some time--"

Then his voice broke a little--"And now let us say good-bye--here in my
room."

"Good-bye," said Katherine and held out her hand.

The Duke took it and with it drew her near to him.

"Good-bye--Beloved," he whispered, and his tones were hoarse, and then
he dropped her hand; and Katherine gave a little sob, and turning, ran
from the room, leaving him with his proud head bent, and tears in his
dark blue eyes.

And she made herself return to her work--nor would she permit her
thoughts to dwell for an instant upon the events of the morning, or the
words of the Duke--for she knew that if she did so she would lose
control of herself and foolishly burst into tears. And there was lunch
to be endured, and the afternoon and evening.

So this was the end--he loved her, but his ideas of principle held.--And
if she was only a common girl and so debarred from being a Duchess--the
Duke should see that no aristocrat of his own class could be more game.

Lady Garribardine found her still writing diligently when she came in
just before luncheon would be announced, and she wondered what made the
girl look so pale.

"It is quite too bad that you have sat here all this time," she
exclaimed. "I won't have you bother with another word. This was to be
your holiday and your amusement, this visit to Valfreyne, and you have
been cooped up in the house working as if at home."

The Duke looked extremely stern at luncheon and was punctiliously polite
to everyone, but those in his immediate vicinity were conscious that a
stiffness had fallen upon the atmosphere which asphyxiated conversation.

Lady Garribardine was well acquainted with the signs of all his moods.
This one, she knew, resulted from pain of some sort, and mental
perturbation. What had occurred between him and Katherine? Could they
have quarrelled? This must be ascertained at the earliest possible
moment.

After luncheon they were all to motor to an old castle for a picnic tea,
a beautiful ruin of a former habitation of the Monluces about five miles
away.

Katherine should go with the younger people, and she should have the
Duke to herself.

His manner was certainly preoccupied, and he spoke only of ordinary
things as they went through the park.

"The party has been the greatest success, Mordryn. Are you pleased?
Everyone has enjoyed it."

"Yes, I suppose it has been all right, thanks to your admirable
qualities as hostess, dear friend. But how irksome I find all parties! I
have been too long away from the world."

"I thought you seemed so cheery, Mordryn, yesterday, but to-day you look
as glum as a church. You must shake yourself up, nothing is so foolish
as giving way to these acquired habits of solitude and separation from
your kind."

"I am growing old, Seraphim."

"Stuff and nonsense!" Her Ladyship cried. "You have never looked more
vigorous--or more attractive, and you are not subject to liver attacks
or the gout--so you have no excuse in the world for this doleful point
of view."

"Perhaps not--It is stupid to want the moon."

"There are no such things as moons for Dukes; they are always lamps
which can be secured in the hand."

"Not without fear of combustion or fusing as the case might be."

"Nothing venture nothing have. No man ought to sit down and abandon his
moon chase--if he wants it badly enough he will get it."

"In spite of his conscience?"

Her Ladyship looked at him shrewdly--now was a moment for indicating her
sentiments she felt--he might understand her as he so pleased.

"No, never in spite of his conscience, but in spite of custom or
tradition or any other man-made barrier."

But although the Duke found much comfort in her words, he was not easily
influenced by anyone and the torrent of his passion had not yet reached
the floodgates, and was restrained by his will. So he turned the
conversation and endeavoured to be cheerful. And Seraphim saw that for
the moment she must leave things to fate.

Katherine looked quite lovely at tea. Her new air of rather pensive
gentleness suited her well. She showed perfect composure, there was no
trace of nervousness or self-consciousness in her manner, only her eyes
were sad.

What dignity, the Duke thought as he watched, her conduct and attitude
during the whole visit had shown! He knew it must have been a moment of
exceptional excitement to her to come there among his and Lady
Garribardine's friends, as one of them, and yet not for a second had she
shown anything but composure and ease, talking with quiet politeness to
whoever addressed her, neither with subservience nor with expansiveness,
but with exactly the consideration which so becomes a great lady, even
if she is but a girl. He looked at her again and again, and could find
only something further to respect and admire.

He wondered how much she was feeling? What had that little sob meant?
Pain as well as understanding assuredly. Was she, too, longing secretly
to be taken into his arms--as with every fibre of his being he was
burning with desire to hold her? Or did she not really care, and was the
attention of young Westonborough enough to divert her--and would she
eventually marry Sir John?

This last thought was disgusting! but His Grace of Mordryn had not the
type of mind like that of Gerard Strobridge, to take comfort in the
thought that if she did so, his own chance of future joy would be the
greater. No touch of anything but reverence was in his heart towards
Katherine.

And so the afternoon passed with much suffering in two souls, and the
rainbow tints of the evening came over the sky. The chestnut trees were
the softest fresh green, and the oaks only just out. Copper beeches and
limes and firs all added to the beauty of tint. And young birds were
twittering their good-nights; the whole world was full of love, and
springtime promise of joy.

And Mordryn battled with himself and banished temptation, and had his
sitting-room blinds drawn immediately to hide all these sweet things of
nature, when they returned, and stayed alone there until it was time to
dress for dinner, saying he had important letters to write.

But all the while he was conscious that just beyond that door and that
passage, there was a woman who seemed to matter to him more than
anything else in life!

The whole afternoon had been such a wretched tantalization. A long duty
when he had spoken as an automaton to boring guests. He had not sought
to talk to Katherine; that good-bye in the morning had been final, there
could be no anticlimax, that would make it all futile.

And she had _understood_, she had realised his motive--this he knew and
felt, but took no comfort from the thought.

And Katherine, with half an hour to herself, looked for and found that
passage on page fifty-four of "Abelard and Héloise" and she read:

    I remove to a distance from your person with an intention of
    avoiding you as an enemy. And yet I incessantly seek for you in my
    mind--I recall your image in my memory and in such different
    disquietudes I betray and contradict myself.--I hate you!--I love
    you! Shame presses me on all sides. I am at this moment afraid I
    should seem more indifferent than you are, and yet I am ashamed to
    discover my trouble.

Well--if he felt like that--what could be the end?



CHAPTER XXXI


London seemed very noisy and tumultuous to Katherine when they returned
to Berkeley Square, and the routine of her work came almost as a relief.

What would be the outcome of this visit to Valfreyne? She could not
guess. That the Duke loved her she knew--but with what kind of love?
With an almighty passion which one day would break all barriers and seek
for fulfilment? Or with a restrained emotion which, when the temptation
of her presence was removed, would settle down? But of what matter
really whether he loved her with the one or the other, since both were
equally forbidden and useless!

And she?--What were her feelings? She knew in her heart that if she were
to permit herself to indulge in natural emotion, she could shower upon
him a love that in its white heat of devotion and passion would make
that which she had formerly given to Lord Algy appear but a puny
schoolgirl thing.

She must not give way to any such feelings, though; the pain was quite
bitter enough as it was--and nothing but stern discipline of mind and an
iron self-control could make it bearable at all.

She felt restless during that week--on tenterhooks to know if she should
see the Duke; hot and cold as she went into a room. But he did not come
and she heard casually that he was still at Valfreyne. And on Saturday
morning they went down to Blissington until the Monday afternoon, as
was their custom at each week-end.

Lady Garribardine watched Katherine critically and knew that she was
suffering, and so she was unusually kind and witty and sarcastic, and
acted as a tonic. She had a shrewd way of looking at men and things
which always delighted Katherine, and they seemed to grow closer friends
than ever.

"You are a great comfort to me, girl," she said. "I can talk to you and
air all my notions as I could to a man--and you do not answer upon
another subject. For you know, my dear, that if the basis of your
argument with nine women out of ten happens to be that the sea is salt,
they will reply that on the contrary the moon is made of green cheese!
You mildly protest that it is the taste of the sea, not the composition
of the moon which is in question, and then they say they totally
disagree with you and that the sun is warm! You are done!--There is
nothing left for you but to smile and talk of clothes!"

Katherine laughed delightedly. How well she knew this style of argument!
Matilda had always practised it.

"I believe I owe to my dear lady the faculty of seeing a little
differently."

"Not at all!--You always were as sharp as a needle. I may merely have
encouraged you perhaps."

"It is through your kindness and sympathy that I have emerged and broken
away from the stultifying bonds of my class. Oh! if you only knew how
deep is my gratitude!"

She was very seldom moved like this, and Lady Garribardine looked at her
closely.

"Tut, tut, child--you were made for great things, and it is because I
realised this at once, almost, that I have sympathised with you. I could
not have kept you back any more than I could have created qualities in
you. I could merely have delayed your upward progress or, as I hope I
have done, advanced it. The spirit in you is God-given and I have
nothing to do with it."

Katherine's eyes softened with love and reverence! Her dear, dear friend
and benefactress!

When she was alone, Lady Garribardine thought deeply over everything,
their respect and affection were mutual. It troubled her a little to see
the girl so quiet--Mordryn had played quite fairly, she hoped--but
yes--he could never do otherwise. She guessed what was the reason of the
estrangement--if estrangement there was--on his side, and it caused her
no permanent concern.

"When a man feels as Mordryn feels, no class prejudice in the world will
keep him from the woman in the end! Only let him suffer enough and then
give them an opportunity to meet, and all will be well!"

Thus she mused--And what a weight off her mind it would be to see them
happily married! So that her conscience might be at rest, and she could
feel that she had more than made up for her action of long ago.
Yes--Katherine Bush was a peerless creature, and would be the brightest
jewel in any crown. Not a trace of the jealousy or antagonism, which
once or twice for the fraction of a second had sprung up from natural
hereditary instinct and class prejudice, remained in her heart. Her
clear and wise judgment had sifted and weighed all the pros and cons. No
two human beings on earth were more suited to one another than her
humble secretary from Bindon's Green and this great nobleman. And she
could launch Katherine successfully, and make her accepted without
question. And after the marriage, she could safely leave to the girl's
own superb tact and common sense the task of maintaining the position of
Duchess with illustrious distinction. So that the only barrier left to
be overcome was Mordryn's tiresome prejudice about class. That most
annoyingly obstinate sense of duty, and _noblesse oblige_--duty to his
rank and to his race. But his mind was not narrow, and once he could
have time freely to think out what real nobility meant, he would realise
that highness of birth was not essential at all.

Lady Garribardine knew the Duke's nature so well; she was aware that if
she spoke to him upon this subject and sought to influence him more than
her speech at the picnic had already done, his desire being so forcibly
upon her side, he would then still more determinedly make up his mind
not to be convinced from the fear that he was allowing inclination to
weaken his sense of duty.

To leave fate to manage matters was the best plan, and to be ready to
give a helping hand at the critical moment.

Mordryn was certainly suffering deeply or he would have returned to
London, instead of staying on at Valfreyne.

Not by word or insinuation did she ever indicate to Katherine that she
had remarked the Duke's interest in her, or the apparent cooling of it.
Indeed, since that day at the Easter party when she had lightly spoken
of his coming to the schoolroom, she had never mentioned him to her
secretary in connection with herself at all. So on the surface
everything was calm and peaceful, and life flowed in its accustomed
stream.

Mordryn must be made to come to Berkeley Square again as of old, and he
must not be allowed to see Katherine for some time. He must get into the
way of dropping in as usual without fear.

And in the third week after Whitsuntide, the Duke returned to town and
did dine there, and Miss Bush was nowhere to be seen. He had spent very
miserable days down in his beautiful home. He had not reached the stage
of reason yet, he was merely fighting desire with all his might--while
daily it grew stronger.

How cold her hand had been when they had said a polite good-bye on the
Tuesday morning; he could feel it through the glove! How pale her face
had looked, too! He hoped to God she was not suffering; that would be
too cruel, and he could not feel guiltless if it were so. He had
certainly played upon her feelings, although in the most subtle manner,
which made his conduct the more cowardly and inexcusable. This thought
brought extreme discomfort, and plunged him into frantic work. He filled
all his hours with the business of his estate, in order to banish
memory, but with no great success, so at last he came up to London,
determined to crush out every weakness. But when he went to Berkeley
Square to dine he felt agitated, and he knew that he was fearing and yet
hoping to see Katherine.

But he caught no glimpse of her, nor was she even mentioned, it was as
though she had never been. He grew anxious--had she left Seraphim's
service? This must be ascertained immediately, before he left the house.

"Miss Bush is not dining to-night, Seraphim?" he said, after dinner,
when he had a moment with his hostess. "I hope she is well?"

"Yes, thanks," and Her Ladyship turned the conversation at once, so
that he was left with this meagre information.

As he drove away to St. James's, he found himself thinking incessantly
of the girl.

She had understood. She was so fine, she had grasped the situation
completely--had she not herself explained to him the duty he owed to his
race?

But a woman who could take such an abstract view must surely have a very
wonderful soul! Every one of her ideas had shown the highest sense of
duty, the most profound grasp of what was meant by _noblesse oblige_. He
remembered even her remark about his attending the House of Lords, how
she had said it was cowardly of him to shirk his work there just because
he so despised modern views. In what high esteem, too, she was held by
Seraphim--a woman not to be imposed upon by any mere charm, and one who
would bring the most critical judgment to bear upon every question
before she would accord her friendship.--And that Katherine had Lady
Garribardine's friendship in full, he knew.

He went into his library which looked out on the Green Park, and he
opened the window side and walked on to the terrace. In the distance the
roar of Piccadilly thundered by, but his immediate neighbourhood was
quiet and he could think.

He reviewed every minute incident from the beginning of his acquaintance
with Katherine that night not so very long ago at the house of Gerard
Strobridge. She had admitted that it was she herself who had desired
this meeting after she had heard him speak. That proved that she had
been drawn to him even then. And how attractive she had appeared, how
cultivated and polished, how clever and refined! And to think that such
achievement was the result of steadfastness of purpose! A will to
compass an ideal against extraordinary odds. An intelligence great
enough to realise that facts alone count, and that no assumption of the
rights of ladyhood, or demonstration in words, would convince anyone,
but only the inward reality of fineness of soul directing outward
action. How much more meritorious and to be respected was her
achievement then than if these things had been her natural heritage! She
had obtained a state of perfection through deliberate intention in a far
greater degree than anyone he knew but Seraphim. Her every idea,
thought, expression and point of view, accorded exactly with his own.
Her sense of duty was paramount. Her level-headedness, and her common
sense, and her balance were such as he had never before seen in woman.

And she was young and beautiful, and in perfect health. No nervous
fancies beset that evenly poised brain.

Suddenly, as he stared up into the deep blue starlit sky, it seemed that
the scales fell from his eyes, and fog was lifted from his inner vision
of the soul.

This beloved creature--daughter of an auctioneer and granddaughter of a
butcher--was truly and really an aristocrat in the purest and truest
sense of the term. And just because he could trace his pedigree back for
countless generations, who was he to stand aside and not give her her
due when her spirit and character were so infinitely above him? (Thus
love engenders humility in noble hearts!)

Where in the whole world could he find one so worthy to share his great
name and great estate? He laughed aloud in glee! It would not be giving
way to temptation for personal joy to think of her as his Duchess, but
it would be conferring the greatest honour upon his house that it had
ever known.

He marvelled at his blindness--marvelled at his pitifully conventional
point of view. How had it ever weighed with him a second? How had he not
realised at once the utter paltriness of the designation of aristocrat
unless the inner being carries out what that word is intended to convey?

He thought of his wife Laura, with her stupid, mean little brain,
developing into madness. He thought of Gerard's wife Beatrice--of what
use was she to any man? He thought of his own cousin, Dulcie Dashington,
with her vulgar barmaid's instincts, and her degradation of her great
state, and he thought of all the crew of frivolous, soulless, mindless
worldlings who had flung themselves at his head at Blissington, any one
of whom society would call a well-bred lady suitable for him to marry
and take to his home!

And then he thought of Katherine's simple dignity. She had not tried to
entrap him. She had not been insulted at his holding back, she had
understood. In her humility of greatness, she had _understood_ what
would be likely to be his view--or rather the view of his class.

But now he saw the truth, and the truth was that she stood out a star
among womankind and none other was worthy to tie the latchet of her
shoe.

He would not hesitate another second. He would telephone in the morning
to Seraphim and propose himself for Saturday, and then he should see
her--this sweet Katherine--and talk to her and tell her the truth. And
if she would so honour him then she should be his own.

The vision exalted him. He let his imagination, curbed and denied
expression for so long, have full rein. She was not cold by nature, she
would not have to simulate passion like Julia Scarrisbrooke! Hers, if
she felt it at all, would be real. She had experienced that part of love
before. He even thought of this without a pang, for that was past--and
something told him that she was not indifferent to him now. How
enchanting to make her really love him--how divine to teach her all the
shades of that "something beyond" which she had asked him about!

And then their life together there at Valfreyne! Yes, this was the true
kind of strength which she had spoken of, the strength which breaks down
all shams.

And to think how near he had been to allowing the stupid, blind,
hypocritical ideas of his world to part them forever! He must have been
mad, since he had known her worth always, from the first day. Seraphim
would help him after all--had she not told him not to go against his
conscience, but only against custom and tradition and any other man-made
barrier? And now conscience was with him, and he would break every bar
which divided him from his heart's delight!

Lady Garribardine's surprise was great on receiving the telephone
message in the morning: Might His Grace speak to Her Ladyship
personally?

Katherine repeated the message of the servant.

Certainly His Grace might.

Katherine handed the receiver and was preparing to leave the room, but
Lady Garribardine made a sign for her to stay while she sat up in bed.

"Is that you, Mordryn--Oh!--Why, of course you may come down to-morrow!
Yes--London is hot. It will only be a dull party--Gwendoline and the
Colvins and old Tom Hawthorne. I was merely going for rest myself. You
don't mind, you would like that?--Oh! very well, come either by motor or
the three o'clock train. All right--good-bye."

Then she looked at Katherine who met her eyes with a perfectly unmoved
face.

"The Duke proposes himself to come to us to-morrow at Blissington, he is
bored with London, and out of sorts."

But no joy appeared on the secretary's countenance; in fact she turned a
shade paler, as she asked if she should transmit any orders to the
housekeeper about his room.

"She feels things like the devil," Her Ladyship thought. "But Mordryn
has evidently come to his senses, so they will presently settle the
matter all right."

Katherine was glad that her duties now took her out shopping, she felt
she must be in the open air and free to think.

What did this mean? Why was he coming to Blissington so suddenly? Would
it produce a climax in her fate?

And as Mordryn had done the night before on his terrace overlooking the
Green Park, so she too reviewed all their acquaintance and what it had
grown to mean to her--something very bitter sweet.

Should she allow herself a fool's paradise for just a day? Should she
let him make love to her, if that was his intention in coming to
Blissington? But no, she must be firm with herself and act always as she
thought right. But her mind was in a turmoil, and she felt tired and
excited. The picture held out nothing but pain.

If he came and made love to her, she would have to cut his protestations
short. And if he ignored her, that would hurt still more. She devoutly
wished she might run away.

At luncheon the next day, after their arrival at Blissington, Her
Ladyship said rather irrelevantly:

"You look thoroughly tired out, girl. I advise you to take a rug and a
book and go out under the chestnut trees in the beautiful air, and have
a nap--and don't come in for tea if you do not want to, there are so few
of us I can manage by myself."

And Katherine, glad to escape, did as she was bid.



CHAPTER XXXII


When the Duke arrived by motor, tea had just been brought out on the
terrace at the eastern side of the house. His glance travelled rapidly
over the group. Miss Bush was not present.

His impatience had been growing and growing ever since the Thursday
night when his resolution had been taken, and now he almost felt like a
boy in his great disappointment at noting Katherine's absence.

How was he going to talk to the Colvins and Tom Hawthorne and old
Gwendoline! However, he did manage to be almost his usual self, though
Lady Garribardine was quite aware that his nerves were strung to a high
tension.

She got through tea as quickly as possible, and then walked him off to
see a new set of herbaceous borders.

The very second that they were alone, Mordryn began to talk openly to
her. He had determined to have no further cross purposes of any kind.

"Do you guess, Seraphim, what has brought me here to-day?" he asked.

"I have some shrewd idea--you have decided to appreciate reality and
discard appearance, as my Katherine Bush would say."

"That is it. Have I your sympathy, dear friend?"

"My warmest sympathy, Mordryn; your happiness means a very great deal to
me. I have had some horrible moments in those past years, of remorse for
my part in your sorrows--but if you secure this girl, I can feel that
you will be amply compensated."

"I am deeply in love, Seraphim, and you, I know, will not laugh at me,
or think it absurd."

She gave him a frank smile full of affection.

"Indeed, no--and what is more important, the girl will not laugh either.
She is full of passion, Mordryn--have you ever watched her little
nostrils quiver? You will have no colourless time with her! She is
not of the type of poor Läo Delemar, Gerard's friend, or Julia
Scarrisbrooke! The fierce red blood rushes through her veins!--But she
is too entirely self-controlled to let even me see what her real
feelings are, though I shrewdly suspect she is in love with you--You,
the man, Mordryn--and not, strange to say, the Dukedom at all!"

His Grace thrilled with delight--as why not, indeed! Of all beautiful
and maligned things, he knew real passion was the rarest!

"If it had been the Dukedom, she could have tantalized me into
committing any madness--weeks ago--but she has done nothing of the sort.
She has simply _understood_, that is the wonderful part."

"She is an amazing creature, a wonderful character, old
friend--perfectly honest and intensely proud. Not with the pride which
sticks its chin in the air, but that which carries the head high; there
is all the difference in the world between the two. Upstarts nearly
always have their chins in the air, but are unacquainted with the other
attitude. She will make the most perfect Duchess your house has ever
known--And think of your children!"

The Duke drew in his breath sharply, a new joy permeated him at her
words--"Just think of your children! Why, my dream of the six sturdy
boys may yet come true!"

"Seraphim--really!"

Her ladyship chuckled happily. "Now we must use common sense; there must
not be a flaw in the whole affair. If she agrees to marry you, I will
begin to arrange the situation at once. I will bring her out more and
present her to people--and we will not announce the engagement for a few
weeks. No one will dare to question who she is, or where she came from
if I choose to do that. Some of them may even suggest that she is the
result of some past indiscretion of one of the family that I have
adopted. They may think what they like! She is so absolutely honest, she
would tell anyone the truth herself without a care--but I think I shall
advise her to be silent, and let people make up what they please. No one
can dispute her perfect refinement or suitability to take any position
in the world."

"Seraphim, you are an angel."

"No, I am not--I am merely a capable craftsman. I like to do everything
I undertake well. Your Duchess shall start unhandicapped."

"How deep is my gratitude, dear friend!"

"Tut, tut!"

But her dark eyes beamed mistily. "When I see you safely off--with the
knot tied, on your way to Valfreyne for the honeymoon--I shall feel
content."

"Where is she?"

"I told her to go and rest under the chestnuts this afternoon. She
looked as pale as a ghost."

"May I find her there, then, now?"

"Yes--be off! And bless you!"

They wrung hands, and the Duke strode away looking, as Her Ladyship
admitted, with a fond half-sigh, still the hero of any woman's dream.
His years sat so lightly upon him.

But he searched under the chestnuts and beyond, and Katherine was
nowhere to be seen. A rug was folded beneath one great trunk--she had
evidently been there, and had now wandered on and perhaps was not far
off.

He continued his search for some time without success, and when he
reached the edge of the near woods, with their beautiful paths, some of
which ran down to a bit of ornamental water just big enough to be called
a lake, he stopped, puzzled as to which one to follow. His heart was
beating as it had not beat for years. He decided to go straight to the
water's edge to a Chinese tea-house which was there, and when he came at
length in sight of this, he perceived the flutter of a grey linen skirt
disappearing round the corner of it--On the verandah which overhung the
water, there were great white water lilies growing in masses just
beneath, while two stately swans swam about in the distance; the sun was
sinking, it was past six o'clock; and the lights were very lovely and
all was serene and still.

His footfalls did not sound on the soft turf, and Katherine did not know
of his approach until he actually stood before her on the broad verandah
step.

She was leaning against the balustrade gazing out over the lake, and she
turned and caught sight of him.

He came forward with outstretched hands, his face aglow.

"So I have found you at last!" he cried, gladly. "What made you hide
away here all alone?"

Katherine controlled herself sternly. She shook hands calmly, saying it
was cool by the water and a pleasant place to be.

"Solitude is good sometimes."

She had felt too restless to stay beneath the trees--even her will could
not keep her disturbed thoughts from speculation as to what the day
might bring. And now the Duke was here beside her, and the situation
must be faced.

He came close and leaned upon the quaint wooden rails trying to look
down into her averted face, while he whispered:

"I had rather enjoy a _solitude à deux_."

He saw that she was pale and that her manner was restrained. Did she
possibly misunderstand the purpose of his coming?

"Look," and she pointed over to the swans--"they perhaps agree with
you--they swim lazily about together, dignified and composed, far from
turmoil and agitating currents. One envies the birds and beasts and
fishes--sometimes," and she sighed.

"You must not sigh--look at me, Katherine. I want to see your eyes."

But she disobeyed him and turned the broad lids down. He leaned closer
still, and this caused a wave of emotion to sweep over her, producing
the same feeling which she had once thought only Lord Algy in all the
world could evoke in her--so that the Duke saw those little nostrils
quiver, which his friend Seraphim had spoken to him about, and the sight
gave him great joy.

"Look at me, Katherine!" and now his voice was full of command.

Then she slowly raised her gray-green eyes and he saw that they were
troubled, in spite of the passion that lay in their depths.

"Why do you come here and speak to me like this?" and in her voice
there was reproach. "We said farewell at Valfreyne--that was the end--I
understood--Why do you come again to trouble me now?"

"Because I could not keep away--because I love you, darling child."

She drew back, shivering with the pain of the struggle which was
developing in her soul.

"Hush, you must not say that to me, I ask you not to, please."

But since coldness and repulsion were not what he read in her glance,
her words did not discourage him.

"I was very foolish at Valfreyne, Katherine, ever to have said farewell,
but now I have come here to Blissington to tell you that I love you
passionately, my darling, and your dear sympathy and understanding saw
into my mind, and grasped the prejudices therein. But now the blindness
has fallen from my eyes--I adore you, my Beloved One--Katherine, I want
you to be my wife."

His voice had never been more beautiful. His splendid presence had never
appeared more impressive, nor the fascination of the man more supreme.
And he was there, a suppliant before her asking her to be his wife!

For a few seconds her brain reeled. The summit of her ambition was
reached--and not ambition alone, but what now seemed to matter more, the
realisation of true love. Both were there for her to take and to enjoy.
The fateful moment had come. She was face to face with the great problem
of her life. How could she relinquish all this glory, just to keep faith
with her ideal of right?

She looked up into his proud face and saw it transfigured with worship,
and she gave a little cry--No, she could never deceive him, he was far
too fine for that. Whatever came, between them there should be only
truth. But even so, a flood of passionate emotion burst all bonds, the
whole deep currents of her nature were stirred, and must find vent
before the final renunciation.

"Ah!" she cried, and let herself be clasped in his embrace, then, "I
love you, I love you!" she went on wildly.--"Kiss me--hold me, let me
feel what it is like to be there next your heart--what it would
mean--what it _could_ mean, if it might only be.--Oh! you do not know
what it costs really to say good-bye--Do you remember once when I told
you that I knew one side of love and asked you if there was not
something beyond? Well, I know now that there is--you have taught me to
feel it--It is the soul's victory--I love you with everything in me,
with my body and my spirit and my life!"

But she could articulate no further, for the Duke, intoxicated with
emotion, strained her to his heart, bruising her lips with kisses which
seemed to transport them both to paradise.

Here was no timid lover! But one with a nature as fiercely passionate as
her own!

"Ah, God, how divine!" and he sighed when at last after long, blissful
seconds his lips left hers. "Katherine, how dare you talk such folly to
me of bidding me good-bye! You shall never leave me again, you are
absolutely mine."

"Hush!" and she put her hand over his mouth tenderly, while she drew
herself out of his arms. "As far as love goes I am indeed all yours, the
mightiness of this passion has swept away all other thoughts, but now
you will have to listen to me--and you must not speak until the
end.--See, let us sit here for the story is long."

Just to humour her he allowed her to draw him to the seat, and with eyes
devouring her with fond impatience, he waited for her to begin.

"Promise that you will not interrupt me until I have finished, no matter
what you may feel or think."

He gave his word quite gaily and took and held her hand.

Katherine controlled her every nerve now and told the story in a deep,
quiet voice--with no dramatic gestures, drawing a graphic picture of her
home and of the office at Liv and Dev's and the effect upon her of the
voices of the gentlemen who came to borrow money. And then she told of
the coming of Lord Algy and of their acquaintance, and then she paused
for a second and glanced at Mordryn's face. It had grown a little
strained, but he grasped more tightly her hand.

"Now you must listen very carefully and try to understand. I suppose I
must have been in love with him in a passionate kind of way, he was so
very handsome and gay and full of charm--Well, I decided to go away with
him for three days--I decided deliberately, not so much from love as
because I wanted to understand life, and to know the nature of men, and
the point of view of an aristocrat."

The Duke's face became ashen white and his hand turned icy cold, but he
did not speak. So with a little break in her voice, Katherine went on:

"--Well, we went to Paris on the Saturday and came back on the Monday
night; by that time I knew all the passionate side of love; he aroused
all those instincts in me which I once told you about--but he never
touched my soul--that slept until you came.--I never meant to stay with
him or remain his mistress; it was for experience, and that was all--and
we parted at Charing Cross Station, and he went to Wales to his family
to shoot, and I went home. I wrote to him and told him that I would not
see him again. Then I made up my mind that I would leave Livingstone &
Devereux's, and begin my next rise in the world. Oh! you do not know how
ignorant I was then! But I never lost sight of the goal I meant to win,
to win by knowing how to fill the position desired. I had vast dreams
even in those early days. I was fortunate to obtain the situation of
Lady Garribardine's secretary, and on leaving the house after being
engaged, I met Lord Algy by chance in the park. He was very much upset
and unhappy at my determination never to see him again--and he asked me
to marry him. I refused, of course, because I knew even then that he
only attracted one side of me, and also I was not educated enough at
that time to have been able to carry off the position with success. I
explained everything to him, and made him promise to try and be a fine
soldier--he was being sent to Egypt for his extravagance, and so we
parted, and I have never spoken to him since. My goal now was definitely
fixed; I meant to educate myself to be able to take the highest position
to be obtained in England some day. I used to long for Algy sometimes,
but only every now and then, when some scent or sound brought him back
to me; that is why I said such love is unbalanced and animal--the memory
of it is always aroused by something of the senses. Then, after I went
to Lady Garribardine, Mr. Strobridge came upon the scene, and his great
cultivation inspired me, and presently we became friends. I deliberately
encouraged his friendship so as to polish my own brain. I knew he was
in love with me, so this may have been wrong, but since he was weak
enough to allow himself to feel in that way for me knowing he was
married, he must pay the price in pain, not I. He has always been a
loyal friend after the beginning, when he lost his head one night and
made a great scene. My determination never wavered; it was in every way
to improve myself, always to be perfectly true and finally to obtain the
height of my ambition. Things went on in this way for a year and a half,
Lady Garribardine always helping me and encouraging my education until
we became deep and intimate friends. But the goal never seemed to come
in view until I went to the House of Lords that day and saw you and
heard you speak. In a lightning flash the object of all my striving
seemed revealed to me, and I began to lay my plans, but with some
unusual excitement, because something in you had aroused an emotion in
my heart, the meaning of which I could not then determine. That night I
went to the theatre with my sister and there saw in the stalls Lord
Algy, returned from Egypt, I suppose, on leave. The sight of him moved
me, I felt cold and sick, but I realised once for all that my feeling
for him had been only physical, and was passing away.

"I had arranged with Mr. Strobridge to have the dinner, and to let me
meet you, not as the secretary, because I knew that your unconscious
prejudice would be insurmountable then. And I thought that if you liked
me that night, afterwards the prejudice might not be so deep when you
did know my real position.--You will remember what followed, but the
second part of the story begins with the afternoon you came into the
schoolroom. Until then I had never had a backward thought or regret or
worry about Lord Algy. I was only glad to have had the experience, that
was all. But after I had told you of my life and parentage, you bent
down and kissed my hand. And from that moment doubts began to trouble
me. You had started the awakening of my soul. And as love grew and grew,
so the blackness of the shadow increased. I knew that if I deceived you
I should only draw unhappiness and never respect myself. Where love is
there can be no deceit--and so at last even before I went to Valfreyne I
put all thoughts of you from me. Although each day you seemed to grow
more dear--until I knew that you meant everything to me and were my wild
and passionate desire--I saw that my position in life held you back, and
I was almost glad that it should be so--because I knew that if you
should really love me, and conquer your prejudice against my class, it
would come to this, that I must tell you the truth and that it would
part us forever. And I have tried to prevent you from telling me of your
love, I have tried to restrain my own for you, but now I am left
defenceless--I love you, but I realise that what I did in the past the
world could never forgive, and so I must pay the price of my own action,
and say an eternal farewell."

Her voice died away in a sob, and she did not then look at the Duke's
face; his hand had grown nerveless in its clasp and she drew hers away
from him, and rose slowly to her feet. The awful moment was over, the
story was done--she had been true to herself and had lost her love--and
now she must have courage to behave with dignity and go back to the
house.

But she must just look at him once more, her dearly loved one! He sat
there in an attitude of utter dejection, his face buried in his
hands.--For long aching moments Katherine watched him, but she did not
speak and life and hope and purpose died out of her, drowned in
overwhelming grief.

Then after this horrible silence the blood seemed to creep back to the
Duke's heart, and reaction set in. He began gradually to think. His
level judgment, his faculty for analyzing things, reasserted themselves,
and enabled him to view the whole subject in right perspective, and a
re-awakening to happiness slowly filled him.

He looked up to Katherine at last as she stood there leaning against a
pillar of the balustrade, and he read no humiliation or shame or
contrition in her great eyes, but only a deep sorrow and tenderness and
love.

And suddenly he realised the splendour of her courage, the glorious
force of character which had enabled her to jeopardize--nay, indeed,
relinquish, love and high estate and ambition, rather than be false to
herself.

_For she need not have told him anything of her story._ That fact was
the great proof of her truth. He had asked no questions about her past.
She had made no dramatic virtue of necessity, she had done this thing
that she might not soil her own soul with deceit.

Of what matter was a paltry venial sin! If sin it were, the shame of
which lay wholly in a too rigid convention--of what matter to him were
three days in the past, long before they had met! That she was
altogether his now in body and soul he had no faintest doubt. Was
there any man living such a fool or puritan that he would renounce
life's joy for such a foolish thing! The very qualities of courage and
justice which her action in telling him had shown, would wipe out any
sin and give him ample guaranties for future security and peace. Such
a woman was worth all the world! And ridiculous puny conventions were
of no account. Did he dream of looking upon Seraphim as degraded
because she had been his love long ago, and not his wife? Of course
not! Then why should he feel scorn for Katherine who had not even
betrayed a husband, but had been free? Scorn was for such women as
Julia Scarrisbrooke--creatures who simulated passion for one man after
another, merely as a game--people who held love cheaply and who knew
not even the glimmerings of obligation to their own souls.

Away with all shams of the world! None of them should influence him! He
had found a spirit strong and free and honest. Reality had won forever,
and appearance had vanished away.

So he rose and came to her again and once more took her into his arms,
and bending kissed her white forehead as if in blessing.

"Oh! my Beloved--And you deemed that this would part us, this long-past
ugly thing! Foolish one!--You do not know how much I love you! Far
beyond any of the earthly things. Darling, I honour your brave courage.
I worship your truth. You shall come to me and be my adored wife, and
the mistress of my home. Katherine, heart of me, whisper that all
sorrows are over, and let us enter heaven together and forget all else."

But Katherine, overwrought with emotion, lay there against his breast,
limp and white. She was beyond speech, only her spirit cried out in
thankfulness to God for having given her the strength to tell the truth.

Joys kills not--and soon under her lover's fond caresses, warm life
rushed back to her. And thus in the evening glory of sunset they found
content.

For the one sublime thing in this sad, mad world is LOVE.



CHAPTER XXXIII


It was more than a month since, in the late July of 1914, the joy bells
had rung out on all the Duke's estates for the birth of the heir, the
infant Marquis of Valfreyne. And it was just a year since Katherine had
become his Duchess!

And what a year in a woman's life!

Days and weeks and months of happiness, of ever-increasing understanding
and companionship, with one whose every action and thought inspired
respect and love.

The bond between the two had grown always more deep, more sacred, as the
days went on, and as Katherine said one morning fondly:

"Mordryn, we are just like _Rochester_ and _Jane Eyre_, not modern
people, because we never want to be away from one another for a
minute--only, thank God, you are not blind."

Theirs was a real marriage, and Lady Garribardine was fully content. She
took personal pride in the manner in which her protégé fulfilled the
rôle of Duchess, and she rejoiced to see her old love in the midst of
such bliss.

For their union was divine and complete, and the coming of the baby
Valfreyne had been the crowning joy.

It was a continual source of delight to the Duke to watch Katherine, and
to know how absolutely his belief in her had been justified. To watch
and to note with what supreme dignity she carried out the duties of his
great state. And as each occasion came when some special effort was
required, after it was over she would rush into his arms, and caress
him, and ask to be petted, and told that he was satisfied, and that his
beggar Duchess had pleased him and done all that he would wish!

The year of perfect happiness and gratified ambition had moulded
Katherine into a new and noble being, in whom graciousness and sweetness
and gentleness enhanced all her old charms.

She continued to make Lady Garribardine her model for everything.

The world had experienced a nine days' wonder when the engagement was
announced; but, as Her Ladyship said, there was no use in having kept
her iron heel upon the neck of society for all these years, if she could
not now impose upon it unquestioned what she wished. So Katherine had
had a triumphant entry, and very little antagonism to surmount. She paid
visits to all the Duke's relatives under Lady Garribardine's wing, and
her own tact and serene dignity had conquered them all, and turned them
into friends.

"She is of no particular birth," Her Ladyship was wont to say, "but _I
know_ who she is, so you need none of you trouble yourselves about it. I
will be answerable for her fitness for the post."

Thus the most romantic and fantastic rumours got about, and Lady
Garribardine wrote amusedly to Gerard in Russia, after the wedding in
September, giving a description of events:

    I issued stern commands to Bronson, G., that there should be no
    talk below stairs, no gratifying of anybody's curiosity, and I
    think I can count upon their devotion to me, and their great liking
    for the girl herself, to feel that they will coöperate. Her family
    were the entertaining thing. The sisters from America wrote
    sensible letters, realising that the great divide had come, and
    fortunately the Bindon's Green remainder had themselves cut her off
    from their intimacy, because she was what they called a "paid
    servant," "living in," apparently a degraded status in that
    incredible class! Mordryn received a letter from her sister-in-law
    a few days after the news was in the papers, a most remarkable bit
    of feminine spite, which caused us all glee: informing him that as
    he had no doubt been sadly deceived by Katherine Bush, she felt it
    her duty to enlighten him as to who she really was! Great stress
    was laid upon the butcher grandfather, and regrets that she herself
    had contracted an alliance so far beneath her station, but having
    experienced the unpleasantness of it, she felt it was only right to
    warn the Duke!

    I myself wrote the reply as though I had been his secretary,
    announcing that His Grace was in possession of all these facts and
    more from Miss Bush herself, and with due appreciation for the
    motive which had caused the letter to be written, the Duke thanked
    her for it and would not require to hear from her again!

    So all that part is disposed of fortunately, and Katherine can go
    ahead.

    Mordryn is frantically in love and so is she. Mordryn is like a boy
    and looks ten years younger. He showers gifts upon her, and on the
    day of the wedding, when he walked down the aisle with his
    beautiful new Duchess on his arm, I never have seen a man so proud.
    And when one comes to think of it, G., he has every right to be,
    for I must say the creature carries out the whole thing with a
    perfection which justifies my greatest expectations of her, and I
    think they stand a very fair chance of happiness, because the girl
    has a logical brain. She is not one of those fools who only like
    the excitement of a thing's being out of reach; she has the supreme
    wisdom of a sense of intrinsic values. She realises that she has
    secured a great position which will give ample scope for her
    vastest schemes--all high and fine ones, G.; we shall hear of her
    in the future, boy, not only as a beautiful Duchess, but as a great
    Englishwoman. And when one reflects that she has accomplished all
    this, won her game, so to speak, through sheer force of character,
    sheer knowledge of cause and effect, sheer calculation of action
    and no low scheming, one cannot but deeply respect her. Force will
    always win, but it will bring its own retribution if it has been
    used ill. Katherine has had the great cleverness to use it always
    well. Weak virtue may draw some kind of namby-pamby heavenly halo,
    but perfect honesty and strong common sense secure power and a
    substantial reward on earth! It will be very interesting to watch
    her career as it goes on. She is grateful for her happiness and
    knows that it is only weaklings who, once having secured this joy,
    then let it be taken from them by their own foolishness and
    discontent. Her whole mind is disciplined and ruled by an
    astonishingly sound judgment. Impulse is her servant, not her
    master; every view is broad. She sees all things as they really are
    without the illusion which nearly every woman invests them with.
    And, above all, she understands Mordryn, G.--and with all her
    balance and level-headedness, she is as passionate and vital and
    living as a woman can be, and that is the one kind of being who
    keeps a man with his temperament forever content. After his life of
    restraint and abstinence and solitary grief, to have such a
    creature for a companion must be no mean delight. So altogether,
    G., my dear boy, I am satisfied. As for his age, he does not look a
    day more than forty; they probably will have a glorious fifteen
    years, and you cannot have everything in life. He suits her far
    better than some younger man, they are made for one another.
    Mordryn has perfect health and strength, and no human being could
    be more attractive. You have not a notion of his ways as a lover,
    G.! He would be a lesson to any of these uncouth, cold-blooded,
    barley-water drinking modern young men!

    Our Duchess is a fortunate creature, I assure you, in more ways
    than one! So we need not trouble about that or make unto ourselves
    a picture of a young woman and an elderly man! They are like a pair
    of love birds--and they will probably have that sturdy heir at once
    that I have always longed for, and then I can rest in peace.

And when Gerard read this at Moscow, where he happened to be, he was
glad, and yet sad.

The wedded lovers wandered for several months in France and Italy,
returning to England only in the new year, and all this interesting
foreign travel expanded still further Katherine's mental gifts. Then
after some triumphant weeks in London, there were long months of joy at
Valfreyne, awaiting the coming of the son and heir.

And now in the early days of September, 1914, they were all again
assembled there with Lady Garribardine for the christening--a great and
important event!

But war and strain and sorrow lay with that black shadow over England,
fallen with a suddenness which no one could realise as yet. Rumours of
reverses had come--miscalculation of somebody's plans. And anxiety was
tense.

Katherine was resting on the sofa in her boudoir, which looked out south
over the exquisite gardens in the state suite at Valfreyne--the suite of
her who should be reigning Duchess, in which she had wandered with the
Duke on that Monday in Whitsuntide, when they had said their futile
farewell! And now it was her own! And in an hour, they would go into the
chapel and the splendid chubby baby heir would receive his many names.

Katherine felt very well and in herself supremely happy, in spite of the
clouds over England. How good providence had been to her! How grateful
her spirit felt!

She lay there in a peaceful dream, her half closed eyes taking in the
wonderful beauty of the room, with its late seventeenth century
magnificence and yet subtle touches of home.

Then the door opened, and the Duke came in with letters for her from the
second post, and the opened _Times_ he had been reading in his hand--He
put them down upon a table near, and took a low chair close to his
lady's side, and she moved a little from the sofa so that she lay half
in his arms.

"My worshipped one!" he murmured fondly, kissing her hair, and smoothing
it with infinite tenderness.

"Oh! Mordryn, I am so happy--are not you? What a sublime day for us,
dear Love! Just to think that we have that darling little son, the very
essence of us both! Tell me that he and I mean everything to you. Tell
me that I have given you all you want?"

He reassured her with passionate insistence, as though he could not say
enough, and then he asked her again and again if she loved him. It was
as if he must have confirmation of her passion for him, and her consent.

And Katherine played with him fondly as was her wont, being altogether
fascinating and full of foolish, tender love tricks, which never failed
to intoxicate his senses.

But soon he held her closely to him, some shadow in his eyes--and with
his free arm he reached over to the table and picked up the _Times_.

Then he spoke, and his wonderful voice sounded a little strained:

"My darling, there is some news in the paper this morning, which may
cause you some concern--so I have brought it to you here while we are
alone. It is about the retreat from Mons."

Katherine raised herself and looked at him enquiringly, and he found the
column and began to read the glorious story, and of one supremely
splendid stand made by a certain Guards regiment, which is now
world-famed.

Then he paused and hesitated for a moment. For the name of the
bravest who would gain the V. C. was Lord Algernon Fitz-Rufus who,
single-handed, had performed an act of daring courage, resourcefulness
and self-sacrifice, which had saved his men, but who had paid with his
life for his last supreme effort, being shot through the heart as he had
returned to a wounded comrade, Lieutenant Jack Kilcourcy, to bring him
in to safety from that bloody corpse-strewn wood.

"What is it, Mordryn?--Please go on."

So the Duke read to the end, and then put the paper down.

And suddenly Katherine's heart seemed to stand still, and a mist
darkened the room, and when it lifted she saw only the young débonnaire
face of her once dear lover gazing at her again, her gay blue eyes
alight with laughter and love. And with a stifled cry, she buried her
head on the Duke's shoulder and burst into tears.

Thus Algy had fulfilled her hopes for him and become a fine soldier, and
had died gallantly to save a comrade--A hero indeed!



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Notes: Italic text is denoted by _underscores_. Obvious
punctuation errors and printer's errors were corrected. Inconsistent
hyphenation and spelling were retained. Page reference numbers to
illustrations corrected. The oe ligature is represented by the separate
letters.





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