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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mrs. Maxon Protests" ***

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                            MRS. MAXON PROTESTS

                              BY ANTHONY HOPE


    METHUEN & CO. LTD.
    36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
    LONDON

    _First Published in 1911_



CONTENTS


    CHAP.                                       PAGE

         I. "INKPAT!"                              1

        II. A CASE OF NECESSITY                   10

       III. 'IN SOLUTION'                         20

        IV. KEEPING A PROMISE                     31

         V. THE GREAT ALLIES                      42

        VI. FRUIT OF THE TREE                     53

       VII. A CODE AND A THEORY                   64

      VIII. SUBVERSIVE                            74

        IX. NO PROCEEDINGS!                       85

         X. MAUVE ENVELOPES                       96

        XI. AN UNMENTIONED NAME                  107

       XII. CHRISTMAS IN WOBURN SQUARE           119

      XIII. CHRISTMAS AT SHAYLOR'S PATCH         131

       XIV. A COUNSEL OF PERFECTION              143

        XV. MRS. NOBODY                          155

       XVI. A WORD TAKEN AT PLEASURE             167

      XVII. THE TRACK OF THE RAIDER              180

     XVIII. NOTHING SERIOUS                      193

       XIX. A POINT OF HONOUR                    206

        XX. AN HEROIC OFFER                      219

       XXI. IS HE A BULLY?                       233

      XXII. JUDGMENT ACCORDINGLY                 247

     XXIII. THE REGIMENT                         261

      XXIV. AN ENLIGHTENMENT                     274

       XXV. "PERHAPS!"                           286

      XXVI. A FRIEND DEPARTS                     300

     XXVII. A PHILOSOPHICAL PROJECT              311

    XXVIII. THE VIEW FROM A HOUSE                323

      XXIX. IN THE RESULT                        337



MRS. MAXON PROTESTS



CHAPTER I

"INKPAT!"


"Inkpat!" She shot out the word in a bitter playfulness, making it serve
for the climax of her complaints.

Hobart Gaynor repeated the word--if it could be called a word--after his
companion in an interrogative tone.

"Yes, just hopeless inkpat, and there's an end of it!"

Mrs. Maxon leant back as far as the unaccommodating angles of the office
chair allowed, looking at her friend and counsellor with a faint yet
rather mischievous smile on her pretty face. In the solicitor's big,
high, bare room she seemed both small and very dainty. Her voice had
trembled a little, but she made a brave effort at gaiety as she
explained her cryptic word.

"When a thing's running in your head day and night, week after week, and
month after month, you can't use that great long word you lawyers use.
Besides, it's so horribly impartial." She pouted over this undesirable
quality.

A light broke on Gaynor, and he smiled.

"Oh, you mean incompatibility?"

"That's it, Hobart. But you must see it's far too long, besides being,
as I say, horribly impartial. So I took to calling it by a pet name of
my own. That makes it come over to my side. Do you see?"

"Not quite." He smiled still. He had once been in love with Winnie
Maxon, and though that state of feeling as regards her was long past,
she still had the power to fascinate and amuse him, even when she was
saying things which he suspected of being unreasonable. Lawyers have
that suspicion very ready for women.

"Oh yes! The big word just means that we can't get on with one another,
and hints that it's probably just as much my fault as his. But inkpat
means all the one thousand and one unendurable things he does and says
to me. Whenever he does or says one, I say invariably, 'Inkpat!' The
next moment there's another--'Inkpat!' I really shouldn't have time for
the long word even if I wanted to use it."

"You were very fond of him once, weren't you?"

She shrugged her thin shoulders impatiently. "Supposing I was?"
Evidently she did not care to be reminded of the fact, if it were a
fact. She treated it rather as an accusation. "Does one really know
anything about a man before one marries him? And then it's too late."

"Are you pleading for trial trips?"

"Oh, that's impossible, of course."

"Is anything impossible nowadays?" He looked up at the ceiling, his
brows raised in protest against the vagaries of the age.

"Anyhow, it's not what we're told. I only meant that having cared once
made very little difference really--it comes to count for next to
nothing, you know."

"Not a gospel very acceptable to an engaged man, Winnie!"

She reached out her arm and touched his coat-sleeve lightly. "I know,
I'm sorry. I'm longing to know your Cicely and be great friends with
her. And it's too bad to bother you with the seamy side of it just now.
But you're such a friend, and so sensible, and a lawyer too, you see.
You forgive me?"

"I'm awfully glad to help, if I can. Could you give me a few--I don't
want a thousand and one, but a few--instances of 'inkpat'?"

"That wouldn't be much use. Broadly speaking, inkpat's a demand that a
woman should be not what she is, but a sort of stunted and inferior
reproduction of the man--what he thinks he would be, if he were a woman.
Anything that's not like that gets inkpatted at once. Oh, Hobart, it is
horrible! Because it's so utterly hopeless, you know. How can I be
somebody else? Above all, somebody like Cyril--only a woman? It's
absurd! A Cyrilesque woman! Oh!"

"I don't know him very well, but it certainly does sound absurd. Are you
sure you haven't misunderstood? Can't you have an explanation?"

"Inkpat never explains; it never sees that there is anything to explain.
It preaches, or lectures, or is sarcastic, or grumbles, or sulks--and I
suppose it would swear, if Cyril didn't happen to be so religious. But
explain or listen to an explanation--never!"

She rose and walked to one of the tall windows that looked on to
Lincoln's Inn Fields. "I declare I envy the raggedest hungriest child
playing there in the garden," she said. "At least it may be itself.
Didn't God make me just as much as He made Cyril?"

It was high summer, and the grate held nothing more comforting than a
dingy paper ornament; yet Hobart Gaynor got up and stood with his back
to it, as men are wont to do in moments of perplexity. He perceived
that there was not much use in pressing for his concrete cases. If they
came, they would individually be, or seem, trifles, no doubt. The
accumulation of them was the mischief; that was embraced and expressed
in the broad sweep of incompatibility; the two human beings could not
keep step together. But he put one question.

"I suppose you've given him no really serious cause for complaint?"

She turned quickly round from the window. "You mean----?"

"Well, I mean, anybody else--er--making friction?"

"Hobart, you know that's not my way! I haven't a man-friend, except you,
and my cousin, Stephen Aikenhead--and I very seldom see either of you.
And Stephen's married, and you're engaged. That's a ridiculous idea,
Hobart."

She was evidently indignant, but Gaynor was not disturbed.

"We lawyers have to suspect everybody," he reminded her with a smile,
"and to expect anything, however improbable. So I'll ask now if your
husband has any great woman-friend."

"That's just as ridiculous. I could be wicked enough to wish he had. Let
somebody else have a try at it!"

"Can't you--somehow--get back to what made you like him at first? Do you
understand what I mean?"

"Yes, I do--and I've tried." Her eyes looked bewildered, even
frightened. "But, Hobart, I can't realize what it was. Unless it was
just his looks--he is very handsome, you know."

"He stands well at the Bar. He's getting on fast, he's very straight,
and I don't think he's unpopular, from what I hear."

She caught his hint quickly. "A lot of people will say it's my fault?
That I'm unreasonable, and all in the wrong?"

"You'd have to reckon with a good deal of that."

"I don't care what people say."

"Are you sure of that?" he asked quietly. "It's a pretty big claim to
make for oneself, either for good or for evil."

"It's only his friends, after all. Because I've got none. Well, I've got
you." She came and stood by him. "You're against me, though, aren't
you?"

"I admit I think a wife--or a husband--ought to stand a lot."

"It's not as if my baby had lived. I might have gone on trying then. It
wouldn't have been just undiluted Cyril."

"That makes some difference, I agree. Still, in the general interest of
things----"

"I must be tortured all my life?" Her challenge of the obligation rang
out sharply.

With a restless toss of his head, he sat down at his table again. She
stood where she was, staring at the dingy ornament in the grate.

"Life the other way mayn't turn out particularly easy. You'll have
troubles, annoyances--temptations, perhaps."

"I can face those. I can trust myself, Hobart. Can he prevent my going
if I want to?"

"No."

"Can he make me come back?"

"No. He can, if he chooses, get a formal order for you to go back, but
it won't be enforced. It will only give him a right to a legal
separation--not to a divorce, of course--just a separation."

"You're sure they can't make me go back?"

"Oh, quite. That's settled."

"That's what I wanted to be quite clear about." She stepped up to his
chair and laid her hand on his shoulder. "You're still against me?"

"Oh, how can I tell? The heart knows its own bitterness--nobody else
can."

She pressed his shoulder in a friendly fashion; she was comforted by his
half-approval. At least it was not a condemnation, even though it
refused the responsibility of sanction.

"Of course he needn't give you any money."

"I've got my own. You got it settled on me and paid to myself."

"It's very little--about a hundred and fifty a year. I want you to look
at all sides of the business."

"Of course you're right. But there's only one to me--to get away, away,
away!"

"It's just about five years since you came here with your mother--about
the marriage-settlement. I thought it rather rough you should come to
me, I remember."

"Mother didn't know about the--the sentimental reason against it,
Hobart--and it doesn't matter now, does it? And poor mother's beyond
being troubled over me."

"Where will you go--if you do go?"

"I am going. I shall stay with the Aikenheads for a bit--till I'm
settled on my own."

"Have you hinted anything about it to--him?"

"To Cyril? No. I must tell him. Of course he knows that I'm silly enough
to think that I'm unhappy."

"It'll be an awful facer for him, won't it?"

She walked round the table and stood looking at him squarely, yet with a
deprecatory droop of her mouth.

"Yes, it will," she said. "Awful! But, Hobart, I not only have no love
left, I've no pity left. He has crushed a great deal in me, and he has
crushed that with the rest."

Gaynor's hands played feebly with his big pad of blotting-paper.

"That it should happen to you of all people!" he mumbled. His air
expressed more than a lament for unhappiness; as well as regretting
sorrow, he deplored something distasteful. But Winnie Maxon was deaf to
this note; she saw only sympathy.

"That's your old dear kindness for me," she smiled, with tears in her
eyes. "You won't turn against me, anyhow, will you, Hobart?"

He stretched out his hand to meet hers. "No, my dear. Didn't I love you
once?"

"And I do love your dear round face and your honest eyes. Yes, and the
nose you used to be unhappy about--because it was a pug--in those very
old days; and if my ship gets wrecked, I know you'll come out with the
life-boat. Good-bye now, I'll write to you about it."

The tender note struck at the end of their talk, old-time memories, the
echo of her soft pleading voice, availed for some minutes after his
visitor's departure to blind Hobart Gaynor's shrewd eyes to the fact
that she had really put before him no case that could seem at all
substantial in the eyes of the world. To her, no doubt, everything might
be as bad, as intolerable and hopeless, as she declared; he did not
question her sincerity. But as the personal impression of her faded, his
hard common sense asserted forcibly that it all amounted to no more than
that she had come not to like her husband; that was the sum of what the
world would see in it. May women leave their husbands merely because
they have come not to like them? Some people said yes, as he was aware.
They were not people whom he respected, nor their theory one which he
approved. He was of conservative make in all things, especially in
questions of sex. He was now uneasily conscious that but for her
personal fascination, but for his old tenderness, her plea would not
have extorted even a reluctant semi-assent. The next moment he was
denying that he had given even so much. Certainly the world in
general--the big, respectable, steady-going world--would not accord her
even so much. Talk about being "crushed" or having things crushed in
you, needs, in the eyes of this world, a very solid backing of
facts--things that can be sworn to in the box, that can be put in the
"particulars" of your petition, that can be located, dated, and, if
possible, attested by an independent witness. Now Mrs. Maxon did not
appear to possess one single fact of this order--or surely she would
have been eager to produce it?

Comedians and cynics are fond of exhibiting the spectacle of women
hounding down a woman on the one hand, and, on the other, of men
betraying their brethren for a woman's favour. No exception can be taken
to such presentments; the things happen. But when they are not
happening--when jealousy and passion are not in the field--there is
another force, another instinct, which acts with powerful effect. The
professed students of human nature call it sex-solidarity; it is the
instinct of each sex to stand together against the other. This is not a
matter of individual liking or disliking; it is sex politics, a conflict
between rival hosts, eternally divided. With personal prepossessions and
special relations out of the way, the man is for the man, the woman for
the woman. As minute followed minute after Mrs. Maxon's departure, it
became more and more probable to Hobart Gaynor that Cyril Maxon had
something to say for himself. And was not Hobart himself a prospective
husband? Too much in love to dream of a like fate befalling his own
marriage, he yet felt a natural sympathy for the noble army in which he
was so soon to enlist.

"Well, right or wrong, I promised to stand by her, and I will," was his
final thought, as he drove himself back to the current business of his
office day. Sympathy for Mrs. Maxon mingled in it with a certain
vexation at her for having in some sense involved him in so obscure and
troublesome a matter. He felt, without actually foreseeing, difficulties
that might make his promise hard to keep.

The tendency of personal impressions to lose their power when personal
presence is withdrawn did not occur to Mrs. Maxon. As she drove home to
Devonshire Street, she comforted herself with the assurance that she had
not only kept a friend--as she had--but also secured a partisan. She
thought that Hobart Gaynor quite understood her case.

"Rather wonderful of him!" she reflected. "Considering that I refused
him, and that he's at this moment in love with Cicely Marshfield."

Her heart grew very warm towards her old friend, so loyal and so
forgiving. If she had not refused him? But the temper of her present
mood forbade the soft, if sad, conclusion that she had made a mistake.
Who really knows anything about a man until she is married to him? And
then it is too late. "Don't marry a friend--keep him," was her bitter
conclusion. It did not cross her mind that friendship too--a friendship
that is to be more than a distant and passive kindliness--must make
reckoning with incompatibility.



CHAPTER II

A CASE OF NECESSITY


Mrs. Maxon's memory of the evening on which she administered to her
husband his "awful facer" was capricious. It preserved as much of the
preliminary and the accidental as of the real gist of the matter. They
dined out at the house of a learned judge. The party was exclusively
legal, but the conversation of the young barrister who fell to her lot
did not partake of that complexion. Fortune used him in the cause of
irony. Much struck by his companion's charms--she was strung up, looked
well, and talked with an unusual animation--and by no means imputing to
himself any deficiency in the same direction, he made play with a pair
of fine dark eyes, descanted jocularly on the loneliness of a bachelor's
life, and ventured sly allusions to Mr. Cyril Maxon's blessed lot.

"I hope he knows his luck!" said the young barrister. Well, he would
know it soon, at all events, Winnie reflected.

In the drawing-room afterwards, a fat gushing woman gave the other side
of it. "We must be better friends, my dear," said she. "And you mustn't
be jealous if we all adore your clever, handsome, rising husband."

Such things are the common trivialities of talk. Both the fat woman and
the young barrister had happened often before. But their appearance
to-night struck on Winnie Maxon's sense of humour--a bitter, twisted
humour at this moment. She would have liked to cry "Oh, you fools!" and
hurl her decision in her husband's face across the drawing-room.
Compliments on our neighbour's private felicity are of necessity
attended with some risk. Why are we not allowed to abide on safe ground
and say: "I beg leave to congratulate you on the amount of your income
and to hope that it may soon be doubled"? Only the ruined could object
to that, and treading on their corns is no serious matter.

On the drive home--the judge lived in a remote part of Kensington--Cyril
Maxon was perversely and (as it seemed to his wife) incredibly fertile
in plans for the days to come. He not only forecast his professional
career--there he was within his rights--but he mapped out their joint
movements for at least three years ahead--their houses for the summer,
their trips abroad, their visits to the various and numerous members of
the Maxon clan. He left the future without a stitch of its dark mantle
of uncertainty. Luckily he was not a man who needed much applause or
even assent; he did not consult; he settled. His long, thoroughly
lawyer-like, indisputably handsome and capable profile--he had a habit
of talking to his wife without looking at her--chained the attention of
her eyes. Was she really equal to a fight with that? A shadowy
full-bottomed wig seemed even now to frame the face and to invest it
with the power of life and death.

"Then the year after I really do mean to take you to Palestine and
Damascus."

Not an idea that even of Cyril Maxon the rude gods might make sport!

"Who knows what'll happen three years hence?" she asked in gay tones,
sharply cut off by a gasp in the throat.

"You've a cold?" he asked solicitously. He was not lacking in kindly
protective instincts. Yet even his solicitude was peremptory. "I can't
have you taking any risks."

"It's nothing," she gasped, now almost sure that she could never go
through with her task. Even in kindness he assumed a property so
absolute.

The brougham drew up at their house. "Nine-fifteen sharp to-morrow,"
Cyril told the coachman. That was no less, and no more, certain than
Palestine and Damascus. He went through the hall (enlivened with prints
of Lord Chancellors surviving and defunct) into his study. She followed,
breathing quickly.

"I asked the Chippinstalls to dine next Wednesday. Will you send her a
reminder to-morrow morning?" He began to fill his pipe. She shut the
door and sat down in a chair in front of the fireplace.

There had always seemed to her something crushing in this workshop of
learning, logic, and ambition. To-night the atmosphere was overwhelming;
she felt flattened, ground down; she caught for her breath. He had lit
his pipe and now glanced at her, puzzled by her silence. "There's
nothing else on on Wednesday, is there?"

"Cyril, we're not happy, are we?"

He appeared neither aggrieved nor surprised at her sudden plunge; to her
he seemed aggressively patient of the irrational.

"We have our difficulties, like other married couples, I suppose. I hope
they will grow less as time goes on."

"That means that I shan't oppose you any more?"

"Our tastes and views will grow into harmony, I hope."

"That mine will grow into harmony with yours?"

He smiled, though grimly. Few men really mind being accused of
despotism, since it savours of power. "Is that such a terrible thing to
happen to my wife?"

"We're not happy, Cyril."

"Marriage wasn't instituted for the sole purpose of enabling people to
enjoy themselves."

"Oh, I don't know what it was instituted for!"

"You can look in your Prayer Book."

Her chin rested on her hands, her white sharp elbows on her knee. The
tall, strong, self-reliant man looked at her frail beauty. He was not
without love, not without pity, but entirely without comprehension--nor
would comprehension have meant pardon. Her implied claim clashed both
with his instinct and with his convictions. The love and pity were not
of a quality to sustain the shock.

"I wish you'd go and see Attlebury," he went on. Attlebury was, as it
were, the keeper of his conscience, an eminent clergyman of extreme High
Church views.

"Mr. Attlebury can't prevent me from being miserable. Whenever I
complain of anything, you want to send me to Mr. Attlebury!"

"I'm not ashamed of suggesting that you could find help in what he
represents on earth."

She gave a faint plaintive moan. Was heaven as well as this great world
to be marshalled against her, a poor little creature asking only to be
free? So it seemed.

"Or am I to gather that you have become a sceptic?" The sarcasm was
heavily marked. "Has a mind like yours the impudence to think for
itself?" So she translated his words--and thereby did him no substantial
injustice. If his intellect could bend the knee, was hers to be defiant?

"I had hoped," he went on, "that our great sorrow would have made a
change in you."

The suggestion seemed to her to be hitting below the belt. She had seen
no signs of overwhelming sorrow in him.

"Why?" she asked sharply. "It made none in you, did it?"

"There's no need to be pert."

"When you say it to me, it's wisdom. When I say it to you, it's
pertness! Yes, that's always the way. You're perfect already--I must
change!"

"This is becoming a wrangle. Haven't we had enough of it?"

"Yes, Cyril, enough for a lifetime, I think." At last she raised her
head, and let her hands fall on her lap. "At least I have," she added,
looking at him steadily.

He returned her glance for a moment, then turned away and sat down at
his writing-table. Several letters had come by the late post, and he
began to open them.

He had made her angry; her anger mastered her fears.

"I was brought up to think as you do," she said. "To think that once
married was married for ever. I suppose I think so still; and you know
I've respected my--my vows. But there are limits. A woman can't be asked
to give up everything. She herself--what she owes to herself--must come
first--her own life, her own thoughts, her freedom, her rights as a
human being."

He was reading a letter and did not raise his eyes from it.

"Those are modern views, I suppose? Old-fashioned folk would call them
suggestions of the Devil. But we've had this sort of discussion several
times before. Why go over it again? We must agree to differ."

"If you would! But you don't, you can't, you never will. You say that
to-night. You'll begin drilling me to your march and cutting me to your
pattern again to-morrow morning."

He made no reply at all. He went on reading letters. He had signified
that the discussion was at an end. That ended it. It was his way; if he
thought enough had been said, she was to say no more. It had happened
thus a hundred times--and she had inwardly cried "Inkpat!"

Well, this time--at last--she would show him that the topic was not
exhausted. She would speak again, and make him speak. Malice possessed
her; she smiled at the grave-faced man methodically dealing with his
correspondence. For the first time there came upon her a certain
satisfaction in the actual doing of the thing; before, she had dreaded
that to her heart, however much she desired the freedom it would bring.
To hit back once--once after five long years!

"Oh, about the Chippinstalls," she said. "You can have them, of course,
but I shan't be here."

He turned his head quickly round towards her. "Why not?"

"I'm going to the Stephen Aikenheads' to-morrow."

"It's not been your habit to pay visits alone, nor to arrange visits
without consulting me. And I don't much care about the atmosphere that
reigns at Aikenhead's." He laid down his letters and smiled at her in a
constrained fashion. "But I don't want to give you a fresh grievance.
I'll stretch a point. How long do you want to be away?"

He was trying to be kind; he actually was stretching a point, for he had
often decried the practice of married women--young and pretty married
women--going a-visiting without their husbands; and he had just as often
expressed grave disapproval of her cousin, Stephen Aikenhead. For him a
considerable stretch! Her malice was disarmed. Even a pang of that pity
which she had declared crushed to death reached her heart. She stretched
out her slim arms to him, rather as one who begs a great boon than as
the deliverer of a mortal defiance.

"Cyril, I'm never coming back."

For a full minute he sat silent, looking steadily at her. Incapable as
he was of appreciating how she had arrived at, or been driven to, this
monstrous decision, yet he had perception enough and experience enough
to see that she was sincere in it and set on it; and he knew that she
could give effect to it if she chose. In that minute's silence he fought
hard with himself; he had a mighty temptation to scold, a still mightier
to flout and jeer, to bring his heavy artillery of sarcasm to bear. He
resisted and triumphed.

He looked at the clock. It was a quarter-past twelve.

"You'll hardly expect me to deal with such a very important matter at
this hour of the night, and without full consideration," he said. "You
must know that such separations are contrary to my views, and I hope you
know that, in spite of the friction which has arisen, I have still a
strong affection for you."

"I shan't change my mind, Cyril. I shan't come back."

He kept the curb on himself. "I really would rather not discuss it
without more consideration, Winnie--and I think I have a right to ask
you to give it a little more, and to hear what I have to say after
reflection. Is that unfair? At least you'll admit it's a serious step?"

"I suppose it's fair," she murmured impatiently. She would have given
the world to be able to call it grossly unfair. "But it's no use," she
added, almost fierce in her rejection of the idea that her
determination might weaken.

"Let us both think and pray," he said gravely. "This visit of yours to
the Aikenheads' may be a good thing. It'll give you time to reflect, and
there'll be no passing causes of irritation to affect your calmer
judgment. Let us treat it as settled that you stay with them for a
fortnight--but treat nothing else as settled to-night. One thing
more--have you told anybody about this idea?"

"Only Hobart Gaynor. I went and asked him whether I could do it if I
wanted to. I told him I meant to do it."

"He'll hold his tongue. Mention it to nobody else, please."

"I won't till--till it's settled." She smiled. "We've actually agreed on
one or two things! That's very unusual in our wrangles, Cyril."

He came up to her and kissed her on the forehead. "For God's sake,
think! You don't in the least know what it means to you--or to me
either."

She drew her head quickly back; a bitter retort was on the tip of her
tongue. "Yes--but I know what life with you means!" She did not utter
it; there was a pinched weariness in his face which for the moment
disarmed her. She sighed disconsolately, turned away from him, and
drifted out of the room, her shoulders bent as though by great fatigue.

She had suffered one or two transient pangs of pity; having feared a
storm, she had experienced relief at his moderation, but gave him no
credit for it. She did not understand how hard it was to him. She was
almost inclined to hold it a device--an exhibition (once again
exhibited) of how much wiser, more reasonable, and more thoughtful he
was than the happy-go-lucky being to whom he was mated. She carried her
grievances out of the room on her bowed shoulders--just as heavy as
ever, just as insupportable.

The handsome, clever, rising man was left face to face with what he
feared and hated most in this world--a failure. He had fallen in love
with the pretty body; he had never doubted that he could shape and model
the malleable mind. Why not? It was in no way a great or remarkable
mind. She was not very talented, nor exceptionally strong-willed, nor
even very obstinate. Nor ungoverned, nor ultra-emotional, nor unmoral.
She was a woman more than ordinarily attractive, but hardly more than
ordinary in other respects. And, looking back on five years, he realized
the enormous and constant pains he had taken with her. It had been
matter of conscience as well as matter of pride; when the two join
forces, what is left to fight them? And they constantly form an
alliance. Defeat threatened even this potent confederation--defeat at
the hands of one whom he counted little more than a charming wilful
child.

Charming? Softer emotions, offspring of memory, suffered a resurrection
not in the end charged with much real import. He was of the men who
satisfy emotion in order to quiet it; marriage was in his view--and in
the view of authorities in which he believed--better than being in love
as well as different from it. In the sense appropriate to voluptuaries,
he had never been in love at all. What remained, then, to combat his
profound distaste and disapproval for all she now advanced, her claims,
pretensions, and grievances? In the end two disparate, yet closely
allied forces--loyalty to a great cause and hatred of personal defeat.
Let him make himself champion of the cause: the two became one. Could
heaven and he conjoined succumb to any onslaught?

He faced his theory logically and boldly. "She is my wife. I'm as
responsible for her as I am for myself. She may deny that--I can't."

For good or evil, for joy or pain, one flesh, one mind, one spirit,
_usque in æternum_. There was the high uncompromising doctrine.

His wife did not consciously or explicitly dissent from it. As she had
told him, she was bred to it. Her plea was simply that, be it right or
be it wrong, she could not live up to it. She could observe the
prohibitions it implied--she had kept and would keep her restraining
vows--but she could no longer fulfil the positive injunctions. If she
sought at all for an intellectual or speculative justification, it was
as an afterthought, as a plea to conciliate such a friend as Hobart
Gaynor, or as a weapon of defence against her husband. To herself her
excuse was necessity. If she had given that night the truest account in
her power of what she felt, she would have said that she was doing
wrong, but that she could not help it. There were limits to human
endurance--a fact of which Divine Law, in other matters besides that of
marriage, has not been considered by the practice (as apart from the
doctrine) of Christendom at large to take adequate account.



CHAPTER III

'IN SOLUTION'


"Well, you see, things are rather in solution just now."

Most people have a formula or two by which they try to introduce some
order into the lumber-room of the mind. Such a lot of things are dumped
down there, and without a formula or two they get so mixed. The above
was Stephen Aikenhead's favourite. Many of his friends preferred to say
"in transition." That phrase, he maintained, begged the question.
Perhaps, after all the talk and all the agitation, nothing would be
changed; the innovators might be beaten; they often had been; the mass
of mankind was very conservative. Look at the ebb and flow of human
thought, as history recorded it--the freedom of Athens and the licence
of Rome followed by the Dark Ages--the Renaissance tamed, if not
mutilated, by the Counter-Reformation on the one hand and the rigours of
Puritanism on the other. Certainly the foundations of all things were
being, or were going to be, examined. But it is one thing to examine
foundations, a different one to declare and prove them unsound. And even
when the latter process has come about, there is the question--will you
shore the building up or will you pull it down? The friends who favoured
"transition" often grew impatient with this incurable doubter; they were
as convinced that the future was going to be all right and going to
come very soon as they were certain that the present was all wrong and
could not possibly resist the assault of reason for many years more.
They were sanguine people, apt to forget that, right as they undoubtedly
were (in their own opinion), yet the Englishman at least accords his
support to progress only on the definite understanding that it shall be
slow. "Put the brake on!" he urges, envisaging innovation as a galloping
downhill. Stephen's friends pathetically pictured it as a toilsome
assent--toilsome, yet speedily to be achieved by gallantly straining
horses. No need of brakes, though! Argument by metaphor is perilous
either way.

In this case the formula was administered to Winnie Maxon, within the
space of two hours after her arrival at Shaylor's Patch. Stephen's
pretty house in Buckinghamshire--it lay Beaconsfield way--took its
unassuming title presumably from a defunct Shaylor and certainly from a
small plot of grass which lay between two diverging roads about a
hundred yards on the way down to the station. The house was old,
rambling, and low--a thoroughly comfortable dwelling. The garden was
fair to see with its roses, its yews, and its one great copper-beech,
with its spread of smooth lawn and its outlook over a wide-stretching
valley.

"A home of peace!" thought Winnie, relaxing weary body (she had packed
that morning for more than a fortnight's absence) and storm-tossed mind,
as she lay on a long chair under the shade of the copper-beech.

Stephen sat opposite to her, a tall man of three and thirty, fair,
inclining to stoutness, with a crop of coarse, disorderly,
mouse-coloured hair; always and everywhere he wore large horn-rimmed
spectacles. He had inherited a competence more than merely sufficient;
he had no profession, but wrote articles when the spirit moved him and
had them published more rarely. At twenty-two he had married. It was
before the days when he began to doubt whether people ought to--or
anyhow need--marry, and his union had been so happy that the doubt could
not be attributed to personal experience. His wife was not pretty, but
pleasant-faced and delightfully serene. She had very strong opinions of
her own, and held them so strongly that she rarely argued and was never
ruffled in argument. If anybody grew hot over a discussion, she would
smile at him, and hand him a flower, or at appropriate moments something
nice to eat. They had one child, a girl now ten years old, whom they had
just sent to a boarding-school.

It was in connexion with little Alice's being sent to the
boarding-school that the formula made its appearance. Winnie had
expressed the proper wonder that her parents "could bear to part with
her." Stephen explained that they had been actuated by a desire to act
fairly towards the child.

"If I was sure I was right, and sure the ancients were wrong, I would
teach her myself--teach her to believe what I believe and to disbelieve
what they believe. But am I sure? What do I believe? And suppose I'm
right, or at all events that they're wrong, most people mayn't think so
for many years to come. I should be putting her against the world, and
the world against her. Is that fair, unless I'm bang sure? Not everybody
can be happy when the world's against them. I can't teach her what I
can't believe, but why shouldn't she learn it from people who can? She
must settle it in the end for herself, but it seems fair to give her her
chance of orthodoxy. While things are, as I said, in solution--in a sort
of flux, don't you know?"

"What do you mean by things being in solution--or in a flux?"

The daughter of a clergyman, wife of Cyril Maxon since she was nineteen,
a devout member of Attlebury's flock, she came quite fresh to the idea.
In her life and her world things had seemed tremendously solid, proof
against an earthquake!

"I suppose it's really been the same in every age with thinking people,
but it's more widespread now, isn't it? It gets into the newspapers
even! 'Do we Believe?' 'Is Marriage a Failure?' It's not the answers
that are most significant, you know, but the questions."

"Yes, I think I see what you mean--partly." The words came in slow
ruminating tones. "Do you go very far?" she went on, in accents drolly
apprehensive.

He laughed jovially. "There are no bombs. I'm married to Tora. Is it
terrible that I don't go to church very often? Never, I'm bound to add
in candour, if I can help it."

"I shall go while I'm here. Do you think it funny that I should suddenly
propose myself for a visit?"

"To tell the truth, I didn't think Maxon would come."

"Or that I should come without him?"

"We pictured you pretty extensively married, I confess."

"So I was--so I am, I mean." She remembered her promise; she was not to
mention her great resolve. But it struck her that the pledge would be
hard to keep. Already the atmosphere of Shaylor's Patch suggested that
her position was eminently one to talk over, to discuss with an
open-minded sympathetic friend, to speculate about in all its bearings.

"But you mustn't think I'm absolutely hidebound," she went on. "I can
think--and act--for myself." She was skirting the forbidden ground.

"I'm glad of it. Is Maxon?" There was a humorous twinkle behind his
spectacles.

"Why are we to talk of Cyril when I've just begun my holiday?" Yet there
was nothing else that she really wanted to talk about. Oh, that stupid
promise! Of course she ought to have reserved the right to lay the case
before her friends. But a promise is a promise, however stupid. That
certainly would be Cyril's view; and it was hers. Was it, she wondered,
the Shaylor's Patch view? Or might a question of ethics like that be to
some extent "in solution"?

"He thinks me an awful reprobate?" Stephen asked.

She nodded, smiling.

"So they do down here, but my friends in London call me a very mild
specimen. I expect some of them will turn up while you're here, and
you'll be able to see for yourself."

"You don't mind being thought a reprobate down here?"

"Why should I? I don't want their society, any more than they want mine.
I'm quite well off, and I've no ambitions." He laughed. "I'm ideally
placed for defying the world, if I want to. It really needs no courage
at all, and would bring me no martyr's crown."

"You mean it would be different if you had to work for your living?"

"Might be--or if I wanted to go in for public life, or anything of that
kind."

"Or if you were a woman?"

"Well, if I were a woman who was sensitive about what society at large
thought of her. That's one of the reasons why I don't preach my views
much. It's all very well for me, but my converts, if any, might end by
thinking they were paying too dear, while the prophet got off for
nothing."

He had a book, she a newspaper. With an easy absence of ceremony he
began to read; but she left her paper lying on the ground beside her,
and let her thoughts play as they would on the great change which had
come over her life and on what it would mean to her if it persisted, as
she was resolute that it should.

"I can think--and act--for myself," she had said. Perhaps, but both
would be new and strange exercises. She had walked on lines very
straightly ruled; she had moved to orders peremptorily conveyed. A fear
mingled with the relief of emancipation. They say that men who have been
long in prison are bewildered by the great free bustling world. It may
be as true of prisons of the mind as of the Bastille itself.

Stephen interrupted his reading to give another statement of his
attitude. "It's like the two horses--the one in the stable-yard and the
wild one. The one gets oats and no freedom, the other freedom and no
oats. Now different people put very various values on freedom and on
oats. And at any rate the wild horse must have fodder of some kind."

His face vanished behind the book again, and she heard him chuckling
merrily over something in it. If he did not get oats, he certainly
seemed to thrive excellently on such other fodder as he found. But then
it was undeniable that Cyril Maxon throve equally well--successful,
rising, with no doubts as to his own opinions or his own conduct. Or had
her resolve shaken him into any questionings? He had shown no signs of
any when she parted from him that morning. "I shall be glad to see you
back at the end of your fortnight," he had said. The words were an
order.

Tora Aikenhead, on her way to the rose-beds, with a basket and scissors
in her hand, came up to them.

"Resting?" she asked Winnie, in her low pleasant voice.

In the telegram in which she had proposed her visit, Winnie had said
that she was a little "knocked up" with the gaieties of town, but she
fancied that her hostess's question referred, though distantly, to more
than these, that she had discerned traces of distress, the havoc wrought
by the passing of a storm.

"Beautifully!" Winnie answered, with a grateful smile.

"Dick Dennehy is week-ending with Godfrey Ledstone, and they're coming
to lunch and tennis to-morrow; and Mrs. Lenoir is motoring down to lunch
too," Tora went on to her husband.

"Mrs. Lenoir?" He looked up from his book with that droll twinkle behind
his big spectacles again.

"Yes. Quite soon again, isn't it? She must like us, Stephen."

Stephen laughed. His wife had not in the least understood the cause of
the twinkle. She would not, he reflected. It never occurred to her that
any human being could object to meeting any other, unless, indeed,
actual assault and battery were to be feared. But Stephen was awake to
the fact that it might be startling to Winnie Maxon to meet Mrs.
Lenoir--if she knew all about her. Naturally he attributed rigid
standards to Mrs. Cyril Maxon, in spite of her proud avowal of
open-mindedness, which indeed had seemed to him rather amusing than
convincing.

"Ledstone's our neighbour," he told Winnie, "the only neighbour who
really approves of us. He's taken a cottage here for the summer. You'll
like him; he's a jolly fellow. Dennehy's an Irish London correspondent
to some paper or other in the States, and a Fenian, and all that sort of
thing, you know. Very good chap."

"Well, I asked no questions about your guests, but since you've started
posting me up--who's Mrs. Lenoir?"

"Tora, who is Mrs. Lenoir?"

"Who is she? Who should she be? She's just Mrs. Lenoir."

Tora was obviously rather surprised at the question, and unprovided with
an illuminating answer. But then there are many people in whose case it
is difficult to say who they are, unless a repetition of their names be
accepted as sufficient.

"I must out with it. Mrs. Lenoir was once mixed up in a very famous
case--she intervened, as they call it--and the case went against her.
Some people thought she was unjustly blamed in that case, but--well, it
couldn't be denied that she was a plausible person to choose for blame.
It's all years ago--she must be well over fifty by now. I hope
you--er--won't feel it necessary to have too long a memory, Winnie?"

"I don't exactly see why it's necessary to tell at all," remarked Tora.
"Why is it our business?"

"But Winnie does?" The question was to Winnie herself.

"I know why you told me, of course," she answered. She hesitated,
blushed, smiled, and came out with "But it doesn't matter."

"Of course not, dear," remarked Tora, as she went off to her roses.

All very well to say "Of course not," but to Mrs. Cyril Maxon it was not
a case of "Of course" at all. Quite the contrary. The concession she had
made was to her a notable one. She had resolved to fall in with the ways
of Shaylor's Patch in all possible and lawful matters--and it was not
for her, a guest, to make difficulties about other guests, if such a
thing could possibly be avoided. None the less, she was much surprised
that Mrs. Lenoir should be coming to lunch--she had, in fact, betrayed
that. In making no difficulties she seemed to herself to take a long
step on the road to emancipation. It was her first act of liberty; for
certainly Cyril Maxon would never have permitted it. She felt that she
had behaved graciously; she felt also that she had been rather
audacious.

Stephen understood her feelings better than his wife did. He had
introduced himself to the atmosphere he now breathed, Tora had been bred
in it by a free-thinking father, who had not Stephen's own scruples
about his child. In early days he had breathed the air which up to
yesterday had filled Winnie's lungs--the Maxon air.

"I suppose these things are all wrong on almost any conceivable theory
that could apply to a civilized community," he remarked, "but so many
people do them and go scot-free that I'm never inclined to be hard on
the unfortunates who get found out. Not--I'm bound to say--that Mrs.
Lenoir ever took much trouble not to be found out. Well, if people are
going to do them, it's possible to admit a sneaking admiration for
people who do them openly, and say 'You be hanged!' to society. You'll
find her a very intelligent woman. She's still very handsome, and has
really--yes, really--grand manners."

"I begin to understand why you let her down so easy," said Winnie,
smiling.

He laughed. "Oh, well, perhaps you're right there. I'm human, and I dare
say I did do a bit of special pleading. I like her. She's interesting."

"And nothing much matters, does it?" she put in acutely enough.

"Oh, you accuse me of that attitude? I suppose you plausibly might. But
I don't admit it. I only say that it's very difficult to tell what
matters. Not the same thing--surely?"

"It might work out much the same in--well, in conduct, mightn't it? If
you wanted to do a thing very much, couldn't you always contrive to
think that it was one of the things that didn't matter?"

"Why not go the whole hog, and think it the only proper thing to do?" he
laughed.

She echoed his laugh. "You must let me down easy, as well as Mrs.
Lenoir!"

"I will, fair cousin--and, on my honour, for just as good reasons."

Stephen had enjoyed his talk. It amused and interested him to see her
coming, little by little, timidly, out of her--should he call it
sanctuary or prison-house?--to see her delicately and fearfully toying
with ideas that to him were familiar and commonplace. He marked an
alertness of mind in her, especially admiring the one or two little
thrusts which she had given him with a pretty shrewdness. As he had
said, he had no itch to make converts; it was not his concern to
unsettle her mind. But it was contrary to all his way of thinking to
conceal his own views or to refuse to exchange intelligent opinions
because his interlocutor stood at a different point of view. Everybody
stood at different points of view at Shaylor's Patch. Was conversation
to be banned and censored?

Winnie herself would have cried "No" with all her heart. Revelling in
the peace about her, in the strange freedom from the ever-present horror
of friction and wrangles, in the feeling that at last she could look out
on the world with her own eyes, no man saying her nay, she reached out
eagerly to the new things, not indeed conceiving that they could become
her gospel, her faith, but with a half-guilty appreciation, a sense of
courage and of defiance, and a genuine pleasure in the exercise of such
wits as she modestly claimed to possess. She had been so terribly
cramped for so long. Surely she might play about a little? What harm in
that? It committed her to nothing.

As she got into her bed, she said, as a child might, "Oh, I am going to
enjoy myself here--I'm sure I am!"

So it is good to fall asleep, with thanks for to-day, and a smile of
welcome ready for to-morrow.



CHAPTER IV

KEEPING A PROMISE


Modern young women are athletic, no doubt with a heavy balance of
advantage to themselves, to the race, and to the general joyousness of
things. Yet not all of them; there are still some whose strength is to
sit still, or at least whose attraction is not to move fast, but rather
to exhibit a languid grace, to hint latent forces which it is not the
first-comer's lot to wake. There is mystery in latent forces; there is a
challenge in composed inactivity. Not every woman who refuses to get hot
is painted; not every woman who declines to scamper about is
tight-laced. The matter goes deeper. This kind is not idle and lazy; it
is about its woman's business; it is looking tranquil, reserved, hard to
rouse or to move--with what degree of consciousness or of
unconsciousness, how far by calculation, how far by instinct, heaven
knows! Of this kind was Winnie Maxon. Though she was guiltless of paint
or powder, though her meagre figure could afford to laugh at stays
(although arrayed in them), yet it never occurred to her to scamper
about a lawn-tennis court and get very hot and very red in the face, as
Tora Aikenhead was doing, at half-past eleven on a Sunday morning. (Be
it observed, for what it is worth, that in spite of her declaration of
the day before Winnie had not gone to church.)

Tora's partner was her husband; she was very agile, he was a trifle
slow, but a good placer. Against them Dennehy rather raged than
played--a shortish thick-built man of five-and-thirty, with bristling
sandy hair and a moustache of like hue, whose martial upward twist was
at the moment subdued by perspiration. He could not play anywhere--and
he would play at the net. Yet the match was a tight one, for his
partner, Godfrey Ledstone, was really a player, though he was obviously
not taking this game seriously. A brilliant shot at critical moments,
with a laughing apology for such a fluke, betrayed that he was in a
different class from his companions.

The game ended in the defeat of the Aikenheads, and the players gathered
round Winnie. Dennehy was grossly triumphant, and raged again when his
late opponents plainly told him that his share in the victory was less
than nothing. He declared that the "moral effect" of his presence at the
net was incalculable.

"That quality is certainly possessed by your strokes," Stephen admitted.

Under cover of the friendly wrangle, Winnie turned to Ledstone, who had
sat down beside her. She found him already regarding her; a
consciousness that she desired his attention made her flush a little.

"How easily you play! I mean, you make the game look so easy."

"Well, if I want to impress the gallery, old Dennehy's rather a useful
partner to have, isn't he? But I did use to play a good bit once, before
I went into business."

"No time now? I'm told you go to London as much as three days a week!"

"I see Mrs. Aikenhead's been giving me away. Did she tell you anything
else?"

"Well, she told me what you looked like, but I know that for myself
now."

"Did she do me justice, Mrs. Maxon?" He had pleasant blue eyes, and
used them to enhance the value of his words.

"I don't want to put you and her at loggerheads," smiled Winnie.

"Ah, you mean she didn't?"

Winnie's smile remained mysterious. Here was a game that she could play,
though she had perforce abstained from it for many many days. It is
undeniable that she came back to it with the greater zest.

"I shall ask Mrs. Aikenhead what she said."

"That won't tell you what I think about it."

"Then how am I to find out?"

"Is it so important to you to know?"

"I feel just a sort of--well, mild interest, I must admit." There seemed
ground for supposing that lawn-tennis was not the only game that he had
played, either.

"Mere good looks don't go for very much in a man, do they?" said Winnie.

"There now, if you've given me anything with one hand, you've taken it
away with the other!"

"What is your business, Mr. Ledstone?"

"I draw designs--decorative designs for china, and brocades, and
sometimes fans. I can do a lot of my work down here--as Mrs. Aikenhead
might have told you, instead of representing me as a lazy dog, doing
nothing four days in the week."

"I've been led into doing you an injustice," Winnie admitted with much
gravity. "Is it a good business?"

"Grossly underpaid," he laughed.

"And I may have eaten off one of your plates?"

"Yes, or sat on one of my cushions, or fanned yourself with one of my
fans."

"It seems to serve as an introduction, doesn't it?"

"Oh, more than that, please! I think it ought to be considered as
establishing a friendship."

The other three had strolled off towards the house. Winnie rose, to
follow them. As Ledstone took his place by her side, she turned her eyes
on him.

"I haven't so many friends as to be very difficult about that," she
said, with a note of melancholy in her voice.

The hint of sadness came on the heels of her raillery with sure artistic
effect. Yet it was genuine enough. The few minutes of forgetfulness--of
engrossed satisfaction in her woman's wit and wiles--were at an end. Few
friends had she indeed! She could reckon scarcely one intimate outside
Shaylor's Patch itself. Being Mrs. Cyril Maxon was an exacting life; it
limited, trammelled, almost absorbed. Husbands are sometimes jealous of
women-friends hardly less than of men. Cyril was one of these.

Ledstone's vanity was flattered, his curiosity piqued. The hint of
melancholy added a spice of compassion. His susceptible temperament had
material enough and to spare for a very memorable first impression of
Mrs. Maxon. Though still a young man--he was no more than
seven-and-twenty--he was no novice either in the lighter or in the more
serious side of love-making; he could appreciate the impression he
received and recognize the impression he made.

It is to the credit of Mrs. Maxon's instinctively cunning reserve that
as they walked back to the house he still felt more certain that he
wanted to please her than that he had already done it to any
considerable extent. The reserve was not so much in words--she had let
her frank chaff show plainly enough that she liked her companion; it lay
rather in manner and carriage. Only on the hint of melancholy--only that
once--had she put her eyes to any significant use. He was conscious of
having made greater calls on his. That was right enough; he was the
man, and he was a bachelor. Ledstone could not be charged with an
exaggerated reverence for marriage, but he did know that he paid a
married woman a poor compliment if he assumed beforehand that she would
underrate the obligation of her status.

When they entered the long, low, panelled parlour that gave on to the
garden, Mrs. Lenoir had already arrived and was sitting enthroned in the
middle of the room; she had a knack of investing with almost regal
dignity any seat she chanced to occupy. She was a tall woman of striking
appearance, not stout, but large of frame, with a quantity of white hair
(disposed under an enormous black hat), a pale face, dark eyes, and very
straight dark eyebrows. She had long slim hands which she used
constantly in dramatic gesture. Stephen Aikenhead had credited her with
a "really grand" manner. It was possible to think it just a trifle too
grand, to find in it too strong a flavour of condescension and of
self-consciousness. It might be due to the fact that she had been in her
own way almost an historical figure--and had certainly mingled with
people who were historical. Or it was possible to see in it an instinct
of self-protection, exaggerated into haughtiness, a making haste to
exact homage, lest she should fail even of respect. Whatever its origin,
there it was, though not in a measure so strong as fatally to mar the
effect of her beauty or the attraction of her personality. Save for the
hat, she was dressed very simply; nay, even the hat achieved simplicity,
when the spectator had enjoyed time to master it. On one hand she wore
only her wedding-ring--she had married Mr. Lenoir rather late in life
and had now been a widow for several years--on the other a single fine
diamond, generally considered to be ante-Lenoirian in date. Lord Hurston
was a probable attribution.

Winnie was at sea, but found the breeze exhilarating and was not upset
by the motion. She was a responsive being, taking colour from her
surroundings. A little less exaction on the part of her husband might
have left her for ever an obedient wife; what a more extended liberty of
thought, of action, of the exploitation of herself, might do--and end
in--suggested itself in a vague dim question on this her first complete
day of freedom.

At lunch Dick Dennehy could not get away from his victory at
lawn-tennis. He started on an exposition of the theory of the game. He
was heard in silence, till Tora Aikenhead observed in her dispassionate
tones, "But you don't play at all well, Dick."

"What?" he shouted indignantly, trying to twist up a still humid
moustache.

"Theory against practice--that's the way of it always," said Stephen.

"Well, in a sense ye're right there," Dennehy conceded. "It needs a
priest to tell you what to do, and a man to do it."

"Let's put a 'not' in the first half of the proposition," said Ledstone.

"And a woman in the second half?" Mrs. Lenoir added.

"That must be why they like one another so much," Dennehy suggested.
"Each makes such a fine justification for the existence of the other.
They keep one another in work!" He rubbed his hands with a pleasantly
boyish laugh.

"I always try to be serious, though it's very difficult with the people
who come to my house." Stephen was hypocritically grave.

"Ye're serious because ye're an atheist," observed Dennehy.

"I'm not an atheist, Dick."

"The Pope'd call you one, and that's enough for a good Catholic like me.
How shouldn't you behave yourself properly when you don't believe that
penitence can do you any good?"

"The weak spot about penitence," remarked Tora, "is that it doesn't do
the other party any good."

Winnie ventured a meek question: "The other party?"

"There always is one," said Mrs. Lenoir.

Stephen smiled. "I always like to search for a contradictory instance.
Now, if a man drinks himself to death, he benefits the revenue, he
accelerates the wealth of his heirs, promotes the success of his rivals,
gratifies the enmity of his foes, and enriches the conversation of his
friends. As for his work--if he has any--_il n'y a pas d'homme
nécessaire_."

"It seems to me it would be all right if nobody wasted time and trouble
over stopping him," said Dennehy--a teetotaller, and the next instant
quaffing ginger-beer immoderately.

"He would be sure to be hurting somebody," said Mrs. Lenoir.

"And why not hurt somebody? I'm sure somebody's always hurting me,"
Dennehy objected hotly. "How would the world get on else? Don't I hold
my billet only till a better man can turn me out?"

"Yes," said Stephen. "'The priest who slew the slayer, and shall himself
be slain'--that system's by no means obsolete in modern civilization."

"Obsolete! It's the soul of it, its essence, its gospel." It was Mrs.
Lenoir who spoke.

"A definition of competition?" asked Stephen.

"Yes, and of progress--as they call it."

Tora Aikenhead was consolatory, benign, undismayed. "To be slain when
you're old and weak--what of that?"

"But ye don't think ye're old and weak. That's the shock of it," cried
Dennehy.

"It is rather a shock," Mrs. Lenoir agreed. "The truth about yourself is
always a shock--or even another person's genuine opinion."

Winnie Maxon remembered how she had administered to her husband his
"awful facer"; she recollected also, rather ruefully, that he had taken
it well. You always have to hurt somebody, even when you want so obvious
a right as freedom! A definite declaration of incompatibility must be
wounding--at any rate when it is not mutual.

It is an irksome thing to have--nay, to constitute in your own
person--an apposite and interesting case, and to be forbidden to produce
it. If only Winnie Maxon might lay her case before the company while
they were so finely in the mood to deal with it! She felt not merely
that she would receive valuable advice (which she could not bring
herself to doubt would be favourable to her side), but also that she
herself would take new rank; to provide these speculative minds with a
case must be a passport to their esteem. Bitterly regretting her
unfortunate promise, she began to arraign the justice of holding herself
bound by it, and to accuse her husband's motives in extorting it. He
must have wished to deprive her of what she would naturally and properly
seek--the counsel of her friends. He must have wanted to isolate her, to
leave her to fight her bitter battle all alone. To chatter in public was
one thing, to consult two or three good friends surely another? Promises
should be kept; but should they not also be reasonably interpreted,
especially when they have been exacted from such doubtful motives?

Thus straying, probably for the first time in her life, in the mazes of
casuistry, the adventurous novice was rewarded by a really brilliant
idea. Why should she not put her case in general terms, as an imaginary
instance, hypothetically? The promise would be kept, yet the counsel and
comfort (for, of course, the counsel would be comfortable) would be
forthcoming. No sooner conceived than executed! Only, unfortunately, the
execution was attended with a good deal of confusion and no small
display of blushes--a display not indeed unbecoming, but sadly
compromising. It was just as well that they had got to the stage of
coffee, and the parlour-maid had left the room.

Dennehy did not find her out. He was not an observant man, and he was
more interested in general questions than in individual persons. Hence
Winnie had the benefit of listening to a thoroughgoing denunciation of
the course she had adopted and was resolved to maintain. Kingdoms
might--and in most cases ought to--fall; that was matter of politics.
But marriage and the family--that was matter of faith and morals. He
bade Winnie's hypothetical lady endure her sufferings and look for her
reward elsewhere. At the close of his remarks Tora Aikenhead smiled and
offered him a candied apricot. He had certainly spoken rather hotly.

Stephen guessed the truth, and it explained what had puzzled him from
the first--the sudden visit of his cousin, unaccompanied by her
husband. He had suspected a tiff. But he had not divined a rupture. He
was surprised at Winnie's pluck; it must be confessed that he was also
rather staggered at being asked to consider Cyril Maxon as quite so
impossible to live with. However, Winnie ought to know best about that.

"Oh, come, Dick, there are limits--there must be. You may be bound to
take the high line, but the rest of us are free to judge cases on the
merits. At this time of day you can't expect women to stand being sat
upon and squashed all their lives."

Godfrey Ledstone had not talked much. Now he came forward on Winnie's
side.

"A man must appreciate a woman, or how can he ask her to stay with him?"

"I don't see why she shouldn't do as she likes," said Tora. "Especially
as you put a case where there are no children, Winnie."

Mrs. Lenoir was more reserved. "Let her either make up her mind to stand
everything or not to stand it at all any more. Because she'll never
change a man like that."

Only one to the contrary--and he a necessarily prejudiced witness! She
claimed Mrs. Lenoir for her side, in spite of the reserve. The other
three were obviously for her. Winnie was glad that she had put her case.
Not only was she comforted; somehow she felt more important. No longer a
mere listener, she had contributed to the debate. She would have felt
still more important had she been free to declare that it was she
herself who embodied the matter at issue.

For such added consequence she had not long to wait. After the guests
had gone, Stephen Aikenhead came to her in the garden.

"I don't want to pry into what's not my business, but I think some of us
had an idea that--well, that you were talking about yourself, really, at
lunch. Don't say anything if you don't want to. Only, of course, Tora
and I would like to help."

She looked up at him, blushing again. "I promised not to tell. But since
you've guessed----"

"I'm awfully sorry about it."

"At least I promised not to tell till it was settled. Well--it is
settled. So I've not broken the promise, really."

Stephen did not think it necessary--or perhaps easy--to pass judgment on
this point.

"At any rate it's much better we should know, I think. I'm sure you'll
find Tora able to help you now."

She was not thinking of Tora--nor of Dennehy's tirade, nor even of Mrs.
Lenoir's reserve.

"Do you think Mr. Ledstone--guessed?"

Stephen smiled. "He took a very definite stand on the woman's side when
you put your parable. I should say it's probable that he guessed."

Thus it befell that the secret leaked out, though the promise was kept;
and Winnie found herself an object of sympathy and her destinies a
matter of importance at Shaylor's Patch. It is perhaps enough to say
that she would have been behaving distinctly well if, for the sake of a
scrupulous interpretation of her promise, she had forgone these
consolations. They were very real and precious. They negatived the
doleful finality which she had set to her life as a woman. They
transformed her case; instead of a failure, it became a problem. A
little boldness of vision, a breath of the free air of Shaylor's Patch,
a draught of the new wine of speculation--and behold the victim turned
experimentalist!



CHAPTER V

THE GREAT ALLIES


Although the Reverend Francis Attlebury was vowed in his soul to
celibacy and had never so much as flirted since he took his degree at
Oxford twenty-three years ago, he had more knowledge of the mind of
woman than most married men pleasurably or painfully achieve. Women came
to him with their troubles, their grievances, even sometimes their sins;
it was no more his business to pooh-pooh the grievances than to
extenuate the sins; one does not carry a cross the more cheerfully or,
as a rule, any further, because a bystander assures one that it is in
reality very light.

He was a tall stout man--a grievance of his own was that he looked
abominably well-fed in spite of constant self-denial--and possessed a
face of native and invincible joviality. He was looking quite jovial now
as he listened to Cyril Maxon, agreed that he had been shamefully used,
and concluded in his own mind that if the negotiations were to be
carried on in that spirit they might just as well not be initiated at
all. The thing was not to prove how wrong she had been in going, but to
get her back. She was more likely to come back, if it were conceded to
her that she had at least a fair excuse for going. Would Cyril Maxon
ever make such a concession--or let somebody make it for him?

The two men were old and intimate friends; moreover Maxon was even eager
to acknowledge an authority in Attlebury's office, as well as a
confidence in his personal judgment.

"You won't make her think she was always wrong by proving that you were
always right, Cyril."

"Am I to say I was wrong where I know I was right?"

"You've probably said you were right already. Need you repeat it?"

"I'm ready to forgive her--absolutely and unreservedly."

"Would you go a little further--do something rather harder? Accept
forgiveness?" The diplomatist smiled. "Conditional forgiveness we might
call it, perhaps. Forgiveness in case there might be anything for her to
forgive?"

Maxon broke out in natural impatience at the incomprehensible. "On my
honour, I don't understand what she's got to complain of. I took her
from a poor home, I've given her every luxury, she shares my career--I
needn't use mock modesty with you, Frank--I've given her absolute
fidelity----" He ended with a despairing wave of his hands.

Attlebury neither argued nor rebuked. "Is there anybody who has
influence with her--whom she likes and relies on?"

"I should hate anybody else being dragged into it--except you, of
course. I asked her to come to you."

"Oh, I know I'm suspect. I should be no good." He smiled contentedly.
"Nobody you can think of?"

"Well, the man she consulted about it was Hobart Gaynor." His tone was
full of grudging dislike of such a consultation.

"Hobart Gaynor? Yes, I know him. Not a bad choice of hers, Cyril, if she
felt she had to go to some one. Not quite our way of thinking, but a
very good fellow."

"Why is he to poke his nose into my affairs?"

"Come, come, she poked her pretty nose into his office, no doubt, and
probably he'd much rather she hadn't. I've experience of ladies in
distress, Cyril. I am, in fact, as the Great Duke said of authors--when
he was Chancellor of Oxford, you know--much exposed to them."

"I didn't come here to discuss Hobart Gaynor."

"I hope we sometimes do wiser things than we come to do--or what's the
good of a talk? Let's discuss Hobart Gaynor in the light of--say--an
ambassador, or a go-between. You're looking very formidable, Cyril. Did
you often look at Mrs. Maxon like that? If so, I hope she'd done
something really wicked. Because, if she hadn't, you did."

For just that moment the note of rebuke and authority rang clear in his
voice. The next, he was the friend, the counsellor, the diplomatist
again.

"Let Gaynor go to her with a message of peace. Bygones to be bygones,
faults on both sides, a fresh start, and so on."

Cyril Maxon had felt the rebuke; he bowed his head to it. But he fretted
terribly.

"I can't bring myself to speak to him about it."

"Let me. She's your wife, you know. If she went wrong, mightn't you feel
that some effort of yours would--well, have made the difference?"

"What am I to tell him to say?"

"Let me tell him what to say--you try to honour my draft when it's
presented. Perhaps--God knows--we're fighting for her soul, Cyril, and
we shall be asked how we've borne ourselves in the fight, shan't we?"

Cyril Maxon was always ready to own that he might have been wrong--to
own it to God or to God's representative; he hated owning it to a
fellow-creature uninvested with prerogatives. Attlebury had skilfully
shifted the venue and changed the tribunal. A man may be sure he is
right as against his wife--or _vice versâ_. Who dares enter an
unqualified 'Not Guilty' before High Heaven's Court? There some count in
the indictment is sure to be well laid and well proven.

"I think I know my faults," he said, in a complacent humility.

Attlebury's smile became more jovial still. "O learned gentleman!"

The disciple still held the natural man under control. Maxon smiled, if
sourly.

"I may have been exacting."

"You may have been an ass," sprang to the clergyman's lips, but stayed
unuttered. "Allowances, Cyril, allowances!" he murmured gently. "We all
have to work through allowances."

"Do as you like, Frank. I want the thing put straight. You know I do. I
think I ought to have from her an expression of--well, of regret."

"Won't coming back convey it?" Attlebury smiled. "In fact, rather
forcibly?"

Left alone, the priest indulged himself in a bout of one of his
diversions--the contemplation of the folly of his disciples. Not folly
in believing in him and his authority--on that he was unimpeachably
sincere. What moved his satiric vein was that they all had to be
gulled--and were all gullible. Before they could be made better, they
all had to be persuaded that they were better than they were already.
Miserable offenders? Certainly. But with "potentialities"? Even more
certainly--and to an unusual degree. No question of breaking the bruised
reed--it must be put in splinters. And the smoking flax would be revived
with a dash of kerosene. That Pope had been entirely wrong about
Tannhäuser; he should have told him that his recent doings did not
represent his true self. There is joy over a sinner that repenteth. To
Attlebury there was excitement in one that might. He knew it, he chid
himself for it; the glory was not in him or to him. But the sporting
instinct was deep--a cause of sore penitence, and of unregenerate
perpetual amusement at himself.

"I'd like to beat these free-thinking beggars!" A.M.D.G.? He prayed on
his knees that it might be so--and so exclusively--that the Reverend
Francis Attlebury might look for and gain no advancement, no praise, not
even the praise of God, but might still say "I am an unprofitable
servant," and still believe it.

Besides all this--right down in the depths of his being--came the
primitive rivalry of man to man--obstinate in the heart of the celibate
priest. "Dear old Cyril is a fool about women. He doesn't know a thing
about them." This phase of thought was sternly repressed. It is not a
branch of knowledge on which it behoves a man--not even a clergyman--to
flatter himself. In the first place it is wrong; in the second--or
same--place, dangerous.

Thus great forces began to deploy into line against little Winnie Maxon,
holding her assertion of freedom to be grave scandal and offence. There
was the Family, embodied in her lawfully wedded husband; there was
nothing less than the Church Catholic, speaking inexorably in Mr.
Attlebury's diplomatic phrases; the Wisdom of the World, its logic, its
common sense, were to find expression--and where better expression?--in
the sober friend, the shrewd lawyer, the moderate man Hobart Gaynor.
Could she hurl defiance at these great allies? If she did, could she
look for anything save utter and immediate defeat? Just one little
woman, not very strong, not very wise, with really no case save a very
nebulous hazy notion that, whatever they all said, it was too bad that
she should be miserable all her life! The allies would tell her that
many people were miserable all their lives, but (they would add) nobody
need be. Between them they had a complete remedy. Hers was the blame,
not theirs, if she would not swallow it.

At Shaylor's Patch, as the summer days passed by in sunshine and warm
flower-scented breezes, where she was comforted, petted, made much of,
where an infinite indulgence reigned, she was swallowing something quite
different from the medicine that the allies proposed for her treatment.
She was drinking a heady new wine. She was seeing with new eyes,
travelling through new lands of thought and of feeling. Her spirit
rejoiced as in a great emancipation--in being allowed, at last, to move,
to live, to find itself, to meet its fellows, to give thanks to a world
no longer its taskmaster, but the furnisher of its joys and the abetter
in its pleasures. Of what should she be afraid in such a mood, of what
ashamed? At Shaylor's Patch it seemed that rebellion might not only be
admirable, as it often is, but that it would be easy--which it is very
seldom.

For the real Great World--that amalgam of all the forces of the three
allies, that mighty thing which so envelopes most people from the cradle
to the grave that their speculations stray beyond it no more--and often
much less--than their actions--this great thing had hardly a
representative among all who came and went. These folks belonged to
various little worlds, which had got as it were chipped off from the big
one, and had acquired little atmospheres and little orbits of their own;
from time to time they collided with one another, but nobody minded
that--neither planet seemed a pin better or worse for the encounter.
Each was inhabited by a few teachers and a body of disciples sometimes
not much more numerous; teachers and disciples alike seemed very busy,
very happy, and (to be frank) in many cases agreeably self-satisfied.
Afraid of the big world--lest they should come into collision with that
and be shattered to miserable atoms? Not a bit of it! For, you see, the
big world was, for all its imposing and threatening appearance, really
moribund, whereas they were young, vigorous, growing. Paralysis had set
in in the Giant's legs. He could not catch them. Presently the disease
would reach his heart. He would die, and they would parcel out all his
possessions. Would they quarrel among themselves, these children of
progress? Probably they would, as they cheerfully admitted. What matter?
Such quarrels are stimulating, good for brain and heart, illuminating.
Nay, in the end, not quarrels at all. The only real deadly quarrel was
with the Giant. Would there be no danger of a new Giant coming into
being, born of a union of all of them, just as despotic, just as
lethargic, as the old? Into this distant speculation they did not enter,
and their discreet forbearance may pardonably be imitated here.

On the whole they were probably too hard on the Giant; they did not
allow enough for the difficulties involved in being so big, so
lumbering, so complex. They girded at him for not trying every
conceivable experiment; he grumbled back that he did not want to risk
explosion on a large scale. They laughed at him for not running; a
creature of his bulk was safer at a walk. They offered him all manner of
new concoctions; he feared indigestion on a mighty scale. Some of them
he dreaded and hated; at some he was much amused; for others he had a
slow-moving admiration--they might be right, he would take a generation
or two to think about it, and let them know in due course through his
accredited channels.

Of some of Stephen Aikenhead's friends it was a little difficult to
think as human beings; they seemed just embodied opinions. Doctor
Johnson once observed--and few will differ from him--that it would be
tiresome to be married to a woman who would be for ever talking of the
Arian heresy. Mrs. Danford, a bright-eyed, brisk-moving woman, was for
ever denouncing boys' schools. Dennis Carriston wanted the human race to
come to an end and, consistently enough, bored existing members of it
almost to their extinction or his murder. These were of the faddists;
but the majority did not fairly deserve that description. They were
workers, reformers, questioners, all of them earnest, many clever, some
even humorous (not such a very common thing in reformers), one or two
eminent in achievement. But questioners and speculators all of
them--with two notable exceptions, Mrs. Lenoir and Godfrey Ledstone.
These two had no quarrel with orthodox opinion, and a very great respect
for it; they would never have thought of justifying their deviations
from orthodox practice. They were prepared to pay their fines--if they
were caught--and did not cavil at the jurisdiction of the magistrate.

Godfrey Ledstone would have made a fine "man about town," that
unquestioning, untroubled, heathenish master of the arts and luxuries of
life. Chill penury--narrow means and the necessity of working--limited
his opportunities. Within them he was faithful to the type and obedient
to the code, availing himself of its elasticities, careful to observe it
where it was rigid; up to the present anyhow he could find no breach of
it with which to reproach himself.

He was committing no breach of it now. Not to do what he was doing
would in his own eyes have stamped him a booby, a fellow of ungracious
manners and defective sensibilities, a prude and a dolt.

The breeze stirred the trees; in leisurely fashion, unelbowed by rude
clouds, there sank the sun; a languorous tranquillity masked the fierce
struggle of beasts and men--men were ceasing from their labour, the lion
not yet seeking his meat from God.

"I shall go to my grave puzzled whether the profile or the full face is
better."

She stirred lazily on her long chair, and gave him the profile to
consider again.

"Beautiful, but cold, distant, really disheartening!"

"You talk just as much nonsense as Mrs. Danford or Mr. Carriston."

"Now let me make the comparison! Full face, please!"

"You might be going to paint my picture. Now are you content?"

"I'm more or less pacified--for the moment."

Stephen Aikenhead lounged across the lawn, pipe in mouth. He noticed the
two and shook his shaggy head--marking, questioning, finding it all very
natural, seeing the trouble it might bring, without a formula to try it
by--unless, here too, things were in solution.

She laughed lightly. "You must be careful with me, Mr. Ledstone.
Remember I'm not used to flattery!"

"The things you have been used to! Good heavens!"

"I dare say I exaggerate." Delicately she asked for more pity, more
approval.

"I don't believe you do. I believe there are worse things--things you
can't speak of." It will be seen that by now--ten days since Winnie's
arrival--the famous promise had been pitched most completely overboard.

"Oh, I don't think so, really I don't. Isn't it a pretty sky, Mr.
Ledstone?"

"Indeed it is, and a pretty world too, Mrs. Maxon. Haven't you found it
so?"

"Why will you go on talking about me?"

"Mayn't I talk about the thing I'm thinking about? How can I help it?"

Her smile, indulgent to him, pleaded for herself also.

"It is horribly hard not to, isn't it? That's why I've told all about
it, I suppose."

Stephen Aikenhead, after the shake of his head, had drifted into the
house, seeking a fresh fill for his pipe. He found the evening post in
and, having nothing in the world else to do, brought out a letter to
Mrs. Maxon.

"For you," he said, making a sudden and somewhat disconcerting
appearance at her elbow. He puffed steadily, holding the letter out to
Winnie, while he looked at his friend Godfrey with a kindly if quizzical
regard.

"Good gracious, Stephen!"

"Well, I always like letters worth a 'Good gracious,' Winnie."

"Hobart Gaynor's coming here to-morrow."

"Don't know the gentleman. Friend of yours? Very glad to see him."

"Coming from--from Cyril!"

"Oh!" The little word was significantly drawn out. "That's another pair
of shoes!" it seemed to say.

She sat up straight, and let her feet down to the ground.

"To make me go back, I suppose!"

"You could hardly expect him not to have a shot at it--Cyril, I mean."

Her eyes had been turned up to Stephen. In lowering them to her letter
again, she caught in transit Godfrey Ledstone's regard. For a second or
two the encounter lasted. She swished her skirt round--over an ankle
heedlessly exposed by her quick movement. Her glance fell to the letter.
Godfrey's remained on her face--as well she knew.

"I must see Hobart, but I won't go back. I won't, Stephen."

"All right, my dear. Stay here--the longer, the better for us. Shall I
wire Gaynor to come?"

"Will you?"

Stephen's last glance--considerably blurred by tobacco smoke--was rather
recognisant of fact than charged with judgment. "I suppose all that will
count," he reflected, as he went back once again to the house. It
certainly counted. Godfrey Ledstone was doing nothing against the code.
All the same he was introducing a complication into Winnie Maxon's
problem. At the start freedom for her had a negative content--it was
freedom from things--friction, wrangles, crushing. Was that all that
freedom meant? Was not that making it an empty sterile thing?

"You'll be firm, Mrs. Maxon?"

Godfrey leant forward in his chair; the change of attitude brought him
startlingly near to her. She sprang quickly to her feet, in instinctive
retreat.

"I must hear what Hobart has to say." She met his eyes once more, and
smiled pleadingly. He shrugged his shoulders, looking sulky. Her lips
curved in a broader smile. "That's only fair to Cyril. You're not coming
to dinner? Then--good night."



CHAPTER VI

FRUIT OF THE TREE


Hobart Gaynor undertook his embassy with reluctance. He was busily
occupied over his own affairs--he was to be married in a fortnight--and
he was only unwillingly convinced by Mr. Attlebury's suave demonstration
of where his duty lay, and by the fine-sounding promises which that
zealous diplomatist made in Cyril Maxon's name. Waiving the question
whether things had been all wrong in the past, Attlebury gave a pledge
that they should be all right in the future; all that a reasonable woman
could ask, with an ample allowance for whims into the bargain. That was
the offer, put briefly. Gaynor doubted, and, much as he wished well to
Winnie Maxon, he did not desire to become in any sense responsible for
her; he did not want to persuade or to dissuade. Indeed, at first, he
would undertake no more than a fair presentment of Maxon's invitation.
Attlebury persisted; the woman was young, pretty, not of a very stable
character; her only safety was to be with her husband. Her old friend
could not resist the appeal; he came into line. But when he asked Cicely
Marshfield's applause for his action, he could not help feeling that she
was, to use his own colloquial expression, rather "sniffy" about it; she
did not appear fully to appreciate his obligation to save Winnie Maxon.

He arrived at Shaylor's Patch before lunch. Stephen Aikenhead received
him with cordiality, faintly tinged, as it seemed to the visitor, with
compassion. Tora's manner enforced the impression; she treated him as a
good man foredoomed to failure. "Of course you must have your talk with
her," Stephen said. "You shall have it after lunch." He spoke of the
talk rather as a ceremony to be performed than as a conference likely to
produce practical results.

"I hope you'll back me up--and Mrs. Aikenhead too?" said the ambassador.

The Aikenheads looked at one another. Tora smiled. Stephen rubbed his
forehead. At the moment lunch was announced, and, the next, Winnie came
into the room, closely followed by Godfrey Ledstone.

When Hobart saw her, a new doubt smote him--a doubt not of the success
(he was doubtful enough about that already), but of the merits of his
mission. She looked a different woman from the despairing rebel who had
come to him in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Her eyes were bright, there was
colour in her cheeks; her manner, without losing its attractive quietude
and demureness, was gay and joyous. There might be something in what she
had said about being "crushed" at her husband's house! It might not be
merely a flourish of feminine rhetoric.

"The country has done wonders for you, Winnie," he said, as he shook
hands.

"I'm having a lovely rest." To Hobart she seemed to add, "Why need you
come and disturb it?"

Another omen unfavourable in the envoy's eyes was the obvious pleasure
she took in Ledstone's presence and conversation; and yet another was
the young man's unobtrusive but evident certainty that all he said and
did would be well received. On Ledstone's fascinating attentions, no
less than on the Aikenheads' affectionate and indulgent friendship, he
had to ask her to turn her back. For what? A parcel of promises made by
Attlebury in Maxon's name! Were they of much more practical value than
what godfathers and godmothers promise and vow at a baby's christening?
Could they change the natural man in Maxon and avail against his
original sin? But, on the other hand, were not indulgent friendships,
and, still more, charming attentions, exactly the dangers against which
he had come to warn her? She was young, pretty, and not of a very stable
character--Attlebury's words came back. The indulgent friendship would
mine her defences; then the charming attentions would deliver their
assault. No--Attlebury was right, his own mission was right; but it bore
hard on poor Winnie Maxon. A reluctant messenger, a prophet too sensible
of the other side of the argument (which prophets should never be), he
found himself no match for the forces which now moved and dominated
Winnie Maxon. She had been resolved when she was only crying for and
dreaming of liberty. Would she be less resolved now that she had tasted
it? And was now enjoying it, not amid frowns or reproofs, but with the
countenance of her friends and the generally, though not universally,
implied approval of all the people she met? Attlebury could make the
disapproval of the great world outside sound a terrible thing; sheltered
at Shaylor's Patch, Winnie did not hear its voice. Attlebury might hint
at terrible dangers; such men thought it "dangerous" for a woman to have
any pleasure in her life!

She listened to Hobart kindly and patiently enough, but always with
reiterated shakes of her pretty head. At some of the promises she fairly
laughed--they were so entirely different from the Cyril Maxon she knew.

"It's no use," she declared. "Whatever may be right, whatever may be
wrong, I'm not going back. The law ought to set me free (this was an
outcome of Shaylor's Patch!). Since it doesn't, I set myself free,
that's all."

"But what are you going to do?"

"Either take a cottage down here or a tiny flat in London."

"I didn't ask where you were going to live, but what you were going to
do." Hobart was a patient man, but few people's tempers are quite
unaffected by blank failure, by a serene disregard of their arguments.

"Do? Oh, I dare say I shall take up some movement. I hear a lot about
that sort of thing down here, and I'm rather interested."

"Oh, you're not the sort of woman who buries herself in a movement, as
you call it."

"I can make friends, like other people, I suppose. I needn't bury
myself."

"Yes, you can make friends fast enough! Winnie, you're avoiding the crux
of the matter."

"Oh, you're back to your dangers! Well, I think I can trust myself to
behave properly."

"You ought to be sure of it."

"Are you being polite?"

"Oh, hang politeness! This is a vital question for you."

The colour mounted in her cheeks; for the first time she showed some
sign of embarrassment. But the embarrassment and the feelings from which
it sprang--those new feelings of the last fortnight--could not make her
waver. They reinforced her resolution with all the power of emotion.
They made "going back" still more terrible, a renunciation now as well
as a slavery. Her eyes, though not her words, had promised Godfrey
Ledstone that she would not go back. What then, as Hobart Gaynor asked,
was she going to do? The time for putting that question had not come.
There was the pleasure now--not yet the perplexity.

She gave a vexed laugh. "Whether it's vital or not, at any rate it's a
question for me, as you say yourself, and for me only. And I must risk
it, Hobart. After all, there are different--well, ideas--on that sort of
subject, aren't there?" Here Shaylor's Patch showed its influence again.

"I rather wish you hadn't come to this house," he said slowly.

"I've been happier here than anywhere in the world. What have you
against it?"

"Well, I can't claim to know much about it, but don't some queer people
come?"

"Plenty!" she laughed. "It's very amusing."

He smiled, frowned, looked, and indeed felt, a little foolish--as the
average man does when he finds himself called upon to take the moral
line.

"Rather--er--unsettling?" he hazarded lamely.

"Very stimulating."

"Well, I can say no more. I've done my job. Take care of yourself,
Winnie."

"Oh yes, I will; you may be sure of that. Hobart, will you tell Cyril
that I'm very, very sorry, and that I hope he'll be happy, and wish him
splendid success and prosperity?"

"I'll tell him--if you won't write yourself."

"I couldn't. That would open it all again. I'll write to you, if there's
any business to be settled."

Hobart Gaynor, thinking over the conversation on his way back to town,
decided that Winnie had got on apace. Well, if she chose to take her
life into her own hands, she herself must make the best of it. He did
not pretend to feel quite easy--he could not get Godfrey Ledstone out of
his head--but he said nothing about such apprehensions when he reported
the failure of his mission. He also delivered Winnie's message to her
husband. Cyril Maxon's lips set hard, almost savagely, over it. "We
shall see," he said. He could not prevent her from doing what she had
done, but he would not acknowledge it as setting up a permanent or
recognized state of affairs. For the time disobedient, Winnie was still
his wife. He would not accept her valediction. His house was still open
to her and, after a decent period of penance, his heart.

A plain case of Stephen Aikenhead's "In solution"! What to Cyril was an
indissoluble relationship (and more than that), not even temporarily
suspended, but rather defied and violated, was to his wife a thing now
at last--by her final decision--over and done with so far as it affected
her position towards Cyril himself. He was out of her life--at last. She
had her life--at last. Not quite entirely free, this life she had won by
her bold defiance. She still acknowledged limitations, even while she
nibbled at the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that grew at Shaylor's
Patch. Yet how incomparably more free than the old life! She was amazed
to find with how little difficulty, with how slight a pang, and with how
immense a satisfaction she had broken the bond--or had broken bounds,
for she felt remarkably like a school-boy on a forbidden spree. What
great things a little courage will effect! How the difficulties vanish
when they are faced! Why, for five whole years, had she not seen that
the door was open and walked out of it? Here she was--out! And nothing
terrible seemed to happen.

"Well, I've done it now for good and all," she said to Stephen
Aikenhead.

"Oh yes, you've done it. And what are you going to do next?"

"Just what Hobart asked me! Why should he--or why should you? If a woman
doesn't marry, or becomes a widow, you don't ask her what she's going to
do next! Consider me unmarried, or, if you like, a widow."

"That's all very well--excellently put. I am rebuked!" Stephen smiled
comfortably and broadly. "You women do put things well. But may I
observe that, if you were the sort of woman you're asking me to think
about, you'd probably be living pretty contentedly with Cyril Maxon?"

The point was presented plainly enough for her. She smiled reflectively.
"I think I see. Yes!"

"People differ as well as cases."

She sat down by him, much interested. They were, it seemed, to talk
about herself.

"Hobart Gaynor's rather uneasy about me, I think."

"And you about yourself?"

"No, I'm just rather excited, Stephen."

"You're a small boat--and it's a big sea."

"That's the excitement of it. I've been--land-locked--for years. Oh,
beached--whatever's your best metaphor for somebody wasting all this
fine life!"

"Do you suppose you made your husband happy?"

The question was unexpected. But there was no side of a situation too
forlorn for Stephen's notice.

"I really don't know," said Winnie. "I always seemed to be rather--well,
rather a minor interest."

"I expect not--I really expect not, you know."

"Supposing I was, or supposing I wasn't--what does it amount to?"

"I was only just looking at it from his point of view for a minute."

"Did he make me happy?"

"Oh, certainly the thing wasn't successful all round," Stephen hastily
conceded.

"He said marriage wasn't invented solely to make people happy."

"Well, I suppose he's got an argument there. But you probably thought
that the institution might chuck in a little more of that ingredient
incidentally?"

"Rather my feeling--yes. You put things well too, now and then,
Stephen."

"You suffer under the disadvantage of being a very attractive woman."

"We must bear our infirmities with patience, mustn't we?"

She was this evening in a rare vein of excited pleasure, gay,
challenging, admirably provoking, exulting in her freedom, dangling
before her own dazzled eyes all its possibilities. Stephen gave a deep
chuckle.

"I think I'll go in and tell Tora that I'm infernally in love with you,"
he remarked, rising from his chair.

"It would be awfully amusing to hear what she says. But--are you?"

A rolling laugh, full of applause, not empty of pity, rumbled over the
lawn as Stephen walked back to the house.

No, Stephen was not in love with her; that was certain. He admitted
every conceivable doubt as to his duty, but harboured none as to his
inclination. That trait of his might, to Winnie's present mood, have
been vexatious had he chanced to be the only man in the world, or even
the only one in or near Shaylor's Patch. Winnie sat in the twilight,
smiling roguishly. She had no fears for herself; far less had she
formed any designs. She was simply in joyful rebound from long
suppression. Her spirit demanded plenty of fun, with perhaps a spice of
mischief--mischief really harmless. So much seemed to her a debt long
overdue from life and the world. Yet peril was there, unseen by herself.
For there is peril when longings for fun and mischief centre
persistently round one figure, finding in it, and in it only, their
imagined realization.

But was peril the right word--was it the word proper to use at Shaylor's
Patch? Being no fool, Stephen Aikenhead saw clearly enough the chance
that a certain thing would happen--or was happening. But how should this
chance be regarded? The law--formed by this and that influence,
historical, social, and religious--had laid upon this young woman a
burden heavier than she was able to bear. So Stephen started his
consideration of the case. Retort--she ought to have been stronger! It
did not seem a very helpful retort; it might be true, but it led
nowhere. The law then had failed with the young woman. Now it said,
"Well, if you won't do that, at least you shan't do anything else with
my sanction--and my sanction is highly necessary to your comfort,
certainly here, and, as a great many people believe, hereafter." That
might be right, because it was difficult to deny the general proposition
that laws ought to be kept, under pain of penalties. Yet in this
particular instance there seemed something rather vindictive about it.
It was not as if the young woman wanted to rob churches or pick
pockets--things obviously offensive and hurtful to her neighbours. All
she would want (supposing the thing did happen) would be to behave in a
perfectly natural and normal fashion. All she would be objecting to
would be a law-enjoined sterilization of a great side of her nature. She
would be wronging her husband? If wrong there were, surely the
substantial wrong lay in deserting him, not in making the best of her
own life afterwards? She might have children--would they suffer? Living
in the social world he did, Stephen could not see that they need suffer
appreciably; and they were, after all, hypothetical--inserted into the
argument for the sake of logical completeness. She would wound other
people's convictions and feelings? No doubt, but that argument went too
far. Every innovator, every reformer, nay, every fighting politician,
does as much. The day for putting ring-fences round opinions, and
threatening trespassers with prosecution, was surely over.

Well, then, would she hurt herself? The argument descended abruptly from
the general to the particular. It left principle, and came to prudence,
asking no longer what she had a right to do, but what she would be wise
to do in her own interests. A man may hold a thing not wrong, and yet be
a fool if he does it in a place where the neighbours are so sure of its
iniquity that they will duck him in the horse-pond. But suppose him to
be a mighty man of valour, whom nobody cares to tackle! He can snap his
fingers at the neighbours and follow his own conscience or inclination,
free from fear and heedless of disapprobation.

"That's as far as I can get," Stephen concluded, rubbing his forehead,
as his habit was in moments of meditation. The conclusion did not seem
wholly moral, or wholly logical, but it might work out fairly well in
practice; government by the law--that is, the opinion of the
majority--for the weak (themselves the majority), government by their
own consciences and inclinations for the strong. Probably it was a rough
statement of what generally happened, if the terms weak and strong might
be taken to sum up the complex whole of a man's circumstances and
character; both must by all means be considered.

But who are the strong? How can they judge of their prowess until they
are in the thick of the fray? If it fails them then, it's too late--and
away to the horse-pond! You do poor service to a friend if you flatter
him in this matter. When he finds himself in the pond, he will not be so
grateful for your good opinion.

Winnie came in, bright-eyed, softly singing, making for upstairs at a
hasty pace.

"I shall be late for dinner!" she cried. "I met Mr. Ledstone, and he
made me go for a little walk."

"Did you enjoy it?" asked Stephen politely.

"Yes, thank you, Stephen, very much."

She was gone. Stephen sighed. She had only one life--that was the
unspoken plea of her youth, her beauty, and her new-born zest in living.
Say what you like, the plea was cogent.



CHAPTER VII

A CODE AND A THEORY


To probe Godfrey Ledstone's mind would be to come up against the odd
bundle of ideas which constitutes the average young man's workaday
morality--the code before mentioned. This congeries of rules,
exceptions, compromises, strictnesses, and elasticities may be
condemned; it cannot be sneered at or lightly dismissed. It has, on the
whole, satisfied centuries; only at rare intervals has it been seriously
interfered with by the powers that be, by Church, or State, or
Church-ruled State.

To interfere seriously with it is to rouse a hive of questions, large,
difficult, so profoundly awkward as to appal statesmen, lay or
ecclesiastical--questions not only moral and religious, but social and
economic. Formal condemnation and practical tolerance leave these
questions sleeping. The code goes on, exercising its semi-secret
underground jurisdiction--a law never promulgated, but widely obeyed, a
religion with millions of adherents and not a single preacher. Rather a
queer way for the world to live? Rather a desperate attempt at striking
a balance between nature and civilization? No doubt. But then, of
course, it is only temporary. We are all going to be good some day. To
make us all good, to make it possible for us all to be good,
immediately--well, there is no telling but what that might involve a
radical reconstitution of society. And would even that serve the turn?

The code never had a more unquestioning, a more contented adherent than
Godfrey. Without theorizing--he disliked theories and had a good-natured
distrust of them--he hit just that balance of conduct whereof the code
approves; if he had talked about the matter at all (the code does not
favour too much talking) he might have said that he was "not a saint"
but that he "played the game." His fellow-adherents would understand
perfectly what he meant. And the last thing in the world that he
contemplated or desired was to attack, or openly to flout, accepted
standards. The code never encourages a man to do that. Besides, he had a
father, a mother, and a sister, orthodox-thinking people, very fond and
proud of him; he would not willingly do or say anything to shock them.
Even from a professional point of view--but when the higher motives are
sufficient to decide the issue, why need they invoke the somewhat
compromising alliance of others purely prudential?

By now he was very much in love with Winnie Maxon, but he was also
desperately vexed with her, and with all the amiable theorizers at
Shaylor's Patch. The opportunity had seemed perfect for what he wanted,
and what he wanted seemed exactly one of the allowed compromises--an
ideal elasticity! Whom would it wrong? Not Cyril Maxon, surely? He was
out of court. Whom would it offend? There was nobody to offend, if the
affair were managed quietly--as it could be here in the country. And she
liked him; though he had made no declaration yet, he could not doubt
that she liked him very much.

But the theorizers had been at her. When he delicately felt his way,
discussing her position, or, professedly, the position of women in
general whose marriages had proved a failure, she leant back, looking
adorably pretty, and calmly came out with a remark of a profoundly
disconcerting nature.

"If I ever decided to--to link my life with a man's again, I should do
it quite openly. I should tell my husband and my friends. I should
consider myself as doing just the same thing as if I were marrying
again. I talked it all over with Tora the other night, and she quite
agreed with me."

Agreed with her! Tora had put it into her head, of course, Godfrey
thought angrily. The idea had Tora's hall-mark stamped large in its
serene straightforward irrationality.

"But that'd mean an awful row, and the--a case, and all that!"

"I hope it would. But Cyril doesn't approve of divorce."

"Then you'd never be able to--to get regular, as long as he lived."

"I think I should be regular, without getting regular," she answered,
smiling.

"What's the good of defying the world?"

"Isn't that the only way bad things get altered?"

"It needs a good deal of courage to do things like that--right or
wrong."

"I should rely on the man I loved to give me the courage."

Godfrey did not wish to admit that the man whom (as he hoped) she loved
lacked courage. The answer irritated him; he sat frowning sulkily, his
usual gaiety sadly overcast. Winnie's eyes scanned his face for a
moment; then, with a sigh, she looked over the lawn to the valley below.
She was disappointed with the reception of her great idea. "Of course
the two people would have to be very much in love with one another," she
added, with a little falter in her voice.

He found a way out of his difficulty. "The more a man loved a woman, the
less likely he'd be to consent to put her in such a position," he
argued. His face cleared; he was pleased with his point; it was good,
according to the code.

"It would be the only honourable position for her," Winnie retorted.

He rose to his feet in a temper; it was all so unreasonable. "I must
go."

"Are you coming to anything to-morrow?"

"No, I shall be in town to-morrow. I dare say I shall stay a night or
two." This was by way of revenge--or punishment. Let her see how she
liked Shaylor's Patch without him!

She turned to him, holding out her hand; in her eyes was raillery,
half-reproachful, half-merry. "Come back in a better temper!" she said.

"I'm a fool to come back at all." He kissed her hand and looked steadily
into her eyes before he went away.

Himself at once a poor and a pleasure-loving man, Godfrey had the good
luck to own a well-to-do and devoted friend, always delighted to "put
him up" and to give him the best of hospitality. Bob Purnett and he were
old schoolfellows and had never lost sight of one another. Bob had four
thousand a year of his own (though not of his own making), and in the
summer he had no work to do; in the winter he hunted. He was a jovial
being and very popular, except with the House Committee and the cook of
his club; to these unfortunate officials he was in the nature of a
perpetual Assize Court presided over by a "Hanging Judge."

He gave Godfrey a beautiful dinner and a magnum of fine claret; let it
be set down to his credit that he drank--and gave--fine claret at small
dinners. He knew better than to be intemperate. Did he not want to go
on hunting as long as possible? Nor was Godfrey given to excess in
wine-drinking. Still the dinner, the claret, the old friendship, the
liqueur, the good cigar, did their work. Godfrey found himself putting
the case. It appeared to Bob Purnett a curious one.

"But it's rot," he observed. "You're married or you're not--eh?" He
himself was not--quite distinctly. "Must be very pretty, or she wouldn't
expect you to stand it?"

Godfrey laughed. There was a primitive truthfulness about Purnett's
conversation. He was not sophisticated by thought or entangled in
theory--quite different from the people at Shaylor's Patch.

"She is very pretty; and absolutely a lady--and straight, and all that."

"Then let it alone," counselled Bob Purnett.

"I can't help it, old chap." Again the primitive note--the cry that
there are limits to human endurance! Godfrey had not meant to utter it.
The saying of it was an illumination to himself. Up to now he had
thought that he could help it--and would, if he were faced with theories
and irrationality.

"Let's go to a Hall?" Bob suggested.

"I'd like a quiet evening and just a jaw."

Bob looked gravely sympathetic. "Oh, you've got it in the neck!" he
said, with a touch of reverent wonder in his voice--something like the
awe that madmen inspired in our forbears. Godfrey was possessed!

"Yes, I have--and I don't know what the deuce to do."

"Well, what the deuce are you to do?" asked Purnett. His healthy, ruddy,
unwrinkled face expressed an honest perplexity. "Must be a rum little
card--isn't she?"

"I can't help it, Bob."

"Dashed awkward!"

In fact these two adherents of the code--may it be written honest
adherents, for they neither invented nor defended, but merely inherited
it?--were frankly puzzled. There is a term in logic--dichotomy--a sharp
division, a cutting in two, an opposing of contradictories. You are
honest or not honest, sober or not sober. Rough reasoning, but the
police courts have to work on it. So you are regular or irregular. But
people who want to make the irregular regular--that is as great a shock
to the adherents of the code as their tenets are to the upholders of a
different law. The denial of one's presuppositions is always a
shock--because one must start from somewhere. It is a "shock to
credit"--credit of some kind--and how are any of us to get on without
credit?

"Bring two more old brandies, Walter," Mr. Purnett commanded. It was the
only immediate and practical step.

"Not for me, old chap."

Bob nodded accordingly to Walter. His face was inconceivably solemn.

"I sometimes feel like cutting the whole thing," said Godfrey fretfully.

"Well, there are other women in the world, aren't there?"

"No, no. I mean the whole thing. What's the good of it?" The young man's
fresh face looked for the moment weary and old; he flung his good cigar,
scarcely half-smoked, into the fireplace.

Bob Purnett knew better than to argue against a mood like that; one
might just as well argue against a toothache.

"Let's go home and have an early bed," he suggested. He yawned, and
tried to hide the action. He was devoted to his friend, but his friend
had raised a puzzle, and puzzles soon fatigued him--except little ones
made of wood, for which he had a partiality.

For three whole days Godfrey Ledstone fought; really trying to "cut the
whole thing," to master again the feelings which had mastered him, not
to go back to Shaylor's Patch. On one day he went to see his people, the
father, mother, and sister, who were orthodox-thinking, and so fond and
proud of him. They lived in Woburn Square. The old gentleman had been an
accountant in a moderately good way of business, and had retired on a
moderately good competence; at least, he was not old really, but, like
some men, he took readily, even prematurely, to old age. Everything in
the house seemed to Godfrey preternaturally settled; it even seemed
settled somehow that Amy would not marry. And it was odd to think that
Mr. and Mrs. Ledstone had once married, had (as it must be presumed)
suffered from these terrible feelings, had perhaps doubted, feared,
struggled, enjoyed. To-day all was so placid in Woburn Square; the only
really acute question was the Income Tax--that certainly was a grievance
to Mr. Ledstone. Godfrey appreciated the few hours of repose, the
fondness, and the pride. It seemed then quite possible to "cut the whole
thing"--yes, the whole of it.

Bob Purnett went off on a short visit, leaving his comfortable flat at
his friend's disposal. Why not stay in London, do a good turn at work,
and see some more of his people in Woburn Square? A good and wise
programme. But on the fourth day came a gust that blew the good and wise
programme clean out of the window--a gust of feeling like a draught of
strong wine, heady and overpowering. He flung down his pencil, crying
aloud, "It's no use!"

He was tried beyond that he was able. He laid an indictment, vague and
formless, yet charged with poignant indignation, against the general
order of things, against what forced a man into folly, and then branded
him "Fool" with irons hissing-hot. The old protest, the creature's cry
against the injustice of creation! An hour later he was on his way to
the country--back to Shaylor's Patch. So far as he was concerned, the
thing was settled. He might not realize it; he went, not led by purpose,
but driven by craving. But "On my terms if I can, on hers if I must,"
interprets the confused and restless humming of his brain.

To a man in such case the people he meets as he fares along seem
strangely restful, impossibly at peace. The old man with his pipe, the
young clerk with his sporting paper, the labourer in the field, the
toddler with its toy, all present an illusion of untroubled existence,
at which the man with the gadfly looks in envy and in scorn. They
possess their souls--he is possessed. Well might Bob Purnett wear that
expression of awe! For some day the normal man must resume possession,
and he may find that the strangest pranks have been played by the
temporary tenant--furniture smashed, debts incurred, and what not, for
all of which dilapidations and liabilities he, unfortunate soul, is held
responsible! Happily it chances, after all not so seldom, that the
temporary tenant has made beauty, not havoc, and left behind him
generous gifts, to the enrichment of life till life itself shall pass
away.

Stephen Aikenhead sat on the lawn with his little girl Alice, newly come
home for the holidays. She was reading aloud to him; he smoked his pipe,
and now and again his big hand would pass caressingly over the little
bowed head with its soft brown hair. The story was about a certain
Princess, to whom a Fairy had given the Gift of Eternal Youth on the
condition that she never fainted either from fear or from joy. All went
well for a very great many years. Generations were born and died, and
the Princess was still sweet seventeen. She outlived seventy-seven Prime
Ministers. But at last a very handsome groom, who had appeared at the
Castle gates rather mysteriously and been taken into the Princess'
service without (as it seemed) any "character," was thrown from his
horse while he was in attendance on his Royal Mistress, and, lo and
behold, the Princess fainted for fear that he might be dead, and fainted
again for joy when she found he wasn't! So he revealed himself as the
King of the neighbouring kingdom, and they married one another, and
lived happily ever afterwards. Only, of course, the Princess lost the
Gift of Eternal Youth.

"I love these stories about Princesses, Alice," said Stephen. "Read me
another. I wish there were lots more Princesses. There aren't half
enough of them nowadays. They're so picturesque, and such jolly things
happen to them. Hallo, Godfrey, you back?"

Godfrey had sent the cab on with his luggage, and let himself in by the
garden gate. He arrived just in time to hear the end of the story.
Reader and listener were close to the parlour door. As his name was
spoken, Godfrey heard a little movement from within--the sound of the
movement of a woman's skirts. His impressionable nature responded to a
new appeal, his readily receptive eyes beheld a new vision. As he looked
at the big man and his little girl, so happy in one another, so at peace
yet never in tedium, he wished that it--his affair--could be neither on
his terms nor on hers--could be neither a deceit nor a defiance, but
could be the straight regular thing, the good old-fashioned thing that,
after all, served most people's turn well enough. There were failures,
but it was in the broad way of nature and broadly successful. Who
really objected to it, or questioned it? To whom was the Institution
obnoxious? Rips and cranks, he answered in his concise vernacular;
really it did well enough for everybody else--with, no doubt, allowances
made here and there.

The soft rustle sounded again from within the parlour. Then Winnie Maxon
stood in the doorway with shining, welcoming eyes.

"Well, would you like the story of the Princess with the Broken Heart?"
asked Alice.

"Anything about a Princess!" said Stephen, with handsome liberality.

"It sounds sad, Alice. If it's sad, don't let's have it," Winnie
pleaded.

"Oh, after all the old doctors had tried to mend it, one came, looking
much older and much more wrinkled than all the rest----"

"I shall keep my eye on that practitioner, all the same," Stephen
interposed. "I'm beginning to know the ropes!"

"And he mended it with an enormous gold ring that he'd cut off the
little finger of a giant he had once killed on a walk he took."

"What a fellow!" said Stephen. "Prince in disguise, Alice?"

"Why, father, of course he was!"

Stephen shook his big head and turned his big spectacles up to heaven.
"And that fellow Dennehy dares to call himself a republican! Now
who--who, I ask you--would give a fig for a President in disguise? Read
me some more Princesses, Alice."

They all enjoyed the Princesses. So sometimes, for an hour, a little
child shall lead us into peace.



CHAPTER VIII

SUBVERSIVE


Embedded in his own conceptions as in a rock, Cyril Maxon refused to
believe that his wife would not soon "have had enough of it." He refused
to accept the failure of the envoy through whose mouth he had been
induced to make such great concessions and such generous promises. Could
they, in the end, fail to move her?

His duty towards her--that inexorable duty from which no act of hers
could free him--called upon him for another effort. Attlebury was with
him in this view, though now with less hope of a favourable issue; he
detected the fact that his disciple's desire for self-vindication was no
less strong than his hope of saving Mrs. Maxon, and feared for the
result of this admixture of objects. He ventured on a reminder.

"Of course you want to be able to feel you've done all you could, but
the great thing is to do it successfully. As we regard it, she has more
at stake than you."

"I believe I can persuade her, if I go and see her."

Did he really mean persuade--or did he mean frighten? Attlebury doubted,
and, because he doubted that, doubted yet more of the issue. The
disciple did not give the cause fair play; a teacher has often to
complain of that.

In whatever shape Cyril Maxon may have forecast in his own mind the
interview that he proposed, there was no question as to how Winnie
received the notice of his intention to seek her out in her asylum at
Shaylor's Patch. It filled her with sheer panic; it drove her to what
seemed now her only refuge. Her terror must surely make an appeal
irresistible alike to the ardour and to the chivalry of her lover? Or he
was no lover. Tora and she were at one on the point, though it was not
put too bluntly between them.

"I can't see him; I won't," she declared to Stephen Aikenhead, running
to the man of the house at last, rebel against male domination as she
was.

"Rather difficult to refuse, if he comes here!"

"Then I won't be here when he comes, that's all." Her fright made her
unjust. "If you won't protect me--or can't--I must act for myself." She
flung out of the room, leaving Stephen no chance of protesting that the
bolts and bars of Shaylor's Patch were at her service, and a siege by an
angry lawyer all in the day's work.

She was afraid of herself; she distrusted her courage. She wanted to
have a motive compulsory in its force; her instinct was to do something
which should make a return home irrevocably impossible. Her husband's
insistence hastened the crisis, though his patience could hardly have
averted it.

Godfrey Ledstone had the news first from Tora Aikenhead. Her calm eyes
asked him plainly enough what part it was his to play. Tora had taken
her line and at once conceived hesitation to be impossible. His native
idea would have been to comfort her before Maxon came, and again after
he had gone, and to lie by in snug hiding when he was there. So ran the
code, discreet and elastic. By now he knew--only too well--that this was
not what these uncompromising people expected of him. In their odd view
he had already gone too far for that convenient expedient. Social
liberty might, it seemed, be more exacting than social bondage. For if
you were always free to do as you liked, it was obviously necessary to
be very careful about intimating too unreservedly what it was that you
would like to do; since there could be no such thing as pleading
impossibility in defence of a pledge unfulfilled.

"She's terribly unhappy. She declares that she must be gone before he
comes. She daren't meet him."

"Why not?" he asked sharply. Another feeling was stirred in him.

"Well, he's always dominated her. He might break down her will again."

"You mean she might go back? Cave in, and go back?"

"That seems to be what she's afraid of, herself."

Tora entertained no more doubt of the soundness of her ideas than Cyril
Maxon of his. Why should she, she would have asked, merely because hers
were new, while his were old? To her mind newness was a presumption of
merit in a view, since the old views had produced a world manifestly so
imperfect all round. Holding her opinion strongly, she did not hesitate
to use the weapons best suited to secure its triumph. If Godfrey's
jealousy helped to that end, why was it illegitimate to let it play its
part? Never was a woman less afraid of what men call responsibility.

"It's just awful to think of the poor little lady going back to that
brute of a fellow," he said.

"Oh, don't abuse him. I dare say he's as unhappy as she is. And he
thinks he's right. I'm not sure you don't think he's right, really."
Tora smiled over her shrewd thrust. "So you're the last person who ought
to abuse him."

"Oh, what does it matter what I think?" he cried impatiently.

There was still enough of his old mood and his old ideas in him to stir
a resentment against Tora, to make him feel that she was forcing his
hand and constraining him to accept a bigger liability than he had
bargained for. Theorists must always be up to that! They seem to take a
positive pleasure in proving that you are bound to go to lengths--to all
lengths! That the comfortable half-way will never serve! Perhaps they do
not enough reflect that the average man is not thereby encouraged to
start at all.

But Winnie herself had genuine power to stir his heart--and now, indeed,
as never before, since she seemed helpless save for him, and hopeless
save in him, yet in and through him both brave and confident--the most
profound, the most powerful, flattery from sex to sex. Mere friends
could not help now; mere convictions, a naked sense of being in the
right, would not avail. These she had, but she must have love too. To
this mood all the man in him responded.

"It only needed this final trouble to--to make me speak."

"I don't think I need speak," she whispered, with her delicately
quavering smile. "You know it all--all the great thing it is. I'm not
ashamed of it, Godfrey. And you won't be ashamed of me, will you?"

The question did not disconcert him now. For the time he had lost that
vision of the future which had once disquieted and alarmed him. His
phrases might be well-worn, but they were heartily sincere when he told
her he would face the world, if only she were by his side.

"It shall all be just as you said you wished it to be, if ever you
joined your life to a man's again." He quoted almost verbally, just
missing her poetic "link."

Winnie kissed him in warm and pretty gratitude. "That takes away my last
doubt," she told him. "I shall be proud now, as proud as any woman! And
to-day--just for a few hours--let's forget everything, except that we're
plighted lovers." She put her arm through his. "You'll kill the giant,
take his ring, and mend the Princess' Broken Heart!"

"I say, are you making me a Prince in disguise, Winnie?"

"Well, don't you feel like a Prince now?" she asked, with the sweet
audacity of a woman who knows that she is loved, and for her lover
boldly takes herself at her lover's valuation.

Obedient to her wish, the outside world effected one of its
disappearances--very obliging, if not of long duration. Even Woburn
Square made tactful exit, without posing the question as to what its
opinion of the proceedings might likely be. Of course, that point could
be held immaterial for the present at least.

For the second time then, in Winnie Maxon's recent experience, with a
little courage things proved easy; difficulties vanished when faced; you
did what you held you had a right to do, and nothing terrible happened.
Certainly nothing terrible happened that evening at Shaylor's Patch.
There was a romantic, an idyllic, bit of courting, with the man ardent
and gallant, the woman gay but shy; it was all along orthodox lines,
really conventional. He had undertaken that the affair should be carried
through on Winnie's lines; this was his great and fine concession--or
conversion. He observed it most honourably; she grew more and more
gratefully tender.

"Another man than you--yes, even another man I loved--might have wounded
me to-night," she murmured, as they parted at the door after dinner.

"I could never wound you--even with my love."

She took his hand and kissed it. "I'm trusting you against all the
world, Godfrey."

"You may trust me."

Her heart sang, even while her lover left her.

For what followed in the two or three days during which she still abode
at Shaylor's Patch people shall find what names they please, since her
history is, of necessity, somewhat concerned with contentious matters.
Some may speak of unseemly travesty, some of idle farce; others may find
a protest not without its pathos--a protest that she broke with the old
order only because she must, that she would fain carry over into her new
venture what was good in the old spirit, that her enterprise was to her
a solemn and high thing. They were to be man and wife together; he must
buy her the ring that symbolised union; they must have good and true
witnesses--nothing was to be secret, all above-board and unashamed.
There must even be a little ceremonial, a giving and taking before
sympathetic friends, a declaration that she held herself his, and him
hers, in all love and trust, and to the exclusion of all other people in
the world. For ever? Till death did them part? No--the premises
peremptorily forbade that time-honoured conclusion. But so long as the
love that now bound them together still sanctified the bond which it had
fastened. Satisfied in her heart that the love could never die, she
defined without dismay the consequences of its death. At all events, she
would have answered to an objector, could they be worse than what had
befallen her when her love for Cyril Maxon died a violent death by
crushing--died and yet was, in the name of all that is holy, denied
decent burial?

And yet there were qualms. "Will people understand?" was her great
question.

Tora--uncompromising, level-headed--answered that most of them would not
even try to, and added, "What matter?" Stephen asked, "Well, so long as
your friends do?" Her lover vowed that, whether her action were approved
or not, no tongue could wag against her honour or her motives.

The last day came--the day when the pair were to set out together,
Godfrey from his summer cottage in the village of Nether End, near
Shaylor's Patch, Winnie from her haven under the Aikenheads' friendly
roof. A home has been taken in London, but they were to have a week's
jaunt--a honeymoon--in North Wales first. Winnie was now putting the
finishing touch to her preparations by writing her luggage labels. The
name she wrote seemed happily to harmonize personal independence with a
union of hearts and destinies--Mrs. Winifred Ledstone.

The sound of a man's footstep made her look up. She saw Dick Dennehy
before her. He had come in from the garden, and was just clutching off
his hat at the sight of her.

"Mr. Dennehy! I didn't know you were coming here to-day."

"No more did I, Mrs. Maxon, till a couple of hours ago. I found I had
nothing to do, so I ran down to see how you were all getting on."

"Some of us are just getting off," smiled Winnie. "You're in time to say
good-bye."

"Why, where are you off to? I'm sorry you're going."

With a saucy glance Winnie pushed a luggage label across the table
towards him. He took it up, studied it, and laid it down again without a
word.

"Well?" said Winnie.

He spread out a pair of pudgy splay-fingered hands and shook his
shock-haired head in sincere if humorous despair.

"You're all heathens here, and it's no good talking to you as if you
were anything else."

"I'm not a heathen, but if the Church backs up the State in unjust
laws----"

He wagged a broad forefinger. "Even a heathen tribe has its customs. Any
customs better than none! Ye can't go against the custom of the tribe
for nothing. I speak as heathen to heathen."

"Can't customs ever be changed?" Winnie was back at her old point.

"You're not strong enough for the job, Mrs. Maxon." His voice was full
of pity.

But Winnie was in no mood to accept pity. "You call me a heathen.
Suppose it was A.D. 50 or 100, and not A.D. 1909. I think you'd be a
heathen, and I--well, at any rate I should be trying to screw up my
courage to be a Christian martyr."

He acknowledged a hit. "Oh, you're all very clever!" he grumbled. "I'll
bet Stephen taught you that. That's from his mint, if I know the stamp!
Take it as you say then--are you looking forward to your martyrdom?"

Perhaps she was, and in what must be admitted to be the proper
spirit--thinking more of the crown than of the stake. "I don't look very
unhappy, do I?" she asked radiantly.

"Going off with him to-day, are you?" She nodded gaily. The natural man
suddenly asserted itself in Dennehy. He smiled. "It's more than the
young dog deserves, sure it is!"

"Oh, well, you're being a heathen now!" laughed Winnie, distinctly
well-pleased.

"I'm wondering what Mrs. Lenoir will say about it."

Winnie's pleasure suffered a slight jar.

"Why should Mrs. Lenoir be any judge of a case like mine?" she asked
rather coldly.

"Oh, I'm not making comparisons," he murmured vaguely. Still there was a
point of comparison in his mind. Mrs. Lenoir, too, had been a rebel
against the custom of the tribe, and, though the motives of rebellion
differ, the results may be the same. "Well, I'll wish you luck anyhow,"
he continued, holding out his hand. "I hope he'll make you happy, for
you're giving him a lot, by the powers, you are!"

"I hope I'm giving anything like as much as I'm getting."

He grumbled something inarticulate as he passed by her and out of the
door into the garden. Winnie looked after him with a smile still on her
lips. If this were the worst she had to expect, it was nothing very
dreadful. It was even rather amusing; she did not conceive that she had
come off in any way second-best in the encounter.

Stephen came in a moment later and, on her report of Dennehy's arrival,
went to look for his friend in the garden. But Dennehy was nowhere to be
found; he was seen no more that day. He went straight back to London; he
could not stop the deed, but he would not be an accomplice.

"Well, if he doesn't agree with what we're doing, I think he's right not
to stay," said Tora. Yet Winnie felt a little hurt.

Then came the travesty, or the farce, or the protest, or whatever it may
be decided to call it, in which Winnie formally--to a hostile eye
perhaps rather theatrically--in the presence of her witnesses, did for
herself what the powers that be would not do for her--declared her union
with Cyril Maxon at an end and plighted her troth to Godfrey Ledstone.
Godfrey would rather have had this little ceremony (if it had to be
performed at all) take place privately, but he played his part in it
with a good grace. It would be over soon--and soon he and she would set
out together.

What of little Alice during all this? She had been sent to play with the
gardener's daughter. It would be a portentous theory indeed that forced
a child to consider the law of marriage and divorce before she attained
the age of eleven. Even Tora Aikenhead did not go so far, and, as has
been seen, Stephen's theorizing tendencies were held in check in his
child's case.

Then off they went, and, on their arrival in London, they were met by
Bob Purnett, who gave them a hearty welcome and a champagne luncheon,
where all was very merry and gay. There was indeed a roguish twinkle in
Bob Purnett's eye, but perhaps it was no more than custom allows even in
the case of the most orthodox of marriages--and in any event Bob
Purnett's was not that class of opinion to which Winnie's views could
most naturally be expected to appeal. He treated Winnie most politely
and called her Mrs. Ledstone. She did not realize that he would have
done just the same if--well, in the case of any lady for whom a friend
claimed the treatment and the title.

The next morning two letters duly and punctually reached their
respective destinations. All was to be open, all above-board! Winnie had
not found hers hard to write, and Godfrey had said nothing to her about
how extraordinarily difficult he had found his. One was addressed to
Cyril Maxon, Esquire, K.C., at the Temple; the other to William J.
Ledstone, Esquire, at Woburn Square. Now in neither of these places were
the views of Shaylor's Patch likely to find acceptance, or even
toleration. No, nor Bob Purnett's either. Though, indeed, if a choice
had to be made, the latter might have seemed, not more moral, but at
least less subversive in their tendency. A thing that is subversively
immoral must be worse, surely, than a thing that is merely immoral?
Granting the immorality in both cases, the subversive people have not a
leg to stand on. They are driven to argue that they are not immoral at
all--which only makes them more subversive still.

And the dictionary defines "subversion" in these terms: "The act of
overturning, or the state of being overturned; entire overthrow; an
overthrow from the foundation; utter ruin; destruction"--anyhow, clearly
a serious matter, and at that we may leave it for the moment.



CHAPTER IX

NO PROCEEDINGS!


At Cyril Maxon's chambers in the Temple--very pleasant chambers they
were, with a view over a broad sweep of the river--the day began in the
usual fashion. At half-past nine Mr. Gibbons, the clerk, arrived; at a
quarter to ten the diligent junior, who occupied the small room and
devilled for the King's Counsel, made his punctual appearance. At ten,
to the stroke of the clock, Maxon himself came in. His movements were
leisurely; he had a case in the paper--an important question of
demurrage--but it was not likely to be reached before lunch. He bade Mr.
Gibbons good morning, directed that the boy should keep a watch on the
progress of the court to which his case was assigned, passed into his
own room, and sat down to open his letters. These disposed of, he had a
couple of opinions to write, with time left for a final run through his
brief, aided by the diligent junior's note.

Half an hour later Mr. Gibbons opened the door. Maxon waved him back
impatiently.

"I'm busy, Gibbons. Don't disturb me. We can't be on in court yet?"

"No, sir. It's a gentleman to see you. Very urgent business, he says."

"No, no, I tell you I'm busy."

"He made it a particular favour. In fact, he seems very much upset--he
says it's private business." He glanced at a card he carried. "It's a
Mr. Ledstone, sir."

"Oh," said Maxon. His lips shut a little tighter as he took up a letter
which lay beside the legal papers in front of him. "Ledstone?" The
letter was signed "Winifred Ledstone."

"Yes, sir."

"What aged man?"

"Oh, quite elderly, sir. Stout, and grey 'air."

The answer dispelled an eccentric idea which had entered Maxon's head.
If this couple so politely informed him of their doings, they might even
be capable of paying him a call!

"Well, show him in." He shrugged his shoulders with an air of disgust.

Stout and grey-haired (as Mr. Gibbons had observed), yet bearing a
noticeable likeness to his handsome son, Mr. Ledstone made a very
apologetic and a very flustered entrance. Maxon bowed without rising;
Gibbons set a chair and retired.

"I must beg a thousand pardons, Mr. Maxon, but this morning I--I
received a letter--as I sat at breakfast, Mr. Maxon, with Mrs. Ledstone
and my daughter. It's terrible!"

"Are you the father of Mr. Godfrey Ledstone?"

"Yes, sir. My boy Godfrey--I've had a letter from him. Here it is."

"Thank you, but I'm already in possession of what your son has done.
I've heard from Mrs. Maxon. I have her letter here."

"They're mad, Mr. Maxon! Mean to make it all public! What are we to do?
What am I to say to Mrs. Ledstone and my daughter?"

"You must really take your own course about that."

"And my poor boy! He's been a good son, and his mother's devoted to him,
and----"

Cyril Maxon's wrath found vent in one of those speeches for which his
wife had a pet name. "I don't see how the fact that your son has run
away with my wife obliges, or even entitles, me to interfere in your
family affairs, Mr. Ledstone."

Acute distress is somewhat impervious to satire.

"Of course not, sir," said Mr. Ledstone, mopping his face forlornly.
"But what's to be done? There's no real harm in the boy. He's young----"

"If you wish to imply that my wife is mainly in fault, you're entirely
welcome to any comfort you and your family can extract from that
assumption."

Ledstone set his hands on the table between them, and looked plaintively
at Maxon. He was disconcerted and puzzled; he fancied that he had not
made himself, or the situation, fully understood. He brought up his
strongest artillery--the most extraordinary feature in the case.

"The boy actually suggests that he should bring your--that he should
bring Mrs.--that he should bring the lady to see Mrs. Ledstone and my
daughter!" He puffed out this crowning atrocity with quick breaths, and
mopped his face again.

"You're master in your own house, I suppose? You can decide whom to
receive, Mr. Ledstone." He pushed his chair back a little; the movement
was unmistakably a suggestion that his visitor should end his visit. Mr.
Ledstone did not take the hint.

"I suppose you'll--you'll institute proceedings, Mr. Maxon?"

"I'm not a believer in divorce."

"You won't?"

"I said I was not a believer in divorce." Growing exasperation, hard
held, rang in his voice.

A visible relief brightened Mr. Ledstone's face. "You won't?" he
repeated. "Oh, well, that's something. That gives us time at all
events."

Maxon smiled--not genially. "I don't think you must assume that your son
and the lady who now calls herself Mrs. Ledstone will be as much pleased
as you appear to be."

"Oh, but if there are no proceedings!" murmured Ledstone. Then he
ventured a suggestion. "Private influence could be brought to bear?"

"Not mine," said Cyril Maxon grimly.

"Still, you don't propose to take proceedings!" He munched the crumb of
comfort almost affectionately.

Cyril Maxon sought refuge in silence; not to answer the man was probably
the best way to get rid of him--and he had defined his attitude twice
already. Silence reigned supreme for a minute or two.

"I suppose my wife and daughter must know. But as for the rest of the
family----" Mr. Ledstone was discussing his personal difficulties. Maxon
sat still and silent as a statue. "It may all be patched up. He'll see
reason." He glanced across at Maxon. "But I mustn't keep you, Mr.
Maxon." He rose to his feet. "If there are no proceedings----" Maxon
sharply struck the handbell on his table; Gibbons opened the door.
"Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Maxon." Maxon's silence was unbroken as
his visitor shuffled out.

Maxon's nature, hard and proud, not tender in affection, very tenacious
of dignity, found now no room for any feeling save of disgust--a double
disgust at the wickedness and at the absurdity--at the thing itself and
at the despicable pretence in which the pair sought to cloak it.
Ledstone's intrusion--so he regarded the visit of Godfrey's
father--intensified his indignant distaste for the whole affair. To have
to talk about it to a man like that! To be asked to use his influence!
He smiled grimly as he tried to picture himself doing that. Pleading
with his wife, it must be supposed; giving wise counsel to the young man
perhaps? He asked nothing now but to be allowed to wash his hands of
them both--and of the Ledstone family. Really, above all, of the
Ledstone family! How the thought of them got on his nerves! Mr.
Attlebury's teaching about the duty of saving a soul passed out of
sight. Was not he, in his turn, entitled to avail himself of the
doctrine of the limits of human endurance? Is it made only for
sinners--or only for wives? Maxon felt that it applied with overwhelming
force to any further intercourse with the Ledstone family--and he
instructed Mr. Gibbons to act accordingly, if need should arise. Mr.
Gibbons had noticed Winnie's handwriting, with which naturally he was
acquainted, on her letter, and wondered whether there could be any
connection between it and the odd visit and the peremptory order. He had
known for some two or three weeks that Mrs. Maxon was no longer in
Devonshire Street; he was on very friendly terms with the coachman who
drove Cyril Maxon's brougham.

Mr. Ledstone, mercifully ignorant of the aspect he assumed in Maxon's
thoughts, walked home to Woburn Square, careful and troubled about many
things. Though he was a good man and of orthodox views, it cannot be
said that he either was occupied primarily with the duty of saving
souls; saving a scandal was, though doubtless not so important,
considerably more pressing. He was, in fact, running over the names of
all those of his kindred and friends whom he did not wish to know of the
affair and who need know nothing about it, if things were properly
managed, and if Godfrey would be reasonable. He wished to have this list
ready to produce for the consolation of his immediate family circle.
They--Mrs. Ledstone and his daughter--must be told. It would be sure to
"get to" them somehow, and Mrs. Ledstone enjoyed the prestige of having
a weak heart; it would never do for a thing like this to get to her
without due precautions. Angry as he was with his son, he did not wish
the boy to run the risk of having that on his conscience! As a fact, the
way things get to people is often extremely disconcerting. It is a point
that Shaylor's Patch ought to have considered.

In view of the weak heart--Mrs. Ledstone never exposed it to the
sceptical inspection of a medical man--he told Amy first, Amy concerning
whom it seemed to be settled that she would never be married, although
she was but just turned twenty-five. He showed Amy the letter from
Godfrey his son; he indicated the crowning atrocity with an accusing
forefinger.

"Oh, she made him put that in," said Amy, with contemptuous
indifference--and an absolute discernment of the truth.

Mr. Ledstone boiled over. "The impudence of it!"

Amy looked down at her feet--shod in good stout shoes, sensible, yet not
ugly; she was a great walker and no mean hockey player. "I wonder what
she's like," said Amy. "I've seen Mr. Maxon's name in the _Mail_ quite
often. What did you think of him, daddy?" She had always kept the old
name for her father.

Mr. Ledstone searched for a description of his impressions. "He didn't
strike me as very sympathetic. He didn't seem to feel with us much,
Amy."

"Hates the very idea of us, I suppose," remarked Amy. She turned to
Godfrey's letter again; a faint smile came to her lips. "He does seem to
be in love!"

"The question is--how will mother take it?"

"Yes, of course, dear," Amy agreed, just a trifle absently. Yet,
generally considered, it is a large question; it has played a big part,
for good and evil, in human history.

Mrs. Ledstone--a woman of fifty-five, but still pretty and with prettily
surviving airs of prettiness (it is pleasant to see their faded grace,
like the petals of a flower flattened in a heavy book)--took it hardly,
yet not altogether with the blank grief and dismay, or with the spasm of
the heart, which her husband had feared for her. She did indeed say,
"The idea!" when the crowning atrocity--the suggestion that Winnie
should be brought to see her--was mentioned; and she cordially endorsed
the list of kindred and friends who need know nothing about it. Also she
paid a proper and a perfectly sincere tribute to outraged proprieties.
But behind all this was the same sort of interest as had appeared in her
daughter's comments--and had existed more explicitly in her daughter's
thoughts. These Maxons--this Mrs. Maxon, for the husband was a
subordinate figure, although with his own interest--had abruptly made
incursion into the orderly life of Woburn Square, not merely challenging
its convictions, but exciting its curiosity, bringing it suddenly into
contact with things and thoughts that it had seen only in the newspapers
or (in Amy's case) now and then at the theatre, where dramas "of ideas"
were presented. Of course they knew such things happened; one may know
that about a thing, and yet find it very strange when it happens to
oneself.

"There was always something about that boy," said Mrs. Ledstone. The
vagueness was extreme, but pride lurked in the remark, like onion in the
salad.

And she, like her husband, was immeasurably comforted by the news that
there would be no proceedings. "His career won't suffer, father." She
seemed to draw herself up, as though on the brink of moral laxity. "But,
of course, it must be put a stop to at once." She read a passage in
Godfrey's letter again. "Oh, what a goose the boy is! His head's turned;
you can see that. I suppose she's pretty--or what they call smart,
perhaps."

"The whole thing is deplorable, but the grossest feature is the woman's
effrontery." The effrontery was all the woman's--an unkind view, but
perhaps in this case more unkind than unjust. "How could she look you in
the face, mother?" Mr. Ledstone squeezed his wife's hand
sympathetically.

"Well, we must get him away from her as soon as possible."

A pessimist--one of those easily discouraged mortals who repine at
nothing being effected within the brief span of their own
generation--might liken the world to a ponderous ball, whereunto are
attached five thousand strings. At the end of each somebody is tugging
hard; but all of them are tugging in different directions. Universal
effort, universal fatigue--and the big ball remains exactly where it
was! Here was Winnie, heart and soul in her crusade, holding it great,
almost holy. But the only idea in Woburn Square was to put an end to it
as soon as possible!--And meanwhile to cover it up, to keep it quiet, to
preserve the possibility of being able to say no more about it as soon
as it was happily over. No proceedings! What a comfort!

"Of course we can have nothing to do with her. But what about him--while
it lasts, I mean?" Mr. Ledstone propounded the question. "We ought to
mark our--our horror."

"Yes, father, but we can't abandon the poor boy because he's been
deluded. What do you think, Amy? After all, you're a grown-up woman
now." (Mrs. Ledstone was defending herself against an inward sense of
indelicacy in referring to the matter before her unmarried daughter.)

"Oh, the more we can get him here, the better," was Amy's view. "He'll
realize how we feel about it then."

"Amy's right," the father declared emphatically. "And so are you,
mother. We mustn't abandon him. We must bring our influence to bear."

"I want to hear the poor boy's own story--not a letter written with the
woman at his elbow," said Mrs. Ledstone.

"Will he come without her?" Amy asked.

"Without her--or not at all! It's my duty to shield you and your mother,
Amy. And now, really, I must read my paper." In the excitement of the
morning, in his haste to find Cyril Maxon, in his terror of proceedings,
he had omitted the rite.

"I haven't been through the wash yet," said Mrs. Ledstone.

"It's time for Snip's walk," added Amy.

Life had to go on, in spite of Winnie Maxon--just as we read that some
people lived their ordinary routine throughout the French Revolution.

Snip was Amy Ledstone's Aberdeen terrier--and, let it be said at once,
an extremely attractive and accomplished dog; he "died" for the King and
whined if one mentioned the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Amy lavished on
him her surplus of affection--what was left after her love for mother,
father, and brother, her affection for uncles, aunts, and cousins, and a
stray friendship or two which survived from schoolgirl days. Dogs
sometimes come in for these windfalls. But to-day her thoughts--as she
made her way along the Euston Road and into Regent's Park--were less
occupied with Snip than was usually the case. Obstinately they fastened
themselves on Winnie Maxon; on more than Winnie Maxon--on ill-regulated
affections in general. She had read about them in novels (which are so
largely occupied with them), seen them exhibited in plays, pursed her
lips over them in newspapers. All that was not the same thing--any more
than an earthquake in China is the same thing as a burglary in one's own
house. Here they were--actually in the family circle! Not mere
"dissipation," but a settled determination to set the rules at naught.
What manner of woman was this Mrs. Maxon? What had driven her to it? She
had "borne more than any human being could"--so said Godfrey's letter.
She now "claimed a little happiness," which "wronged nobody." She only
"took what the law ought to give her--freedom from unendurable bondage."
The phrases of the letter were vivid in Amy's recollection. A woman who
rebelled against the law--ought not her case against it to be heard?
Hadn't she at least a right to a hearing? After all, as things stood,
she had nothing to do with making it--nothing direct, at any rate. That
sounded a plausible plea for Mrs. Maxon. But on the other hand, because
she had been wronged, or suffered ill-treatment, or had bad luck, to go
on and do what was, by Amy's training and prepossession, the one
absolutely unpardonable thing, the thing hardly to be named--"I don't
see how she could, whatever she thinks!" exclaimed Amy, as she entered
the Broad Walk.

People will, when they are allowed, go to see other people hanged, or to
see murderers in their cells, or to watch a woman battling in open court
for her fame as for her life. It was something of this sort of interest
that fastened Amy's thoughts on Winnie Maxon. There is some admiration,
some pity, in the feeling--and certainly a high curiosity about such
people in the average mind, the law-keeping, the non-speculative mind,
the mind trained to regard conventions as eternities and national
customs as laws divine.

Suddenly a smile came on her lips. Would it be very wrong? She and
Godfrey had always been "awfully good friends." She would like to be
that still. What an awfully good friend he would think her if--if she
did not treat Mrs. Maxon as dirt! If she--Amy trembled intellectually as
the speculation developed itself--without saying anything about it at
home, went to see her, made friends, tried to understand her point of
view--called her "Winnie"! Calling her "Winnie" seemed the supreme
point, the pivot on which her attitude turned.

Then came a cold doubt. "Will she care to be called Winnie?" "Will she
care about seeing me?" "She's pretty, she's smart, she has been in
society." Falling in love with a man may not involve a concern about the
opinion of his maiden sister. How pretty was Mrs. Maxon, how smart?

Interest in Winnie Maxon accumulated from source after source. Yes, and
on Amy Ledstone's part, interest in herself accrued also, mingled with a
little uneasiness. She seemed to have travelled far in her
meditations--and she had almost forgotten Snip. Yet it was hardly likely
that these speculations would in the end issue in much. Amy herself
recognized that. They would probably produce nothing save a touch of
sympathy, treacherous to her home, in regard to Winnie barren and
unexpressed. They could not prevent her from being against Winnie; they
could only make her sorry that she had to be. Even so much was a
victory--hard won against the prepossessions of her mind and the canons
of her life.



CHAPTER X

MAUVE ENVELOPES


The first condition of being able to please yourself is to have enough
to live upon. Stephen Aikenhead was entirely right about that. Thrift,
exercised by yourself or by some beneficent forerunner, confers
independence; you can live upon the world, and yet flout it. (Within the
limits of the criminal law, of course, but why be a criminal if you have
enough to live upon? You lack the one really good excuse.) Imagine the
state of affairs if it were not so--if banks, railways, docks, and
breweries could refuse you your dividends on the ground of irregularity
in your private life! What a sudden and profound quarter-day reformation
of manners among the well-to-do classes opens before our fantastic
vision! Really enough to turn the clergy and ministers of all
denominations green with envy!

This economic condition was fulfilled for Godfrey Ledstone's
establishment--just fulfilled according to Winnie's ideas, and no more.
She had a hundred and fifty pounds a year; Godfrey's earnings averaged
about two hundred, or a trifle more. His father had been in the habit of
giving him a cheque for fifty at Christmas--but that addition could
scarcely be relied on now. It was not riches; to one accustomed to
Devonshire Street and a rising King's Counsel's income it was by no
means riches. But it was enough; with care it would support the small
quarters they had taken near Baron's Court Station in West Kensington--a
studio, a small dining-room, two bedrooms, a bathroom, and "the usual
offices" (unusually cramped "the usual offices"). No room for expansion!
But they did not mean to expand at present.

Here Winnie sat down to defy or to convert the world. She had to begin
the process with her cook-housemaid. Defiance, not conversion, was here
certainly the word, and Godfrey was distinctly vexed at Winnie's opening
of the matter to the cook-housemaid. Since there were to be no
proceedings, need the good woman have been told at all?

The occasion of this--their first--tiff was small, but by no means
insignificant. Winnie was holding Godfrey to his promise that he would
not be ashamed of her.

"Among our friends, I meant, of course," Godfrey explained. "Among
educated thinking people who can appreciate your position and our point
of view. But this woman will simply think that you're--well, that you're
what you're not, you know."

"How can she, when I told her all about it?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Wait till you blow her up about something;
you'll see what I mean," said he.

"Then I shall dismiss her." Winnie's proud little face was very flushed.

There were sides of life which Godfrey had observed. They had three
cook-housemaids in quick succession, and were approaching despair when
Dick Dennehy found them an old Irish woman, who could not cook at all,
but was entirely charitable. She had been told about the situation
beforehand by Dick; there was no occasion for Winnie to refer to it.
Winnie did not, and tried not to feel relieved. Also she ceased to tell
the occasional charwomen, who came in "by the day." Godfrey was perhaps
right in thinking that superfluous. Dennehy came often, and they had
other visitors, some bachelor friends of Godfrey's, others belonging to
the Shaylor's Patch frequenters--Mrs. Danford and Mr. Carriston, for
example. Mrs. Lenoir also came--not of her own accord (she never did
that), but in response to an invitation from Winnie. Godfrey did not
seem very enthusiastic about this invitation.

"But you seemed to like her so much at Shaylor's Patch," said Winnie, in
surprise.

"Oh yes! Ask her then, if you like." He formulated no objection; but in
his mind there was the idea that Winnie did not quite realize how very
careful she ought to be--in her position.

Such were the little passing clouds, obscuring for a moment the
happiness of one or other of them.

Yet they were very happy. Godfrey was genuinely in love; so was Winnie,
and to her there was the added joy--the new wonder--of being free. Free,
and yet not lonely. She had a companion and yet not a master. Hers was
the better mind of the two. She did not explicitly realize it, but
unconsciously and instinctively she took the lead in most of their
pursuits and amusements. Her tastes guided their interests and
recreation--the books they read, the concerts and theatres which they
"squeezed" out of their none too large margin of spare cash. This
initiative was unspeakably delightful to the former Mrs. Maxon, an
absolutely fresh thing in her life, and absolutely satisfying. This
freedom, this liberty to expand, to grow, to develop, was what her
nature had craved. Even if she set her love altogether on one side--and
how should she?--this in itself seemed to justify her refusal to be any
longer Mrs. Maxon and her becoming Mrs. Winifred Ledstone. In fact it
was bound up with her love, for half the joy of these new travels and
adventures of the mind lay in sharing them with Godfrey.

It still seemed as if everything were possible with a little courage, as
if all the difficulties disappeared when boldly faced. Could there have
been a difficulty more tremendous than Cyril Maxon? He had vanished into
space!

After some six weeks of this pleasant existence--during which the
difficulties at least tactfully effaced themselves, save in such trifles
as have been lightly indicated--a phenomenon began to thrust itself on
Winnie's notice. Godfrey was not a man of much correspondence; he did
most of his business in person and conducted other necessary
communications mainly by telephone (that was a luxury which they had
agreed that they must "run to" at the cost of some other, and
unspecified, luxury to be forgone). Now he began to receive a certain
type of envelope quite often--three times a week perhaps. It was a mauve
envelope, rather larger than the ordinary. Winnie was careful not to
scrutinize these envelopes--she did not even inspect the postmarks--but
she could not help observing that, though the envelopes were always
alike, the handwriting of the address varied. In fact she noted three
varieties. Being a woman of some perspicacity, she did not really need
to inspect the postmarks. Godfrey had a father, a mother, a sister. They
were writing to him, writing rather bulky letters, which he did not read
in company, but stowed away in his pocket; they never reappeared, and
presumably were disposed of secretly, on or off the premises. Nor did
she ever detect him in the act of answering one; but in the course of
his work he spent many hours away from home, and he belonged to a
modest little club in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden; no doubt it
had writing-paper.

These mauve envelopes began to afflict the peace, or at least the
happiness, of the little household. The mornings on which they came were
less cheerful than other mornings; a constraint showed itself in
greetings and farewells. They were reminders--ominous reminders--of the
big world outside, the world which was being defied. His family was at
Godfrey Ledstone--three of his family, and one of them with a weak
heart.

Three weeks of the mauve envelopes did their work. One had come on the
Saturday; on the Sunday morning Godfrey made an apology to Winnie. He
would not be able to join her in their usual afternoon excursion--for a
walk, or to a picture gallery, and so forth.

"My mother's not very well--she's not strong, you know. I must go to my
people's."

"Of course you must, Godfrey. But--without me?"

"Yes." Passing her on his way to the mantelpiece, he pressed her hand
for a moment. Then he stood with his back to her, as he filled his pipe
with fingers unusually clumsy. "Oh, I've tried! They've been at me for
weeks--you probably guessed--and I've been back at them--letter after
letter. It's no use! And yesterday father wrote that mother was really
seriously upset." He turned round, and spoke almost fiercely. "Don't you
see I must go, Winnie?"

"Of course you must," she said again. "And I can't come if they--if they
won't let me in!" She managed a smile. "It's all right. I'll have a walk
by myself."

He tried to find a bright side to the situation. "I may have a better
chance of convincing them, if I go. I'm no good at letters. And mother
is very fond of me."

"Of course you must go," Winnie repeated yet again. What else was there
for Winnie to say--with Mrs. Ledstone not strong and really seriously
upset?

"I haven't seen any of them for--oh, it must be three months--and I used
to go every Sunday, when I was in town."

"Well, you're going to-day, dear. That's all settled!" She went up to
him and kissed him daintily. "And we won't despair of them, will we?
When do you go?"

"I--I generally used to go to lunch. They want me to. And come away
after tea."

"Well, do just what you used to. I hope I shall be doing it with you in
a few weeks."

"Oh, I hope so, dearest."

He had not the glimmer of such a hope. To ask him if he had even the
wish would have been to put an awkward question. The code wherein he was
Bob Purnett's pupil recognizes quite a strict division of life into
compartments. He was Winnie's lover of a certainty; quite doubtfully was
he her convert. Being her lover was to break the law; being her convert
was to deny it. Before he met her, he had been of the people who always
contemplate conforming to the law--some day; at the proper time of life,
or at the proper time before death--whichever may be the more accurate
way of putting it. He was ready to say to the Tribunal, "I have done
wrong"--but not to say, "You--or your interpreters--have been wrong." A
very ordinary man was Godfrey Ledstone.

So after a solitary lunch (a sausage left cold from breakfast and a pot
of tea) Winnie started on a solitary expedition. She took the train from
Baron's Court to Hyde Park Corner, with the idea of enjoying the
"autumn tints" along by Rotten Row and the Serpentine. But, as she
walked, her thoughts were not so much on autumn tints as on Woburn
Square--on that family so nearly related to her life, yet so unspeakably
remote, to whom she was worse than a menace--she was a present and
active curse--who to her were something wrong-headed, almost ridiculous,
yet intensely formidable--really the concrete embodiment of all she had
to struggle against, the thing through which the great world would most
probably hit at her, wound her, and kill her if it could. And both the
family and Winnie thought themselves so absolutely, so demonstrably,
right! Right or wrong, she knew very well, as she walked on towards the
Serpentine, that now--this instant--in Woburn Square they were trying to
get her man away from her; to make him ashamed of her (he had sworn
never to be), to make him throw her over, to leave her stranded, to the
ridicule and ruin of her experiment. With a sudden catch in the breath
she added, "And the breaking of my heart!"

Just as she came near to the lake she saw--among the walkers who had
till now seemed insubstantial shades to her preoccupied mind--a familiar
figure, Hobart Gaynor! Her heart leapt in sudden joy; here was an old, a
sympathetic friend, the man who understood why she had done what she
had. But Hobart Gaynor was not alone. His radiant and self-satisfied
demeanour was justified by the fair comeliness of the girl who walked
beside him--his bride, wedded to him a month ago, Cicely Marshfield.
Winnie had sent him congratulations, good wishes, and a present; all of
which had been cordially acknowledged in a letter written three days
before the wedding. The ceremony had taken place in the country, and
quietly (because of an aunt's death); no question had arisen as to who
was or was not to be asked to attend it.

Her heart went out to Hobart. He had loved her; she had always been very
fond of him. In her drab uneventful girlhood he had provided patches of
enjoyment; in that awful married life he had now and then been a refuge.
She did not know Cicely, but Hobart would surely have chosen a nice
girl, one who would be a friend, who would understand it all, who could
be talked to about it all? With a happy smile and a pretty blush she met
Hobart and his bride Cicely. She saw him speak to her, a quick, hurried
word. Cicely replied--Winnie saw the rapid turn of her head and the
movement of her lips. He spoke once more--just as Winnie nodded and
smiled at him, and he was raising his hand to his hat. Then came the
encounter. But before it was fairly begun, Winnie's heart was turned to
lead. Hobart's face was flushed; his hand came out to hers in a stiff
reluctance. The tall fair girl stood so tall, so erect, looking down,
bowing, not putting out a hand at all, ignoring a pathetically comic
appeal in her embarrassed husband's eyes.

Winnie's eager words of congratulation, of cordiality and friendship,
met with a chilly "Thank you," uttered under an obvious protest, under
_force majeure_. Winnie set her eyes on Hobart's, but his were turned
away; a rigid smile on his lips paid a ghastly tribute to courtesy.

Winnie carried the thing through as briefly as possible. She was not
slow to take a cue.

"Well, I'm glad to have run across you," she said, "and when you're
settled in, I must come and see you. You won't want to be bothered just
yet."

Again Hobart's glance appealed desperately to his wife. But his wife
left the answer to him.

"We are a bit chaotic still," he stumbled. "But soon, I hope,
Winnie----"

"I'll give you notice. Don't be afraid! Now I must hurry on--good-bye."

"Good-bye," said Cicely, with another inclination of her head--it seemed
so high above Winnie's, looking down from such an altitude.

"Good-bye, Winnie." A kindliness, queerly ashamed of itself, struggled
to expression in Hobart's voice.

When the pair had passed by--after a safe interval--Winnie turned and
looked at their retreating figures, the haughty erect girl, dear old
Hobart's broad solid back, somewhat bowed by much office work. Winnie
was smiling; it is sometimes the only thing to do.

"This isn't my lucky day." So she phrased her thoughts to herself,
coupling together the encounter in Hyde Park with what was now--at this
moment--going on in Woburn Square; for it was not yet tea-time, and
Godfrey's visit would last, according to custom, till after tea.

She got home and waited for him in the dusk of the autumn evening. An
apprehension possessed her; she did not know how much effect Woburn
Square might have had upon him. But he came in about six, cheerful,
affectionate, unchanged. On the subject of his home-visit, however, he
was rather reticent.

"They were all very kind--and I really don't think mother's any worse
than usual. About her frail ordinary." He seemed inclined to dismiss the
matter with this brief summary. "And what did you do with yourself?"

"I took the Tube up to the Park and had a walk." She paused. "I met
Hobart and Cicely Gaynor."

"Oh, the happy pair! How were they flourishing?"

"They--well, they warned me off, Godfrey. At least she did--and he had
to follow suit, of course."

Godfrey had been helping himself to whisky and soda-water; tumbler in
hand, he walked across the studio and back again.

"Hobart's one of the very few people in the world I'm really fond of."

"Well, you know, Winnie, you wanted it this way. I assure you I don't
find it altogether comfortable either." He emptied the tumbler in a long
draught and set it down on the table.

She jumped up quickly, came to him, and clasped her arms round his neck;
she could but just reach, for he was tall.

"And they've all been at me--and at you about me--in Woburn Square too,
I suppose?"

"On my honour, you weren't once mentioned the whole time, Winnie. They
were all three just awfully kind, and glad to see me."

Winnie's face wore much the same smile as when she had regarded Cicely
Gaynor's erect back in retreat from her.

"That was rather clever of them," she remarked. "Never to have mentioned
me!"

"Are you being quite just?" He spoke gently and kissed her.

"No, dear," she said, and burst into tears. "How can I be just when
they're trying to take you from me?"

"Neither they nor anybody else can do that."

And then--for a space again--she believed her lover and forgot the rest.

But on the Monday morning there came two mauve envelopes. Winnie was
down first as it chanced--and this time she looked at the postmarks.
Both bore the imprint, "W.C.," clearly indicative of Bloomsbury. Winnie
smiled, and proffered to herself an excuse for her detective
investigation.

"You see, I thought one of them might be from Cicely Gaynor. I'm quite
sure she uses mauve envelopes too."

The world of propriety seemed to be draping itself in mauve--not, after
all, a very cheerful colour.

Godfrey came in, glanced at the two mauve envelopes, glanced across at
Winnie, and put the envelopes in his pocket. After a silence, he
remarked that the bacon was very good.



CHAPTER XI

AN UNMENTIONED NAME


As autumn turned to winter, Godfrey's Sundays at Woburn Square firmly
re-established themselves as a weekly custom. Winnie could hardly deny
that in the circumstances of the case they constituted a fair
compromise. Woburn Square had a right to its convictions, no less than
had Shaylor's Patch; it was not for her to deny that, however narrow she
thought the convictions; and it would be neither just nor kind in her,
even if it proved possible, to separate Godfrey from his family. At all
events, as the visits became regular, the mauve envelopes arrived less
frequently; some consolation lay in that, as one sound buffet may be
preferred to a hundred pinches. She tried to reconcile herself to
finding her own amusements for Sunday, and Godfrey, in loyalty, perhaps
in penitence, dedicated Saturday's half-holiday to her instead. Yet a
weight was on her spirit; she feared the steady unrelenting pressure of
Woburn Square, of the family tie, the family atmosphere, Mrs. Ledstone's
weak heart. In truth she had greater cause for fear than she knew, more
enemies than she realized. There was her lover's native and deeply
rooted way of looking at things, very different from the way into which
she had forced or cajoled him. There was the fact that it was not always
only the members of the family whom he met in Woburn Square.

In spite of Godfrey's absence and Hobart Gaynor's defection, Winnie was
not without friends and distractions on her Sundays. Sometimes Dick
Dennehy would come, quite unshaken in his disapproval, but firm also in
his affection, and openly scornful of Woburn Square. "You'd be bored to
death there," he told her. "And as for the principle of the thing, if
you can turn up your nose at the Church Catholic, I should think you
could turn it up at the Ledstone family."

A reasonable proposition, perhaps, but not convincing to Winnie. The
Church Catholic did not take her lover away from her every Sunday or
fill her with fears about him.

Mrs. Lenoir would come sometimes, or bid Winnie to tea with her. With
the stateliness of her manner there was now mingled a restrained pity.
Winnie was to her a very ignorant little woman, essaying a task meet
only for much stronger hands, and needing a much higher courage--nay, an
audacity of which Winnie made no display. When her first passion had
worn off, what she had got and what she had lost would come home to her.
She was only too likely to find that she had got nothing; and she had
certainly lost a great deal--for Mrs. Lenoir was inclined to make light
of Cyril Maxon's "crushing." She was quite clear that she would not have
been crushed, and thought the less of Winnie's powers of resistance.
But, being a sensible woman, she said nothing of all this--it was either
too late or too soon. Her view showed only in that hint of compassion in
her manner--the pity of the wayworn traveller for the youth who starts
so blithely on his journey.

Winnie found consolation and pleasure in discussing her affairs with
both of these friends. Another visitor afforded her a healthy relief
from the subject. Godfrey had brought Bob Purnett to the studio one day.
His first visit was by no means his last. His working season had set
in; he hunted five days a week; but it was his custom to get back to
town on Saturday evening and to spend Sunday there. So it fell out,
naturally and of no malice aforethought, that his calls generally
happened on Sunday afternoons, when Godfrey was away; sometimes he would
stay on and share their simple supper, often he would take the pair out
to dinner at a restaurant, and perhaps come back again with them--to
talk and smoke, and so go home, sober, orderly, and in good time--ready
for the morrow's work.

Winnie and he were wholesome for one another. She forgot her theories;
he kept better company than was his wont. They became good comrades and
great friends. Godfrey was delighted; his absences on Sunday seemed in a
way condoned; he was not haunted by the picture of a lonely Winnie. He
ceased to accuse himself because he enjoyed being in Woburn Square, and
therefore enjoyed it the more and the more freely. To be glad your lover
can be happy in your absence is a good and generous emotion--whether
characteristic of the zenith of passion is another question.

Accustomed rather to lavishness than to a thrifty refinement, Bob
marvelled at the daintiness of Winnie's humble establishment. He
admired--and in his turn pitied. His friend's circumstances were no
secret to him.

"I wonder how you do it!" he would exclaim. "Do you have to work awfully
hard?"

"Well, it sometimes seems hard, because I didn't used to have to do it.
In fact I used to be scolded if I did do it." She laughed. "I'm not
pretending to like being poor."

"But you took it on fast enough, Mrs. Ledstone. You knew, I mean?"

"Oh yes, I knew, and I took it on, as you call it. So I don't complain."

"I tell you what--some day you and Godfrey must come for a spree with
me. Go to Monte Carlo or somewhere, and have a high old time!"

"I don't believe I should like Monte Carlo a bit."

"Not like it? Oh, I say, I bet you would."

"I suppose it's prejudice to condemn even Monte Carlo without seeing it.
Perhaps we shall manage to go some day. I think Godfrey would like it."

"Oh, I took him once, all right, with--with some other friends."

"And all you men gambled like anything, I suppose?"

"Yes, we did a bit." Bob was inwardly amused at her assumption of the
nature of the party--amused, yet arrested by a sudden interest, a
respect, and a touch of Mrs. Lenoir's pity. If there had been only
himself to confess about, he would have confessed.

"You want keeping in order, Mr. Purnett," she said, smiling. "You ought
to marry, and be obliged to spend your money on your wife."

She puzzled Bob. Because here she was, not married herself! He could not
get away from that rigid and logical division of his--and of many other
people's, such as Dennehy and the like.

"I'm not a marrying man. Heaven help the woman who married me!" he said,
in whimsical sincerity.

She saw the sincerity and met it with a plump "Why?"

Bob was not good at analysis--of himself or other people (though he was
making a rudimentary effort over Winnie). "The way a chap's built, I
suppose."

"What a very conclusive sort of argument!" she laughed. "How's Godfrey
built, Mr. Purnett?"

"Godfrey's all right. He'd settle down if he ever got married."

The theories came tumbling in through the open door. Cowardly theories,
had they refused an opening like that!

"Well, isn't he?" asked Winnie, with dangerously rising colour.

Bob Purnett was a picture of shame and confusion.

"I could bite my tongue out, Mrs. Ledstone--hang it, you don't think
I'm--er--what you'd call an interfering chap? It's nothing to me how my
friends choose to--to settle matters between themselves. Fact is, I just
wasn't thinking. Of course you're right. He--well, he feels himself
married all right. And so he is married all right--don't you know? It's
what a chap feels in the end, isn't it? Yes, that's right, of course."

The poor man was terribly flustered. Yet behind all his aghastness at
his blunder, at the back of his overpowering penitence, lay the
obstinate question--could she really think it made no difference? No
difference to a man like Godfrey Ledstone, whom he knew so well?
Submerged by his remorse for having hurt her, yet the question lay there
in the bottom of his mind. People neither regular nor irregular, people
shifting the boundaries (really so well settled!)--how puzzling they
were! What traps they laid for the heedless conversationalist, for the
traditional moralist--or immoralist!

"Oh, I don't expect you to understand!" Winnie exclaimed petulantly. "I
wonder you come here!"

"Wonder I come here! Good Lord!" He reflected on some other places he
had been to--and meant to go to again perhaps.

"You're a hopeless person, but you're very kind and nice." The colour
faded gradually and Winnie smiled again, rather tremulously. "We won't
talk about that any more. Tell me how the chestnut mare shapes?"

Yet when she heard about the mare, she seemed no more than passably
interested, and for once Bob was tongue-tied on the only subject about
which he was wont to be eloquent. He could not forgive himself for his
hideous inexplicable slip; because he had sworn to himself always to
remember that Mrs. Ledstone thought herself as good as married. But so
from time to time do our habits of thought trip up our fair resolutions;
a man cannot always remember to say what he does not think, essential as
the accomplishment is in society.

Winnie regained her own serenity, but could not restore his. She saw it,
and in pity offered no opposition when he rose to go. But she was
gracious, accompanying him to the door, and opening it for him herself.
He had just shaken hands and put on his hat, when he exclaimed in a
surprised tone, "Hullo, who's that?"

The studio stood a little back from the street; a small flagged
forecourt gave access to it; the entrance was narrow, and a house
projected on either side. To a stranger the place was not immediately
easy to identify. Just opposite to it now there stood a woman, looking
about her, as though in doubt. When the door opened and the light of the
hall gas-jet streamed out, she came quickly through the gate of the
forecourt and up to the house.

Bob Purnett emitted only the ghost of a whistle, but Winnie heard it and
looked quickly at him. There was no time to speak before the visitor
came up.

"Is this Mrs. Godfrey Ledstone's?" she began. Then, with a touch of
surprise, she broke off, exclaiming, "Oh, you, Mr. Purnett!" It was not
surprise that he should be there at all, but merely that she should
chance to come when he was there.

"Yes, er--how are you?" said Bob. "I--I'm just going."

"If you know this lady, you can introduce me," Winnie suggested,
smiling. "Though I'm afraid I'm receiving you rather informally," she
added to the visitor. "I'm Mrs. Ledstone."

"Yes," said the visitor. She turned quickly on Bob. "Mr. Purnett, please
say nothing about this to--to Godfrey."

"It's his sister." Bob effected the introduction as briefly as possible,
and also as awkwardly.

"They don't know I've come, you see." Amy Ledstone spoke jerkily.

"Oh, that's all right, Miss Ledstone. Of course, I'm safe." He looked
desperately at Winnie. "I--I'd better be off."

"Yes, I think so. Good-bye. Do come in, Miss Ledstone." She laughed
gently. "You've surprised us both, but I'm very glad to see you, even
though they don't know you've come. Good-bye again, Mr. Purnett."

She stood aside while Amy Ledstone entered the house, then slowly shut
the door, smiling the while at Bob Purnett. After the door was shut, he
stood where he was for several seconds, then moved off with a portentous
shake of his head. He was amazed almost out of his senses. Godfrey's
sister! Coming secretly! What for? More confusion of boundaries! He
thought that he really had known Woburn Square better than this. The
memory of his terrible slip, five minutes before so mercilessly acute,
was engulfed in a flood of astonishment. He shook his head at intervals
all the evening, till his companion at dinner inquired, with mock
solicitude, where he had contracted St. Vitus's dance, and was it
catching?

Amy Ledstone was in high excitement. She breathed quickly as she sat
down in the chair Winnie wheeled forward. Winnie herself stood opposite
her visitor, very still, smiling faintly.

"I came here to-day because I knew Godfrey wouldn't be here. Please
don't tell him I came. He won't be back yet, will he?"

"Not for an hour later than this, as a rule."

"I left him in Woburn Square, you know."

Winnie nodded.

"And made my way here."

"From what you say, I don't suppose you've come just to call on me, Miss
Ledstone?"

"No." She paused, then with a sort of effort brought out, "But I have
been wanting to know you. Well, I'd heard about you, and--but it's not
that."

"Please don't be agitated or--distressed. And there's no hurry."

"I wonder if you know anything of what daddy--my father--and mother are
doing--of what's going on at home--in Woburn Square?"

"I suppose I can make a guess at it." She smiled. "First the letters,
then the visits! Didn't you write any of the letters?"

"Yes--some." She stirred restlessly. "Why shouldn't I?"

"I haven't blamed you. No doubt it's natural you should. But then--why
come here, Miss Ledstone?"

"How pretty you are!" Her eyes were fixed intently on Winnie's face.
"Oh, it's not fair, not fair! It's not fair to--to anybody, I think. Do
you know, your name's never mentioned at home--never--not even when
we're alone?"

"That part of it is done in the letters, I suppose? What am I called?
The entanglement, or the lamentable state of affairs--or what? I don't
know, you see. If you don't talk about me, we don't talk much about you
here either."

"Oh, well, it is--bad. But that's not what I meant--not all I meant, at
least." She suddenly leant forward in her chair. "Does Godfrey ever talk
of the people he meets besides ourselves?"

"No, never. I shouldn't know anything about them, should I?"

"Has he ever mentioned Mabel Thurseley?"

"Mabel Thurseley? No. Who is she?"

"They live near us--in Torrington Square. Her mother's a widow, an old
friend of ours."

"No, Godfrey has never said anything about Miss Thurseley."

"She's rather pretty--not very, I think. They're comfortably off. I
mean, as we think it. Not what you'd call rich, I suppose." She was
remembering Mrs. Maxon.

"My idea of riches nowadays isn't extravagant. But please tell me why
you're talking to me about Miss Thurseley. Did you come here to do
that?"

"Yes, I did. You're never mentioned to her either. That's it."

Winnie had never moved through the talk. Her slim figure, clad in
close-clinging black, was outlined against the grey wall of the studio.

"Oh, that's it! I see."

"So I had to come. Because how is it right? How is it decent, Mrs.
Maxon?"

Winnie let the name pass, indeed hardly noticed it. "Wouldn't your ideas
be considered rather eccentric?" she asked, with a smile.

"Oh, I feel--I don't have ideas," murmured Amy Ledstone.

"In your home I'm considered the thing that exists, but isn't talked
about--that's done and got over."

Again Amy's fixed gaze was on her companion. "Yes," she said, more than
half assenting to Winnie's description of herself, yet with a doubt
whether "thing" were wholly the word, whether, if "thing" were not the
word, the home doctrine could be altogether right.

"What about her then?" she went on.

"What about----?"

"Why, Mabel--Mabel Thurseley."

"Oh yes! Well, I suppose she--she knows what everybody knows--she knows
what often happens."

"Oh, but while it's absolutely going on here! They might have waited a
little at all events."

"You mean that--it's happening?"

Amy's figure rose erect in her chair again.

"Try and see if you can get him to utter Mabel's name to you!"

Winnie was struck with the suggestion. Her interest in her visitor
suddenly became less derivative, more personal. She looked at Amy's
passably well-favoured features and robust physique. There was really
nothing about her to suggest eccentric ideas.

"Oh, do please sit down! Don't stand there as if you were turned to
stone!" Amy's appeal was almost a wail. The slim figure was so
motionless; it seemed arrested in its very life.

"I like you. It's very kind of you. I--I'm trying to think.... I can't
take your word for it, you know. I love him--I trust him."

Amy fidgeted again uncomfortably. "Daddy and mother are always at him.
They think it--it will be redemption for him, you see."

"Yes, I suppose they do--redemption!" Suddenly she moved, taking two
steps nearer to Amy, so that she stood almost over her. "And you
think----?"

Amy looked up at her, with tears in her eyes. "Oh, I don't know! What
am I to think? Why did you do it? Why did you make everything impossible
either way? Somebody must be miserable now!"

"Somebody was miserable before--I was. And I've been happy for a bit.
That's something. It seems to me only one person need be miserable even
now. Why is that worse?"

The clock struck six. Amy started to her feet in alarm.

"He might come back a little sooner than usual--we finish tea about
half-past five. By the Tube----" She was nervously buttoning her jacket.
"If he caught me!" she murmured.

"Caught you here?"

"Oh, how can I go against them? I'm not married--I have to live there."

Winnie stretched out her thin arms. "Would you be with me if you could?
Would you, Amy? I had such a bad time of it! And he was mine first, you
know."

Amy drew back ever so little. "Don't!" she gasped. "I really must go,
Mrs.--oh, I really must go!"

"Yes, you must go. He might come back soon now. Shall we ever meet
again, I wonder?"

"Oh, why did you?"

"It's not what I did. It's what you think about it."

"Because you seem to me wonderful. You're--you're so much above him, you
know."

"That doesn't help, even if it's true. I should hate to believe it."

"Good-bye. You won't let anybody know I came? Oh, not Godfrey?"

"You may trust me--and Mr. Purnett too, I think."

"Oh yes; I can trust him. Good-bye!"

Without offering her hand, far less with any suggestion of a more
emotional farewell, Amy Ledstone drifted towards the door. This time
Winnie did not escort or follow her guest. She stood still, watching her
departure. She really did not know what to say to her; Amy's attitude
was so balanced--or rather not balanced, but confused. Yet just before
the guest disappeared, she found herself calling out: "I am grateful,
you know. Because thinking as you do about me----"

Amy turned her head for a moment. "Yes, but I don't know that you'll
come worst out of it, after all," she said.

Then Winnie was left alone, to wait for Godfrey--and to see whether he
would make mention of Mabel Thurseley's name, that entirely new and
formidably significant phenomenon.



CHAPTER XII

CHRISTMAS IN WOBURN SQUARE


When holiday seasons approach, people of ample means ask: "Where shall
we go?"; people of narrow: "Can we go anywhere?" The imminence of
Christmas made Winnie realize this difference (no question now, as in
days gone by, of Palestine and Damascus); but the edge of it was turned
by a cordial invitation to spend Friday till Tuesday (Saturday was
Christmas Day) at Shaylor's Patch. Her eyes brightened; her old refuge
again looked peaceful and comforting. She joyfully laid the proposal
before Godfrey. He was less delighted; he looked rather vexed, even a
little sheepish.

"They do jaw so," he objected. "Arguing about everything night and day!
It bores a chap."

"You weren't bored when you were there in the summer."

"Oh, well, that was different. And I'm afraid mother will be
disappointed."

"About the Sunday, you mean? Mightn't you run up for the day?"

He laid his hand on her shoulder. "I say, I leave it to you, Winnie. I
leave it absolutely to you--but mother's set her heart on my spending
Christmas with them. I've never missed a Christmas all my life,
and--well, she's not very well, and has a fancy about it, you see."

"Do it, of course, Godfrey. And come down to me on Sunday." Winnie was
now determined that Woburn Square should have no grievances, except the
great, inevitable, insuperable one.

"You are a good sort, Winnie." He kissed her cheek.

"But I don't know how you'll shift for yourself here!"

"Oh, I'll put up in Woburn Square for a couple of nights, and do a
theatre on Friday perhaps."

So it was settled, with some embarrassment on Godfrey's part, with a
faint smile on Winnie's. He would have two nights and a whole day at
Woburn Square; and he had never mentioned Mabel Thurseley's name, not
even though Winnie had made openings for him, had tried some delicate
"pumping." And with whom did he think of "doing a theatre" on Friday
night?

Godfrey Ledstone--with whom everything was to have been straightforward,
all above-board--found himself burdened with a double secret. He
couldn't bring himself to tell Winnie of Mabel Thurseley. In the early
days of his renewed intercourse with Mabel, he had half-heartedly
proposed to his mother that the girl should be informed of his position;
he had been tearfully prayed not to advertise the shame of his family.
He had lost any sort of desire to advertise it now. He could not now
imagine himself speaking of the matter to Mabel--telling her, right out,
that he was living and meant to live with a woman who was not his wife
in law; wives of any other sort were so entirely outside Mabel's
purview. That he had been a bit of a rake--she would understand that,
and perhaps in her heart not dislike it; but she would not understand
and would thoroughly dislike Winnie Maxon. Anyhow, by now it was too
late; he had played the bachelor too long--and, as a flattering if
remorseful inner voice whispered, too successfully--on those Sundays in
Woburn Square, whither Mabel often came, whence it was easy to slip
across to Torrington Square. Mr. and Mrs. Ledstone never grudged him an
hour's leave of absence if it was spent in calling on Mrs. Thurseley,
their esteemed friend and neighbour.

It was not that he had conceived any passionate love for Mabel. An
amiable, steady, rather colourless girl, and (as Amy Ledstone said) not
very pretty, she was hardly likely to engender that. He had not for
her--and probably never could have--the torrent of feeling which carried
him off his feet at Shaylor's Patch, and made him dare everything
because of Winnie's bidding. And he was still very fond of Winnie
herself. But the pull of the world--of his old world--was strong upon
him; Mabel embodied it. Bob Purnett had been right about him; in his
scheme of life, after the gaieties of youth, came "settling down." And
when it came to seeing things as they were, when the blurring mists of
passion lifted, he found it impossible to feel that life with Winnie was
settling down at all. Life with Winnie--was that being settled,
tranquil, serene, ready to look anybody in the face? No, it was still to
be irregular, to have secrets, to be unable to tell people with whom you
spent your time. It was neither one thing nor the other; it was the
bond, without the guerdon, of service, it was defiance without the
pleasures of lawlessness.

Covertly, persistently, let it in justice be added lovingly, his mother
and father worked upon him. The old pair showed diplomacy; they made no
direct attack on Winnie nor upon his present mode of life; they only
tried to let him see what a much pleasanter mode of life was open to
him, and what joy he would give those who loved him best in the world if
only he would adopt it. Bringing grey hairs with sorrow to the
grave--not a pleasant thing for a son to feel that he is doing! Without
scruple they used Mabel Thurseley in their game; without scruple they
risked the girl's happiness; their duty, as they saw it, was to their
son, and they thought of him only. Mabel had no throng of suitors and
none of the arts of a coquette. The good-looking young man soon made his
impression, and soon perceived that he had made it. All looked easy, and
this time really straightforward. It was a powerful assault to which he
exposed himself when he once again began to frequent Woburn Square.

Amy Ledstone looked on, irritable, fretful, in scorn of herself, calling
herself a traitor for having told Winnie of Mabel, and a coward for not
daring to tell Mabel about Winnie. But she dared not. A lifelong habit
of obedience, a lifelong custom of accepting parental wisdom even when
she chafed under it, the tyranny of that weak heart, were too much for
her. She lacked the courage to break away, to upset the family scheme.
And to work actively for Winnie was surely a fearful responsibility,
however strongly she might pity her? To work for Winnie was, in the end,
to range herself on the side of immorality. Let Winnie work for herself!
She was warned now--that was enough and more than enough. Yet Amy's
sympathy made her cold and irritable to her brother. He misconstrued the
cause of her attitude, setting it down to a violent disapproval of
Winnie and a championship of Mabel Thurseley. The old people petted, Amy
kept him at arm's length, but to Godfrey their end and purpose seemed to
be the same.

"Winnie doesn't realize what I go through for her," he often thought to
himself, when his sister was cross, when his mother said good-bye to him
with tears in her eyes, when his father wrung his hand in expressive
silence, when he manfully made himself less agreeable than he knew how
to be to Mabel Thurseley.

Yet--and the fact was significant--in spite of all, it was with a
holiday feeling that, after seeing Winnie off to Shaylor's Patch, he
packed his bag and repaired home--he thought of Woburn Square as home.
He was greeted with great joy.

"Fancy having you with us for two whole days!" said his mother.

"Like old times!" exclaimed his father, beaming with smiles on the
hearthrug.

The theatre had been arranged for. Mrs. Ledstone's health forbade her
being a member of the party, but Mr. Ledstone was ready for an outing.
Amy would go; and Mabel Thurseley had been invited to complete the
quartette. Amy looked after her father, to Godfrey fell the duty of
squiring Miss Thurseley. They had good seats in the dress-circle; Mr.
Ledstone, Amy, Mabel, Godfrey--that was the order of sitting. The play
was a capital farce. They all got into high spirits, even Amy forgetting
to chide herself and content to be happy. Mabel's life was not rich in
gaiety; she responded to its stimulus readily. Her cheeks glowed, her
eyes grew bright and challenging. She made a new appeal to Godfrey.

"I can't let her think me a fool." So he excused his attentions and his
pleasure in them.

"I suppose you go a lot to the theatre, don't you?" she asked. "I expect
you're _blasé_!"

"No, I don't go much."

"Why not? Don't you care about going alone?"

"Now why do you assume I need go alone?"

"No, of course you needn't! How silly of me! Do you ever take--ladies?"
She was roguish over this question.

"Yes, now and then."

"Mamma wouldn't let me go alone with a man."

"Oh, we don't ask mamma. We just go."

"Do you go out somewhere every evening?"

"Oh no. I often stay at home, and read--or work."

He had said nothing untrue, but it was all one big lie, what he was
saying--a colossal misrepresentation of his present life. The picture
his last answer raised in her mind--the man alone in his lonely room,
reading or working! Poor man, all alone!

"We girls get into the way of thinking that bachelors are always gay,
but I suppose they're not?"

"Indeed they're not." Godfrey's answer was decisive and rather grim.

"Or else," she laughed, "they'd never want to marry, would they?"

"Anyhow, one gets tired of gaiety and wants something better." His eyes
rested on hers for a moment. She blushed a little; and the curtain rose
on the second act.

"How your mother adores you!" she began at the next interval. "She'd die
for you, I think. She says you're the best son in the world, and have
never given her any trouble."

Godfrey's conscience suffered a twinge--no less for his mother than for
himself.

"I'm afraid mothers don't know all about their sons, always."

"No, I suppose not. But there are some people you know you can trust."

"Come, I say, you're making me out too perfect by half!"

She laughed. "Oh, I don't accuse you of being a milksop. I don't like
milksops, Mr. Godfrey."

So she went on, innocently showing her interest and her preference, and
in the process making Godfrey feel that his family and himself were
accomplices in a great and heinous conspiracy. But there was still time
to get out of it, to put an end to it. There were two ways out of it,
just two and no more, thought Godfrey. Either she must be told, or there
must cease to be anything to tell her.

But the sternest moralist would hardly demand that momentous decisions
and heart-rending avowals should be made on Christmas Day. That surely
is a close time? So thought Godfrey Ledstone, and, the religious
observances of the day having been honoured by all the family, the rest
of it passed merrily in Woburn Square. The Thurseleys, mother and
daughter, came to spend the afternoon, and came again to dinner.

"So good of you to take pity on us," said Mrs. Thurseley, a soft-voiced
pleasant woman, who was placid and restful, and said the right thing.
She would make an excellent mother-in-law--for some man.

Like the old-fashioned folk they were, they had a snapdragon and plenty
of mistletoe and plenty of the usual jokes about both. As there was
nobody else on whom the jokes could plausibly be fastened (Mr.
Ledstone's reminiscences of his own courting tended towards the
sentimental, while the subject was, of course, too tender in widowed
Mrs. Thurseley's case), they were naturally pointed at Mabel and
Godfrey. Mabel laughed and blushed. Really Godfrey had to play his part;
he could not look a fool, who did not know how to flirt. He ended by
flirting pretty hard. He had his reward in the beams of the whole
circle--except Amy. She seemed rather out of humour that Christmas; she
pleaded a headache for excuse. When Mrs. Ledstone said good-night to her
son, she embraced him with agitated affection, and whispered: "I feel
happier than I've done for a long while, Godfrey darling."

This was the pressure, the assault, of love--love urgent and now grown
hopeful. But his Christmas was not to end on that note. There was also
the pressure of disapproval and of scorn. Neither was easy to bear to a
disposition at once affectionate and pliable.

The old people went to bed. Amy stayed, watching her brother light his
pipe.

"Not going to bed, Amy? One pipe, and I'm off!"

"What do you think you're doing?"

He turned from the fire, smiling in his disarming way. "I've known all
the evening I was going to catch it from you, Amy. I saw it in your eye.
But what can a fellow do? He must play up a bit. I haven't actually said
anything."

"What does Mabel think?" There was a formidable directness about her.
But he had his answer, his defence to what he supposed to be the whole
indictment.

"Come now, be fair. I wanted to tell her--well, I wanted her to have a
hint given her. I told the mater so, but the mater wouldn't hear of it.
The bare idea sent her all--well, absolutely upset her."

The events of the day and the two evenings had affected Amy Ledstone.

"You wanted to tell her? Her? Which?"

"Good Lord, Amy!" He was knocked out. What a question to be asked in
Woburn Square! "Which?" Had they both rights? Strange doctrine, indeed,
for Woburn Square.

"I was speaking of Miss Thurseley, and I think you knew it."

"Oh, I knew it."

"Anything else isn't your business at all. I never understood why the
pater told you."

"There are just two decent things for you to do, Godfrey--let Mabel
alone or drop Mrs. Maxon."

His own feelings, most concisely put, most trenchantly interpreted! His
vague consciousness that the thing came to that was crystallized into an
ultimatum. Against this he could not maintain his peevish resentment at
his sister's interference or his assumed prudishness over her talking
about Winnie. The pretext of shame would not serve, and his weak nature
turned for help to a stronger. She was sitting by the table, rigid,
looking straight before her. He sat down by her, laying his pipe on the
table.

"By Jove, you're right! I'm in an awful mess. Which is it to be, Amy?"

"Oh, that's not my business. But you needn't be a sneak to both of them,
need you?"

He laid his hand on hers, but she drew hers away sharply. "You don't
understand how I was led into it. I say, you're not going to--to give me
away to Mabel, are you?"

"No. I'm afraid of father and mother. I believe I ought to, but I
daren't."

"I say, above all things, for heaven's sake, don't think of that!"

"But you say you proposed it yourself, Godfrey."

He jumped up from his chair in an agony of restlessness. He had proposed
it, but only as a thing to be rejected. He had proposed it, but that was
weeks ago--when he had not been coming to Woburn Square for very long,
and had not seen so much of Mabel Thurseley. The idea seemed quite
different now. He stared ruefully at Amy. His entreaty, her reply, threw
a cold, cruel light on the recent workings of his mind. He saw now where
he was going, where he was being led and driven, by love, by scorn, by
the world he had been persuaded to think himself strong enough to
defy--his world, which had only one name for Winnie Maxon.

He was exasperated. Why did the two things rend him asunder, like wild
horses?

"Well, what is it to be, Amy?" he asked again.

The maiden sister sat unmoved in her chair, her eyes set on the ugly
brown paper on the wall opposite. Her voice came level, unimpassioned,
with a suggestion of dull despair.

"What's the good of asking me, Godfrey? What do I know about it? Nobody
has ever loved me. I've never even been in love myself. I don't know
what people do when they're in love. I don't know how they feel. I
suppose I've been awfully unkind to you?"

"Well, of course, a fellow isn't himself." He turned sharp round on her.
"It was only to last as long as we both wanted--as long as we both
wanted one another. O Lord, how can I talk about it, even to you?"

"You needn't mind that. I've seen her. I went to see her. I asked her if
she knew anything about Mabel. She didn't. Does she now? I think her
wonderful. Miles above you or me, really. Oh, I know she's--she's
whatever daddy and mother would choose to call her. But you made her
that--and you might as well play fair, Godfrey."

"I don't understand you, Amy. I thought you--of all people----How in the
world did you come to go and see her? When?"

"One Sunday, when I knew you were here."

"She never said a word to me about--about Mabel Thurseley."

"She never would. I'm not taking her part. But I should like my brother
to be a man."

"She's never told me that you came. I can't understand your going."

He was opposite to her now. She raised her eyes to his, smiling
bitterly.

"Don't try. Still, she's a woman, and my brother's--friend."

"Oh, you don't know a thing about it!"

"I said so. I know it. That's how it is with girls like me. Girls! Oh,
well! If I did know, I might be able to help. I'm not your enemy,
really, Godfrey."

"Everybody makes it fearfully hard for me. I--I want to keep faith,
Amy."

"You're not doing it."

He threw himself into the big arm-chair that flanked the grate and its
dying fire. He broke out against Winnie in a feeble peevishness: "Why
did she make me do it? Any fool could have seen it would never work!"

"You needn't have done it," she retorted mercilessly.

"Needn't have done it? Oh, you don't know anything about it, as you say.
What could you know? If you did know, you'd understand how men--yes, and
by George, women too--do things. Things they can't stand by, and yet
want to, things that are impossible, and yet have been done and have to
be reckoned with. That's the way it happens."

Full of despair, his voice had a new note of sincerity. Amy looked
across the table at him with a long, scrutinizing gaze.

"I expect I haven't allowed for all of it," she said at last. "I expect
I don't know how difficult it is." She rose, moved round the table, and
sat on the arm of the big chair beside him. "I'm sorry if I've been
unkind, dear. But"--she caressed his hair--"don't be unkind to her--not
more than you can help."

"To Mabel?" He was looking up to her now, and whispering.

"Oh no," she smiled. "You're going to marry Mabel. You aren't married to
Mrs. Maxon, you see." She kissed his brow. "Make it as easy as you can
for Winnie."

"By God, I love Winnie!"

Again her hand smoothed and caressed his hair. "Yes, but you can't do
it," she said. "I don't think I could. But mightn't you tell her you
can't? She's got more courage than you think, Godfrey." She rose to her
feet, rather abruptly. "You see, when she knows the truth about you, she
won't care so much, perhaps."

Her brother made her no answer; he lay back in the big chair, staring at
the dead fire. Nor did she seem to have any more to say to him. She had
said a good deal in the whole conversation, and had summed up a large
part of it in her last sentence. When Winnie knew all about him she
might not care so much! Was that true--or was it the judgment of the
maiden sister, who thought that love was dependent on esteem?

"I'm going to bed. I've been a wet blanket this Christmas, Godfrey."

"My Lord, what a Christmas!"

For the capital farce, and the merry dinner, the snapdragon, mistletoe,
and jokes were all forgotten. The woman who knew nothing about the
matter had set the matter in its true light. With another kiss, a
half-articulate 'My dear!' and a sudden sob, she left him to the
contemplation of it.



CHAPTER XIII

CHRISTMAS AT SHAYLOR'S PATCH


On Christmas Eve Winnie had regained her old haven at Shaylor's Patch.
It seemed as restful and peaceful as ever, nay, even to an unusual
degree, for the only other guest was Dennehy, and Dennehy and Alice
(again home for holidays) exercised some restraining force on sceptical
argument. Both father and mother were intent on giving the child 'a good
time,' and Stephen at least could throw himself into a game with just as
much zest as into a dispute or a speculation. Here, too, were holly and
mistletoe; and, if not a snapdragon, yet a Christmas tree and a fine
array of presents, carefully hidden till the morrow. As they had
preceded the Faith, so the old observances survived all doubts about it.

But though the haven was the same, the mariner was in a different case.
When she had come before, Shaylor's Patch had seemed the final end of a
storm-tossed voyage; now it was but a harbour into which her barque put
for a few hours in the course of a journey yet more arduous, a journey
which had little more than begun; the most she could look for was a few
hours of repose, a brief opportunity to rest and refit. Her relation
towards her friends and hosts was changed, as it seemed to her,
profoundly; she looked at Stephen and Tora Aikenhead with new eyes. The
position between them and her was to her feelings almost reversed. They
were no longer the intrepid voyagers to whose stories her ignorance
hearkened so admiringly. In ultimate truth, now newly apparent, they had
made no voyages; from the safe recesses of the haven they did but talk
about the perils of the uncharted sea. She was now the explorer; she was
making the discoveries about which they only gossiped and speculated.
She remembered Mrs. Lenoir's kindly yet half-contemptuous smile over
Stephen's facile theories and easy assurance of his theories' easy
triumph. She was not as Mrs. Lenoir by the difference of many years and
much knowledge; for Mrs. Lenoir still had that same smile for her. None
the less, something of the spirit of it was in her when she came the
second time to Shaylor's Patch.

But she resolved to take her brief rest and be thankful for her respite.
Tora's benignant calm, Stephen's boyish gaiety, the simplicity of the
child, Dennehy's loyal friendship--here were anodynes. For the moment
nothing could be done; why then fret and worry about what to do? And if
she spoke of or hinted at trouble, might it not seem to be in some sense
like imputing a responsibility to her hosts? Yet she was asking much of
herself in this resolve. She could hold her tongue, but she could not
bind her thoughts.

In the morning Dennehy was off early on a five-mile walk to the nearest
town, to hear Mass. The question of attending church Stephen referred to
Alice's arbitrament; she decided in the affirmative.

"Whose turn?" asked Stephen of his wife.

"Mine," said Tora, with the nearest approach to an expression of
discontent that Winnie had ever seen on her face.

Winnie stepped into the breach. "Oh, you look rather tired, and we've a
busy day before us! Let me take Alice." So it was agreed, and Alice ran
off to get ready.

"Do you always leave the question to her?"

"What else could we do? We say nothing against it, but how could we
force her?"

"She's forced at school, I suppose?"

"I don't think any doubts suggest themselves. It's just part of the
discipline. As a fact, I think the child's naturally religious. If
so----" He waved his hands tolerantly.

Winnie laughed. "If so, she'll soon be rather shocked at her parents."

"It's quite arguable, Winnie, that it's a good thing for children to see
their parents doing some things which they would naturally think--or at
any rate be taught to think--wrong. They know by experience that the
parents are on the whole a decent sort--kind and so on--and they learn
not to condemn other people wholesale on the strength of one or two
doubtful or eccentric practices. Do you see what I mean? It promotes
breadth of view."

"I dare say it's arguable--most things are here--but I won't argue it,
or we shall be late for church."

When Godfrey Ledstone attended church with his family on the same day,
he went without any questioning, not conscious of any peculiarity in his
attitude towards the Church, though well aware of what the Church's
attitude would be towards him, if its notice happened to be called to
the facts. What of that? One compromised with the Church just as one
compromised with the world; the code had provisions as applicable to the
one negotiation as to the other. He did not go to church regularly, but,
when he did, he took part in the service with an untroubled
gratification, if not with any particular spiritual benefit. On this
occasion he achieved what was, considering the worries which oppressed
him, a very creditable degree of attention.

Neither was Winnie--in the little church at Nether End--convicted of
sin; after all, that is not the particular note sought to be struck by a
Christmas service--the Church has its seasons. But she was overcome by
an unnerving sense of insignificance. The sermon dwelt on the familiar,
yet ever striking, theme that all over the world, in well-nigh every
tongue, this service was being held in honour of, and in gratitude for,
the great Event of this day. That seemed a tremendous thing to stand up
against. There is majesty in great organizations, be they spiritual or
secular. Are insignificant atoms to flout them? Or can the argument from
insignificance be turned, and the rebel plead that he is so small that
it does not matter what he does? The organizations will not allow the
plea. Insignificant as you are, they answer, little as your puny dissent
affects us, yet it is of bad example, and if you persist in it we will,
in our way, make you unhappy and uncomfortable. Now mankind has been, in
the course of its eventful history, from time to time convinced that
many things do matter and that many do not, and opinions have varied and
shall vary thereanent. But nobody has had any real success in convincing
mankind that it does not matter whether it is happy or not--in the long
run. Mankind is obstinately of the contrary opinion.

At the church door Dennehy was waiting for her and Alice--his Mass heard
and ten good miles of country road behind him; spiritually and
physically fortified. He was not handsome, but middle-age on its
approach found him clean in wind and limb--temperate, kindly (outside
politics), and really intensely happy.

"It's a concession for me to come as far as the door of this place," he
said, smiling. Winnie glanced warningly at Alice. "You needn't mind
her--the poor child hears everything! But it's my belief that Heaven
has made her a fine old Tory, and they can't hurt her."

"You approving of Tories! Mr. Dennehy!" She turned to the child. "You
liked it, Alice?"

"Didn't you hear me singing?" It seemed a good retort. Alice had sung
lustily. She did not seem inclined to talk. She walked beside them in a
demure and absent gravity. Over her head they looked at one another; the
child was thinking of the story of the Child, and finding it not
strange, but natural and beautiful, the greatest of all her beloved
fairy stories--and yet true.

Dennehy gently patted Alice's shoulder. "In God's good time!" he
murmured.

"What do you mean?" Winnie asked, in a low voice.

"True people will find truth, and sweet people do sweet things," he
answered. Then he laughed and snapped his fingers. "And the Divvle take
the rest of humanity!"

"Everybody except the Irish, you mean?"

"I mustn't be supposed to let in Ulster," he warned her with a twinkle.
"But there's an English soul or two I'd save, Mrs. Ledstone."

"I don't like your being false to your convictions. I've one name that
I've not denied and that nobody denies me. It's Winnie."

"Winnie it shall be on my lips too henceforth," he answered. "And I
thank you."

Respect for his convictions? Yes. But there was more behind her
permission, her request. There was a great friendliness, and, with it, a
new sense that 'Mrs. Winifred Ledstone' might prove to be a transitory
being, that the title was held precariously. Why need her chosen friends
be bound to the use of it?

Richard Dennehy was by now one of that small band. He was so loyal and
sympathetic, though he was also very cocksure in his condemnations, and
terribly certain that he and his organization alone had got hold of the
right end of the stick. Yet the cocksureness was really for the
organization only; it left him in himself a humble man, not thinking
himself so clever as the emancipated persons among whom he moved, rather
regretting that such able minds should be so led astray. One habit
indeed he had, of which Stephen Aikenhead would humorously complain; he
used emotion as an argumentative weapon. There are words and phrases
which carry an appeal independent of the validity of the idea they
express, a strength born of memory and association. They can make a man
feel like a child again, or make him feel a traitor, and either against
his reason.

"Spells and incantations I call them," said Stephen, "and I formally
protest against their use in serious discussion."

"And why do you call them that?"

"Because they depend for their effect on a particular form of
words--either a particularly familiar or a particularly beautiful
formula. If you expressed the same idea in different language, its power
would be gone; at least it would seem just as legitimately open to
question as any profane statement that I may happen to make. Now to
depend for its efficacy on the exact formula and not on the force of the
idea is, to my mind, the precise characteristic of a spell, charm, or
incantation, Dick."

"I dare say the holy words make you uncomfortable, my boy!"

"Exactly! And is it fair? Why am I, a candid inquirer, to be made
uncomfortable? Prove me wrong, convince me if you can, but why make me
uncomfortable?"

Winnie, an auditor of the conversation, laughed gently. "I think that's
what you tried to do to me, coming back from church--when you talked
about 'God's good time,' I mean."

Dennehy scratched his head. "I don't do it on purpose. They just come to
my lips. And who knows?--It might be good for you!"

Alice ran in, announcing that it was time for the Christmas tree. Even
at Shaylor's Patch discussion languished for the rest of the day, and
Winnie had her hours of respite.

Indeed, it was a matter of hours only; peace was not to endure for her
even over the Sunday. Early in the morning the maid brought her a
telegram from Godfrey Ledstone: "Caught slight chill. Think better not
travel. Don't interrupt visit. Shall stay Woburn Square.--GODFREY."

It was significant of how far her mind had forecast probabilities that
she brushed aside the excuse without a moment's hesitation. Does an
hour's journey on a mild morning frighten a strong man if he really
wants to go? At any rate Winnie was not inclined to give Godfrey the
benefit of that doubt. He did want to stay in Woburn Square, or he did
not want to come to Shaylor's Patch. Whichever way it was put, it came
to much the same thing. It was another defeat for her, another victory
for the family. And for Mabel Thurseley? That, too, seemed very likely.
Her heart quailed in grief and apprehension, as it looked into a future
forlorn and desolate; but not for a moment did she think of giving up
the struggle. Instead of that, she would fight more resolutely, more
fiercely. This was not the common case of a variable man's affections
straying from one woman to another. She knew that it was his courage
which had failed first, and by its failure undermined the bastion of his
love. He had been ashamed of her first; if he had now ceased--or begun
to cease--to love her, it was because she made him ashamed before his
family and friends, because she put him "in a false position" and made
things awkward and uncomfortable. That he felt like that was in
part--nay, largely--her own fault. Either from mistaken confidence, or
chivalry, or scruple, or a mixture of the three, she had exposed him,
unsupported, to the fullest assault of Woburn Square, and of all it
represented. She had been wrong; she should have stood on her rights and
forbidden him to go there unless she were received also. At the
beginning she could have done it; she ought to have done it. Was it too
late to do it now?

She formed a plan of campaign. She would take him away, put the sea
between him and his people, the sea between him and Mabel Thurseley.
There was money in the till sufficient for a holiday. His very weakness,
his responsiveness to his surroundings, favoured success. He would
recover his courage, and hence-forward a ban should rest on his family
till his family removed its ban from her.

There was no church for her that morning; she was not in the mood.
Stephen had to go, since Tora sophistically maintained that she had
attended by proxy the day before. Winnie strolled with Dick Dennehy,
when he came back from his early expedition.

"It's funny we're such friends, when you think me so wicked," she said.

"You're not wicked, though you may do a wicked thing--through
wrong-headedness."

"You can't understand that I look on myself as Godfrey's wife for all my
life or his."

"Didn't you once think the same about Mr. Maxon?"

"Oh, you really are----!" Winnie laughed irritably.

"And you ran away from him. What happens if Master Godfrey runs away
from you?"

Winnie glanced at him sharply. Rather odd that he should put that
question! Was there any suspicion among her friends, any at Shaylor's
Patch?

"Because," Dennehy continued, "you wouldn't go on from man to man, being
married to each of 'em for life temporarily, would you?"

Winnie laughed, if reluctantly. But there is hardly anything that a
ready disputant cannot turn to ridicule.

"How you try to pin people down!" she complained. "You and your
principles! I know what I should like to see happen, Mr. Dennehy."

"Ah, now--'Dick'--as a mere matter of fairness, Winnie!"

"Well, Dick, what I should just love to see is you in love with somebody
who was married, or had been divorced, or something of that sort, and
see how you'd like your principles yourself." She looked mischievous and
very pretty.

Dennehy shook his head. "We're all miserable sinners. But I don't
believe I'd do it."

"What, fall in love, or give way to it?"

"The latter. The former's out of any man's power, I think."

"What would you do?"

"Emigrate to America."

"Out of the frying-pan into the fire! It's full of divorced people,
isn't it?"

"Not the best Irish society." He laughed. "Well, you're chaffing me."

"Oh no, I'm not. I'm serious. I should like to see the experiment.
Dick, if Godfrey does run away, as you kindly suggest, give me a wide
berth! Oh, is it quite impossible that, if I tried, I might--make you
miserable?"

"If you'll flirt with me after this fashion every time we meet, I'll not
be miserable--I'll be very happy."

"Ah, but that's only the beginning! The beginning's always happy."

The sadness in her voice struck him. "You poor dear! You've had bad
luck, and you've fallen among evil counsellors, in which term, heaven
forgive me, I include my dear friends here at Shaylor's Patch."

"I'll try your principles another way. If you were Godfrey, would you
leave me--now?"

He twisted his moustache and hesitated. "Well, there you have me," he
admitted at last. "If a man does what he did, as a gentleman he must
stand to be damned for it."

"Godfrey's free to go, of course--that's our bargain. But you wouldn't
have made a bargain like that?"

"I would not, Winnie. To do me justice, I believe I'd think it enough to
be ruining one woman, without providing for my liberty to ruin another
as soon as I wanted to."

Winnie laid her hand on his arm for a moment. "How pleasantly we
quarrel!" she said.

"And why wouldn't we?" he asked, with native surprise that a quarrel
should be considered a thing inherently unpleasant. "Ah, here come
Stephen and Alice, back from church! I'll go and run races with her, and
get an appetite for lunch."

Stephen lounged up, his pipe in full blast.

"Stephen, how is it that this old world gets on at all, with everybody
at loggerheads with everybody else?"

"I've often considered that. The solution is economic--purely economic,
Winnie. You see, people must eat."

"So far the Court is with you, Stephen."

"And in anything except a rudimentary state of society they must feed
one another. Because no man has the genius to make for himself all the
things he wants to eat. Consequently--I put the argument summarily--you
will find that, broadly speaking, all the burning and bludgeoning and
fighting, all the killing in short, and equally all the refraining from
killing, are in the end determined by the consideration whether your
action one way or the other will seriously affect your supply of
food--to which, in civilized society, you may add clothes, and so on."

"Does that apply to the persecution of opinions?"

"Certainly it does--usually by way of limitation of killing, though an
exception must be made for human sacrifice. There have been temporary
aberrations of judgment, but, generally speaking, they never killed more
than a decent minimum of any useful heretics--not, anyhow, where secular
statesmen had the last word. They had to make some kind of a show, of
course, to satisfy, as they supposed, their superior officers.
Still--they left a good many Jews, Winnie!"

"Wasn't that the spread of toleration?"

"Certainly--toleration based on food, originally, and afterwards perhaps
reinforced by doubt." He broke into a laugh. "But even to-day I'm hanged
if I'd trust to the doubt without the food!" He beamed on her. "I'll
tell you a secret--religion's all food, Winnie."

Winnie had asked for the exposition--but she had had enough of it. Even
Stephen's last--and rather startling--thesis failed to draw further
inquiries.

"It seems to follow that we oughtn't to keep lunch waiting," she said,
laughing, as she put her arm through his. "I do love Shaylor's Patch,"
she went on, gently patting his arm. "You can always forget yourself and
your troubles by talking nonsense--or sense--about something or other.
If I come to grief again"--her voice shook for an instant--"you'll give
me a shed to lie in here, won't you, Stephen?"

"My poor house is thine, and all that is in it," he answered orientally.

"Yes, in a way I know it is--and so I needn't quite starve," said
Winnie.



CHAPTER XIV

A COUNSEL OF PERFECTION


To Winnie's few but devoted adherents Cyril Maxon was not a man, but a
monster, a type of tyranny, the embodied symbol of an intolerable
servitude; even Dick Dennehy, staunch champion of the institution, had
no charity for the individual. Needless to say that this was not at all
the view Mr. Maxon took of himself, and not entirely the judgment which
an impartial observer would form of him. There were many women with whom
he might have got on very well, women of a submissive temper, meek
women, limited women, sly women who hoodwinked under a show of perfect
obedience. He would not have been hard to hoodwink, had Winnie been
content to attack her problem in that old-fashioned way. Or, again, an
extremely clever and diplomatic woman--but she can make a good husband
out of the rawest of raw material, mere flesh and bone with (as Stephen
Aikenhead would certainly have added) the economic prerequisite.

From the moment that his wife had identified herself with the Ledstone
family--his memory of Mr. Ledstone was vivid and horrible--he had set
aside the idea that she would soon 'have had enough of it.' It was no
longer in his power to hold to that conclusion. Now it was he himself
who had had more than enough of it. She was done with. He took up his
life alone. At first he sought to mitigate solitude by constant work. It
was not a complete success. Then he installed an unmarried sister in
his house. She was his senior, her temper was akin to his; the
experiment lasted just a month, after which Miss Maxon returned to
Broadstairs. Then gradually he began to seek society again, to show his
face at his old resorts, to meet the women who admired him, who gushed
over him as interesting, clever, and rising. They gushed still more now,
hinting, each with what degree of delicacy nature had given her, their
sympathy with him, and their unlimited astonishment at the folly and
perverseness of Mrs. Maxon. He found this the most effective specific
that he had tried.

It would be unpardonably rash to generalize, but it may be hazarded that
in some cases the man who treats his wife worst misses her most. A
comrade can perhaps be replaced, a new slave is hard to come by.
Besides, Cyril Maxon's principles forbade the search for one, and now he
had to apply his principles to his own case. A year ago nothing in the
whole world would have seemed so unlikely--Fate at its pranks again! It
makes us pay for sins and principles alike--perhaps the best way (with
deference to the _à priori_ philosophers) of learning to appraise
either.

Cyril Maxon was very rising by now; people called him a certainty for a
judgeship in some ten years' time (he was only thirty-eight); and the
ladies were very sympathetic. Several of them were members of Mr.
Attlebury's congregation, and the personal friends of that genial but
exacting apostle. Some of the ladies wondered how Mr. Attlebury could be
so responsive, and yet so definitely restricted in his responsiveness;
they thought of his demeanour as of an occult art, and might have been
right had they stopped at calling it esoteric. Attlebury himself felt no
difficulty, not even a consciousness of effort. He met them in absolute
intimacy of soul to soul. Happily in all creeds--and discreeds--there
are men and women who can do it.

At first Cyril Maxon had refused to talk about his misfortune, which, of
course, soon became public property, and the hints about it had to be
almost impossibly delicate. But, as time went on, he found two or three
friends to whom he could, more or less, open his heart. There was Mrs.
Ladd, an elderly woman with hearty kindly ways and a mind shrewdly
matter of fact. There was Miss Fortescue, one of Attlebury's best
'workers,' a benevolent sensible spinster of five-and-forty. There was
also Lady Rosaline Deering, daughter of a Scotch peer, widow of a
Colonial Administrator. She was a woman of three-and-thirty, or
thereabouts, tall and of graceful carriage; her nose was too long, and
so was her chin, but she had pretty hair and fine eyes. She was a bit of
a blue-stocking and dabbled in theology and philosophy. "Not afraid to
think for myself," was the way in which she defined her attitude, in
contradistinction (as she implied) from the attitude of most of the
women who sat at Mr. Attlebury's feet. She admired Attlebury, but she
thought for herself.

"One can't quite give up one's reason," she would say, with a winning
smile. "Besides, I was brought up in the Church of Scotland, you know."
This ecclesiastical origin seemed to give her independence; she paid
only so much voluntary allegiance as she chose to Attlebury and his
Church; she could in case of need fall back on her Church of origin, as
though on a domicile never finally forfeited. Also in her husband's
lifetime she had seen the cities of men and known their minds. In fact
she might be considered emancipated, and her adherence to Mr.
Attlebury's school was rather æsthetic than dogmatic; she thought that
religion should be invested with beauty, but she was not afraid to talk
of some of its doctrines as possibly 'symbolic.'

All the three ladies took a great interest in Maxon, but by common
consent the first place was yielded to Lady Rosaline. Mrs. Ladd could
fortify him, Miss Fortescue could cheer him up; they both recognized
that Lady Rosaline could do something else, a subtle thing into which
femininity entered more specifically; one of the things which Mrs. Maxon
ought to have given him, but obviously had not; perhaps something like
what Lady Rosaline herself derived from Attlebury's church services, a
blend of intellectual and æsthetic satisfaction. Mrs. Ladd and Miss
Fortescue were weak in the æsthetic element. Moreover there was a
special bond of sympathy between Lady Rosaline and Maxon. The late
Colonial Administrator had been by no means all that he should have been
as a husband, and when death severed the union, it was but a very
slender string that its shears cut.

Mrs. Ladd and Miss Fortescue had hinted at this sad story; Lady Rosaline
herself told it, though in reticent outline only, to Cyril one evening
in November when he happened to have leisure to go to tea with her at
her flat in Hans Place.

"It's a terrible thing to have to say, but really his death--poor
fellow!--ended a situation which had become almost unendurable to any
woman of fine feelings. He was never rude or unkind to me, but one's
pride! And the solitude of the soul, Mr. Maxon!"

"Still you endured it bravely." His tone subtly asked sympathy, while
his words gave it.

"I wonder if I could have gone on! I should shock Mr. Attlebury, I
suppose, but I thought more than once of divorce. Our home--when we were
at home--had always been in Scotland. That would have made it easier,
and it needn't have hurt his career anything like so much. He could just
have left me and stayed away the necessary time, you see. After the
last--the last trouble--he offered me that, if I wished it."

"You must have been under a considerable temptation."

"Yes. But then his health began to fail, and--and things were different.
I had to stay and look after him; and so we became better friends at the
end. I really don't bear malice now."

"I think with Attlebury on that question, you know."

"Yes, I suppose you do. But then, isn't there--room for doubt?"

"I scarcely think so, Lady Rosaline."

"Oh, but it is hard sometimes, then!" she murmured, looking into the
fire. "Do you think there's nothing in the view that the offence itself
is a dissolution?--That it's the offender himself--or herself--who puts
asunder, not the judge, who merely deals with the legal consequences?"

"No, I can't see that." He paused, frowning, then went on: "I can
understand a man maintaining that it's given as a counsel of perfection,
rather than an absolutely binding rule--I mean, that a man should try,
but, if it proves beyond his strength, he might not be absolutely
condemned."

"Does it hurt you to talk about it?"

"Not to people who understand."

"How strange she didn't understand you better! Do you mind my saying
that?"

"If I'd ever had any doubts about the substantial rights of the matter,
her subsequent proceedings would have dispelled them completely."

"Yes, they throw a light back, don't they?"

Cyril Maxon threw more light, setting forth the preposterous charges
which his wife had levelled against him before she went away. He put
them as honestly as he could; they were to him so unreasonable that he
was not in the least afraid to submit them to an impartial judge. They
seemed just as unreasonable to Lady Rosaline. She was as secure of
herself as was Mrs. Lenoir; she was not afraid of being 'crushed.'
(Perhaps being 'Lady Rosaline' helped her a little there.) And Winnie's
alleged grievances fell so short of her own tale of wrongs as to seem a
ridiculously inadequate excuse.

"I can't understand her any more than you can," she said.

"There's really no use in saying any more about her, Lady Rosaline. It's
a matter of character."

"And she's actually with this man Ledstone now?"

He spread out his hands and bowed his head. It was both answer and
comment enough.

"They'd marry, I suppose, if they could?"

Cyril Maxon was not quick at marking the delicate shades of a woman's
mood; there at least Winnie was right. He did not now detect the
underlying note of pity in Lady Rosaline's voice. It was, indeed, no
more than hinted. He made another gesture--this time of pronounced
impatience and distaste. Lady Rosaline smiled faintly, and changed the
subject.

When he had left her, she sat on by the fire, musing. She was a widow
with few happy memories and no fond regrets; she was childless; in spite
of her high connections she was by no means rich; she could not afford
to travel much in the style she desired, or to entertain much. And she
was thirty-three. Surveying her position as a whole, she did not take a
roseate view of it. "I'm bound to drop out in a few years"--that was how
she summed up her prospects--not a cheerful summary, it must be
admitted. She had not the contentment of a Mrs. Ladd nor the
philanthropic zeal of a Miss Fortescue. She had a good deal of ambition,
a love of luxury, and (as has been said) a commendable self-confidence.
Masterful herself under all her graceful gentleness, she liked rather
than feared masterful men; Cyril Maxon attracted her none the less
because he had 'crushed' Winnie. "A poor little thing like that!" So ran
her verdict on Winnie, whom she had met half a dozen times. And he was
very rising. She found herself recalling the precise words that he had
used about 'a counsel of perfection.'

It needs little acuteness to detect a congruity between the
interpretation of a rule as a counsel of perfection, and the doctrine of
the limits of human endurance. In fact they come to very much the same
thing and are invoked, rightly or wrongly, plausibly or unplausibly, on
much the same occasions and under very similar circumstances. If a man
strikes you lightly on one cheek, you turn the other. But if he strikes
the first cheek very hard? If he forces you to go a mile with him, will
you go with him twain? Does the amenity of the road make no difference?
If he takes your coat, shall he take your cloak also? Something might
turn on the relative value of the two garments. In such cases the human
race makes accommodations; and accommodations are not confined to any
one class of thinkers.

Cyril Maxon had afforded scant countenance to Lady Rosaline's suggestion
that the offender himself severed the tie. She had picked it up from an
article of Catholic complexion, which set out the authorities for it
only to confute them. His logical mind saw that the position implied
rather startling consequences; for if an act can sever, an act can bind.
But he did not so easily or readily reject his own idea of the counsel
of perfection. Arguing before a Court, he could have made a good case
for it. Argued in the forum of his own conscience, it found pleas and
precedents. Yet it was slowly that it gained even a hearing from the
judge, and only by much dexterous pleading; for at first sight the
authorities to which he bowed were all against it. They had seemed
absolutely and immediately conclusive on the morning when Mr. Ledstone
called in the Temple. 'No proceedings!' Save as a record of his own
attitude, Maxon attached no importance to the utterance so charged with
relief to its auditor. It was in no sense a pledge; it was merely an
expression of present intention. On what conceivable theory had that
Ledstone family any right to pledges from him? If a pledge at all, it
was one to himself and to the school of thought to which he belonged. To
the Ledstones? Never!

So the slow hidden current of his feelings began to bore for itself a
new channel--a way round the rock of principle that barred direct
advance. Another change there was in him. A woman--his wife--had
gibbeted him as a man impossible to live with. He was secretly, almost
unconsciously, afraid of the world's agreeing with her. Seeking
sympathy, he tried to manifest it; afraid of being misunderstood, he
embarked on an effort to be understanding. He made a fair success of it.
People said that he was human after all, and that Mrs. Maxon ought to
have seen it. The work which Winnie had done redounded to her discredit;
it is not an uncommon case. The rebels are shot, flogged, or have to fly
the kingdom. But reforms are introduced into the administration, and
these make the rebels seem more guilty still--because, of course, the
reforms were just going to be introduced anyhow, if only the rebels
would have had a little faith, a little patience. Who has not read it a
score of times in the newspapers?

"That little wife of his can't have known how to manage a man," said old
Mrs. Ladd, who had owned two husbands, the first an over-festive soul,
the second a hypochondriac.

"The Vicar has the highest opinion of him," remarked Miss Fortescue.

Mrs. Ladd smiled. "He won't have such a high opinion of him if he goes
gadding after Rosaline Deering."

Miss Fortescue was shocked and interested. "My dear, is there any chance
of that?"

Mrs. Ladd pursed up her lips. "I don't see much harm in it myself," she
said.

"Oh, Mrs. Ladd! If the Vicar heard you!"

"If you may marry again when your husband's dead----"

"It's allowed, but it's--it's not exactly recommended, is it?"

"Well, on the Vicar's theory, I don't see in the end any difference
between the two cases--or, at any rate, not much." Mrs. Ladd destroyed
her logic by a concession to her friend's pained surprise. She ought to
have stuck to there being no difference at all. Then on Attlebury's
theory she had an argument; 'not much' came perilously near to cutting
the roots of it.

Speculation as to Mr. Attlebury's attitude was not confined to these
good members of his flock. It had a place in Cyril Maxon's own mind, so
soon as he began to consider the idea of freeing himself from the legal
bond of marriage--and of reviewing his situation after that was done.
But here the idiosyncrasy of the man came in, and cut across the loyalty
of the Churchman. He had given to Attlebury a voluntary allegiance. But
if Attlebury tried to extort a forced obedience? Cyril's face set at the
thought. Winnie's great offence had been that she would not 'adapt
herself.' In his heart he demanded that the priest and the Church should
adapt themselves also, should recognize his services and his value, and
find a way out for him, if necessary. The 'counsel of perfection' theory
seemed more and more, on consideration, to be a possible way out, and
already he began to feel, in anticipation, a resentment against the man
or the institution that should say the contrary. He chafed beforehand at
such dictation, such interference with a view conscientiously held by a
man whom all must admit to be sincere and devout--and, moreover, an
adherent very much worth having.

Among the various influences which caused the project of freeing himself
to take definite shape in his mind, Rosaline Deering had to be reckoned
first, no doubt, but she was not the only woman who counted. Done with
as she was, out of his life, yet Winnie Maxon also had her share in the
work. He felt a primitive desire to 'show her,' as children say--to show
her that she had not the power to destroy his life, that there were
women wiser than she, women who did not think him impossible to live
with, but would hold it high fortune to become his wife. As soon as he
began to think of Rosaline Deering, he thought oftener of his wife,
setting the two women in opposition as it were, and endowing Rosaline
with all the virtues which Winnie had so conspicuously lacked. Even such
an adventitious thing as Rosaline's courtesy title counted in this
connexion; it would help to convince Winnie of her own insignificance,
of what a much greater career than her own she had tried--vainly
tried--to spoil. When she was little better than a vagabond--he did not
put things mercifully--Mr. Justice and Lady Rosaline Maxon might be
entertaining in Devonshire Street--or perhaps Berkeley Square.

When the Law Courts rose for the Christmas vacation he went to Paris,
and Lady Rosaline was gracious enough to make no secret of the fact that
his presence there had a share in determining her also on a short visit.
They did some of the sights together, they had many talks over the fire,
and it was there--on the same Christmas Eve whereon Winnie had gone to
Shaylor's Patch and Godfrey Ledstone to Woburn Square--that he told her
that he had made up his mind to seek legal dissolution of his
ill-starred marriage.

"I have looked at the question from all sides, and I have satisfied my
conscience," he said. "Now I must act on my own responsibility."

In the last words there sounded anticipatory defiance of Mr.
Attlebury--a defiance which indicated that the satisfaction of his
conscience was not quite complete. The case rather was that his
conscience had come to terms with the other influences, and under their
pressure had accepted the way out.

"I think I may justly plead that the circumstances are exceptional." He
leant forward towards her and asked, "You don't condemn me?"

"What's my opinion worth? You know much more about it; you're much more
able to form a judgment."

"But I want to know that I haven't forfeited your good opinion, your
regard, if I may hope that I have ever gained it."

"No, I don't condemn you, if your own conscience doesn't, Mr. Maxon."
She rose and stood--leaning her elbow on the mantelpiece, her back half
turned towards him. The pose displayed well the grace of her tall
figure; his eyes rested on her in satisfaction.

"Thank you," he said. "That--that means a great deal to me, Lady
Rosaline."

Her elbow rested on the mantelpiece, her face on her hand; her mouth
was hidden. But unseen by him a smile bent her lips. His words were
entirely decorous--from a man still married--but they were explicit
enough. "I can have him if I want him," probably sums up pretty
accurately the lady's comfortable conclusion.



CHAPTER XV

MRS. NOBODY


In spite of the untoward telegram, her visit to Shaylor's Patch
heartened up Winnie in two ways. It checked the searching of conscience
which is the natural and frequent result of threatened failure; by the
evidence it afforded her of Stephen's affection and Dick Dennehy's loyal
admiration, it strengthened her woman's confidence in her power to hold
her man. After all, Mabel Thurseley was not very pretty; with the sea
between Godfrey and Woburn Square, there would be full cause for hope.
She dreamed of Italian skies. Though she had recalled and recognized his
liberty, under their bargain, to leave her, it was not prominent in her
mind. The natural woman was fighting--and fights, it may be supposed,
much the same, whatever her status by law or her rights by agreement.

She had telegraphed to Godfrey the proposed time of her arrival at the
studio, and expected to find him there; for surely the slight chill
would be better by now? He was not there; yet apparently the chill was
better, for he had been there earlier in the day. The old Irish servant
gave her this news, looking at her in what Winnie felt to be rather an
odd way. The woman lingered by the door for a minute, glancing round the
room, seeming half in a mind to say something more, and half in a mind
not to. In the end she said nothing, and went out in silence--as a rule
she was loquacious--when her mistress told her that she would give any
necessary orders after she had unpacked. Winnie's mind was on the idea
of carrying Godfrey off that very night.

Short as her absence had been, the studio looked somehow unfamiliar; it
had less of the 'lived in' look which she associated with it as a
pleasant feature. She scanned it with awakening curiosity. The board on
which he stretched his drawing-paper--what had become of that? His
tobacco-jar was not in its usual place; technical books of his were
missing from their appointed shelf. He must have felt inclined for work
in spite of the chill, and come to fetch them; at least, that would
account for the board and books, if not as well for the tobacco-jar. She
moved towards the kitchen, to inquire of the servant, but suddenly came
to a full stop in the middle of the room. She stood there for a moment,
then turned sharp round and went up the stairs that led to the
bedrooms--not to unpack, for she left her own trunk and dressing-bag on
the floor of the studio.

She went upstairs slowly, determinedly calm, but with beating heart and
a touch of vivid colour on her cheeks. The door of his bedroom stood
wide open. The furniture was all in its place; the toilet table was no
barer than his visit to Woburn Square accounted for; the little clock
she had given him ticked away on the mantelpiece. But Winnie made
straight for the chest of drawers, and quickly opened and shut one after
another. They were all empty. The wardrobe yielded the same result. All
his clothes had gone, and his boots--all of them. She went back to the
landing and opened the door of a cupboard, where his portmanteau was
usually stowed away; it was gone. Preparation for a long
stay--somewhere! Yet the chill was so much better that he had been able
to visit the studio that morning, when, no doubt, he had carried off
all these things--all of them, not merely drawing-board, books, and
tobacco-jar.

She moved quickly into her own room. There all was as usual; but she had
thought that perhaps there would be a letter. None was visible. A
curious quiet, almost a desolation, seemed to brood over the little
room; it too took on, suddenly, an uninhabited air. She sank into a
wicker arm-chair and sat there quite still for some minutes. Then she
sprang briskly to her feet again, exclaiming, "Oh, but nonsense!"

She was seeking indignantly to repel the conviction which was mastering
her mind. Surely he would not, could not, do it like this? In her rare
contemplation of their possible parting, as bargained for, there had
always been not indeed argument, much less recrimination, but much
friendly discussion, a calm survey of the situation, probably an
agreement to 'try it again' for a longer or shorter time, till a mature
and wise decision, satisfactory to the reason, if not to the feelings,
of both, should be arrived at. But this would be sheer running
away--literal running away from her, from the problem, from the
situation. It could not be. There must be some explanation.

Sounds were easily audible in the small flimsy dwelling. She heard the
front door bell ring--and sat listening for his voice calling her, his
step across the studio floor, and then coming up the stairs. Neither
voice came, nor step; besides--odd she had not remembered it before--of
course he would have used his latchkey. She got up, took off her jacket,
unpinned her hat, laid it on the bed, looked to her hair, and then went
slowly downstairs again.

Amy Ledstone was standing in the middle of the studio; the knock had
been hers. Then in an instant Winnie knew, and in an instant she put on
her armour. Her tone was cool and her manner self-possessed; they need
not both be cowards--she and Godfrey!

"How do you do, Miss Ledstone? You've come to tell me something?"

"Yes." Amy Ledstone was neither cool nor self-possessed. Her voice
trembled violently; it was an evident effort for her not to break into
sobbing. "He--he still loves you; he told me to tell you that."

"Told you to tell me! Isn't that rather odd?--After all our--well, he's
been able to tell me for himself before. Won't you sit down?" She sat
herself as she spoke.

"No, thank you. But he can't bear to see you; he can't trust himself. He
told me to say that. He said you'd understand--that you had a--an
understanding. Only he couldn't bear to say good-bye."

"He's not coming back?"

"He was really rather seedy on Sunday--so he stayed. And--and on Sunday
night mother had a bad attack; we were really alarmed."

Winnie nodded. Always, from the very beginning, a dangerous
enemy--mother's weak heart!

"Mother had been with him all day--she wouldn't leave him. I suppose she
got over-tired, and there was the strain of--of the situation; and
daddy--my father--broke out on Godfrey the next morning; and I'd broken
out on him Christmas night."

"You?" There was a touch of reproach in the question.

"Yes, I told him he must choose. He really made love to Mabel all the
time. So I told him----"

"I see." She smiled faintly. "The poor boy can't have had a pleasant
Christmas, Miss Ledstone!"

"We were all at him, all three of us!" She stretched out her hands
suddenly. "Do try to understand that he had something to bear too. And
that we had--thinking as we do about it. It was hard for other people
besides you. Father's getting old, and Godfrey's all mother and I----"

Winnie nodded her understanding of the broken sentence.

"I haven't said a word against him or any of you. He had a right to do
what he has done, though he's done it in a way I didn't think he'd
choose."

"He doesn't trust himself, and mother--oh!" Her forlorn murmuring ended
hopelessly in nothing.

"Mother! Yes! What a lot of things there are to think of! I had just
made up my mind to take him right away from all of you, to take him
abroad. I could have done it if I'd found him here. Perhaps I could do
it still--I wonder?"

Amy shivered uncomfortably under the thoughtful gaze of her companion's
eyes.

"I might write letters too--as you used to--and contrive secret
meetings. He's said nothing about Miss Thurseley to me--I don't suppose
he'd say anything about me to Miss Thurseley. But he'd meet me all the
same, I think. That seems to be his way; only before your last visit I
didn't know it."

"Indeed he won't think of Mabel--not for a long while. He's so--so
broken up."

Winnie raised her brows slightly; she was beginning to form an opinion
of her own about that--an opinion not likely to be too generous to
Godfrey.

Amy spoke with obvious effort, with an air of shame. "Mother begged and
prayed me to--to try and persuade you----" She broke off again.

"To let him alone? I suppose she would. She thinks I've done all the
harm? As far as he's concerned, I suppose I have. If we'd gone about it
in the ordinary way, he really needn't have suffered at all."

Again came Amy's uncomfortable shiver; she was not at home with steady
contemplation of the ways of the world; it had not come across her path
any more than love-making had.

"You can tell your mother that I'll let him alone. Then, I hope, she'll
get better."

"Oh, I don't understand you!"

"No? Well, I didn't understand Godfrey. But in your case it doesn't
matter. Why should you want to? You can all put me out of your thoughts
from to-day."

"I can't!" cried Amy; "I shall never be able to!" Suddenly she came over
to Winnie, and, standing before her, rather awkwardly, burst into tears.
"How can you be so hard?" she moaned. "Don't you see that I'm terribly
unhappy for you? But it's hopeless to try to tell you. You're so--so
hard. And I've got to go back home, where they'll be----"

Winnie supplied the word--"Jubilant? Yes." She frowned. "You cry, and I
don't--it is rather funny. I wonder if I shall cry when you've gone!"

"Oh, do you love him, or don't you?"

Winnie's brows were raised again. In view of what had occurred that day,
of the sudden revelation of Godfrey, of the abrupt change his act had
wrought in her relations to him, the question seemed to imply an unreal
simplicity of the emotions, a falsely uncomplicated contrast between two
states of feeling, standing distantly over against one another. Such a
conception in no way corresponded with her present feelings about
Godfrey Ledstone. The man she loved had done the thing she could not
forgive--did she love him? Yet if she did not love him, why could she
not forgive him? Unless she loved him, it was small matter that he
should be ashamed and run away. But if he were ashamed and ran away, how
could she love? Love and contempt, tenderness and repulsion, seemed
woven into one fabric of intricate, almost untraceable pattern. How
could she describe that to Amy Ledstone?

"I suppose I love my Godfrey, but he seems not to be the same as yours.
I can't put it better than that. And you love yours, and not mine. I
think that's all we can say about it."

Amy had her complications of feeling too. She dried her eyes, mournfully
saying, "That's not true about me. I like yours best--if I know what you
mean. He was a man, anyhow. But then I know it's wicked to feel like
that."

Winnie looked up at her. "Of course you must think it wicked--I quite
see that--but you do understand more than I thought," she said. "And you
won't think I'm abusing him? It wouldn't seem wicked to me at all--if
I'd happened on the right man. But I didn't. That's all. And this way of
ending it seems somehow to--to defile it all. The end spoils it all.
That seems to me shamefully unfair. He had a right to go, but he had no
right to be ashamed. And he is ashamed, and almost makes me ashamed. I
could almost hate him for it."

"We've made him ashamed. You must hate us."

"I like you. And--no--how could I hate your father and mother? They made
me no promise; I've given nothing to them on the strength of a promise.
But to him I've given everything I had; not much, I know, but
still--everything."

Amy twisted her gloved hands round one another. She was calmer now, but
her face was drawn with pain. "Yes, that's true," she said. Then she
came out abruptly with what had been behind her spoken words for the
last ten minutes, with what she had to say before she could bring
herself to leave Winnie. "At any rate, you've pluck. Godfrey's a
coward."

Winnie's lips bent in a queer smile. "Don't! Where does it leave me? Oh
yes, it's true about him, I suppose. That's my blunder."

Amy walked back to the mantelpiece; she had left her muff on it. She
took it up and moved towards the door. "I'll go. You must have had
enough of the lot of us!"

Winnie had an honest desire to be just, nay, to be kind, to reciprocate
a friendliness obviously extended towards her, and extended in spite of
a rooted disapproval. But those limits of endurance had been reached
again. She had, indeed, had enough of the Ledstones; not even her
husband could have suffered more strongly from the feeling. She made an
effort.

"Oh, you and I part friends," she called after her visitor's retreating
figure. Without turning round, Amy shook her head dolefully, and so
passed out. Her mission was accomplished.

Almost directly after Amy left, the servant, Dennehy's old Irish woman,
came in with tea and buttered toast. She drew a chair up to the gas
stove, and a little table.

"Make yerself comfortable, me dear," she said.

"Did he say anything to you, Mrs. O'Leary?"

"Said he was going to visit his relations in the North for a bit." Then,
after a pause, "Cheer up, mum. There's as good fish----!" And out the
old woman shuffled.

Now that was a funny thing to say! 'There's as good fish----!' But
Winnie's numb brain was on another tack; she did not pursue the
implications of Mrs. O'Leary's remark. Nor did the tender mood, on whose
advent she had speculated when she said, 'I wonder if I shall cry, when
you've gone,' arrive. Nor was she girding against the Ledstones and
Woburn Square any more. Her thoughts went back to her own parting from
her husband. "Anyhow, I faced Cyril--we had it out," was the refrain of
her thoughts, curiously persistent, as she sat before the stove,
drinking her tea and munching her toast, enjoying the warmth, really
(though it seemed strange) not so much miserable as intensely combative,
with no leisure to indulge in misery, with her back to the wall, and the
world--the Giant--advancing against her threateningly. Because her
particular little rampart had collapsed entirely, the roof was blown off
her shelter, her scheme of life in ruins--a situation cheerfully
countered by Mrs. O'Leary's proverbial saying, but not in reality easy
to deal with. Her boat was not out fishing; it was stranded, high and
dry, on a barren beach. "I did face Cyril!" Again and again it came in
pride and bitter resentment. Here she was faced with a _dénoûment_
typical of a weak mind--at once sudden, violent, and cowardly.

She smoked two or three cigarettes--Ledstone had taught her the habit,
undreamed of in her Maxon days--and the hands of the clock moved round.
Half-past six struck. It acted as a practical reminder of immediate
results. She had no dinner ordered; if she had, there was nobody to eat
it with. There was nobody to spend the evening with. She would have to
sleep alone in the house; Mrs. O'Leary had family cares, and got home to
supper and bed at nine o'clock. She need not dine, but she must spend
the evening and must sleep, with no company, no protective presence, in
all the house. That seemed really rather dreadful.

Her luggage lay on the floor of the studio, still unpacked. She had not
given another thought to it; she did now. "Shall I go back to Shaylor's
Patch to-night?" It was a very tempting idea. She got up, almost
determined; she would find sympathy there; even the tears might come.
She was on the point of making for her bedroom, to put on her hat and
jacket again, when another ring came at the bell. A moment later she
heard a cheery voice asking, "Mrs. Ledstone at home?"

"But I'm not Mrs. Ledstone any more. Nor Mrs. Maxon! I don't see that
I'm anybody."

The thought had just time to flash through her mind before Bob Purnett
was ushered in by Mrs. O'Leary.

"Mr. Purnett, mum. Ye'll find the whisky in the usual place, sor, and
the soda." It was known that Bob did not affect afternoon tea.

"I thought you'd be back, Mrs. Ledstone. Where's Godfrey? I've a free
night, and I want you and him to come and dine and go to a Hall. Don't
say no, now! I'm so lonely! Don't mind this cigar, do you, Mrs.
Ledstone?"

There seemed a lot of 'Mrs. Ledstone' about it; but she knew that was
Bob's good manners. Besides, it was a minor point. How much candour was
at the moment requisite? Even that was not the main point. The main
point was--'Here's a friendly human being; in what way am I required by
the situation to treat him?'

It was a point admitting of difficult consideration in theory; in
practice it needed none whatever. Winnie clutched at the plank in her
sea of desolation.

"Godfrey's staying over the night with his people; he's got a chill. I
didn't know it, so I came back all the same from the Aikenheads'."--How
glib!--"And I'm rather lonely too, Mr. Purnett."

He sat down near her by the stove. "Well--er--old Godfrey wouldn't
object, would he?"

"You mean--that I should come alone? With you?"

"Hang it, if he will get chills and stay at Woburn Square! This doesn't
strike one as very festive!" He looked round the studio and gave a
burlesque shudder.

"It isn't!" said Winnie. "Shall I surprise you, Mr. Purnett, if I tell
you that I have never in my life dined out or gone to the theatre alone
with any man except Mr. Maxon and Godfrey?"

She puzzled Bob to distraction, or, rather, would have, if he had not
given up the problem long ago. "I believe it if you say so, Mrs.
Ledstone," he rejoined submissively. "But Godfrey and I are such good
pals. Why shouldn't you?"

"I'm going to," said Winnie.

He rose with cheerful alacrity. "All right. I'll meet you at the Café
Royal--eight sharp. Jolly glad I looked in! I say, what price poor old
Godfrey--with a chill at Woburn Square, while we're having an evening
out?" He chuckled merrily.

"It serves Godfrey quite right," she said, with her faintly flickering
smile.

Mrs. O'Leary was delighted to be summoned to the task of lacing up one
of Winnie's two evening frocks--the better of the two, it may be
remarked in passing.

"Ye might have moped, me dear, here all by yourself!" she said, and it
certainly seemed a possible conjecture.

There was only one fault to be found with Bob Purnett's demeanour during
dinner at the Café Royal. It was quite friendly and cheerful; it was not
distant; but it was rather overwhelmingly respectful. It recognized and
emphasized the fact of Godfrey Ledstone's property in her (the thing can
hardly be put differently), and of Bob's perfect acquiescence in it. It
protested that not a trace of treason lurked in this little excursion.
He even kept on expressing the wish that Godfrey were with them. And he
called her 'Mrs. Ledstone' every other sentence. There never was anybody
who kept the straitest rule of the code more religiously than Bob
Purnett.

But he was in face of a situation of which he was ignorant, and of a
nature which (as he was only too well aware) he very little
comprehended. Winnie looked very pretty, but she smiled inscrutably. At
least she smiled at first. Presently a touch of irritation crept into
her manner. She gave him back copious 'Mr. Purnett's' in return for his
'Mrs. Ledstone's.' The conversation became formal, indeed, to Bob,
rather dull. He understood her less and less.

It was, on Winnie's extremely rough and not less irritated computation,
at the one hundred and fourth 'Mrs. Ledstone' of the evening--which
found utterance as they were driving in a cab from the restaurant to the
selected place of entertainment--that her patience gave as with a snap,
and her bitter humour had its way.

"For heaven's sake don't call me 'Mrs. Ledstone' any more this evening!"

"Eh?" said Bob, removing his cigar from his mouth. "What did you say,
Mrs. Led----Oh, I beg pardon!"

"I said, 'Don't call me "Mrs. Ledstone"'--or I shall go mad."

"What am I to call you, then?" He was trying not to stare at her, but
was glancing keenly out of the corner of his eye.

"Let's be safe--call me Mrs. Smith," said Winnie.

On which words they arrived at the music hall.



CHAPTER XVI

A WORD TAKEN AT PLEASURE


The excellent entertainment provided for them acted as a palliative to
Winnie's irritation and Bob Purnett's acute curiosity. There are no
'intervals' at music halls; they were switched too quickly from
diversion to diversion for much opportunity of talk to present itself;
and during the 'orchestral interlude,' half-way through the programme,
Bob left his place in search of refreshment. When they came out, the
subject of 'Mrs. Smith' had not advanced further between them.

Winnie refused her escort's offer of supper. By now she was tired out,
and she felt, though reluctant to own it, a childish instinct--since she
had to sleep in that desert of a house--to hide her head between the
sheets before midnight. This aim a swift motor-cab might just enable her
to accomplish.

Nor did the subject advance rapidly when the cab had started. Winnie lay
back against the cushions in a languid weariness, not equal to thinking
any more about her affairs that night. Bob sat opposite, not beside her,
for fear of his cigar smoke troubling her. She often closed her eyes;
then he would indulge himself in a cautious scrutiny of her face as the
street lamps lit it up in their rapid passage. She looked exceedingly
pretty, and would look prettier still--indeed, 'ripping'--with just a
little bit of make-up; for she was very pale, and life had already
drawn three or four delicate but unmistakable lines about eyes and
mouth. Bob allowed himself to consider her with more attention than he
had ever accorded to her before, and with a new sort of attention--on
his own account as a man, not merely as a respectful critic of Godfrey
Ledstone's taste. Because that remark of hers about not being called
'Mrs. Ledstone'--on pain of going mad--made a difference. Perhaps it
meant only a tiff--or, as he called it, a 'row.' Perhaps it meant more;
perhaps it was 'all off' between her and Godfrey--a final separation.

Whatever the remark meant, the state of affairs it indicated brought
Winnie more within her present companion's mental horizon. Tiffs and
separations were phenomena quite familiar to his experience. The truth
might be put higher; tiffs were the necessary concomitant, and
separations the inevitable end, of sentimental friendships. They came
more or less frequently, sooner or later; but they came. Growing
frequency of tiffs usually heralded separations. But sometimes the 'big
row' came all at once--a storm out of a blue sky, a sudden hurricane, in
which the consort ships lost touch of one another--or one went under,
while the other sailed away. All this was familiar ground to Bob
Purnett; he had often seen it, he had experienced it, he had joked and,
in his own vein, philosophized about it. The thing he had not
understood--though he had punctiliously feigned to accept--was the
sanctity and permanence of a tie which was, as everybody really must
know, neither sacred nor likely to be permanent. There he was out of his
depth; when tiffs and separations came on the scene, Bob felt his feet
touch bottom. And he had always been of opinion, in his heart, that,
whatever Winnie might believe, Godfrey Ledstone felt just as he did. Of
course Godfrey had had to pretend otherwise--well, the face opposite
Bob in the cab was worth a bit of pretending.

Winnie spoke briefly, two or three times, of the performance they had
seen, but said nothing more about herself. When they arrived at her
door, she told him to keep the cab.

"Because I've got nothing for you to eat, and I think you finished even
the whisky! Thanks for my evening, Mr. Purnett."

He walked through the little court up to the door with her. "And you
look as tired as a dog," he remarked--with a successful suppression of
'Mrs. Ledstone.' "What you want is a good sleep, and--and it'll all look
brighter in the morning. May I come and see you soon?"

"If I'm here, of course you may. But I haven't made up my mind. I may go
back to the country, to the Aikenheads, my cousins--where I met Godfrey,
you know."

He could not resist a question. "I say, is there trouble? You know how I
like you both. Has there been a row?"

She smiled at him. "Godfrey avoided any danger of that. I don't want to
talk about it, but you may as well know. Godfrey has gone away."

"Oh, but he'll come back, Mrs.----He'll come back, I mean, you know."

"Never. And I don't want him. Don't ask me any more--to-night, anyhow."
She gave him her hand with a friendly pressure. "Good-night."

"Good Lord! Well, I'm sorry. I say, you won't cut me now, will you?"

"I haven't so many friends that I need cut a good one. Now, if you drive
off at once, you'll be back in time to get some supper somewhere else."
She smiled again, and in a longing for comfort owned to him--and to
herself--her childish fears. "And I want to be snug in bed before the
spooks come out! I feel rather lonely. So, again, good-night." He had a
last vision of her small pale face as she slowly, reluctantly it seemed
to him, shut the door. A great rattle of bolts followed.

"Well, I'm left outside, anyhow," Bob reflected philosophically, as he
walked back to the cab. But his mind was occupied with the picture of
the proud forlorn woman, there alone in the empty house, very much alone
in the world too, and rather afraid of 'spooks.' All his natural
kindliness of heart was aroused in pity and sympathy for her. "I should
like to give her a really good time," he thought. In that aspect his
impulse was honestly unselfish. But the image of the pale delicate face
abode with him also. The two aspects of his impulse mingled; he saw no
reason why they should not, if it were really 'all off' between her and
Godfrey Ledstone. "I think she likes me well enough--I wonder if she
does!" He did not, to do him justice, ask an extravagant degree of
devotion in return for any 'good times' which he might find himself able
to offer. When it is so easy for two people with good tempers, sound
digestions, and plenty of ready cash to enjoy themselves, why spoil it
all by asking too much? Surely he and Winnie could enjoy themselves? The
idea stuck in his mind. Again, why--to him--should it not? His
scrupulous behaviour hitherto had been based on loyalty to Godfrey
Ledstone. It appeared that he was released from the obligation by his
friend's own act. "He can't say I didn't play the game, while the thing
lasted," thought Bob, with justifiable self-satisfaction.

The morrow of a catastrophe is perhaps harder to bear than the hour in
which it befalls us. The excitement of battling with fate is gone; but
the wounds smart and the bruises ache. Physically refreshed by sleep--a
sleep happily unbroken by assaults from without or ghostly visitants
within the house--Winnie braced her courage to meet the call on it. Her
task, not easy, yet was plain. She would not weep for her Godfrey
Ledstone; she would try not to think of him, nor to let her thoughts
stray back to the early days with him. She would and must think of the
other Godfrey, the one in Woburn Square. What woman would weep for such
a man as that--except his mother? On him she would fix her thoughts,
until she need think no more of either of them. She had to think of
herself--of what she had done and of what she was now to do. On the
first head she admitted a blunder, but no disgrace--a mistake not of
principle or theory, only a mistake in her man; with regard to the
second, she must make a decision.

Just before she had fairly settled down to this task, she had a visitor.
At half-past eleven--early hours for her to be out and about--Mrs.
Lenoir appeared.

"I was supping at the Carlton grill-room last night," she explained,
"with a couple of girls whom I'd taken to the play, and Bob Purnett came
in. He drove me back home, and--I don't know if he ought to have--but he
told me about some trouble here. So, as I'm an interfering old woman, I
came round to see if I could be of any use." Her manner to-day was less
stately and more cordial. Also she spoke with a certain frankness. "You
see, I know something about this sort of thing, my dear."

Winnie, of course, distinguished her 'sort of thing' very broadly from
'the sort of thing' to which Mrs. Lenoir must be assumed to refer, but
she made no secret of the state of the case or of her own attitude
towards it. "I accept it absolutely, but I'm bitterly hurt by the way it
was done."

"Oh, you can put it that way, my dear; but you're human like the rest
of us, and, of course, you hate having him taken away from you. Now
shall I try what I can do?"

"Not for the world! Not a word, nor a sign! It's my mistake, and I stand
by it. If he came back, it would never be the same thing. It was
beautiful; it would be shameful now."

Mrs. Lenoir smiled doubtfully; she had an imperfect understanding of the
mode of thought.

"Very well, that's settled. And, for my part, I think you're well rid of
him. A weak creature! Let him marry a Bloomsbury girl, and I hope she'll
keep him in fine order. But what are you going to do?"

"I don't quite know. Stephen and Tora would let me go back to Shaylor's
Patch for as long as I liked."

"Oh, Shaylor's Patch! To talk about it all, over and over again!"

A note of impatience in her friend's voice was amusingly evident to
Winnie. "You mean the less I talk about it, the better?" she asked,
smiling.

"Well, you haven't made exactly a success of it, have you?" The manner
was kinder than the words.

"And I didn't make exactly a success of my marriage either," Winnie
reflected, in a puzzled dolefulness. Because, if both orthodoxy and
unorthodoxy go wrong, what is a poor human woman to do? "Well, if I
mayn't go to Shaylor's Patch--at present, anyhow--I must stay here, Mrs.
Lenoir; that's all. The studio's in my name, because I could give better
security than Godfrey, and I can stay if I want to."

"Not very cheerful--and only that dirty old Irishwoman to do for you!"

"Oh, please don't abuse Mrs. O'Leary. She's my one consolation."

Mrs. Lenoir looked at her with something less than her usual
self-confidence. It was in a decidedly doubtful and tentative tone that
she put her question: "I couldn't persuade you to come and put up with
me--in both senses--for a bit?"

Winnie was surprised and touched; to her despairing mood any kindness
was a great kindness.

"That's really good of you," she said, pressing Mrs. Lenoir's hand for a
moment. "It's--merciful."

"I'm an old woman now, my dear, and most of my cronies are getting old
too. Still, some young folks look in now and then. We aren't at all gay;
but you'll be comfortable, and you can have a rest while you look about
you." There was a trace of the explanatory, of the reassuring, about
Mrs. Lenoir's sketch of her home life.

"What's good enough for you is good enough for me, you know," Winnie
remarked, with a smile.

"Oh, I'm not so sure! Oh, I'm not speaking of creature comforts and so
on. But you seem to me to expect so much of--of everybody."

Winnie took the hand she had pressed and held it. "And you?" she asked.

"Never mind me. You're young and attractive. Don't go on expecting too
much. They take what they can."

"They? Who?"

"Men," said Mrs. Lenoir. Then out of those distant, thoughtful, no
longer very bright eyes flashed for an instant the roguish twinkle for
which she had once been famous. "I've given them as good as I got,
though," said she. "And now--will you come?"

Winnie laughed. "Well, do you think I should prefer this empty tomb?"
she asked. Yes--empty and a tomb--apt words for what the studio now was.
"You weren't as nice as this at Shaylor's Patch--though you always said
things that made me think."

"They've all got their heads in the air at Shaylor's Patch--dear
creatures!"

"I shall enjoy staying with you. Is it really convenient?" Mrs. Lenoir
smiled. "Oh, but that's a silly question, because I know you meant it.
When may I come?"

"Not a moment later than this afternoon."

"Well, the truth is I didn't fancy sleeping here again. I expect I
should have gone to Shaylor's Patch."

Again Mrs. Lenoir smiled. "You're full of pluck, but you're scarcely
hard enough, my dear. If I'm a failure, Shaylor's Patch will do later,
won't it?"

"I shall disgrace you. I've nothing to wear. We were--I'm very poor, you
know."

"I'd give every pound at my bank and every rag off my back for one line
of your figure," said Mrs. Lenoir. "I was beautiful once, you know, my
dear." Her voice took on a note of generous recognition. "You're very
well--in the _petite_ style, Winnie." But by this she evidently meant
something different from her 'beautiful.' Well, it was matter of
history.

That afternoon, then, witnessed a remarkable change in Winnie's external
conditions. Instead of the desolate uncomfortable studio, charged with
memories too happy or too unhappy--there seemed nothing between the two,
and the extremes met--peopled, also, with 'spooks' potential if not
visualized, there was Mrs. Lenoir's luxurious flat in Knightsbridge,
replete, as the auctioneers say, with every modern convenience. The
difference was more than external. She was no longer a derelict--left
stranded at the studio or to drift back to Shaylor's Patch. No doubt it
might be said that she was received out of charity. Amply acknowledging
the boon, Winnie had yet the wit to perceive that the charity was
discriminating. Not for her had she been plain, not for her had she
been uninteresting! In a sense she had earned it. And in a sense, too,
she felt that she was in process of being avenged on Godfrey Ledstone
and on Woburn Square. A parallel might be traced here between her
feelings and Cyril Maxon's. They had made her count for nothing; she
felt that at Mrs. Lenoir's she might still count. The sorrow and the
hurt remained, but at least this was not finality. She had suffered
under a dread suspicion that in their different ways both Shaylor's
Patch and the solitary studio were. Here she had a renewed sense of
life, of a future possible. Yet here too, for the first time since
Godfrey left her, she lost her composure, and the tears came--quite
soon, within ten minutes after Mrs. Lenoir's greeting.

Mrs. Lenoir understood. "There, you're not so angry any more," she said.
"You're beginning to see that it must have happened--with that fellow!
Now Emily will make you comfortable, and put you to bed till
dinner-time. You needn't get up for that unless you like. There's only
the General coming; it's one of his nights."

Oh, the comfort of a good Emily--a maid not too young and not too old,
not too flighty and not too crabbed, light of hand, sympathetic,
entirely understanding that her lady has a right to be much more
comfortable than she has ever thought of being herself! In Maxon days
Winnie had possessed a maid. They seemed far off, and never had there
been one as good as Mrs. Lenoir's Emily. She had come into Mrs. Lenoir's
life about the same time as Mr. Lenoir had, but with an effect that an
impartial observer could not but recognize as not only more durable, but
also more essentially important--save that Lenoir had left the money
which made Emily possible. Mrs. Lenoir had paid for the money--in five
years' loyalty and service.

Winnie reposed between deliciously fine sheets--why, it was like
Devonshire Street, without Cyril Maxon!--and watched Emily dexterously
disposing her wardrobe. It was not ample. Some of the effects of the
Maxon days she had left behind in her hurried flight; most of the rest
had worn out. But there were relics of her gilded slavery. These Emily
tactfully admired; the humbler purchases of 'Mrs. Ledstone' she stowed
away without comment. Also without comment, but with extraordinary tact,
she laid out the inferior of Winnie's two evening dresses.

"There's nobody coming but the General, miss," said she.

"Now why does she call me 'miss'--and who's the General?" These two
problems rose in Winnie's mind, but did not demand instant solution.
They were not like the questions of the last few days; they were more
like Shaylor's Patch conundrums--interesting, but not urgent, willing to
wait for an idle hour or a rainy day, yielding place to a shining sun or
a romp with Alice. They yielded place now to Winnie's great physical
comfort, to her sense of rescue from the desolate studio, to her respite
from the feeling of finality and of failure. With immense surprise she
realized, as she lay there--in a quiet hour between Emily's deft and
charitable unpacking and Emily's return to get her into the inferior
frock (good enough for that unexplained General)--that she was what any
reasonably minded being would call happy. Though the great experiment
had failed, though Godfrey was at this moment in Woburn Square, though
Mabel Thurseley existed! "Oh, well, I was so tired," she apologized to
herself shamefacedly.

She got down into the small but pretty drawing-room in good time. Yet
Mrs. Lenoir was there before her, clad in a tea-gown, looking, as it
occurred to Winnie, rather like Mrs. Siddons--a cheerful Mrs. Siddons,
as, indeed, the great woman appears to have been in private life.

"I got my things off early, so as to leave you Emily," said the hostess.
She obviously did not consider that she had been getting anything on.

"What a dear she is!" Winnie came to the fire and stood there, a
slim-limbed creature, warming herself through garments easily penetrable
by the welcome blaze.

"Quite a find! The General sent her to me. Her husband was a
sergeant-major in his regiment--killed in South Africa."

The General again! But Winnie postponed that question. Her lips curved
in amusement. "She calls me 'miss.'"

"Better than that silly 'Mrs. Smith' you said to Bob Purnett. Only
unhappy women try to make epigrams. And for a woman to be unhappy is to
be a failure."

"Isn't that one--almost--Mrs. Lenoir?"

"Quite quick, my dear!" her hostess commented. "But if it is, it's old.
I told Emily you were a second cousin. I never know exactly what it
means, but in my experience it's quite useful. But please yourself,
Winnie. Who will you be?"

"Did Emily believe what you told her?"

The twinkle came again. "She's much too good a servant ever to raise
that question. What was your name?"

"My maiden name? Wilkins."

"I think names ending in 'kins' are very ugly," said Mrs. Lenoir. "But a
modification? What about Wilson? 'Winnie Wilson' is quite pretty."

"'Miss Winnie Wilson'? Isn't it rather--well, rather late in the day for
that? But, I don't want to be Ledstone--and it's rather unfair to call
myself Maxon still."

"Names," observed Mrs. Lenoir, "are really not worth troubling about, so
long as you don't hurt people's pride. I used to have a fetish-like
feeling about them--as if, I mean, you couldn't get rid of the one you
were born with, or, my dear, take one you had no particular right to.
But one night, long ago, somebody--I really forget who--brought an
Oxford don to supper. We got on the subject, and he told me that a great
philosopher--named Dobbs, if I remember rightly--defined a name as 'a
word taken at pleasure to serve for a mark.'" She looked across the
hearthrug, confidently expecting Winnie's approval. "I liked it, and it
stuck in my memory."

"It does make things simpler, Mrs. Lenoir."

"Mind you, I wouldn't take a great name I hadn't a right to. Courtenays
and Devereauxes in the chorus are very bad form. But I don't see why you
shouldn't be Wilson. And the 'Miss' avoids a lot of questions."

"All right. Miss Winnie Wilson be it! It sounds like a new toy. And now,
Mrs. Lenoir, for the other problem that Emily has raised. Who's the
General?"

Mrs. Lenoir liked her young friend, but possibly thought that she was
becoming a trifle impertinent. Not that she minded that; in her heart
she greeted it as a rebound from misery; in the young it often is.

"If you've any taste in men--which, up to now, you've given your friends
no reason to think--you'll like the General very much."

"Will he like me?"

"The only advantage of age is that I shan't mind if he does, Winnie."

Winnie darted towards her. "What a dear you've been to me to-day!"

"Hush, I think I hear the General's step."

The parlour-maid--not Emily, but a young woman, smart and a trifle
scornful--announced, "Sir Hugh Merriam, ma'am--and dinner's served."



CHAPTER XVII

THE TRACK OF THE RAIDER


The General was old-fashioned; he liked to be left alone with the
port--or let us say port-wine, as he always did--after dinner for a
quarter of an hour; then he would rejoin the ladies for coffee and, by
their never assumed but always solicited permission, a cigar in the
drawing-room. Thus Winnie had a chance of gratifying her lively
curiosity about the handsome old man with gentle manners, who had seen
and done so much, who talked so much about his sons, and came to dine
with Mrs. Lenoir twice a week.

"I've fallen in love with your General. Do tell me about him," she
implored her hostess.

"Oh, he's very distinguished. He's done a lot of fighting--India, Egypt,
South Africa. He first made his name in the Kala Kin Expedition, in
command of the Flying Column. And he invented a great improvement in
gun-carriages--he's a gunner, you know--and----"

"I think," interrupted Winnie, with a saucy air of doubt, "that I meant
something about him--and you, Mrs. Lenoir."

"There's nothing to tell. We're just friends, and we've never been
anything else."

Winnie was sitting on a stool in front of the fire, smoking her
Ledstone-learnt cigarette (destined, apparently, to be the only visible
legacy of that episode). She looked up at Mrs. Lenoir, still with that
air of doubt.

"Well, why shouldn't I tell you?" said the lady. "He wanted something
else, and I wouldn't."

"Were you in love with somebody else?"

"No, but he'd brought those boys--they were just schoolboys then--to see
me, and it--it seemed a shame. He knew it was a shame too, but--well,
you know what happens sometimes. But, quite soon after, his wife fell
ill, and died in four or five days--pneumonia. Then he was glad. But he
went abroad directly--without seeing me--and was abroad many years. When
he came home and retired, I met him by accident, and he asked leave to
call. He's very lonely--so am I rather--and he likes a change from the
club. I don't wonder! And, as you'll have gathered, we've known all the
same people in the old days, and always have lots to talk about. That's
the story, Winnie."

"I like it. Do you ever see the sons?"

"They all come to see me when they're home on leave; but that's not
often."

"The Major's coming next week, though. The General said so. Let's see if
I've got them right. There's the Major--he's the eldest--in Egypt. But
the second one is cleverer, and has become a colonel first; he's in
Malta now. And then the one in India has only just got his troop; he
ought to have had it before, but they thought he gave too much time to
polo, and horse-racing, and private theatricals."

"That's Georgie--my favourite," said Mrs. Lenoir.

"I'm for the Major--because I think it's a shame that his younger
brother should be made a colonel before him. I'm glad it's the Major
that's coming home on leave next month."

Mrs. Lenoir looked at Winnie, and patted herself on the back. All this
was much better for Winnie than the empty studio. She knew that the
animation was in part an effort, the gaiety in some measure assumed--and
bravely assumed. But every moment rescued from brooding was, to Mrs.
Lenoir's mind, so much to the good. According to some other ways of
thinking, of course, a little brooding might have done Winnie good, and
would certainly have been no more than she deserved.

Coffee came in, and, quick on its heels, the General. He produced his
cigar, and advanced his invariable and invariably apologetic request.

"Please do. We neither of us mind, do we, Winnie?" said Mrs. Lenoir.
There was really more reason to ask the General if he minded Winnie's
cigarette, which had come from the studio and was not of a very fine
aroma.

Winnie stuck to her stool and listened, with her eyes set on the fire.
At first the talk ran still on the three sons--evidently the old
soldier's life was wrapped up in them--but presently the friends drifted
back to old days, to the people they had both known. Winnie's ears
caught names that were familiar to her, references to men and stories
about men whom she had often heard Cyril Maxon and his legal guests
mention. But to-night she obtained a new view of them. It was not their
public achievements which occupied and amused the General and Mrs.
Lenoir. They had known them as intimates, and delighted now to recall
their ways, their foibles, how they had got into scrapes and got out of
them in the merry thoughtless days of youth. Between them they seemed to
have known almost everybody who was 'in the swim' from thirty years to a
quarter of a century before; if the General happened to say, 'So they
told me, I never met him myself,' Mrs. Lenoir always said, 'Oh, I
did'--and _vice versâ_.

"It was just before my dear wife died," the General said once, in dating
a reminiscence.

There was a moment's silence. Winnie did not look up. Then the General
resumed his story. But he cut it rather short, and ended with, "I'm
afraid our yarns must be boring this young lady, Clara."

Evidently he accepted Winnie entirely at her face value--as Miss Winnie
Wilson. The anecdotes and reminiscences, though intimate, had been
rigidly decorous, even improbably so in one or two cases; and now he was
afraid that she was bored with what would certainly interest any
intelligent woman of the world. Winnie was amused, yet vexed, and
inclined to wish she had not become Miss Wilson. But she had made a good
impression; that was clear from the General's words when he took his
leave.

"Bertie will come and see you directly he gets home, Clara. It'll be in
about six weeks, I expect." He turned to Winnie. "I hope you'll be kind
to my boy. He doesn't know many ladies in London, and I want him to have
a pleasant holiday."

"I will. And I wish they were all three coming, Sir Hugh."

"That might end in a family quarrel," he said, with a courtly little bow
and a glance from his eyes, which had not lost their power of seconding
a compliment.

"Well, I think you've made a favourable impression, though you didn't
say much," Mrs. Lenoir remarked when he was gone.

Winnie was standing, with one foot on her stool now. She frowned a
little.

"I wish you'd tell him about me," she said.

There was a pause; Mrs. Lenoir was dispassionately considering the
suggestion.

"I don't see much use in taking an assumed name, if you're going to tell
everybody you meet."

"He's such a friend of yours."

"That's got nothing to do with it. Now if it were a man who wanted to
marry you--well, he'd have to be told, I suppose, because you can't
marry. But the General won't want to do that."

"It seems somehow squarer."

"Then am I to say Mrs. Maxon or Mrs. Ledstone?"

There it was! Winnie broke into a vexed laugh. "Oh, I suppose we'd
better leave it."

Thus began Winnie's cure, from love and anger, and from Godfrey
Ledstone. Change of surroundings, new interests, kindness, and, above
all perhaps, appreciation--it was a good treatment. Something must also
be credited to Mrs. Lenoir's attitude towards life. She had none of the
snarl of the cynic; she thought great things of life. But she recognized
frankly certain of its limitations--as that, if you do some things,
there are other things that you must give up; that the majority must be
expected to demand obedience to its views on pain of penalties; if you
do not mind the penalties, you need not mind the views either; above
all, perhaps, that, if you have taken a certain line, it is useless
folly to repine at its ordained consequences. She was nothing of a
reformer--Winnie blamed that--but she was decidedly good at making the
best of her world as she found it, or had made it for herself; and this
was the gospel she offered for Winnie's acceptance. Devoid of any kind
of penitential emotion, it might yet almost be described as a practical
form of penitence.

Winnie heard nothing of or from Woburn Square; there was nobody likely
to give her news from that quarter except, perhaps, Bob Purnett, and he
was away, having accepted an invitation to a fortnight's hunting in
Ireland. But an echo of the past came from elsewhere--in a letter
addressed to her at Shaylor's Patch, forwarded thence to the studio
(she had not yet told the Aikenheads of her move), and, after two or
three days' delay, delivered at Knightsbridge by Mrs. O'Leary in person.
It was from her husband's solicitors; they informed her of his intention
to take proceedings, and suggested that they should be favoured with the
name of a firm who would act for her.

Winnie received the intimation with great relief, great surprise, some
curiosity, and, it must be added, a touch of malicious amusement. The
relief was not only for herself. It was honestly for Cyril Maxon also.
Why must he with his own hands adjust a lifelong millstone round his own
neck? Now, like a sensible man, he was going to take it off. But it was
so unlike him to take off his millstones; he felt such a pride in the
cumbrous ornaments. 'What had made him do it?' asked the curiosity; and
the malicious amusement suggested that, contrary to all preconceptions
of hers, contrary to anything he had displayed to her, he too must have
his weaknesses--in what direction it was still uncertain. The step he
now took might be merely the result of accumulated rancour against her,
or it might be essential to some design or desire of his own. Winnie may
be excused for not harbouring the idea that her husband was acting out
of consideration for her; she had the best of excuses--that of being
quite right.

For the rest--well, it was not exactly pleasant. But she seemed so
completely to have ceased to be Mrs. Maxon that at heart it concerned
her little what people said of Mrs. Maxon. They--her Maxon circle, the
legal profession, the public--would not understand her provocation, her
principles, or her motives; they would say hard and scornful things. She
was in safe hiding; she would not hear the things. It would be like what
they say of a man after he has gone out of the room and (as Sir Peter
Teazle so kindly did in the play) left his character behind him. Of that
wise people take no notice.

But Godfrey? It must be owned that the thought of him came second;
indeed third--after the aspect which concerned her husband and that
which touched herself. But when it came, it moved her to vexation, to
regret, to a pity which had even an element of the old tenderness in it.
Because this development was just what poor Godfrey had always been so
afraid of, just what he hated, a thing analogous to the position which
in the end he had not been able to bear. And poor Woburn Square! Oh, and
poor Mabel Thurseley too, perhaps! What a lot of people were caught in
the net! The news of her husband's action did much to soften her heart
towards Godfrey and towards Woburn Square. "I really didn't want to make
them unhappy or ashamed any more," she sighed; for had not her action in
the end produced Cyril's? But, as Mrs. Lenoir would, no doubt, point
out, there was no help for it--short of Winnie's suicide, which seemed
an extreme remedy, or would have, if it had ever occurred to her: it did
not.

Her solicitude was not misplaced. The high moralists say _Esse quam
videri_--what you are and do matters, not what people think you are or
what they may discover you doing. A hard high doctrine! "He that is able
to receive it, let him receive it." Mr. Cyril Maxon also had found
occasion to consider these words.

For Winnie had been right. Jubilation had reigned in Woburn Square,
provisionally when Godfrey fetched his portmanteau away from the studio,
finally and securely (as it seemed) when Amy made known the result of
her mission. Father read his paper again in peace; mother's spasms
abated. There was joy over the sinner; and the sinner himself was not
half as unhappy as he had expected--may it be said, hoped?--to be.
Mercilessness of comment is out of place. He had been tried above that
which he was able. Yet, if sin it had been, it was not of the sin that
he repented. It had been, he thought, from the beginning really
impossible on the basis she had defined--and extorted. In time he had
been bound to recognize that. But he wore a chastened air, and had the
grace to seek little of Miss Thurseley's society. He took another
studio, in a street off Fitzroy Square, and ate his dinner and slept at
his father's house.

Things, then, were settling down in Woburn Square. By dint of being
ignored, Winnie and her raid on the family reputation might soon be
forgotten. The affair had been kept very quiet; that was the great
thing. (Here Woburn Square and the high moralists seem lamentably at
odds, but the high moralists also enjoin the speaking and writing of the
truth.) It was over. It ranked no more as a defiance; it became merely
an indiscretion--a thing young men will do now and then, under the
influence of designing women. There was really jubilation--if only Amy
would have looked a little less gloomy, and been rather more cordial
towards her brother.

"I don't understand the girl," Mr. Ledstone complained. "Our line is to
make things pleasant for him."

"It's that woman. She must have some extraordinary power," his wife
pleaded. Winnie's extraordinary power made it all the easier to forgive
her son Godfrey. Probably few young men would have resisted, and (this
deep down in the mother's heart) not so very many had occasion to
resist.

Then came the thunderbolt--from which jubilation fled shrieking. Who
hurled it? Human nature, Winnie, Lady Rosaline Deering--little as she
either had meant to do anything unkind to the household in Woburn
Square? Surely even the high moralists--or shall we say the high gods,
who certainly cannot make less, and may perhaps make more,
allowances?--would have pitied Mr. Ledstone. Beyond all the
disappointment and dismay, he felt himself the victim of a gross breach
of trust. He fumed up and down the back room on the ground floor which
was called his study--the place he read the papers in and where he slept
after lunch.

"But he said there were to be no proceedings. He said he didn't believe
in it. He said it distinctly more than once."

Mrs. Ledstone had gone to her room. The sinner had fled to his studio,
leaving Amy to break the news to Mr. Ledstone; Amy was growing
accustomed to this office.

"I suppose he's changed his mind," said Amy, with a weary listlessness.

"But he said it. I remember quite well. 'I am not a believer in
divorce.' And you remember I came home and told you there were to be no
proceedings? Monstrous! In a man of his position! Well, one ought to be
able to depend on his word! Monstrous!" Exclamation followed exclamation
like shots from a revolver--but a revolver not working very smoothly.

"It'll have to go through, I suppose, daddy."

"How can you take it like that? What'll your Uncle Martin say? And Aunt
Lena--and the Winfreys? It'll be a job to live this down! And my son--a
man with my record! He distinctly said there were to be no proceedings.
I left him on that understanding. What'll Mrs. Thurseley think? I shall
go and see this man Maxon myself." Of all sinners Mr. Maxon was ranking
top in Woburn Square to-day--easily above his wife even.

"I don't expect that'll do any good."

"Amy, you really are----Oh, well, child, I'm half off my head. A man has
no right to say a thing like that unless he means it. No proceedings, he
said!"

"I expect he did mean it. Something's changed him, I suppose."

Something had--and it never occurred to Cyril Maxon that the Ledstone
family had any right to a say in the matter. He would have been
astonished to hear the interpretation that Mr. Ledstone put on the
interview which he remembered only with vivid disgust, with the
resentment due to an intrusion entirely unwarrantable. So the poor old
gentleman must be left fuming up and down, quite vainly and uselessly
clamouring against the unavoidable, an object for compassion, even
though he was thinking more of the Thurseleys, of Uncle Martin, Aunt
Lena, and the Winfreys than of how his son stood towards divine or
social law on the one side, and towards a deserted woman on the other?
Respectability is, on the whole, a good servant to morality, but
sometimes the servant sits in the master's seat.

The culprit's state was no more enviable than his father's; indeed it
appeared to himself so much worse that he was disposed to grudge his
family the consternation which they displayed so prodigally and to find
in it an unfair aggravation of a burden already far too heavy. Nothing,
perhaps, makes a man feel so ill-used as to do a mean thing and then be
baulked of the object for whose sake he did it. A mean thing it
undoubtedly was, even if it had been the right thing also in the eyes of
many people--for to such unfortunate plights can we sometimes be reduced
by our own actions that there really is not a thing both right and
straight left to do; and it had been done in a mean and cowardly way.
Yet it was now no good. Things had just seemed to be settling down
quietly; he was being soothed by the consolatory petting of his mother
and father. Now this happened--and all was lost. His decent veil of
obscurity was rent in twain; he was exposed to the rude stare of the
world, to the shocked eyes of Aunt Lena and the rest. He had probably
lost the girl towards whom his thoughts had turned as a comfortable and
satisfactory solution of all his difficulties; and he had the perception
to know that, whether he had lost Mabel or not, he had finally and
irretrievably lost Winnie. Everybody would be against him now, both the
men of the law and the men of the code; he had been faithful to the
standards of neither.

He had not the grace to hate himself; that would have been a promising
state of mind. But fuming up and down in his studio off Fitzroy Square
(just like his father in the back room in Woburn Square) and lashing
himself into impotent fury, he began to feel that he hated everybody
else. They had all had a hand in his undoing--Bob Purnett and his lot
with their easy-going moralities, Shaylor's Patch and its lot with their
silly speculations and vapourings over things they knew nothing about,
Cyril Maxon who did not stand by what he said nor by what he believed,
Winnie with ridiculous exacting theories, Mabel Thurseley (poor
blameless Mabel!) by attracting his errant eyes and leading him on to
flirtation, his parents by behaving as if the end of the world had come,
his sister because she despised him and had sympathy with the deserted
woman. He was in a sad case. Nobody had behaved or was behaving
decently towards him, nobody considered the enormous--the
impossible--difficulties of his situation from beginning to end. Was
there no justice in the world--nor even any charity? What an
ending--what an ending--to those pleasant days of dalliance at
Shaylor's Patch! What was deep down in his heart was--"And I could have
managed it all right my way, if she'd only have let me!"

He did not go home to dinner that evening. He slunk back late at night,
hoping that all his family would be in bed. Yet when he found that
accusing sister sitting alone in the drawing-room, he grounded a
grievance on her solitude. She was sewing--and she went on sewing in a
determined manner and in unbroken silence.

"Well, where's everybody? Have you nothing to say? I'm sent to Coventry,
I suppose?"

"Mother's in bed. Oh, she's pretty easy now; you needn't worry. Daddy's
in his study; he was tired out, and I expect he's gone to sleep. I'm
quite ready to talk to you, Godfrey."

Perhaps--but her tone did not forebode a cheerful conversation.

He got up from the chair into which he had plunged himself when he came
in.

"Pretty gay here, isn't it? Oh, you do know how to rub it in, all of
you! I should think living in this house would drive any man to drink
and blue ruin in a fortnight."

Amy sewed on. She had offered to talk, but what he said seemed to call
for no comment. He strode to the door and opened it violently. "I'm off
to bed."

"Good-night, Godfrey," said Amy; her speech was smothered by the banging
of the door.

Poor sinner! Poor creature! Winnie Maxon might indeed plead that her
theory had not been fairly tried; she had chosen the wrong man for the
experiment.

Here, then--save for the one formality on which Cyril Maxon now
insisted--Winnie and the Ledstone family were at the parting of the
ways. Their concurrence had been fortuitous--it was odd what people met
one another at Shaylor's Patch, Stephen's appetite for humanity being so
voracious--fortuitous, and ill-starred for all parties. They would not
let her into their life; they would not rest till they had ejected her
from her tainted connexion with it. Now they went out of hers. She
remembered Godfrey as her great disappointment, her lost illusion, her
blunder; Amy as it were with a friendly stretching-out of hands across a
gulf impassable; the old folk with understanding and toleration--since
they did no other than what they and she herself had been taught to
regard as right. How could the old change their ideas of right?

Their memory of her was far harder--naturally, perhaps. She was a
raider, a brigand, a sadly disturbing and destructive invader. At last
she had been driven out, but a track of desolation spread behind her
retreating steps. Indeed there were spots where the herbage never grew
again. The old folk forgave their son and lived to be proud of him once
more. But Amy Ledstone had gauged her brother with an accuracy
destructive of love; and within twelve months Mabel Thurseley married a
stockbroker, an excellent fellow with a growing business. She never knew
it, but she, at least, had cause for gratitude to Winnie Maxon.

Godfrey returned to the obedience of the code. He was at home there. It
was an air that he could breathe. The air of Shaylor's Patch was
not--nor that of the Kensington studio.



CHAPTER XVIII

NOTHING SERIOUS


"By the law came sin----" quoted Stephen Aikenhead.

"He only meant the Jewish law. Man, ye're hopeless." Dennehy tousled his
hair.

The February afternoon was mild; Stephen was a fanatic about open air,
if about nothing else. The four sat on the lawn at Shaylor's Patch, well
wrapped up--Stephen, Tora, and Dennehy in rough country wraps, Winnie in
a stately sealskin coat, the gift of Mrs. Lenoir. She had taken to
dressing Winnie, in spite of half-hearted remonstrances and with notable
results.

"But the deuce is," Stephen continued--this time on his own account and,
therefore, less authoritatively--"that when you take away the law, the
sin doesn't go too."

Winnie's story was by now known to these three good friends. Already it
was being discussed more as a problem than as a tragedy. Some excuse
might be found in Winnie's air and manner. She was in fine looks and
good spirits, interested and alert, distinctly resilient against the
blows of fortune and the miscarriage of theoretical experiments. So much
time and change had done for her.

"And it seems just as true of any other laws, even if he did mean the
Jewish, Dick," Stephen ended.

"Don't lots of husbands, tied up just as tight as anything or anybody
can tie them, cut loose and run away just the same?" asked Tora.

"And wives," added Winnie--who had done it, and had a right to speak.

"It's like the old dispute about the franchise and the agricultural
labourer. I remember my father telling me about it somewhere in the
eighties--when I was quite a small boy. One side said the labourer
oughtn't to have the vote till he was fit for it, the other said he'd
never be fit for it till he had it."

"Oh, well, that's to some extent like the woman question," Tora
remarked.

"Are we to change the law first or people first? Hope a better law will
make better people, or tell the people they can't have a better law till
they're better themselves?"

"Stephen, you've a glimmer of sense in you this afternoon."

"Well, Dick, we don't want to end by merely making things easier for
brutes and curs--male or female."

"I think you're a little wanting in the broad view to-day, Stephen.
You're too much affected by Winnie's particular case. Isn't it better to
get rid of brutes and curs anyhow? The quicker and easier, the better."
Tora was, as usual, uncompromising.

"Everybody seems to put a good point. That's the puzzle," said Stephen,
who was obviously enjoying the puzzle very much.

"Oh, ye're not even logical to-day, Tora," Dennehy complained, "which I
will admit you sometimes are, according to your wrong-headed principles.
Ye call the man a brute or a cur, and this and that--oh, ye meant
Godfrey! What's the man done that he hadn't a right to do on your own
showing? His manners were bad, maybe."

"It's our own showing that we're now engaged in examining, if you'll
permit us, Dick," Stephen rejoined imperturbably. "When a man's
considering whether he's been wrong, it's a pity to scold him; because
the practice is both rare and laudable."

"Oh, you mustn't even consider whether I've been wrong, Stephen," Winnie
cried. "Wrong in principle, I mean. As to the particular person--but I
don't want to abuse him, poor fellow. His environment----"

"That's a damnable word, saving your presence," Dennehy interrupted.
"Nowadays whenever a scoundrel does a dirty trick, he lays it to the
account of his environment."

"But that's just what I meant, Dick."

"Say the devil, and ye're nearer the mark, Winnie."

"Environment's more hopeful," Stephen suggested. "You see, we may be
able to change that. Over your _protégé_ we have no jurisdiction."

"He may have over you, though, some day! Oh, I'll go for a walk, and
clear my head of all your nonsense."

"Don't forget you promised to take me to the station after tea," said
Winnie.

"Forget it!" exclaimed Dick Dennehy in scorn indescribable. "Now will I
forget it--is it likely, Winnie?" He swung off into the house to get his
walking-stick.

Tora Aikenhead shook her head in patient reproof. No getting reason into
Dick's, no hope of it at all! It was just Dick's opinion of her.

A short silence followed Dennehy's departure. Then Stephen Aikenhead
spoke again.

"You've had a rough time, Winnie. Are you sorry you ever went in for
it?"

"No, it was the only thing to try; and it has resulted--or is just
going to--in my being free. But I did fail in one thing. I was much more
angry with Godfrey than I had any right to be. I was angry--yes, angry,
not merely grieved--because he left me, as well as because he was afraid
to do it in a straightforward way. I didn't live up to my theories
there."

"I don't know that I think any theory easy to live up to," said Tora.
"Is the ordinary theory of marriage easy to live up to either?"

"It's always interesting to see how few people live up to their
theories." Stephen smiled. "It seems to me your husband isn't living up
to his."

"No, he isn't, and it's rather consoling. I don't fancy it ever entered
his head that he would have to try it in practice himself. Rather your
own case, isn't it, Stephen? You've never really found what any--any
difficulty could mean to you."

"Oh, I know I'm accused of that. I can't help it; it's absolutely
impossible to get up a row with Tora. And even I don't say that you
ought to walk out of the house just for the fun of it!"

"We prove our theory best by the fact of the theory making no
difference," said Tora.

"I suppose that in the end it's only the failures who want theories at
all," Winnie mused.

"Probably--with the happy result of reducing, _pro tanto_, the practical
importance of the subject, without depriving it of its speculative
interest," laughed Stephen. "Love, union, parentage, partnership--it's
good to have them all, but, as life goes on, a lot of people manage with
the last two--or even with only the last. It grows into a pretty strong
tie. Well, Winnie, you seem to have come through fairly well, and I hope
you won't have much more trouble over the business."

"I shan't have any, to speak of. I've put it all in Hobart Gaynor's
hands. I went to see him and told him all he wanted to know. He's taken
charge of the whole thing; I really need hear no more about it. He was
awfully kind--just his dear old self." She smiled. "Well, short of
asking me to his house, you know."

"Oh, that's his wife," said Tora.

"Mrs. Gaynor seems to live up to her theories, at any rate," chuckled
Stephen.

"It's not so difficult to live up to your theories about other people.
It's about yourself," said Winnie.

"I think your going to Mrs. Lenoir's is such a perfect arrangement."
Tora characteristically ignored the large body of opinion which would
certainly be against her on the question.

"I'm very happy there--she's so kind. And I seem quite a fixture. I've
been there nearly two months, and now she says I'm to go abroad with her
in the spring." She paused for a moment. "The General's very kind too.
In fact I think he likes me very much."

"Who's the General? I don't know about him."

Winnie explained sufficiently, and added, "Of course he thinks I'm just
Miss Wilson. Mrs. Lenoir says it's all right, but I can't feel it's
quite straight."

"As he appears to be nearly seventy, and Mrs. Lenoir's friend, if
anybody's----" Stephen suggested.

Winnie smiled and blushed a little. "Well, you see, the truth is that
it's not only the General. He's got a son. Well, he's got three, but one
of them turned up about a fortnight ago."

"Oh, did he? Where from?"

"From abroad--on long leave. It's the eldest--the Major."

"Does he like you very much too, Winnie?"

Winnie looked across the lawn. "It seems just conceivable that he
might--complicate matters," she murmured. "I haven't spoken to Mrs.
Lenoir about that--aspect of it."

Stephen was swift on the scent of another problem. "Oh, and you mean, if
he did--well, show signs--how much ought he to be told about Miss
Wilson?"

"Yes. And perhaps even before the signs were what you'd call very
noticeable. Wouldn't it be fair? Because he doesn't seem to me at all
a--a theoretical kind of person. I should think his ideas are what you
might call----"

"Shall we say traditional--so as to be quite impartial towards the
Major?"

"Yes. And especially about women, I should think."

Stephen looked across at his wife, smiling. "Well, Tora?"

Without hesitation Tora gave her verdict. "If you'd done things that you
yourself knew or thought to be disgraceful, you ought to tell him before
he grows fond of you. But you're not bound to tell him what you've done,
on the chance of his thinking it disgraceful, when you don't."

"I expect it's more than a chance," Winnie murmured.

"I'm groping after Tora's point. I haven't quite got it. From the
Major's point of view, in the hypothetical circumstances we're
discussing, what's of importance is not what Winnie thinks, but what he
does."

"What's important to the Major," Tora replied, "is that he should fall
in love with a good woman. Good women may do what the Major thinks
disgraceful, but they don't do what they themselves think disgraceful.
Or, if they ever do, they repent and confess honestly."

"Oh, she's got an argument! She always has. Still, could a good woman
let herself be fallen in love with under something like false
pretences?"

"There will be no false pretences, Stephen. She will be--she practically
is--an unmarried woman, and, if she married him, she'd marry him as
such. The rest is all over."

"It may be atavistic--relics of my public school and so on--but it
doesn't seem to me quite the fair thing," Stephen persisted; "to keep
him in the dark about our young friend, Miss Wilson, I mean."

"I think I agree with you, Stephen." Winnie smiled. "If he does show
signs, that's to say!"

"Oh, only if he shows signs, of course. Otherwise, it's in no way his
business."

"Because, whatever his rights may be, why should I risk making him
unhappy? Besides, in a certain event, he might find out, when it
was--from his point of view--too late."

Stephen laughed. "At least admit, Tora, that from a merely practical
point of view, there's something to be said for telling people things
that they may find out for themselves at an uncomfortably late hour."

"Oh, I thought we were trying to get a true view of a man's--or a
woman's--rights in such a case," said Tora, with lofty scorn. "But it
seems I'm in a minority."

"You wouldn't be happy if you weren't, my dear. It's getting dusk, and
here comes Dick back. Let's go in to tea."

Dick Dennehy often grew hot in argument, but his vexation never lasted
long. Over tea he was in great spirits, and talked eagerly about a new
prospect which had opened before him. The post he held as correspondent
was a poor affair, ill-paid and leading to nothing. He had the chance of
being appointed a leader-writer on a London daily paper--a post offering
a great advance both in pay and in position. The only possible
difficulty arose from his religious convictions; they might, on
occasion, clash with the policy of the paper, in matters concerning
education for instance.

"But they're good enough to say they think so well of me in every other
way that the little matter may probably admit of adjustment."

"Now don't you go back on your theories--or really where are we?" said
Stephen chaffingly.

"I won't do that; I won't do that. I should be relieved of dealing with
those questions. And, Stephen, my boy, I'd have a chance of a decent
place to live in and of being able to put by my old age pension."

They all entered eagerly into the discussion of these rosy dreams, and
it was carried, _nem. con._, that Dick must build himself a 'week-end'
cottage at Nether End, as near as might be to Shaylor's Patch. Perhaps
Winnie could find one to suit her too!

"And we'll all sit and jaw till the curtain falls!" cried Stephen
Aikenhead, expressing his idea of a happy life.

"Ye're good friends here, for all your nonsense," said Dennehy. "I'd ask
no better."

"Moreover, Dick, you can marry. You can tie yourself up, as Tora puts
it, just as tightly as you like. Choose a woman, if possible, with some
breadth of view. I want you to have your chance."

"Oh, I'm not likely to be marrying." A cloud seemed to pass over his
cheery face. But it was gone in a moment. "Well, who'd look at me,
anyhow?"

"I think you'd make an excellent husband, Dick," said Winnie. "I should
marry you--yes, even tie you up--with the utmost confidence."

He gave her a queer look, half-humorous, half-resentful. "Don't be
saying such things, Winnie, or ye'll turn my head and destroy my peace
of mind."

"Oh, last time I flirted with you, you said you liked it!" she reminded
him, laughing.

On the way to the station, Winnie walked with her arm through his, for
the evening had fallen dark, and the country road was rough. With a
little pressure of her hand, she said, "I'm so glad--so glad--of the new
prospects, Dick. I believe in you, you know, though we do differ so
much."

He was silent for a moment, and then asked abruptly, "And what prospects
have you?"

"Oh, I suppose I'm rather like the politician who had his future behind
him. But I haven't made up my mind what to do. I'm living rather from
hand to mouth just now, and taking a holiday from thinking."

"Oh, I'll mind my own business, if that's what you mean."

"Dick, how can you? Of course it wasn't. Please don't be huffy about
nothing."

"I'm worried about you. Don't let those people up at the Patch get at
you again, Winnie--for pity's sake, don't! Take care of yourself, my
dear. My heart bleeds to see you where you stand to-day, and if you got
into any other trouble--you don't understand that you're a woman a man
might do bad as well as good things for."

Emotion was strong in his voice; Winnie lightly attributed it to his
nationality.

"Don't fret about me. I've got to pay for my blunders, and, if I've any
sense at all, I shall be wiser in future."

"If ye're ever inclined to another man, for God's sake try him, test
him, prove him. Ye can't afford another mistake, Winnie. It'd kill you,
wouldn't it?"

"I shouldn't--like it," she answered slowly. "Yes, I shall be cautious,
Dick. And it would take a good deal to make me what you call 'inclined
to' any man just yet." She broke into a laugh. "But it's your domestic
prospects that we were discussing this afternoon!"

"I have none," he answered shortly, almost sourly.

"Oh, you've only just begun to think of it," she laughed. "Don't despair
of finding somebody worthy some day!"

They had just reached the station--nearly a quarter of an hour ahead of
their time. Dennehy was going back to sleep at the Aikenheads', but he
sat down with her in the waiting-room under a glaring gas lamp, to wait
for the train. Seen in the light, Dennehy's face looked sad and
troubled. Winnie was struck by his expression.

"Dick," she said gently, "I hope we haven't been chaffing you when--when
there's something serious?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "No, no, ye couldn't call it serious."

"I believe it is, because you were in good spirits till we began about
that. Then you looked funny and--well, you don't look at all funny now.
If there is anything--oh, don't despair! And all good, good wishes, dear
Dick! Oh, what a pity this should come, just when everything else is
looking so bright for you!"

"I tell ye, Winnie, there's nothing serious."

Winnie nodded an entirely unreal acquiescence. "Very well, my friend,"
she said.

A long silence fell between them. In direct disobedience to a large
notice, Dennehy lit a cigarette and smoked it quickly, still looking sad
and moody. Winnie, troubled by his trouble and unconvinced by his
denial, was wondering why in the world she had never thought of such a
thing happening to Dick Dennehy. Why not? There was no reason; he was a
man, like the rest. Only we are in the habit of taking partial and
one-sided views of our friends and neighbours. The most salient aspect
of them alone catches our eye. To cover the whole ground we have neither
time nor, generally, opportunity. They come to stand, to us, for one
quality or characteristic--just as the persons in a novel or a play
often, perhaps generally, do, however much the writer may have
endeavoured to give the whole man on his canvas. Now the quality of
lover--of even potential lover--had never seemed to associate itself at
all necessarily or insistently with Dick Dennehy, as it did, at once and
of necessity, with Godfrey Ledstone. So Winnie had just not thought of
it. Yet she knew enough to understand how it is that this very kind of
man takes love hard, when it does chance to find him out--takes it hard
and keeps it long--long after the susceptible man has got over his
latest attack of recurrent fever. Was poor Dick Dennehy really hard hit?
"Who'd look at me, anyhow?" he had asked. Well, he certainly was not
handsome. But Winnie remembered her two handsome men. "I should like to
have a word with that girl!" she thought. Her reference was to Dick's
hard-hearted mistress.

But Winnie was not of the women--if indeed they exist--whose innocence
merges in denseness and who can successfully maintain for a twelvemonth
a total ignorance of the feelings of a man with whom they are thrown
into familiar acquaintance. Suddenly, some two minutes before her train
was due, her brain got to work--seized on the pieces of the puzzle with
its quick perception. Here was a man, naturally ardent, essentially
sanguine, in despair--surely about a woman? He did not deny the woman,
though he protested that the matter was not 'serious.' Merely to look at
him now proved it, for the moment at least, grievous. Well, for
'serious' she read practicable; for 'not serious' she substituted
hopeless. Then he had looked at her in that queer way; the words had
been all right, conceived in the appropriate vein of jocular flirtation;
but the look was out of joint. And then his extreme and emotional
concern for her welfare and prudent conduct! Would he, even though a
Celt, have felt that anxiety quite so keenly, if another and hopeless
affection had been dominating his mind? "Who'd look at me, anyhow?" That
protest his modesty made consistent with an aspiration for any lady; it
need not be taken too seriously. But his abrupt curt answer about his
prospects--"I have none"----?

The pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit pretty well, yet the proof was
not conclusive. Say that the evidence was consistent, rather than
demonstrative. Somehow, intangibly and beyond definition, there was
something in the man's bearing, in his attitude, in the totality of his
words and demeanour, which enforced the conviction. There even seemed an
atmosphere in the bare, dirty little waiting-room which contained and
conveyed it--something coming unseen from him to her, in spite of all
his dogged effort to resist the transference. He smoked a second
cigarette fiercely. Why, when he had been serene and cheerful all the
afternoon, should he be so suddenly overcome by the thought of an absent
woman that he could not or would not speak to or look at a friend to
whom he was certainly much attached?

The train rumbled into the station. "Here it is!" said Winnie, and rose
to her feet.

Dick Dennehy started and jumped up. For a second his eyes met hers.

"Come along and put me into a carriage," she added hastily, and made her
way at a quick pace to the train. "Where are the thirds?"

They found the thirds, and she got in. He shut the door, and stood by
it, waiting for the train to start.

"You've got a wrong idea. I tell ye it's not serious, Winnie."

He made his protest again, in a hard desperate voice. Then, with an
effort, he took a more ordinary tone.

"I'm full of business over this new idea--and with winding up the old
connection, if I do it. I mayn't be seeing you for a few weeks. You will
take care of yourself?"

"Surely if anybody's had a warning, I have! Good-bye, Dick."

She put her hand out through the window. He took it and pressed it, but
he never lifted his eyes to hers. A lurch back, a plunge forward, and
the train was started. "Good-bye, Dick!" she cried again. "Cheer up!"

Leaning out of the window, she saw him standing with his hands in his
pockets, looking after her. He called out something, which she heard
imperfectly, but it embraced the word 'fool,' and also the word
'serious.' She could supply a connexion for the latter, but travelled to
town in doubt as to the application of the former. Was it to her or to
himself that Dick Dennehy had applied the epithet? "Because it makes a
little difference," thought Winnie, snuggling down into the big collar
of her sealskin coat--quite out of place, by the way, in a third-class
carriage.



CHAPTER XIX

A POINT OF HONOUR


Mrs. Lenoir's boast was not without warrant; in the course of her life
she had held her own against men in more than one hard fight. She
admired another woman who could do the same. In her refugee from the
West Kensington studio she rejoiced to find not a sentimental penitent
nor an emotional wreck, but a woman scarred indeed with wounds, but
still full of fight, acknowledging a blunder, but not crushed by it,
both resolved and clearly able to make a life for herself still and to
enjoy it. She hailed in Winnie, too, the quality which her own career
had taught her both to recognize and to value--that peculiarly feminine
attractiveness which was the best weapon in her sex's battles; Winnie
fought man with her native weapons, not with an equipment borrowed from
the male armoury and clumsily or feebly handled. Under the influence of
this sex-sympathy pity had passed into admiration, and admiration into
affection, during the weeks which had elapsed since she brought Winnie
to her roof.

Her ethical code was pagan, as perhaps is already evident. When she
hated, she hurt if she could; when she loved, she helped--she would not
have quarrelled with the remark that she deserved no credit for it. She
was by now intent on helping Winnie, on giving her a fresh start, on
obliterating the traces of defeat, and on co-operating in fresh
manoeuvres which should result in victory. But to this end some
strategy was needful. Not only other people, but Winnie herself had to
be managed, and there was need of tact in tiding over an awkward period
of transition. As a subsidiary move towards the latter object, Mrs.
Lenoir projected a sojourn abroad; in regard to the former she had to be
on her guard against two sets of theories--the world's theories about
Winnie, which might perhaps find disciples in her own particular
friends, the General and his son, Major Merriam, and Winnie's theories
about the world, which had before now led their adherent into a rashness
that invited, and in the end had entailed, disaster.

She had pleasant memories of Madeira, which she had visited many years
ago under romantic circumstances. She outlined a tour which should begin
with that island, include a sea-trip thence to Genoa, and end up with a
stay at the Italian lakes. On the day that Winnie spent at Shaylor's
Patch she sketched out this plan to her friend, the General.

"Upon my word, it sounds uncommonly pleasant. I should like to come with
you, but I don't want to leave Bertie for so long, now he's at home for
once."

"No, of course you don't." For reasons of her own, she preferred that
any suggestion should come from him.

The General pondered, then smiled rather roguishly. "What would you say,
Clara, if two handsome young officers turned up at Madeira, for a few
days anyhow? Just to bask in the sun, you know?"

"I should say that two handsome young women wouldn't be much annoyed."

"By Jove, I'll suggest it to Bertie!" All right--so long as it was the
General who suggested it!

Mrs. Lenoir smiled at him. "Of course it would be very pleasant." A
slight emphasis on the last word suggested that, if there were any
reasons to weigh against the obvious pleasantness, they were matters for
her friend's consideration, not for hers. If he chose to go out of his
way to expose his eldest son to the fascination of a young woman about
whom he knew nothing at all, it was his own look out. By now there was
no doubt that Bertie Merriam was quite conscious of the fascination,
though by no means yet dominated by it.

"We should make a very harmonious quartette," the General declared. "I
shall certainly suggest it to Bertie."

"Oh, well, you must see how it strikes him. Remember, he may prefer the
gaieties of London. Don't press him on our account!" She would not in
any way invite; she preserved the attitude of a kindly, but not an
eager, acquiescence in any decision at which Bertie might arrive. But
she was strongly of opinion that the handsome officers would turn up--on
the island, and not improbably even at Southampton docks.

All this, then, was in Mrs. Lenoir's mind when Winnie came back from
Shaylor's Patch, her thoughts still occupied with two questions. One
related to Dick Dennehy; it was a private matter and did not concern her
hostess. But the problem of conduct which she had submitted to the
Aikenheads did. On that she was bound in loyalty to consult Mrs. Lenoir.
That lady had indeed given an opinion once, but circumstances alter
cases. As she ate her dinner, she described humorously the difference of
opinion between husband and wife, putting the case in the abstract, of
course, without explicit reference to the Major, and taking the liberty
of implying that it was Stephen who had initiated the debate. These
concessions to modesty and discretion scarcely deceived Mrs. Lenoir,
though she accepted them decorously. Both women knew that it was Bertie
Merriam who might make a settlement of the point necessary before many
days, or, at all events, many weeks, were out.

Worldly-wise Mrs. Lenoir took up a middle position. She was not prepared
for Tora's uncompromising doctrine; yet she agreed with the view that
there was much to be said for telling people what they might probably
find out--and find out too late in their own opinion. All the same, she
dissented from Stephen's extreme application of the rule of candour.

"You wouldn't accept a man without telling him, but you needn't blurt it
out to anybody who makes you a few pretty speeches."

"Wouldn't it be fair to tell him before he got much in love?"

"If he wasn't much in love, he'd be rather inclined to smile over your
telling him, wouldn't he?"

The suggestion went home to Winnie. "I shouldn't want to risk that."

"Unless circumstances make it absolutely necessary, I should let things
stay as they are till your case is over, at all events. It'll be so much
pleasanter for you to be incog. till then."

There was something in that suggestion too. Not great on theory, Mrs.
Lenoir took good practical points.

"It's rather giving up my point of view," Winnie objected.

Mrs. Lenoir smiled in a slightly contemptuous kindness. "Oh, my poor
child, take a holiday from your point of view, as well as from all the
rest of it. And really it's quixotic of you to be so much afraid of
giving some man or other a little shock, after all they've made you
suffer."

Winnie felt the appeal to the cause of the sex also. In short all Mrs.
Lenoir's points told; they seemed full of workaday wisdom and reasonable
common-sense.

"Just don't think about it again till after the case. Promise me."

"That is best, I think, in the end. Yes, I promise, Mrs. Lenoir."

Mrs. Lenoir said nothing about the possibility of the two officers
'turning up' at Madeira--or at Southampton docks. Diplomacy forbade; the
connection would have been too rudely obvious; it might have led Winnie
to reconsider her pledge. In fact things were so managed--mainly by a
policy of masterly inactivity, tempered by just one hint to the
General--that the first Winnie heard of this idea came neither from Mrs.
Lenoir nor from the General, but from Bertie Merriam himself. Emanating
from that quarter, the suggestion could not be brusquely repelled; it
was bound to meet with courteous consideration. Indeed, to refuse to
accept it would be extremely difficult. To Mrs. Lenoir Winnie might have
avowed the only possible objection; she could not so much as hint at it
to the Major. Mrs. Lenoir knew her way about, as the colloquial phrase
has it.

Winnie's relations with Bertie Merriam had now reached the stage which a
mature and retrospective judgment, though not, of course, the heat of
youth, may perhaps declare to be the pleasantest that can exist between
man and woman--a congenial friendship coloured into a warmer tint by
admiration on the one side and a flattered recognition of it on the
other. Winnie's recent experience raised recognition to the height of
gratification, almost to that of gratitude. Not only her theory had
suffered at Godfrey Ledstone's hands; deny it though she might, her
vanity also had been wounded. She welcomed balms, and smiled kindly on
any who would administer them. After an unfortunate experience in love,
people are said often to welcome attentions from a new-comer 'out of
pique'; it is likely that the motive is less often vexation with the
offender than gratitude to the successor, who restores pride and gives
back to life its potentiality of pleasure. This was Winnie's mood. She
was willing to take Mrs. Lenoir's advice not merely on the specific
point on which it was offered. She was willing to accept it all
round--willing, so far as she could, to forget her theories and her
point of view, as well as what they had entailed upon her. She wanted to
enjoy the pleasant things of life for awhile; one could not be playing
apostle or martyr all the time! She was ready to see what this new
episode, this journey and this holiday, had to offer; she was not
unwilling to see how much she might be inclined to like Major Merriam.
Yet all this is to analyse her far more than she analysed herself. In
her it was, in reality, the youthful blood moving again, the rebound
from sorrow, the reassertion of the right of her charms and its
unimpeded exercise. Such a mood is not one where the finer shades of
scruple are likely to prevail; it is too purely a natural and primitive
movement of mind and body. Besides, Winnie could always, as Mrs. Lenoir
reminded her, soothe a qualm of conscience by a staggering _tu quoque_
launched against the male sex in general.

Again, in an unconscious and blindly instinctive way, she was a student
of human nature, and rather a head-strong one. She did not readily rest
in ignorance about people, or even find repose in doubt. She liked to
search, test, classify, and be guided by the result. Her history showed
it. She had tested Cyril Maxon, classified him, and acted on her
conclusion. She had experimented on Godfrey Ledstone, classified him,
found that she had miscalculated, paid the expense of an unsuccessful
experiment, and accepted the issue of it. Here, now, was new
material--men of a kind to whom her experience had not previously
introduced her in any considerable degree of intimacy. She might often
have dined in the company of such; but under Maxon's roof real knowledge
of other men was not easily come by.

Men of views and visions, men of affairs and ambitions, men of ease and
pleasure--among these her lot had been cast since she left her father's
house. The Merriams were pre-eminently men of duty. They had their
opinions, and both took their recreations with a healthy zest; but the
Service was as the breath of their nostrils. The General was the
cleverer soldier of the two, as the Kala Kin Expedition bore witness.
The son was not likely ever to command more than a regiment or, at most,
a brigade; higher distinctions must be left to the second brother.
Bertie's enthusiasm corresponded nicely with his gifts. He adored
the regiment, and in due course a few months would see him
Lieutenant-Colonel; if only the regiment could see service under his
command, how joyously would he sing his _Nunc dimittis_, with duty done
and his name on an honourable roll!

Winnie sat regarding his pleasant tanned face, his sincere pale blue
eyes, and his very well-made clothes, with a calm satisfaction. She had
been hearing a good deal about the regiment, but the gossip amused her.

"And where do the officers' wives--I suppose some of you have
wives?--come in?" she asked.

"Oh, they're awfully important, Miss Wilson. The social tone depends so
much on them. You see, with a parcel of young chaps--the subalterns, you
know--well, you do see, don't you?"

"Well, I think I can see that, Major Merriam. They mustn't flirt with
the subalterns? At any rate, not too much?"

"That's rotten. But they ought to teach them their manners."

"Ought to be motherly? You don't look as if that sounded quite right!
Elder-sisterly?"

"That's more like it, Miss Wilson."

He said 'Miss Wilson' rather often, or so it struck Winnie--just as Bob
Purnett used to say 'Mrs. Ledstone' much too often. He gave her another
little jar the next moment. He left the subject of officers' wives, and
leant forward to her with an ingratiating yet rather apologetic smile.

"I say, do you know what the General has had the cheek to suggest to
your cousin?"

Winnie had forgotten her cue. "My cousin?" she exclaimed in surprise.

"Why, Mrs. Lenoir! She is your cousin, isn't she?"

The lie direct Winnie disliked. Yet could she betray her benefactress?
"It's so awfully distant that I forget the cousin in the friend," she
said, with an uneasy little laugh. "But what has the General had the
cheek--your phrase, not mine--to suggest to Mrs. Lenoir?" She seemed to
have forgotten the cousin again, for she said 'Mrs. Lenoir,' not 'Cousin
Clara.' As, however, the Major had never heard her say anything else,
the point did not attract his notice.

"Why, that we four might make a party of it as far as Madeira. Nice
little place, though I suppose it won't be as lively now as it was when
the war was going on."

"It sounds delightful."

"I've got a paper to read to the Naval and Military Institute in six
weeks' time. I could just fit it in--and write the thing out there, you
know."

"We'd all help you," said Winnie.

The Major detected raillery. "I should have a go at it before you were
up in the morning."

"Oh, well, then I must be content with the humble function of helping to
relax your mind afterwards."

"But you wouldn't mind our coming?"

"You don't appreciate how fond I am of the General."

"Well, he half-worships you, Miss Wilson. And you'll put up with my
company for his sake?"

"He's too distinguished a man to carry the rugs and cushions."

"You can fag me as much as you like on board. The difficulty is to get
enough moving about."

"On that distinct understanding, I won't veto the party, Major Merriam."
She laughed. "But, of course, I've really got nothing to say to it. It's
for Mrs. Lenoir to decide, isn't it?"

Bertie Merriam felt that he had obtained permission, but hardly
encouragement--just as the General was convinced that he had made a
suggestion and not received one. But permission was enough.

"I shall tell the General I've squared you," he said, beaming. "There
are jolly excursions to be made, you know. You can either ride, or be
carried in a hammock----"

"I wonder if Mrs. Lenoir will care for the excursions!"

"Well, if the seniors want to take it easy, we could do them together,
couldn't we, Miss Wilson?"

"To be sure we could," smiled Winnie. "More rugs and cushions for you!
Won't it be what you call fatigue duty?"

"I'll take it on," he declared. "I don't shirk work in a good cause, you
know."

One thing about him surprised Winnie, while it also pleased her.
Obviously he considered her witty. She had never been accustomed to take
that view of herself. Cyril Maxon would have been amazed at it. Though
Stephen Aikenhead now and then gave her credit for a hit, her general
attitude towards him was that of an inquirer or a disciple, and
disciples may not becomingly bandy witticisms with their masters.
Because Bertie Merriam visibly enjoyed--without attempting to equal--her
fencing, she began to enjoy it herself. Nay, more, she began to rely on
it. No less than her staggering _tu quoque_ to the male sex, it might
serve, at a pinch, to quiet a qualm of conscience. "I can always keep
him at his distance." That notion in her mind helped to minimize any
scruples to which his admiration, the expedition, the excursions, the
rugs and the cushions, might give rise. For if fencing can accord
permission, it can surely also refuse it? If the Merriams were anything
in this world, they were gentlemen. In matters of the heart a gentleman
need not be very clever to take a hint; he feels it.

But the most dexterous soother of qualms and scruples was Mrs. Lenoir.
Her matter-of-fact treatment of the joint excursion shamed Winnie out of
making too much of it. What reason was there to suppose that Bertie
would fall in love? A pleasant passing flirtation perhaps--and why not?
Moreover--here the subject was treated in a more general way, though the
special application was not obscure--suppose he did! What did it matter?
Men were always falling in love, and falling out of it again. A slight
shrug of still shapely shoulders reduced these occurrences to their true
proportions. Finally she took occasion to hint that Bertie Merriam was
not what he himself would call 'pious.' He accepted the religion of his
caste and country as he found it; he conformed to its observances and
had an honest uninquiring belief in its dogmas. It was to him a natural
side of life and an integral part of regimental discipline--much, in
fact, as church-going was to Alice Aikenhead, at school. But there was
no reason to suppose that he would carry it to extremes, or consider
that it could ask more of him than the law asked. So far as the law
went, all objections would vanish in a few months. Strong in her
influence over the General, Mrs. Lenoir foresaw, in the event of the
falling in love coming to pass, a brief trouble and a happy ending. The
second was well worth the first. In fact she was by now set on her
project--on the fresh start and the good match for Winnie. She was ready
to forward it in every way she could, by diplomacy, by hard fighting if
need be, by cajolery, and, finally, by such an endowment for Winnie as
would remove all hindrances of a financial order. Though most of her
money was sunk in an annuity, she could well afford to make Winnie's
income up to four hundred a year--not a despicable dower for the wife of
a regimental officer. With three sons in the army the General was not
able to make very handsome allowances; the four hundred would be welcome
with a bride.

She would have been interested to overhear a conversation which took
place between the General and his son while they were dining together at
Bertie's club two days before the expedition was to set out. The General
filled his glass of port and opened the subject.

"Bertie, my boy, you ought to get married," he said. "A C.O., as you
will be soon, ought to have a wife. It's good for the regiment, in my
opinion--though some men think otherwise, as I'm aware--and it makes it
much less likely that a man will get into any scrape on his own
account--a thing a bachelor's always liable to do, and in these days a
much more serious matter than it used to be."

The General, at least, did not sound unpracticably 'pious.' Mrs. Lenoir
might take comfort.

Bertie Merriam blushed a little through his tan. "Well, to tell the
truth, I have been just sort of thinking about it--in a kind of way, you
know."

"Anybody special in your eye?" asked the General.

"It's rather early days to give it away," Bertie pleaded.

"Yes, yes. I quite see, my boy. I beg your pardon. But I'm very glad to
hear what you say. I know you'll choose a good girl--and a pretty one
too, I'll lay odds! I won't ask any more. A little bit of money wouldn't
hurt, of course. Take your own time, Bertie, and I'll wait." Thus the
General ostensibly passed from the subject. But after finishing his
glass and allowing it to be refilled, he remarked, "I'm looking forward
to our jaunt, Bertie. It was a happy idea of mine, wasn't it? I shall
enjoy talking to Clara--I always do--and you'll be happy with little
Miss Wilson. I like her--I like her very much. Of course, twenty years
ago it wouldn't have been wise for Clara to chaperon her, but at this
time of day it's all forgotten. Only old fogies like me remember
anything about it. It oughtn't to prejudice the girl in any sensible
man's eyes."

He exchanged a glance with his son. Nothing explicit was said. But a
question had been answered which Bertie had desired to put. It was now
quite clear to him that, if he were desirous of courting Miss Winnie
Wilson, he need expect no opposition from the General.

"I'm quite with you there, father. It would be very unfair to Miss
Wilson."

With what mind would Mrs. Lenoir--and Miss Wilson--have overheard the
conversation? Might they have recognized that they were not giving quite
such fair treatment as was being accorded to them? Or would Winnie's
theories and her ability to launch a staggering _tu quoque_, and Mrs.
Lenoir's practical points of difficulty, still have carried the day? It
is probable that they would. Taken all together, they were very
powerful, and Stephen Aikenhead's atavistic 'public-school' idea of
honour could hardly have prevailed.

Father and son walked home, arm in arm. The talk of his son's marriage,
the prospect of his son's commanding his regiment, moved the old soldier
to unwonted feeling.

"I shall be a proud man when I can boast of two Colonels--and if that
scamp George'll stick to work, he ought to give me a third before many
years are over. There's no finer billet in the world than the command of
a regiment--no position in which you can do more good, in my opinion, or
serve the King to better purpose. And a good wife can help you, as I
said--help you a lot."

He pressed his son's arm and added, "Only you mustn't let her interfere
with your work. The regiment must still come first in everything,
Bertie--aye, even before your wife! That's the rule of the Service."



CHAPTER XX

AN HEROIC OFFER


Bob Purnett spent nearly two months in Ireland; it was much longer than
he had intended, but he liked the hunting there, and, when that was
over, found excellent quarters and amusing society at the house of a
squire whom his prowess in the field had won to friendship and who
maintained the national tradition in the matter of good claret. Bob had
no cause for hurry; his year's work was done. A holiday on the Riviera
was the next item in his annual programme.

He arrived in London two days before the expedition to Madeira was to
start. Of it he knew nothing. He had written a couple of friendly breezy
letters to Winnie (under the idea that she might be down-hearted), and
the answer to the first--she had not answered the second--told him where
she was and conveyed the impression that she still found life bearable.
Where she was possessed a certain significance in his eyes; he nodded
his head over it. It was a factor--precisely how important he could not
say--in answering the question he had been, not with oppressive
frequency yet from time to time, asking himself in the intervals of
hunting and of drinking his host's good claret. "Why shouldn't she?" was
the form the question assumed in his thoughts. If she had with Godfrey
Ledstone--not much of a chap after all!--why shouldn't she with somebody
else? True, Winnie had always puzzled him. But there was the line of
division--a fixed line surely, if anything was fixed? She had crossed it
once. He could not see why, with the proper courtesies observed, she
should not make another transit. Yet, because she had always puzzled
him, he was, as he told himself, stupidly nervous about making the
proposition. People who do things, and yet do not seem to be the sort of
people who generally do them, occasion these doubts and hesitations,
confusing psychology and perplexing experience. Yet, finally, he was
minded to 'chance it'--and, let it be said, not without such a sense of
responsibility as it lay in his nature to feel. She had crossed the
line, but he knew that she did not regard herself as a denizen of the
other side. He was ready to concede that, to allow for it, to be very
much on his good behaviour. Above all, no hint of the mercantile! He had
the perception to see not only how fatal, but how rude and unjustifiable
such a thing would be. He was (in a sentence) prepared to combine a
charming companionship with an elevating influence. Permanently? Ah,
well! If bygones are to be bygones, futurities may, by a parity of
treatment, be left to the future.

He called at the flat in Knightsbridge on Friday afternoon. In the
drawing-room neighbourhood no signs of the impending expedition were
visible; invaluable Emily restricted the ravages of packing to the
bedrooms and their immediate vicinity. Mrs. Lenoir and Winnie were
together, drinking tea. Winnie received him with glad cordiality; in the
hostess he felt vaguely a hint of reserve. Mrs. Lenoir, full of her new
project, did not see why Bob Purnett should come. She had nothing
against him, but he was irrelevant; if her scheme succeeded, he would
naturally drop out. She was distantly gracious--the 'grand manner' made
its appearance--and, after giving him a cup of tea, went back to her
packing, concerning which neither she nor Winnie had said a word--Winnie
waiting for a lead from her friend, and her friend not being minded to
give it.

Winnie had not thought of Bob for weeks, but her heart warmed to him.
"He saved my life that first night," was her inward utterance of
gratitude. She lounged back on the sofa, and let him talk. But he did
not talk idly for long; Bob Purnett took his fences; after all, he had
made a thorough inspection of this particular 'teaser' before he mounted
his horse.

"I've been thinking a lot about you, since I've been away."

"Flattered, Mr. Purnett."

"Oh, rot. I mean, hoping you weren't unhappy, and so on, you know."

Winnie moved her small hands in a gesture expressive of a reasoned
endurance.

"But, I say, pretty quiet here, isn't it?"

"Oh yes, but I don't mind that."

"Don't want to sit down here all your life, do you?"

"That is rather a large order, isn't it? Have you anything else to
suggest?"

"You've begun to laugh at a fellow already!"

"Already? Good gracious, is there anything tremendous coming?"

Bob got up from his chair, moved across the hearthrug, and stood by her.
He cleared his throat and lit a cigarette. Winnie began to be curious;
she smiled up at him. "I believe you've got something on your mind. Out
with it." A sudden idea flashed into her head. "You've not come from
Godfrey? Because that's utterly impossible."

"What do you take me for? I haven't seen the fellow. I say, what made
you think that?"

"Oh, I beg your pardon--I'm sorry. But you asked whether I wanted to
stay here; that was like suggesting I should go somewhere else, wasn't
it? So I thought you might mean that I should go--go back, you know. I'd
sooner kill myself."

"Oh, please drop it. I wasn't talking about that. I'm off to Monte Carlo
on Tuesday." He looked down at his well-polished broad-welted brown
boots; he was always admirably shod. Yet he seemed to find no
inspiration, or not a very happy one. "Got over it, haven't you?"

Winnie shrank into her shell. "I think I prefer your dumb sympathy. How
can you expect me to talk about it?"

"Put my foot in it?"

"Well, yes, rather." Her right hand beat a tattoo on the arm of her
chair.

"Always do," remarked Bob reflectively, his eyes still on his boots. He
was not surprised that she thought his question badly phrased--necessary
preliminary as it was in substance.

"Oh, nonsense. You're a dear. But have you really anything you're trying
to say?"

He must jump now--or he must refuse. He saw it, and courage came with
the need for it.

"I say, could you think of coming with me to Monte?" He raised his eyes,
and looked her full in the face as he put the question. He had
courage--but the puzzle was terribly persistent. "Will she come, or will
she kick me out?"--is a brief summary of his inward questioning; he
thought it about equal betting.

"Come with you?"

"Yes. Have a bit of fun, you know. We'd have a rare time." He was down
at his boots again. "And everything just as you like, honour bright,
Winnie, till--till you saw what you wanted, don't you know?"

Winnie sat quite still for a few moments. She looked at Bob Purnett with
an inquiring glance. He was a very good fellow. That she knew. Was he
quite sane? He was certainly funny--so funny that indignation refused to
adorn the situation. Slowly a smile bent the lines of her mouth. Here
was a pretty contrast to Dick Dennehy's heartfelt appeal to her to 'take
care of herself'; and not less to Bertie Merriam's respectfully cautious
attentions. Aye, and to Mrs. Lenoir's schemes! She was aware that Bob
had never grasped the true significance of her action in regard to
Godfrey Ledstone. But to think that he had missed it so tremendously as
this! And there were the trunks packed, not for Monte Carlo, but for
Madeira--trunks redolent of respectability. She might be amused, but her
amusement could not be devoid of malice; she might smile, but Bob must
suffer--well, just a little, anyhow. She looked up at him, smiling still
in treacherous amiability.

"Is this a proposal of marriage, Bob?" she asked.

He flushed. "Well--er--you can't marry, can you, Winnie?"

"Not at the moment. But I can in a little more than six months. Would
you and Monte Carlo wait for me?"

"In a little more than----? What, is Maxon----?"

"Yes, he is--very soon now."

"You never told me!"

"Up to now, I had no reason to suppose you were interested."

Bob Purnett was obviously upset, very much upset indeed. He stared at
her for a moment, his eyes seeming prominent in their aghast surprise.
"Good Lord!" he muttered, and started striding across the room, then
back again--like Mr. Ledstone in the back room at Woburn Square or
Godfrey in his new studio. He went on with this for three or four
minutes. Winnie sat with her head resting on the high back of her
arm-chair, her eyes following him in scornful amusement and gratified
malice. Bob was suffering for his presumption, his inability to
appreciate plain differences, his gross misjudgment of her. His
wrigglings under the chastisement were entertaining to watch. In his
unfortunate person she seemed to be punishing all the great world which
had refused to understand her; she was getting a little bit of her own
back at last.

Once, as he walked, he looked at her. His face was red, and he was
frowning. Winnie's steady smile seemed to give him no comfort. With a
queer jerk of his head he resumed his restless pacing.

Indeed, Bob felt himself fairly caught. What a fool he had been not to
reconnoitre the ground before an advance which had proved so rash! But
he was not a scoundrel; he prided himself on 'playing the game.' Some
men he knew would lightly give a promise if it were likely to serve
their purpose and make no bones about breaking it six months hence. That
was not his way, even where it would serve his purpose. What he was
asking, as he paced, was whether he were bound to make the promise; if
he made it, it should be kept. Of course it was the last thing he had
ever meant; it was entirely outside his scheme of life, and his feeling
for Winnie was not nearly strong enough to oust his scheme from the
first place in his affections. But could he get out of the hole he was
in without brutality, without insulting her? He did not see that he
could. She had not married Godfrey Ledstone--it had been impossible. In
his heart Bob had never believed in there being any other really
operative reason. Her theories had been just a making the best of it.
Now it would be possible, shortly, for her to marry him. It was, he
conceded, entirely natural that she should jump at the chance. Could he
decline, after his first proposal? That would to put the case--both his
and her cases, in fact--in disagreeably plain terms. But he felt that it
was terribly bad luck, and he, too, had his resentment--an angry protest
against inconsistency. Why did Maxon first refuse, and then take back
his refusal? Why did Winnie cross the line, and then want to cross back
again? They 'let a man in' by behaviour like that--let him in very
badly.

Still, he was in his way very fond of her; and he was sorry for her. It
did not lie in him to hurt her wilfully, even though not hurting her
were to his own damage. And, then, it would be rather heroic--so very
much the right thing to do. In common with most of mankind, he was
susceptible to the attractions of the heroic; the glamour of it would,
or, at all events, might, help him to bear the situation.

He came and stood in front of her, his hands in his pockets; he looked
rather sheepish.

"All right, Winnie. Just as soon as it's possible. There's my word on
it." He mustered a smile. "Don't be too down on me, though. I never
pictured myself as a husband, you know."

"You certainly needn't picture yourself as mine," said Winnie.

"You mean--you won't do it?"

"Of course I won't--any more than I'll go with you to Monte Carlo." She
broke into a laugh at the perplexity of his red face. "Oh, you old
goose, to think that I should do either!"

Bob knew that his first proposal was irregular, and might have been
taken as insulting--at least by a woman so inconsistent as Winnie; his
second was undoubtedly handsome and heroic. He could not see that either
was ridiculous. He flushed redder still under the friendly contempt of
Winnie's words.

"I don't see anything so particularly absurd about it. When I thought
you couldn't marry, I didn't ask you to. When you told me you could, I
did. What's the matter with that?"

"Why, you are--and I am--very much the matter with it! But don't fly out
at me, Bob. I might have flown out at you, but I didn't."

"Oh, you got home all right in your own way. You've made me look an
ass." His tone expressed a grudging resentful admiration; his glance was
of the same order. He was furious, and Winnie, in her animation and
triumph, was very pretty.

"I don't see that it's altogether my doing. I think you helped. Come,
don't be cross. You know that you're most awfully relieved. Your face,
as you considered the question, was a study in consternation."

He was certainly relieved about the marriage; but he was disappointed
and hurt about the trip to Monte Carlo. If she had 'flown out' at him in
moral indignation, that would have been intelligible, though, again, in
his opinion hardly consistent, conduct on her part; as it was, she had
called him, not a scoundrel, but a goose, and had played her trick on
him with a smiling face, looking the while most attractive and
hopelessly unapproachable.

"Well, I mean what I say. My offer stands. Perhaps you'll think better
of your answer." His voice was doggedly angry now. He plainly suggested
that she--in her position--might go farther and fare worse.

Winnie did not miss the hint, but let it pass with a gay contempt.

"I won't quarrel; I don't mean to. If I had, I should have quarrelled
at the beginning." She jumped up from her chair, and laid a hand on his
arm. "Let's forgive each other, Bob!"

Under a sudden impulse he caught her round the waist. Winnie's figure
stiffened into a sudden rigidity, but she made no other movement. Bob's
arm fell away again; he walked off towards a chair behind the door, on
which he had left his hat and gloves. "I expect I'd better go," he said,
in an unsteady voice, without turning his head towards her.

"Please, Bob."

The situation was relieved, or, at least, ended, by the opening of the
door. The parlour-maid announced, "Major Merriam, miss!"

The Major came in briskly. A large funnel-shaped parcel of white paper
proclaimed a bouquet of flowers. Bob, behind the door, was not within
the Major's immediate range of vision.

"Well, Miss Wilson, are you all ready for the voyage? I've brought you a
few flowers for your cabin."

"Oh, thank you so much. May I--er--introduce you to my friend, Mr.
Purnett? Mr. Purnett--Major Merriam." The Major bowed politely; Bob
rather stiffly.

"I was just off," he said, coming back towards Winnie, with hat and
gloves in his left hand. He was wondering 'who the devil that chap
is'--and 'what was that about a voyage and a cabin.'

"Yes, we're actually nearly ready, women though we are! Emily's so
splendid at it! Must you go, Bob? It'll be some time before we meet
again. We're off to Madeira to-morrow morning, and then on to Italy--to
the Lakes." She smiled on Bob. "But I'm afraid we shan't get to Monte
Carlo!"

"I didn't know you were--were going away."

"I was just going to tell you when Major Merriam came in. We're all
looking forward to it; aren't we, Major? Major Merriam and his father
are coming with us as far as Madeira."

"The ladies are good enough to accept our escort and our company for two
or three weeks," said Bertie Merriam. He thought the other fellow looked
rather sulky.

"Going to be away long?" Bob jerked out the inquiry.

"Oh, about three months, I think. Well, if you must go, good-bye, Bob.
So good of you to come and see me." She smelt the nosegay which she had
taken from Bertie. "Your flowers are delicious, Major Merriam!"

Bob Purnett had never dreamt of such a factor in the situation as the
Major now presented--this perfectly equipped, much-at-ease Major, who
had no doubt that his flowers would be welcome, and whose company was
accepted as far as Madeira--for two or three weeks, indeed, in Madeira.
The feelings which had prompted him to put his hand round Winnie's waist
transformed themselves into a fierce jealousy. She had laughed at his
proposal--his heroic offer. Would she laugh at the Major's, if he made
one? In one way and another his feelings had by now carried him far from
the mood in which he had originally braced himself up to the proposal.
He had made it for honour's sake. He would have made it now to stop her
from going to Madeira with the Major. His mind was not quick of
movement, yet he suddenly realized that not improbably he would see no
more of her. His world was not, save in the casual intercourse of the
hunting-field, the world of men like the Major.

"Well, good-bye; I wish you a pleasant voyage," he managed to say, under
the eyes of the Major.

"Good-bye--and _au revoir_--when I come back!"

How he hated the eyes of the Major! He did not dare even to press her
hand; the Major would detect it and laugh at him! A limp shake was all
he could give. Then he had to go away, and leave her with the
Major--leave her to make ready, not for Monte Carlo with him, but for
Madeira with the Major. That was a fine reward for an heroic offer!
Certainly, in her duel against the male sex, Winnie had scored some hits
that afternoon.

Listlessly and disconsolately he strolled towards Piccadilly. He was at
odds with the world. He had nobody to go to Monte Carlo with--nobody he
cared a straw about. Indeed, whom did he care about really, or who
really cared about him? He had a lot of friends of a sort; but how much
did he care for them, or they for him? Precious little--that was the
truth, seen in the unusual clarity of this afternoon's atmosphere. Other
men had wives, or children, or devoted friends. He seemed to have
nobody. Disgusting world it was! And he liked Winnie--nay, he more than
liked her. He had learnt that also this afternoon. And he had, in the
end, proposed the handsome thing. For nobody else in the world would he
have done that. His reward had been ridicule from her--and the
appearance of the Major. "It's all a bit too thick," reflected poor Bob
Purnett, thus suddenly brought up against the sort of thing that is
prone occasionally to happen to people who lead the sort of life he led.
But he did not explicitly connect the sort of life and the sort of
thing. He had no more than a general, but desperate, sense of
desolation. The times were out of joint.

When a man is miserable, he is under sore temptation to hurt
somebody--even some blameless individual, whose only crime is that he
forms a minute (and involuntary) part of the world which is behaving so
badly. Should a particularly vulnerable person chance to pass by, let
him look out for himself! One connected, however remotely, with the
cause of the misery, for instance. Misery is apt to see a foe
everywhere--and to seek a companion.

Just as Bob was passing Hyde Park Corner, he ran plump into Godfrey
Ledstone, who came out from the Park at a quick walk. The street lamp
revealed them to one another. Godfrey would have passed by with a nod
and a 'How are you?' That was not at all Bob's idea. He was resolute in
buttonholing his friend, in saying how long it was since they had met,
in telling him about his doings in the meantime. He enjoyed Godfrey's
uneasiness; for Godfrey set him down as a sympathizer with Winnie and
was in fear of reference to the topic. Bob made the reference in his own
good time.

"Funny I should meet you!" he observed, with a strong draw at his cigar.

"Is it? I don't know. I often take this walk."

"Because I've just come from calling on Winnie." He eyed his prospective
victim gloatingly. He was like a savage who thinks that he can unload
some of his misfortune on to his neighbour by employing the appropriate
ceremonies.

"Oh, I--I hope she's all right?"

"Seems blooming. I didn't have much talk with her, though. There was a
chap dancing attendance--a Major somebody or other. Oh yes,
Merriam--Major Merriam. He came in pretty soon, with a bouquet of
flowers as big as your head. Seems that she and Mrs. Lenoir are off
abroad to-morrow, and our friend the Major goes too. I don't think you
need make yourself unhappy about Winnie, old chap."

"Who is he? I never heard of him."

"Well, I didn't suppose you and she were keeping up a correspondence! If
you come to that, I should rather doubt if he ever heard of you." Bob
smiled in a fashion less amiable than was his wont.

"Well, I'm in a hurry. Good-bye, old man."

"Walking my way?" He indicated Piccadilly and eastwards.

It had been Godfrey's way home. "I've got to go to a shop in Sloane
Street," said Godfrey.

"Ta-ta then! It'll be a relief to you if she settles down all right,
won't it?"

Godfrey said nothing more than 'Good-bye.' But his face, as he said it,
was very expressive; it quite satisfied Bob Purnett's impulse to hurt
somebody. Godfrey Ledstone did not like Major Merriam any more than he
himself did! The magical ceremony had worked; some of his misfortune was
unloaded.

Well, the two were in the end much in the same case. Winnie had led
Godfrey into the great experiment, and through it into the great
failure. She had, this afternoon, made Bob Purnett, in his turn, false
to his settled plan of life, had sent him away sore and savage because
he could not do the one thing which he had always scornfully declared
that he would never do. She had left them both--left Godfrey to those
proceedings, to the family woe, to Miss Thurseley's immediate
repudiation; left Bob to contemplate a lost pleasure, a fruitless
heroism, and the Major in Madeira. The two ought to have sympathized
with one another. Yet their thoughts about one another were not
friendly. "If I'd known the sort of chap he was, I'd have had a shot at
it sooner," thought Bob. Godfrey's protest went deeper. "Of course it'll
happen, but why in heaven's name need he tell me about it?" For Bob had
suppressed all that part of the story which accounted for his telling.

They went their separate ways--artificially separate on this occasion,
since there was no shop in Sloane Street at which Godfrey Ledstone
desired to call. They went their ways with their thoughts, in whose
mirror each saw Winnie smiling on the Major. Precisely what Miss Wilson
was doing at the moment! Jealous men see more than happens, but what
happens they generally see.



CHAPTER XXI

IS HE A BULLY?


Cyril Maxon's strong-willed and domineering nature registered its own
decrees as having the force of law and regarded its own resolutions as
accomplished facts. When he had once achieved the requisite modification
of his opinions, and had decided that he wanted to many Lady Rosaline in
due time, he thought of her in his secret soul as already his--at any
rate, as set apart for him--and he found no difficulty in declaring that
she had given a tacit consent in their interview in Paris and in the
relations of friendship which now existed between her and himself.

But, naturally, the lady did not adopt the same view either of his
rights or of her own actions. The 'very most' she had given him was
leave to try his fortune, to recommend himself to her during the
interval of time which was unavoidable. She was really rather glad of
the interval, and observed one day to Mrs. Ladd that it would be no bad
thing if everybody were forced to wait eight or nine months before they
married. "Especially if we are to be bound by Mr. Attlebury's opinion!"
she added, laughing.

She liked the idea of the marriage; it was suitable, and she was lonely
and not rich. She was not yet sure how much she liked the man as she
came to know him more intimately; now and then she saw signs of
something which helped her to a better understanding of Mrs. Maxon's
attitude. "Oh, I'm not afraid of fighting," she would then say to
herself; "but I don't want to have to fight all the time. It's
fatiguing, and rather vulgar." So she temporized, as the situation
enabled her to do; for Maxon was still a tied man, however technical the
tie had become; he was not in a position to force the pace. This
accidental fact helped her to hold her own against his strong will and
domineering instincts; for his conscience had granted him relief only on
one point (if really on that), and it did not allow him to forget that
he was still a married man.

Lady Rosaline's attitude excited, of course, the liveliest curiosity and
an abundance of gossip on the part of her friends, Mrs. Ladd and Miss
Fortescue. What did Rosaline mean to do? "Oh, she means to have him,"
exclaimed Miss Fortescue, "in the end, you know!"

"I think she will, but I believe that quite a little thing might turn
her," was Mrs. Ladd's more cautious verdict. Cyril Maxon would not have
received it pleasantly.

The good ladies' great disappointment was that they could not induce
their revered pastor to say a word on the subject, accessible and,
indeed, chatty as he generally was with his flock. When Maxon had taken
the first step in those proceedings which had so maddened poor old Mr.
Ledstone, he had written to his friend a long and highly argumentative
letter, justifying his course. Attlebury had replied in kind, and
suggested an interview. This Maxon declined as painful to him, and ended
with an asseveration that his conscience approved the course he was
taking.

"If it does, there's not much use in my saying any more; but make sure
it does," was Attlebury's answer. Maxon took some offence at it, as
though it impugned his sincerity. There was no open rupture, but the
men did not meet any more in intimate friendship; there was a reserve
between them. Yet Attlebury had said no more, or very little more, than
Lady Rosaline herself; she also had asked that his own conscience should
approve. But Attlebury could not, or, at all events, did not, keep the
note of authority out of his counsel. Maxon stiffened his neck
instinctively. Before the necessary interval had run half its course,
this instinct was powerfully seconded by another.

He had gone to tea with Mrs. Ladd one Sunday. They were old
acquaintances, and for several years back he had been accustomed to pay
her five or six calls in the course of a twelvemonth; on which
occasions, since his marriage, Mrs. Ladd had discreetly condoled with
him over Winnie's shortcomings. But Winnie had disappeared for good;
there was now a topic even more attractive.

"Rosaline and I talk of a little trip abroad together in a month's
time." She smiled at him. "Will you forgive me if I take her away for
three or four weeks?"

"I shall miss you both very much. I wish I could come too, but it's
quite impossible."

"I think she wants a change." What Mrs. Ladd wished to convey was that
the necessary interval might be tiresome to Lady Rosaline, but she did
not quite see how to put it delicately. "It's a long drag from Christmas
to Easter, isn't it? Have you seen her lately?"

"I paid her a late call one day last week--that's all. I'm very busy."

"Of course you are--with your practice! Have you met a Sir Axel
Thrapston at Rosaline's?"

"Axel Thrapston? No, I don't think so. No, I'm sure not." He very seldom
met anybody at Lady Rosaline's, as his visits were timed so as to
avoid, as far as possible, such a contingency. "Who is he?"

"I don't know much about him myself. He comes from Northumberland, I
think, and lives there generally. I believe his wife was an old friend
of Rosaline's; she died about two years ago. I've met him there twice--a
middle-aged man, rather bald, but quite good-looking."

"No, I haven't met him, Mrs. Ladd."

"He seems just to have made his appearance, but I think he's rather
assiduous." She laughed again. "And two years is just about the
dangerous time, isn't it?"

Thus Mrs. Ladd, hinting to Cyril Maxon, in all friendship, that he was
not the only man in the world and had better not forget the fact. Friend
as she was, she knew enough of her man to feel a certain pleasure in
administering the wholesome warning.

It needed more to drive Cyril Maxon from his confident appropriation of
Lady Rosaline, but that something more was not long in coming. He, too,
met Sir Axel at her flat--once or twice in the hours which he had grown
into the habit of considering as reserved for himself; he tried very
hard to show neither surprise nor annoyance, but he felt an immediate
grievance. Here was he, the busiest of men, painfully contriving a spare
hour; was he to spend it in three-cornered trivial talk? Thrapston had
all the long idle day to call. Lady Rosaline really might give him a
hint! But it appeared not to strike her that she might. And she seemed
to like Sir Axel's company--as, indeed, most people would. He was a
simple country gentleman, no fool at all at his own business, but
without much pretension to intellectual or artistic culture. This,
however, he could recognize and respect; he recognized and respected it
in Lady Rosaline, was anxious to learn from her, and deferred to her
authority. "When people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant.
To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of
administering to the vanity of others which a sensible person would
always wish to avoid." Jane Austen perhaps allows herself a little
malice in this remark, but we cannot deny that she speaks with authority
on human nature.

On one occasion, when he did find his friend alone, Maxon complained of
the times when he had not.

"I've nothing against him, of course, but it's you I come to talk to.
Why, I scandalize my clerk, and sometimes my clients, for the sake of
coming!" He managed to keep voice and manner playful.

She was gracious, admitting the force of his plea. "It was stupid of me
not to think! Of course Sir Axel can come at any time. I'll give him a
hint to call earlier. Is that satisfactory, my lord?" She sometimes
called him by that title--partly in anticipation of the judgeship, but
also with a hint of raillery at the domineering nature.

"It's very kind--and don't you like it better like this yourself?"

"Perhaps I do. And clearly you do. And"--she smiled--"very likely Sir
Axel does. We shall all three be pleased! Delightful!"

"I wasn't thinking of his point of view, I confess." He was rather too
scornful.

"No, but he may think of it, I suppose? And I suppose I may, if I like,
Mr. Maxon?"

He looked at her sourly for just a moment, then recovered himself and,
without replying, passed on to the subject of a book which he had
brought her. But he was annoyed that she should resist him, stand up to
him, and claim her liberty--especially her liberty to receive Sir Axel
alone. However, it was not good fighting ground; he had brought her
rebuke upon himself.

Lady Rosaline was quite alive to the fact that Sir Axel's appearance and
Sir Axel's attentiveness were a valuable asset to her, but she did not
think of her old friend's husband in any other light. To begin with, he
himself, though assiduous, had shown no sign of sentiment. If he were
moving in that direction at all, he was moving slowly and secretly. And
then she was still inclined to Maxon. She had a great opinion of his
ability--she was more sure about that than about how much she liked
him--and the chances of a high career for him allured her. But Sir Axel
and his assiduity enhanced her value and buttressed her independence.
They helped her to establish her position; she had an idea that the more
firmly she established it now, the better it would resist any attacks on
it, if and when she became Lady Rosaline Maxon. Here she was probably
right. But she had another idea too. She was not going to be dictated
to; she would not be browbeaten into becoming Lady Rosaline Maxon.

In this state of external affairs and internal dispositions, the
'proceedings' came and went--really meaning no more than a transitory
quarter of an hour's annoyance to the rising Cyril Maxon, for whom
everything was made as easy and sympathetic as possible. Other effects
in Woburn Square, no doubt--possibly others in Madeira! Yet transitory
and formal as they were, the proceedings left behind them a state of
affairs more essentially transitory and formal still. The tie was now a
mere technicality, and when conscience took the position that Cyril
Maxon was still a married man for all purposes, conscience began to seem
to put the matter too high. For present conduct, yes--and he had no wish
to run counter to the injunction, for reasons both moral and
prudential; but for laying down the future on definite lines? That
seemed a different point. He reconsidered his attitude--not without
being influenced, more or less consciously, by Lady Rosaline's
independence and by the assiduity of Sir Axel Thrapston. The hint that
she still considered herself free, the notion of a rival, turned the
necessary interval from a mere nuisance into a possible danger. Moreover
she was going abroad with Mrs. Ladd, and he could not follow. Mrs. Ladd
was a friendly influence, but he would like to define the situation
before Lady Rosaline went. Not desiring to risk a peculiarly annoying
collision with Sir Axel, he wrote and asked her for an appointment.

She neither desired to refuse the interview, nor well could. But she
scented an attack, and stood instinctively on the defensive. She wanted
just the opposite of what Cyril Maxon did; the trip first and the
decision afterwards was her order of events. She relied on the necessary
interval, while he was now out of patience with it. "I won't be rushed!"
she said to herself. She gave him the appointment he asked on a Saturday
afternoon (he had suggested that comparatively free day) at half-past
four, but she let drop to Sir Axel that she would be at home at
half-past five on the same afternoon. Her motive in doing this was
rather vague--just a notion that some discussions can go on too long, or
that she might like to relax an agitated mind in talk with a friend, or,
possibly, that she might like to be told that she had done right. Her
reasons for the intimation to Sir Axel defy conclusive analysis.

"Lady Rosaline," said Cyril Maxon, as he put down his empty teacup,
"last week saw the end of an episode in my life." (Mr. Attlebury would
hardly have referred to it as an episode.) "The future is my concern
now. I took the action I did take on the fullest consideration, and I'm
glad to think, from what you said in Paris, that it had your approval."
He paused a moment. "I hope I'm not wrong in thinking that you
understood why I took it, when once I had made up my mind that it was
permissible?"

"Oh, you mustn't make too much of what I said in Paris. I'm no
authority. I left it to you."

He smiled. "The question of permissibility--naturally. But the other
altogether? Well, never mind that." He rose from his chair and stood by
her. "You must know that it was for your sake that I took the step I
did?"

She moved restlessly, neither affirming nor denying. She knew it very
well.

"Before the world we must remain as we are for the present. But it would
make a vast difference to me, during this time of waiting, to know that
I--that I could rely on you, Rosaline. You can have no doubt of my
feelings, though I have exercised self-restraint. I love you, and I want
you to be my wife as soon as possible."

"Well, it's not possible at present, is it?"

"No. But there's no reason why we shouldn't have a perfect understanding
between ourselves."

"Wouldn't it make gossip, and perhaps raise awkward questions, if
we--well, if we arranged anything definitely now--before the time's up?"

"It would be quite between ourselves. There could be no questions. There
would be no difference in our present relations--we should neither of us
wish that. But the future would be secure."

"I can't see the good of being engaged now, if it's to make no
difference," she murmured fretfully.

"It'll make an enormous difference in my feelings. I think you know
that."

"It seems to me to set up rather a--rather a difficult state of things.
You know how much I like you--but why shouldn't we both be free till the
time comes?" She took courage to raise her eyes to his on this
suggestion.

"I have no desire to be free." His voice grew rather harsh. "I didn't
know that you had. In Paris----"

She flared out suddenly; for her conscience was, in fact, not quite
easy. "Well, what did I say in Paris after all? You never said in Paris
what you're saying now! If you had--well, I should have told you that I
wasn't at all ready to give a decision. And I'm not ready now. I want
this time of waiting to make up my mind. You're trying to drive me into
saying 'Yes' before I'm ready. What's the good of that, even to you?
Because what prevents me from changing my mind in the next six
months--even if you make me say 'Yes' to you now?"

"I took an important--and to me a difficult--step in reliance on your
feelings towards me. I seem to have been mistaken about them." His voice
was sombre, even rather rancorous.

"Don't say that, Cyril. But why must I give up my liberty long
before--well, long before I can get anything instead of it?" She smiled
again, propitiating him. "Let me go abroad, anyhow. I'll try to tell you
when I come back. There!"

"I confess to thinking that you had practically told me long ago. On the
faith of that, I acted."

"You've not the smallest right to say that. I liked you and let you see
it. I never pledged myself."

"Not in words, I allow."

"Cyril, your insinuation isn't justifiable. I resent it. Whatever I may
have felt, I have said and done nothing that I mightn't have with
anybody."

He had held his temper hard; it gave a kick now. "With Thrapston, for
instance?" he sneered.

"Oh, how absurd! I've never so much as thought of Sir Axel in that way!"
As she spoke, she glanced at the clock. No, there was plenty of time.
She did not desire an encounter between the two this afternoon. She rose
and stood by Maxon. "You're being rather exacting and--and tyrannical,
my lord," she said. "I don't think I like you so much to-day. You almost
bully me--indeed you do!"

He bent his eyes on hers, frowning heavily. "I did it for you."

"Oh, it's not fair to put that on me! Indeed it isn't. But, please,
don't let's quarrel. It's really such a little thing I ask--not much
more than a month to think it over--when nothing can happen for more
than six! Indeed, I think a year would--well, would look better for both
of us."

"Oh, make it two years--make it five!" he growled.

"Cyril, if you go on like this, I'll make it never--here, now, and for
good!"

Even he saw that he had gone too far. He contrived to smooth brow and
voice, and put in the man's usual plea to excuse his rough impatience.
"It's only because I love you."

"Yes, but you needn't be like a bear making love," she retorted
pettishly. Yet, to a certain extent, she was appeased by the apology;
and she by no means wanted to 'make it never' then and there. His
rudeness and his apology together gave her a tactical advantage which
she was not slow to use. "But if you do love me as you say, you won't
refuse what I ask of you," she went on. Then she indulged him with a
touch of sentiment. "If I say 'Yes,' I want to say it without any
doubt--with my whole heart, Cyril. 'Yes' now wouldn't be what it ought
to be between you and me."

She maintained her advantage to the end of the interview. She won her
respite; nothing more was to be said till after her return from abroad.
Meanwhile they would correspond as friends--"As great friends as you
like!" she threw in, smiling. As friends, too, they parted on this
occasion; for when he offered to embrace her, she held out her hand
gracefully, saying, "That'll do for to-day, I think, Cyril." His frown
came again, but he submitted.

In fact, in the first encounter between them, Cyril Maxon was beaten.
She stood up against him, and had won her way. True, she was almost
bound to; her position was so much the more favourable. Yet, however
defeat came, Maxon was not accustomed to it, and did not like it. And he
liked her the less for inflicting it--he used one or two hard words
about her as he drove home from Hans Place--but he did not the less want
to marry her. The masterful element in him became the more urgent to
achieve that victory, to make up all the ground that he had lost
to-day--and more. But, if he contrasted to-day's interview with his
previous assumptions, it was plain that he had lost a lot of ground.
What had seemed the practically certain became merely the reasonably
probable. Instead of being to all intents and purposes accepted, he was
told that he was only a suitor, though, no doubt, a suitor who was
entitled to entertain good hopes of success. Yes, very good hopes, if
nothing intervened. But he hated the trip abroad, and he hated Sir Axel
Thrapston--in spite of Lady Rosaline's disclaimer of any sentimental
interest in that gentleman. The mere fact of her asking for a delay made
every delay dangerous, and, while she doubted at all, any man much about
her might make her more doubtful. "If she throws me over now----" he
muttered angrily to himself; for always in his mind, as now and then on
his lips, was that 'I did it for you.' She had accepted the sacrifice of
his conscience; was she now to refuse to answer his prayer? In the new
light of her possibly refusing, he almost admitted the sacrifice. At any
rate, he asserted, he had acted on a conclusion full of difficulty and
not quite free from doubt. It was beyond question that the case of
conscience might vary in aspect, according as Lady Rosaline Deering did
or did not say 'Yes.'

If the vanquished combatant was decidedly savage, the victorious was
rather exhausted. Lady Rosaline lay prone in a luxurious arm-chair
before the fire, doing nothing, feeling very tired. She had won, but a
succession of such victories--a perpetual need of such victories--would
be Pyrrhic in its effect on her nerves. The room seemed suddenly filled
with an atmosphere of peace. She gave a little stretch, a little yawn,
and nestled down farther into her big chair.

Thus Sir Axel Thrapston, punctual to his half-past five and missing
Cyril Maxon by some ten minutes, found her. His arrival did not disturb
her sense of repose and, perhaps, rather accentuated it; for with him
she had no quarrel, and about him no complication of feelings difficult
to unravel. Moreover, he was an essentially peaceful person, a
live-and-let-live man. She received him graciously, but without rising
from the big chair.

"Forgive my not getting up; I'm rather tired. You take the little chair,
and draw it up."

He did as he was bid. "Been doing too much?" he asked.

"Oh, not particularly, but I am tired. But you'll rest me, if you'll sit
there, and not mind if I don't talk much." However, she went on talking.
"There are some people whom one likes and admires tremendously, and yet
who are rather--well, exacting, aren't there?"

Sir Axel would have been dull not to surmise that his friend had had
recent experience of some such person as she described.

"No, exacting isn't quite the word I want. I mean, they take their own
point of view so strongly that it's really a struggle--a downright
struggle--to make them see that there may be another."

"I know the sort of fellow. My Scotch gardener's one of 'em."

"Well, I don't know your Scotch gardener, but I do know one or two men
of the sort."

"I should think you could stand up for yourself!"

His glance was one of friendly appreciation of her--and of her
appearance. She certainly looked well in the firelight.

"Oh, I think I can, but one doesn't want always to be having to do it."

"Not good enough to live with people like that, Lady Rosaline!"

He meant no personal reference, but his companion had little difficulty
in finding a personal application. Her eyes wandered from the fire and
settled on his face in a meditative gaze.

"Unless, I mean, you were quite sure of coming out on top. And even
then--well, I hate rows, anyhow."

"So do I--even when I win, Sir Axel! I do so agree with you." The eyes
took on a grateful look. Sir Axel was making a more favourable
impression than the good man had any idea of. Cyril Maxon was
responsible for Sir Axel's success this afternoon; it was a true
instinct that had led Lady Rosaline to make a second appointment! Her
nerves were soothed; her weariness passed into a pleasant languor. She
smiled at him indolently, in peaceful contentment.

"When did you say you were off?" she inquired. In asking when he might
come to see her, he had founded his plea on the ground of an early
departure from London.

"Next Tuesday. I'm looking forward to it. I've never seen Venice. I
shall be at Danieli's."

"Now did I ask for your address, Sir Axel?"

He laughed. "Oh, I was playing my own hand. I thought perhaps, if I
couldn't stand my own society all the time, you'd let me pay a call on
you at the Lakes on my way back."

Lady Rosaline and Mrs. Ladd had planned an absolutely quiet time at the
Italian Lakes. But, then, Sir Axel was absolutely quiet--after Cyril
Maxon.

"Well, I might go so far as to send you an address. Don't consider it a
command--or even an invitation!"

"You see, I don't know a soul out there, and can't speak a word of the
language."

"Well, if absolute desperation drives you to our door, perhaps we'll let
you stay a little."

"Oh, I say, I didn't quite mean that!"

"The fact is, you're not very good at pretty speeches, are you? But I
don't mind that--and you know I should always be glad to see you."

Sir Axel departed well-pleased, not knowing to whom or to what the
better part of his pleasure might justly be attributed. So may we profit
by our neighbours' blunders, and find therein some consolation for our
sufferings from their superior brilliancy.



CHAPTER XXII

JUDGMENT ACCORDINGLY


Certainly the quartette made a very agreeable party in Madeira. It
proved to be as happily composed as the Major had anticipated. The two
elders enjoyed the sunshine, the fine nights, the casino, much gossip
with one another and with casual coevals who had anything to add. The
young couple made their excursions, had their bath and a little
lawn-tennis (Winnie could not be roused to enthusiasm over this),
gambled mildly and danced enthusiastically. Not all these things with
one another exclusively. There were other young women there, and other
young men. The Major was in request among the former; Winnie among the
latter. There was no overdoing of the _tête-à-tête_. Among the colours,
the flowers, and the fun, life ran very pleasantly.

But Mrs. Lenoir was a little impatient. Her pet scheme seemed to hang
fire. She could not quite make out why. It was not, she thought, the
other young men and women; there was no sign of any foreign attraction
such as might induce either of her predestined lovers to wander from the
appointed path. Yet the Major's advances were, in her judgment,
painfully deliberate, and Winnie's good fellowship with him was almost
demonstratively unsentimental. Mrs. Lenoir felt her experience at fault;
she had expected that, in such a favourable climate, the affair would
ripen more quickly. But there are ways of forcing plants, and she was a
skilful gardener.

One day, a week after the party had arrived on the island, she came out
into the hotel garden after lunch and settled herself, with the
General's gallant assistance, in a long chair; the spot commanded a view
over the harbour. The General, his offices performed, sat in a shorter
chair and smoked his cigar. Far below them the ramshackle pretty town
seemed to blink in the sunshine; a rather sleepy blinking is the
attitude it takes towards existence, except when a tourist ship comes
in, or a squadron of men-of-war. Then it sits up, and eats, and anon
sleeps again.

"I suppose, when they come down from the Mount, they'll go straight to
the casino," said the General.

"Yes, I told them we'd meet them there. Hugh!"

She did not very often call him Hugh. In the use of his name he was in
the habit of recognizing some rather special call on his services or his
attention.

"Yes, my dear Clara? Now you're not going to worry about your share of
the wine again?"

"No," said she, smiling, "I'm not. I've a little confession to make to
you. I told you a fib about Winnie. I told you the fib I told
everybody--that she was a distant cousin. She isn't. I met her at some
friends'--very nice people. She was quite adrift. I asked her to come to
me for a bit, and we got on so well that she's stayed. She's an orphan,
I know--her father was a parson--and I think she's quite alone in the
world, though she has a small income." She laughed. "You see what a long
story it is. With most people it's so much easier to tell the little
fib. But I've told you the truth about her now." Yet not all the truth.
Mrs. Lenoir's conscience certainly seemed sometimes to work on easy
springs.

"Thank you for telling me, Clara. I suppose I know why you told me. But
I think my boy knows already that, if he has any designs about Miss
Winnie, he'll not find me an obstacle. Only she doesn't seem to me to be
anything more than friendly towards him."

"Well, she'd naturally wait for a lead, wouldn't she?"

"You think it's that?" Mrs. Lenoir's slight wave of her fan was
non-committal. "He's a very conscientious fellow. He looks at a thing
all round. I'm sure he'd consider not only whether he liked her, but
whether he could satisfy her--whether the life he could offer her would
be to her liking. Being a soldier's wife isn't all beer and skittles.
And getting on with all the regiment!"

"Dear me, is there all that to consider?" Her tone was playful, yet
rather contemptuous. "It doesn't look as if he was desperately in love."

"Men differ," mused the General. "Look at my three sons. Bertie's as I
tell you--slow and solid--make an excellent husband to a woman of sense.
The Colonel never looks at a woman, so far as I know. George runs after
every petticoat he meets, and hangs the consequences--confound him!"

"And which," asked Mrs. Lenoir, "is most like father, Hugh?"

"Ancient history, ancient history!" he murmured, half in pleasure, half
in contrition, yet with a glance at his companion. "Shall I tell him
what you've told me about Miss Winnie?"

"Just as you like." She laughed. "I don't think he's gone far enough to
have any rights yet, you know."

"I don't think he has," agreed the General, laughing too--and not aware
of the bearings of his admission.

Mrs. Lenoir, however, treasured it in her armoury: she might have need
of it. Plainly the General might consider that, confession once begun,
confession ought to have gone further. She had the same plausible
answers she had given to Winnie herself. She had another; she
acknowledged her own fib, but she would plead that she had no right to
betray her friend. In the end she had not much doubt that she could
manage the General. She had managed him before--in a much more difficult
case; and he was very fond of Winnie. Something of partisanship
influenced her mood; the free lance renewed memories of old raids in
this little skirmish against convention; she was minded to fight at the
best advantage she could--with the father 'contained' and the son as
deeply committed to his position as she could get him before the blow
was struck.

As a result of this conversation the General carried away an uneasy
idea--born of the confidence so pointedly reposed in him, enforced by
the slight touch of contempt in Mrs. Lenoir's voice--that one of the
ladies, even possibly both, considered his son, if not a laggard, yet at
least somewhat prosaically circumspect in his love-making. Such a view,
if really entertained, did some injustice to Bertie Merriam. He was not
impulsive; he was not passionate. He took time to make up his mind. It
would be almost true to say that, before falling in love, he made up his
mind that he would--not the commonest order of events. But he had pretty
well made up his mind by now. Only he received very little
encouragement. Winnie was always 'jolly' to him; but she asked nothing
of him, made no special claims on him--and took the same liberty as she
accorded. In the pleasant round of their life he was one comrade among
many; more intimate than the rest, no doubt, by reason of his habitual
escort, the excursions, and the messing together at table, but not
different in kind. Vaguely the Major felt that there was some barrier,
real but imperceptible, which he could not pass--a thing made up out of
a thousand unobtrusive trifles, yet composing in the mass a defence that
he could not see how to penetrate.

There was a curious little man in the hotel--a man of about forty-five,
short, bald, shabby, yet clean, though he did not bathe. In fact he did
nothing--no excursions, no sports, no dancing, no flirtation. He did not
even read; he sat about--meditating, it must be presumed. Something in
him made the girls giggle and the men wink, as he passed by; the men
said 'Dotty!' and the girls sniggered at the witticism. His name, sought
out in the hotel register, proved to be Adolphus Wigram. The wit who had
made the search called him 'Dolly'--and the name became his at once,
varied back to 'Dotty' sometimes by an ultra-witticism.

When Winnie came home from the casino this evening, having some minutes
to spare before dressing for dinner, she went on to the hotel balcony,
which overlooks the town from a loftier and, so to say, a more
condescending altitude than the garden. She rested her elbows on the
balcony and surveyed the beauty of the scene, so artfully composed of
hill and slope and sea that one can hardly conceive it the outcome of
nature's mere--and probably violent--caprice. She was lost in thought,
and was startled to find elbows on a level with hers and a head in close
neighbourhood, though rather lower. She recognized 'Dolly'--in the
shabbiest of all suits, looking meditatively down on the lights of the
town and harbour of Funchal.

"Quite a small place, Miss Wilson," said 'Dolly.' "Full of people!"

"I suppose it is," Winnie agreed politely. She had come out on the
balcony occupied with another question than the population of Madeira.

"I tried to understand things once--to grasp them in the large, you
know. Seems easy to some people, but I couldn't do it. I teach history.
I was a bit overworked; some of my friends subscribed to send me out
here for just a fortnight. Doing me good."

Winnie turned her face towards the funny jerky little man. "Are you
going to grasp things in the large when you get back?" she asked.

"No, no; I'm afraid not. Thirty thousand or so of them down there, I
suppose! All thinking they're very important. All being born, or dying,
or love-making, or starving, or filling their bellies, and so on. Quite
a small place!"

Winnie smiled. "Yes, I dare say. It sounds true, but rather trite. I
have problems of my own, Mr. Wigram."

"So have I--income, and taxation, and necessary expenditure. Still,
these thirty thousand are interesting."

"They're awfully lucky to want very few clothes and hardly any fires,
and to live in such a beautiful place. What do you mean by things in the
large, Mr. Wigram?"

"Well, I mean truth," said the absurd little man, clutching the balcony
railings, just as if he were going to vault over them and crack his
skull on the nut-shaped stones which served for a path thirty or forty
feet beneath. "Truth is things in the large, you know."

"I don't think I know that, but I know a friend in England who talks
rather like you."

"Poor devil! How much money does he make?"

"He's got independent means, Mr. Wigram."

"Then he can afford to talk a great deal better."

"You really make me rather uncomfortable. Surely everybody can say what
they like nowadays?"

The little man gave an abrupt hoarse laugh. "I teach history in a
school, and get a hundred and fifty pounds a year for it. Can I say
what I like? Do I tell the truth about the history? Oh dear, no!"

"I've got just a hundred and fifty pounds a year. Can I do what I like?"
asked Winnie.

'Dolly' turned to her with a queer ridiculous solemnity. "It seems to
me," he observed, "a competency for an able-bodied young woman. I don't
know what you can do, but I think you're quite in a position to tell the
truth--if you happen to know it. Anybody dependent on you?"

"Not a soul," smiled Winnie.

"I've a mother and an unmarried sister. You see the difference? I think
I heard the gong. Good evening."

"Good evening, Mr. Wigram." Winnie rushed in to dress for dinner,
pitiful, smiling, and thoughtful.

The quartette was not as merry as usual that evening. Bertie Merriam was
rather glum, and when Winnie perceived it she grew remorseful. Up at the
Mount he had, at last, shown signs of making a definite advance; if she
had not snubbed him, she had at least fought him off by affected
unconsciousness of his meaning, by persistent unsentimentality. It was
almost against her own will; she could not help it; the instinct in her
was irresistible. She might have been equal to standing by Tora
Aikenhead's view--"As long as my own conscience is clear, it's no affair
of yours what I did before I knew you, and I shan't say a word about
it." She could certainly have followed Stephen's atavistic
'public-school' idea of honour with perfect readiness. These were both,
in their different ways, forms of defiance. But Mrs. Lenoir's
compromise--"I'll wait till the truth can't hurt me, though it may hurt
you"--was not defiance; it was deceit. Under the influence of gratitude
to the friend to whom she owed so much kindness, and of the deference
which she honestly accorded to her adviser's experience and wisdom, she
had accepted it. All very well to accept it in words! She found that she
could not act upon it. Instead of making Bertie Merriam like her so well
that the truth could be told to him without risk--or, at any rate, with
the minimum of risk--she was spending her time in trying to prevent him
from liking her in that way at all. If she went on, she would succeed;
he was sensitive, proud, easy to discourage. Yet, as things stood, she
knew that she would not be able to resist going on. Then it came to
this--Mrs. Lenoir's compromise would not work. It might or might not be
justifiable, but it simply would not work in Winnie's hands. She could
not carry it out, because it meant in the end that she was to behave
just as Godfrey Ledstone had. The gravamen of his offence was that he
had been ashamed of her; now she was being ashamed of herself. He had
conceded to his family the right to think her shameful; she was allowing
the same right to the Major, and merely trying to curry favour enough to
override his judgment. Such a course was not only flat against her
theories; it was flat against the nature which had produced the
theories. And, in practice, it resulted in a deadlock; it kept the Major
at a standstill. He did not retreat, because his feelings dictated an
advance. He could not advance, because she would not let him. There he
stuck--up against that impalpable, impenetrable barrier.

"I've been talking--out on the balcony--with that funny little man they
call 'Dolly,'" she remarked. "He told me that, if you had nobody
dependent on you, and had a hundred and fifty pounds a year, you were in
a position to tell the truth."

"Is it exactly a question of what money you've got, Miss Winnie?" asked
the General.

She let the question pass. "Anyhow, that happens to be exactly my
income. Rather funny!" She looked across the small table at Mrs.
Lenoir--and was not surprised to find that Mrs. Lenoir was looking at
her already.

"I suppose he meant that if you weren't absolutely obliged to get or
keep some job----" the Major began.

"That's what he meant; and there's a lot in it, isn't there, Major
Merriam?"

"Well, it's not what we're taught at school, but perhaps there is."

"More luxuries for the rich," smiled Mrs. Lenoir.

"The Radicals can make a new grievance out of it at the next election,"
said the General.

Of course, the two men did not know what underlay Winnie's talk. Equally
of course, Mrs. Lenoir did; she saw it in a minute, and her reading
hardly needed the confirmation of Bertie's glum demeanour. Winnie was in
rebellion--probably in irreconcilable rebellion. Mrs. Lenoir glanced
across at her with a satirically protesting smile. Winnie smiled back,
but her eyes were resolute--rather merrily resolute, as though she liked
this new taste of her favourite cup of defiance.

"There are times and seasons," said Mrs. Lenoir. "Isn't there even a
thing called the economy of truth? I don't think I know the exact
doctrine."

"You wouldn't tell a child everything--or a fool either," observed the
General.

"Would you choose the wrong time to tell the truth to anybody?" Mrs.
Lenoir asked.

"Are you entitled to settle what's the right time--all by yourself?"
Winnie retorted gaily. Her spirits had begun to rise. This was almost
like a discussion at Shaylor's Patch. There was a deeper reason. With
her determination had come a sense of recovered honesty, and, more, of
liberty regained. Whatever the Merriams might think, she would be
herself again--herself and no longer Miss Winnie Wilson, a young person
whom, in the last week or so, she had begun to hate cordially.

Winnie did not go to the casino that evening; she left the General and
his son to walk there together. She followed Mrs. Lenoir into the
drawing-room, and sat down by her.

"So you've made up your mind, Winnie?" Mrs. Lenoir did not seem angry or
hurt. She merely recognized Winnie's resolution.

"Yes. I can't go on with it. And it's a good moment. The newspapers come
to-morrow, and, if what Hobart Gaynor told me was right, there'll be
something about me in them."

"Yes, I remember. Well, if you're set on doing it, that doesn't make
such a bad--occasion." Mrs. Lenoir was considering how the 'occasion'
could best be twisted into a justification of previous silence. With the
Major that would not be so much a pressing question--other factors would
probably decide his action--but it was a point that her friend the
General might raise. She looked thoughtfully at Winnie. "How much do you
like him?" she asked.

"I like him as much as I know him, but I don't know him very much. I
shall know a little more to-morrow." She paused. "I should like the
life, the whole thing, very much, I think."

"She's not in love, but she'd take him," Mrs. Lenoir inwardly
interpreted.

"I'm sorry to act against your advice, after all you've done for me. It
does look ungrateful."

"Oh, I don't expect people to give up their liberty, just because I'm
fond of them." She rose. "I'm off to my room, my dear. Good night--and
good luck."

Winnie went out on the balcony, to seek for Mr. Adolphus Wigram and some
more talk about truth. But he was not there; he had gone down to the
casino, where he lost exactly half a dollar with unbroken bad luck every
night--probably one of the things which the claims of his family and the
figure of his salary would cause him to suppress the truth about when he
got back to his school. So she remembered that there was an impromptu
dance going on downstairs, and went and danced and flirted furiously
till midnight. The girls said that they had never seen Miss Wilson look
so well, and never had the young men crowded round Miss Wilson so
eagerly. In fact Miss Wilson had her fling. Small blame to her. It was
the last night of her life--at least, so far as that life had any real
significance. Though Winnie did not propose to change her name in the
hotel book or on the lips of casual companions during her stay in
Madeira, yet for essential purposes that night saw an end of Miss Winnie
Wilson.

Since English newspapers arrive in the island only once a week, the
competition for them on the mail day is formidable. Persons who combine
agility and selfishness with a healthy interest in public affairs may be
observed sitting on five copies of their favourite journal, reading a
sixth, and anon glaring angrily round at potential applicants for one of
the spare copies. Winnie took no part in the scramble, and attacked
nobody's reserve pile of intelligence. She knew that her paper would
come in a separate wrapper, addressed to her personally by Hobart
Gaynor; she wanted only one day's paper.

She found it laid by her plate at lunch--a meal which passed in the
discussion of the news of the world; the Major had been a successful
competitor in the struggle, and was well-primed. Winnie rose when coffee
appeared, her paper in her hand. She addressed Bertie Merriam rather
pointedly.

"I'm going into the garden--that seat under the trees. You know?"

"I'll come too. Directly I've drunk my coffee." As Winnie walked off he
exchanged a glance with his father. They had had a confidential little
talk at the casino the evening before, in which Winnie's behaviour was
the subject of some puzzled comment. This invitation to the garden
looked more promising. Mrs. Lenoir was busy reading a letter. Winnie had
read one letter too--from Hobart Gaynor, telling her all she needed to
know, and referring her to a certain page of her paper.

Yes, there it was--very short, matter-of-fact, and hard. Well, what else
should it be? Only it seemed oddly to reproduce Cyril Maxon himself. The
report sounded as if his exact words, nay, his very tones, had been
caught; they seemed to echo in her ears; she almost heard him saying it
all. And what more appropriate, what so inevitable, an ending could
there be to Cyril's utterances than the words which closed this brief
record--'Judgment accordingly'? Those words might always have been
written at the end of Cyril's remarks. 'Judgment accordingly.' It seemed
to sum up, as well as to close, the story of her relations with him.
From the beginning right through to this, the end, on her and her
works--on all she did and was--there had been 'Judgment accordingly.'

She let the copy of the _Times_ fall on her lap, and sat idle--waiting
for Bertie Merriam, yet not thinking much of him. The figure of 'Dolly'
shuffled into view. The odd little man was smoking a cigarette, and, in
the intervals of puffing, was apparently talking to himself in a
cheerful and animated way--no sounds, but the lips moved quickly. As he
passed, Winnie hailed him. "Had your mail, Mr. Wigram?"

He stopped. "I've had good news, Miss Wilson--good news from home.
They've raised my salary."

"Oh, I am glad, Mr. Wigram."

"A twenty-pound rise, Miss Wilson. Well, I've done fifteen years. But
still it's liberal." He seemed to swell a little. "And it's a
recognition. I value it as a recognition." The transient swelling
subsided. "And it'll help," he ended soberly.

"Shall you be able to tell the truth to any greater extent, Mr. Wigram?"

"Oh, I think not, I think not. I--I hadn't thought of it from that point
of view, Miss Wilson."

"I've had no rise in my income, but I'm going to do it."

He was not really listening. He gave a feeble cackle of a laugh. "I'm
just making a few calculations, Miss Wilson." On he went, apportioning
every penny of that hard-earned increase of twenty pounds per annum.
Valuable--but not enough to enable him to teach true history.

Major Merriam sauntered towards her with his cigar. He was really rather
eager, but he did not look it. The invitation might be merely a tardy
apology for the snubs of yesterday.

"May I sit down by you?"

"Please do. Have you seen the _Times_?"

"I looked through the lot of them."

"Have you seen this one--the 26th?" She held up her copy.

"I suppose I have. I had a run through them all."

"Read that." Her finger indicated the report.

He read it; the process did not take long. He took his cigar out of his
mouth. "Well, Miss Wilson?"

"I was Mrs. Maxon; that's all," said Winnie.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE REGIMENT


Had Bertie Merriam displayed righteous indignation or uncontrollable
grief, Winnie would have left him to digest his emotion in solitary
leisure. Since, however, he merely looked extremely thoughtful, as he
let the _Times_ flutter to the ground and took a long pull at his cigar,
it seemed natural to tell him the story. This she proceeded to do,
neither boastfully nor apologetically, but with sober veracity, tempered
by a humorous appreciation of how the various parties to it, herself
included, came out of their various ordeals. Now and then her auditor
nodded his understanding of the points--of the impossibility of life
with Cyril Maxon; of how Shaylor's Patch enlarged the horizon; of the
experiment with Godfrey Ledstone and its comico-tragic failure; of how
Maxon, for reasons unascertained, had found open to him a course which
he had always declared to be lawfully open to no man; finally, of the
considerations, sufficient or insufficient, which had led to the
incarnation of Miss Winnie Wilson. In fact, so far as it lies within a
human being's power to tell the truth about himself or herself, Winnie
told it; she had no dependents and she had a hundred and fifty pounds a
year.

As has been said, the Major was not an especially religious man. He had
himself lived an unusually steady and regular life, keeping himself in
strict training for the work to which his whole heart was devoted, but
his moral ideas were those of his class and generation. He was not
strait-laced. Moreover he was heavily biassed in favour of the lady who
now took him into her confidence, and not only had the advantage of
telling her side of the story without anybody to criticize or
contradict, but succeeded in telling it so as to carry conviction of her
sincerity, if not of her wisdom. He was ready to see with her eyes, at
least to the point of admitting excuse where she pleaded justification.
Though he imputed to her a great want of worldly wisdom in her dealings
with Godfrey Ledstone, her moral character did not suffer in his
estimation, nor (what was perhaps more remarkable) were his feelings
towards her perceptibly chilled. Neither did he cherish any personal
grievance. She was entitled to protect herself from the idle curiosity
of casual acquaintances. So soon as she had definite ground for
according to him a special treatment, she had dealt openly with him and
made a clean breast of it.

"Thank you," he said at the end. "I shall respect your confidence."

"What I've told you is meant for the General too, please."

"Thank you again. It's very straight of you. You must be glad to have it
all over at last?"

Winnie made the slightest grimace. "Isn't that rather a sanguine view?"
Her own views about things being 'all over' had become less sanguine
than of yore.

"Well, yes, I suppose it is." Even while he had been speaking, the same
idea was at the back of his own mind. Things have a way of never getting
'all over,' of possessing no absolute ends, of continuing, for good and
evil, to affect life till life itself ends--and even, after that, of
affecting other lives sometimes. Bertie Merriam himself, thoughtfully
considering, saw that the thing was by no means 'all over' with the
coming of the news contained in the _Times_ of the 26th.

"And now," said Winnie, rising from her chair, "I'm going to talk
nonsense with the Layton girl and the Anstruther boys, and forget all
about it for a bit." She stood looking at him for a moment in a very
friendly, rather puzzled, way. She wanted to convey to him that she
would consider it very natural for her disclosure to make all the
difference, but the assurance was not easy to frame without assuming
more than she was, by the forms of the game, entitled to assume. She got
as near to it as she could. "I've been prepared to accept the
consequences all through. If I claim liberty of opinion myself, I allow
it to others, Major Merriam."

"Yes, yes, I quite understand. You surely don't fear a harsh judgment
from me?" He added, after the briefest pause, "Or from my father?"

"I don't think I need. You've both been such kind good friends to me."
She broke into a smile. "And, of course, on my theory I don't admit that
I'm properly a subject of judgment at all."

"But you admit that I may think differently if I like?"

"Yes, I admit that. We may all think what we like, and do as we like, so
long as we do it sincerely."

"Wouldn't things get rather--well, chaotic--under that system?" he
asked, smiling in his turn.

"I knew I shouldn't convert you--you stickler for discipline!"

He heard the description with a laugh, but without protest or
disclaimer. To his ears it was a compliment. Nor did he think Winnie, so
far as he claimed to understand her, quite so scornful of all discipline
as her playful taunt implied, nor in practice so thoroughgoing an
anarchist as her theory of the unbridled liberty of private judgment
required in logic that she should be. She did not appear to him a
naturally lawless woman, nor even unusually volatile. She had had 'hard
luck' and had fought against it blindly and recklessly. But, given good
conditions, she would readily conform to the standards, since she would
not want to do anything else. Taking this view, he saw little reason to
revise his judgment or to alter his intentions, so far as the judgment
and intentions depended on his estimate of the woman herself. Her
candour was even a new point in her favour.

So far then neither Winnie nor even Mrs. Lenoir need regret the
disclosure. The case, when fully explained, seemed to the Major
eminently pardonable--at worst, a piece of visionary folly in which an
ignorant young woman had rashly matched herself against the world. But
there was another aspect of the case. _Tout comprendre c'est tout
pardonner._ Perhaps. But some people shrink from understanding things
for that very reason; the consequences seem too alarming and even
revolutionary. And the great bulk of people, even if they were willing
to understand every case, have really no time to do it; it cannot be
expected of them in this busy life. They find themselves obliged to work
by generalizations and categories, to bind by rules and prohibitions
admitting of no exception. It is the only way by which people in a
society can tackle the job of estimating the conduct of other people, or
indeed of regulating their own. The world labels in rows and pronounces
judgment on squads, an inevitably rough-and-ready method, but--the world
pleads--the only practical alternative to a moral anarchy against which
it must protect itself, even though at the cost of constantly passing
the same sentence on offenders of widely different degrees of
criminality.

Now the world, or society, or public opinion, or whatever collective
term may be used for that force to which all gregarious animals, whether
they like it or not, are of necessity amenable--possessed for Major
Merriam a meaning which was to him all-important, but to which Winnie
and Mrs. Lenoir had accorded only the faintest, if indeed any,
consideration; it meant something not vague and distant, but near,
potent, with close and imperative claims on him. This thing it was which
occupied his mind as he walked through the garden to the annex in which
his father and he were lodged, and where he would find the General
reading on the verandah until it should be time to go to the casino. For
society at large, for the moralists or gossips of London, he had not
much regard. He was not a prominent man; few people would know, of those
few half would not care, and the thing would soon blow over. But neither
his life nor his heart was in London, and it was not about the feelings
or views of the great city that he went, with Winnie's copy of the
_Times_ in his hand, to consult his father.

The General had been reading, and was now dozing, on the verandah. He
woke up at the sound of his son's step. "Ready for the casino, my boy?"
he asked briskly.

"Well, I've something I want to talk about first, if you don't mind." He
laid the _Times_ on the table.

When the General heard the story, told more briefly than Winnie had
related it, but with no loss to its essential features, he conceived a
grudge against Mrs. Lenoir--Clara's silence, rendered more deceitful by
that delusive half-confidence of hers, seemed to him unkind--but, as
regards the prisoner at the bar herself, his judgment was even more
lenient than his son's, as perhaps might be expected from his more
various experience. The thing was annoying, distinctly annoying, but he
liked Winnie none the less. The poor girl had been in a fix!

"However it's really not our business to judge her," he concluded,
looking across at his son. "We've got nothing to do with that. That's
for her and her own conscience."

"She's had devilish hard luck," said Bertie.

"Yes, she has. Heavens, my boy, who am I to be hard on her?"

The Major gazed out over the garden. "As far as I'm concerned myself,
I'd take the chances and go on with it." He knew that his father would
understand what he meant by 'it.'

"Well, well, there are things to consider----"

Bertie turned sharply round again. Conviction rang in his voice as he
interrupted: "By Jove, there are! There's the regiment!"

The General pursed up his lips and gave two quick little nods of his
head. "Yes. In a few months you'll be in command."

"It might not get out, of course. There's always that chance."

"Next year you go to India. Everything gets out in India."

"Of course, if people could be got to understand the case as we do----"

"Don't you build on that, Bertie. The mere fact of this"--he tapped the
_Times_--"will be all they want; take my word for it. They wouldn't make
things comfortable for her."

For the moment at least Bertie's mind was not on that point; it was
directed towards the subject on which he had once discoursed to Winnie
herself--the influence which the wife of a commanding officer does and
ought to exercise on the tone of the small society over which she is
naturally called upon to exercise a sort of presidency. "Would it be
good for the regiment?"

The General wore a mournful air as he took out and lit a long lean
cheroot. He did not look at Bertie, as he murmured, "Must consider that,
in your position."

Certainly that had to be considered; for here the two men touched what
was their real effective religion--the thing which in truth shaped their
lives, to which they were both loyal and uncompromising adherents, in
regard to which the son was almost a fanatic. What was important to the
regiment was of vital importance to Bertie Merriam and to his life's
work. One of the things important to the regiment was the wives of its
officers; most important was their influence on the 'young chaps'--as he
had said to Winnie. It ought to be, if not motherly, at least
'elder-sisterly.' Viewed in this connection, there was evidently matter
for consideration, assuming that everything got out in India, as
according to the General it did. To present to the 'young chaps' such an
'elder sister' as Winnie--certainly consideration was needed.

Later in the afternoon Mrs. Lenoir sat in a wicker chair on the casino
terrace which overlooks, from a respectable and precipitous height, the
roadstead and the sea. She had spent a lonely afternoon, she had seen
none of her three friends, and by herself had drifted down to a solitary
cup of tea at this resort, which she was at the moment feeling to be
insecurely entitled to be called one of pleasure. She had an instinct
that something was happening, that things were being settled behind her
back. The feeling made her fretful; when she was fretful, the lines on
her face showed a deeper chiselling. And by a very human instinct,
because she thought that her friend the General was going to be angry
with her, she began to get angry with him--so as not to start the
quarrel at a disadvantage. They were making a fuss; now what in heaven's
name was there to make a fuss about? Hugh to make a fuss! A smile more
acrid, less kind, than usual, bent Mrs. Lenoir's lips; it made her look
older.

Suddenly, without seeing where he came from, she found the General
beside her--rather a stiff General, raising his hat very ceremoniously.
"You've had your tea, Clara? May I sit down by you?"

"Yes, I've had my tea, thank you. And you?"

"No, thank you. I--in fact I've had a whisky and soda."

The indulgence was unusual. It confirmed Mrs. Lenoir's instinct.

"Where's Bertie?"

"He's gone for a walk to Camara de Lobos."

The instinct was proved infallibly correct. A stride along the one level
road--clearly a case of mental disturbance needing physical treatment!

The General sat down. He was not even smoking; he rested the big silver
knob of his stick against his lips. She looked at him out of the corner
of her eye. Oh yes, certainly yes!

When he spoke, it was abruptly. "I don't know exactly how long you mean
to stay here, Clara, but I'm afraid Bertie and I must take the next boat
home. We must get back to London."

"Who's inconsolable in London?"

"I've had a letter which makes it advisable----"

"Oh, nonsense!" She did not disguise her impatience. "She's told him,
has she?"

"I don't think you've treated me quite fairly."

The sun began to sink below the promontory which bounded the view on the
right. The growing sombreness of the atmosphere seemed to spread over
Mrs. Lenoir's face. Her voice was hard too, when she spoke.

"I've treated you absolutely fairly. You men always want to play with
your cards held up, and ours down on the table. That's the masculine
idea of an even game! Oh, I know it! For my part I think she's silly to
have told him so soon. I wouldn't have. And so she's not good enough for
him, isn't she?"

Mrs. Lenoir had certainly done well to whip up her anger. It enabled her
to deliver the assault, and forestall the General's more deliberate
offensive movement. Also by her plainness she exposed ruthlessly her
friend's tactful invention of a letter from London making it advisable
for him and his son to take the next boat back to England.

"It's not quite a question of that," said the General, his pale-brown
old cheek flushing under the roughness of her scornful words. "You know
how much I like her, and how much Bertie likes her too. But we must look
facts in the face--take things as they are, Clara. It's not so much a
matter of his own feelings. There's the regiment."

Mrs. Lenoir grew more annoyed--because she perceived in a flash that,
old student of men as she was, she had neglected an important factor in
the case. Being annoyed, and being a woman, she hit out at the other
women who, as she supposed, stood in her way.

"A parcel of nobodies, in a garrison or cantonment somewhere!" Whatever
the judgment on her life, she was always conscious that she herself had
been famous.

"I suppose you're referring to the women? I wasn't thinking so much of
them. It'd be sure to get out, and it wouldn't do with the youngsters."

She turned to him almost fiercely, but his next words struck a new note.

"And it'd prejudice my boy's career, Clara."

The sun had set. There was an interval of cold light before the glories
of the afterglow. Mrs. Lenoir's face looked wan and hard. "Yes, it would
follow them all over the world," she said. "Now a mail ahead of them,
now a mail behind--always very close. Yes, the women would chatter and
lift their skirts; the old men would snigger and the youngsters make
jokes. Is there anything at all to choose between us, Hugh--between you
men and us women? Anything at all?"

He would not enter on that. "You don't quite understand. I may think
about his interest--well, I'm his father, and he's my eldest. He sees it
in the light of his duty to the Service."

"My poor little Winnie!" Gradually the afterglow was coming and seemed
to soften the hard lines of her face.

"You know I--why, I fairly love her myself!" His voice trembled for a
moment. "Pretty nearly as much, I believe, in the end, as the boy does.
But--could I tell him anything different? I'd give a year's pay not to
hurt her feelings."

"A year's pay! You old goose, Hugh! You'd give your life--but you
wouldn't give one button off the tunic of one of the soldiers in your
blessed regiment." She held out her hand to him, smiling under misty
eyes. "You men are queer," she ended.

After a stealthy look round, the General raised her hand to his lips.
They were friends again, and he was glad. Yet she would not forgo her
privilege of ridicule and irony--the last and only weapon of the
conquered.

"I don't know that anything need be said----"

"So you two valiant soldiers have decided that I had better say it?" she
interrupted.

"How could either of us so much as hint that she--that she was the least
interested in our movements?"

"Not even in your retreats? Oh, I'll tell her you're going by the next
boat. Nearly a week off, though, isn't it?" She hinted maliciously that
the week might be difficult--even dangerous. Whether it would be
depended on how Winnie took their decision. Mrs. Lenoir's unregenerate
impulse would have been to make that week rather trying to the Major,
had she been in Winnie's place. By being disagreeable to him? No, she
would have found a better way than that.

A merry laugh sounded from the door of the casino. Winnie was there, in
animated conversation with the Anstruther boys. A great event had
happened, calculated to amuse the whole hotel. 'Dolly' had come down
with his usual half-dollar--and had lost it as usual. He walked round
the room, then up and down the concert-room adjoining. He went to the
other table, he came back to the one at which he had played. He fidgeted
about, behind the second Anstruther boy, for some minutes. Then he
fished out another half-dollar, and put it on a single number--twenty!
Could Winnie, his confidante, doubt what was in his mind? The number
twenty was the gage of Dame Fortune; he would wear it on his sleeve!
Number twenty came up; the little man, with a quick gasp for breath,
pounced on his handful of money.

"Well, any of us may win after that!" said the elder Anstruther boy, who
had been strongly for the view that Mr. Wigram was a 'hoodoo' to the
whole hotel.

With rapid yet gracious dexterity Winnie got rid of her companions. She
had caught sight of the General's tall figure as he left Mrs. Lenoir's
side. She came down to her friend's chair, and laid a hand on her
shoulder.

"Not cold?" Mrs. Lenoir shook her head. "Well, let's go home,
anyhow--shall we? I've had a long afternoon with those boys--I'm tired."

"Sit down for a minute, child. So you let the cat out of the bag?"

"I told you I had to. Has he been here? I haven't seen him."

"Bertie? No--only the General. Bertie's gone for a walk by himself. But,
before he went, he told the General."

"Well?" Winnie was drawing on the gloves she had taken off to count out
her money in the room.

"They're going home by the next boat." Winnie gave no sign, made no
movement. "A letter from London--if you want to observe the usual
fiction." Her malice, her desire that her sex should fight for itself
and avenge its injuries, twinkled in her eyes again. "But they can't go
till Tuesday!"

Winnie's eyes turned out to sea. "Tuesday, or Tuesday twelvemonth--what
difference does it make?" She gave a little sigh; she had liked the idea
of it--of the life it meant, of seeing the world, of a fresh start, of
his great courtesy and kindness. "I don't think that we need consider
ourselves responsible for a broken heart," she added suddenly.

"No, but he'd have gone on, even after you told him." Her voice took on
its ironical inflexion. "He'd have gone on but for the regiment."

Winnie had been leaning back in her chair. She sat up straight, almost
with a jerk. "Gone on but for what?" she asked, in a tone of genuine
amazement.

Mrs. Lenoir's acrid smile penetrated the twilight. After a moment's
blank staring, Winnie's parted lips met in a smile too. To both of them,
in the end, it seemed funny--rather unaccountable.

"The regiment, Winnie!" Mrs. Lenoir repeated, as she rose from her seat.

"It really never entered my head," said Winnie.



CHAPTER XXIV

AN ENLIGHTENMENT


It might well seem that by now Winnie would have become accustomed to
the discovery that things which had never entered her head might none
the less occupy a large and unassailable position in the heads of other
people--nay, that she might, for safety's sake, allow for the likelihood
of such a revelation when she laid plans or embarked on a course of
conduct. But, in fact, this would be asking her to have learned very
early a very hard lesson. It was not as if there were only one or two of
these entrenched convictions; fresh ones leapt, as it were, from ambush
at every step of her advance, at every stage of her pilgrimage, and
manifested a strength on which she had not calculated, for which the
airy and untrammelled flight of Shaylor's Patch speculation had not
prepared her. It was all very well for her to declare that she accorded
to others the freedom of thought and opinion which she claimed for
herself. Of course she did; but the others made such odd uses of their
liberty! Maxon's point of view, Dick Dennehy's point of view, Woburn
Square's point of view, Bob Purnett's point of view (his--and Godfrey
Ledstone's!)--let these be taken as mastered and appreciated. Between
them they had seemed to cover the ground pretty completely, to
comprehend all the objections which could be raised by standards
religious, social, or merely habitual. But no. Here was a man who was
willing, for himself, to waive all the usual objections, but suddenly
produced a new cult, an esoteric worship, a tribal fetish of his own,
evidently a very powerful fetish, to be propitiated by costly
sacrifices, which he regarded himself as obviously necessary, and had no
doubt would be easily understood by other people.

"How could I be expected to think of the regiment?" asked Winnie
pathetically. "I declare I thought of everything else--that's why I told
him. He doesn't mind all the great world, but he does mind half a dozen
women and a dozen boys somewhere in India! People are queer, aren't
they, Mrs. Lenoir?"

But by now Mrs. Lenoir had been schooled; talks with both father and son
had made her understand better, and, since the thing had to be thus, it
was desirable that Winnie should understand also.

"Well, Winnie, that may be all his regiment is to you--a pack of women
and boys in India; indeed that's pretty much what I called it myself.
But, in justice to Bertie, we must remember that to him it's a great--a
great----"

"A great what?" Winnie was looking malicious over her friend's
hesitation.

"Well, a great institution," Mrs. Lenoir ended, rather lamely.

"An institution! Yes!" Winnie nodded her head. "That's it--and I'm
absolutely fated to run up against institutions. They wait for me, they
lie in hiding, they lurk round corners. And what a lot of them there
are, to break one's shins over!"

"They all come back to one in the end, I think," said Mrs. Lenoir,
smiling. She was glad to hear Winnie's philosophizing. It was a fair
proof that neither here was there a broken heart, though there might be
some disappointment and vexation. "I was very hurt at first," she went
on, "and it made me rude to the General. It's no use being hurt or
angry, Winnie. We bring it on ourselves, if we choose to go our own way.
Whether it's worth taking the consequences--that's for each of us to
decide."

"Worth it a thousand times in my case," said Winnie. "All the same I
didn't in the least understand what it would be like. Only--now I do
understand--I'm going to face it. Fancy if I'd had fewer scruples, and
effected a furtive entrance into the regiment! What mightn't have
happened?"

Three days had elapsed from the date of Winnie's confession to the
Major; they had changed the relative attitudes of the two women. Mrs.
Lenoir had got over her disappointment and returned to her usual
philosophy, her habitual recognition of things as they were, her
understanding that with men their profession and their affairs must come
first. Winnie had hardened towards her late suitor. Ready to be rejected
on her own account, she could not bring herself to accept rejection on
account of the regiment with meekness. After the great things she had
defied, the regiment seemed a puny antagonist. All the same, little
thing as it was, a mere dwarf of an institution compared with her other
giant antagonists, it, not they, now vanquished her; it, not they, now
held Bertie Merriam back.

It must be confessed that she behaved rather maliciously during the days
when the two officers were waiting for their ship. An exaggerated
interest in the affairs of the regiment, an apparently ingenuous
admiration of the wonderful _esprit de corps_ of the British service,
earnest inquiries as to the means by which the newly promoted Commanding
Officer hoped to maintain a high moral tone among his subalterns--these
were the topics with which she beguiled the hours of lunch and dinner.
The Major wriggled, the General looked grave and pained; Mrs. Lenoir
affected to notice nothing, for she saw that her young friend was for
the moment out of hand and only too ready to quarrel with them all. For
the rest, Miss Wilson--whose artificial existence was to end when she
got on the steamer for Genoa--flirted with the Anstruther boys and lost
her money gambling.

So time went on till the eve of the departure of father and son. At
dinner that night Winnie was still waywardly gay and gaily malicious;
when the meal was over she ran off into the garden, and hid herself in a
secret nook. The Anstruther boys sought her in vain, and discontentedly
repaired to the casino. But there was a more persistent seeker.

She was roused from some not very happy meditations by finding Bertie
Merriam standing opposite to her. He did not apologize for his intrusion
nor, on the other hand, ask leave to sit by her; he stood there, looking
gravely at her.

"Why do you take a pleasure in making me unhappy?" he asked. "Why do you
try to make me look ridiculous, and feel as if I'd done something
ungentlemanly? I'm not ridiculous, and I'm not aware of having done
anything ungentlemanly. The subject is a very difficult one for me even
to touch on with you; but I'm acting from honest motives and on an
honest conviction."

Winnie looked up in a moody hostility. "Whenever I've acted from honest
motives and on honest convictions, people have all combined to make me
unhappy, Major Merriam."

"I'm sincerely, deeply sorry for that, and I don't defend it. Still, the
cases are not the same."

"Why aren't they?"

"Because you wanted to do what you did. No doubt you were convinced you
had the right, but you wanted to, besides. Now I don't want to do what
I'm doing. That's the difference. I want it less and less every hour I
spend with you--in spite of your being so disagreeable." He smiled a
little over the last words.

Winnie looked at him in curiosity. What was he going to say?

"You're not consistent. You say you like people to act up to their
convictions; you feel wronged when people blame you for acting up to
your convictions. Yet you punish me for acting up to mine. Will you let
me put the thing before you frankly--since we're to part, probably for
good, to-morrow?"

"Yes, you can say what you like--since we're to part to-morrow."

"Mine isn't the absurd idea you think it is, and I'm not the grandmother
you try to make me out. I'm going to be called on to serve the King in a
position of great responsibility, where my example and my standards will
affect many lives. I must be true to my responsibilities as I see them.
If I did what my feelings incline me to do--pray believe that I assume
nothing as to yours--I shouldn't be true to them. Because in the
regiment you wouldn't be understood--neither your position nor your
convictions. What do most officers' wives, and what do most young men in
the army, know about the sort of society or the sort of speculations
which produce convictions like yours? They would neither understand nor
appreciate them. And if they didn't--well, what opinion must they hold
about you? And what effect would that opinion have? I don't speak of
your position--that would be for you to consider--but what effect would
it have on my position and my influence?"

"They'd just put me down as an ordinary--an ordinary bad woman?"

"Let's say the ordinary case of a woman who has made a scandal. Because
I agree with you in thinking that such a woman needn't be a bad woman.
But even when she's not bad, she may in certain positions be injurious
to the commonwealth--and a regiment's a commonwealth. I'm not clever, as
my brother is. I'm not likely ever to get a bigger job than this. It'll
be the most important trust I shall get, I expect. I want to be loyal to
it. I'm being loyal to it at a great cost to me--yes, a great cost now.
And you try to make me look ridiculous! Well, let that pass. Only,
feeling as I do, I want to put myself right in your eyes, before we say
good-bye."

"I'm sorry I tried to make you look ridiculous. Is that enough, Major
Merriam?"

"It's something," he smiled. "But couldn't you go so far as not to think
me ridiculous?"

"Have I got to think the officers' wives and the subalterns not
ridiculous too?"

"I can leave that to your later reflections. They're not going to part
from you to-morrow, and they don't care so much about your good
opinion."

"No, I don't think you ridiculous any more." She spoke now slowly and
thoughtfully. "I didn't understand. I see better what you mean and feel
now. Only understanding other people doesn't make the world seem any
easier! But I think I do understand. The King pays you for your life,
and you're bound to give it, not only in war, if that's required of you,
but in peace too--is it something like that?"

"Yes, that's the sort of thing it is. Thank you."

"And you mustn't do anything that makes the life he's bought less
valuable to him either in war or peace?"

"Yes, that's it too." He smiled at her more happily now and in a great
kindness.

"In fact, you've sold yourself right out and quite irrevocably?"

"Ah, well, that's not quite the way I should put it. We Merriams have
always done it."

"Hereditary slaves!" smiled Winnie. "It's really rather like marriage,
as Cyril conceived it. You mustn't have another wife. The regiment's
yours. It would be bigamy!"

"Charming people can talk great nonsense," the Major made bold to
observe. He was rather chilled again.

"We're veering round in this discussion. Now you're making out that I'm
ridiculous!"

He made a gesture of protest. Winnie laughed. "Six days ago I didn't
care particularly about you, but I should have married you if you'd
asked me."

"So you told me why I'd better not ask you? Yes?"

"Now I like you very particularly, but nothing on earth would induce me
to marry you," said Winnie. She shot a quick glance of raillery at him.
"So, if you're struggling, you needn't struggle."

"I am struggling rather, Winnie."

"To-morrow ends it."

"Yes, but what's going to happen to you?"

"That's become rather more difficult to answer than it used to be." She
rose from her chair. "But now I'm going in, to beg the General's pardon
for having been so naughty."

She stood there before him, slim, almost vague, in the soft darkness.
Her black gown was a darker spot on the gloom; her face and shoulders
gleamed white, her brows and the line of her red lips seemed black, and
black, too, the eyes with which she regarded him, half-loving, still
half-ridiculing, from across the gulf that parted them. He made a quick
impulsive step towards her, putting out his arms. It seemed to him that
hers came out to meet them; at least she did not retreat. With a sigh
and a shiver she yielded herself to his embrace. "I'm half sorry it's
so utterly impossible all round," she whispered.

After his passionate kiss the man let her go and drew back. "Now I'm
thoroughly ashamed of myself," he said.

"Oh, my dear, you needn't be. Here we are, two small puzzled things,
together on this beautiful night for just a little while, and then a
long way from one another for ever! And we've done nothing very
dreadful. Just what you like in me has kissed me, and just what I like
in you has kissed you, and wished you God-speed, and been sorry for the
trouble I've made, and told you how much I hope for you and your dear
regiment. I'm glad you did it, and I'm glad I did it. Surely it makes us
friends for always that our lips have met like that?"

"I'll give it all up if you ask me, Winnie."

"No, no. I've been learning to think how one will feel about things
to-morrow. Forget you said that. You don't really mean it."

He stood silent for a moment. "No, I didn't really mean it. I beg your
pardon."

"I bear you no malice. I liked you to think it for just a minute. It's
all over." She smiled reassuringly. "But I shall remember--and like to
remember. Everything of me won't leave you, nor everything of you leave
me now, to-morrow--not absolutely everything. Well, it never does, with
people you've met intimately, I think. But what you leave to me is all
good. I was getting hard. This glimpse of you as you really are has
stopped it. Dear friend, kiss me once again, and so good-bye."

Very gently now he kissed her lips again--for it was her lips she gave
him in a perfect confidence.

"Let's go in now," said Winnie, putting her arm through his.

They sauntered slowly through the fragrant garden. The night was still;
no envious wind disturbed the island's rest. Merriam, deeply moved, but
now master of himself, did not speak, but once or twice gently pressed
the hand that lay on his arm. With Winnie there was a sense of sadness,
yet also of peace. She had made a friend, and now was to lose him--yet
not wholly. And, in winning him, she had won back herself also, and had
done with the Miss Wilson who had been flouting and flirting these last
few days, with intentions none too kind and manners none too good; she
was again trying to understand, to be fair, to strike a true balance
between herself and other people.

"You're very different from the others," she said suddenly; "but,
somehow, you're helping me to be more just to them too." She gave a
little sigh. "But justice is most awfully difficult. It's really much
more comfortable to believe that there's absolutely nothing to be said
for people. You believe that about a lot of people, don't you? You'd
believe it about my friend Dick Dennehy, I expect, who wants to have
Ireland independent, and to destroy the monarchy, and put down the army
and navy, and all that sort of thing. Yet he's one of the greatest
gentlemen."

"Then I'd hang him, but I'd shake hands with him first," said the Major.

"Rather like what he's done to me!" thought Winnie to herself; but
Merriam did not read the meaning of the glance, the smile, and the
gentle pressure on his arm.

"But he's got his regiment too!" she went on. Then, glancing up at her
companion, she saw that he was not heeding her words, and the rest of
her meditation over the parallel was conducted in silence.

The General was not to be found that night--he had retreated to his own
quarters in the annex. Winnie said her farewell to him on the balcony
after breakfast the next morning, as they stood and looked at the big
hull of the liner in the roadstead; she was to start in a couple of
hours' time.

"Have you forgiven me, General? Will you say good-bye to me? I said
good-bye to your son last night."

"He'll be gone before you get back to England. He told me something
about last night. You're friends, he and you, now? And, of course, my
dear, you and I. And we shall meet."

The ship sent out a warning hoot. "Come on, if you're coming," she
seemed to say.

"But he and I shan't meet. I'm so glad we have met--just for an hour
once."

The funny little man, 'Dolly,' fussed on to the balcony, monstrously
encumbered with impedimenta--a rug, a 'nest' of wicker baskets, a cap
and a pair of shoes of the country, a huge bunch of bananas, and a
specimen of sugar cane. The ship hooted again, and he made a hurried
rush up to Winnie.

"Good-bye, Miss Wilson, good-bye," he said, dropping half a dozen things
on the floor in order to give her a handshake. "I've got something for
everybody, I think. I won--yes, I won--last night, and I went down to
the town early and bought these presents."

"How fine! Good-bye, Mr. Wigram. Tell all the truth you can, won't you?"

He put his head on one side, in a comical seriousness. "I've been
thinking--since I talked to you, Miss Wilson--that my senior class could
stand a little." Another hoot! "Oh, good-bye!" he exclaimed, in an
extraordinary fluster, as he picked up the things he had dropped, and
made a bolt for the stairs. Winnie watched him running down the steps
that led through the garden to the landing-stage.

"I think the senior class can stand a little, don't you, General?"

"You're over-young to be in it, my dear."

She turned to him. "I'm not unhappy, and I don't reckon myself
unfortunate, because I think that, to some extent at least, I can learn.
The only really unhappy people are people who can't learn at all, I
think. Fancy going through it all and learning absolutely nothing!"

A longer, more insistent hoot! Bertie Merriam sauntered on to the
balcony. No observer would have guessed that the hoot meant anything to
him or that he had any farewell to make. The General held out his hand
to Winnie. "I'll take the steps gently--Bertie can overtake me. _Au
revoir_, Miss Winnie, in London!"

Bertie Merriam came to her. "You slept well?" he asked.

"Oh yes. Why not? I was so at peace. Say nothing this morning. We said
good-bye last night."

"Yes, I know, but----" He was obviously embarrassed. "But I want to ask
you one thing. It'll seem jolly absurd, I know, and rather conceited."

"Will it?" asked Winnie, with bright eyes glistening.

"Well, if there should be any little row in India--I know people at home
don't take much notice of them--any little expedition or anything of
that kind, could you keep your eye on it? Because we might have the luck
to be in it, and I should like you to know how the regiment shows up."

"If you've the luck to be getting killed, I'll read about it," said
Winnie. She smiled with trembling lips. "It's really the least I can do
for a friend, Major Merriam."

"Killed? Oh, rot! Just see first how near to full strength we turn
out--that's my great test--and then, if you read of any other fellows
showing us the way, you might let me know, and I'll inquire about
it--because we don't reckon to let it happen very often. Hullo, that
whistle really sounds as if she meant business!" He gripped her hand
tightly and looked into her eyes. "Here's the end, Winnie!"

"I wouldn't have had it not happen; would you?"

"I shall often wonder if I did right."

She smiled. "You needn't. What you did would have made no
difference--only you'd have been a little less loyal to your duty."

"I wish I knew what was going to become of you."

"I'm not afraid any more. God bless you, dear."

He waited one moment longer. "You've no grudge against me?"

Winnie turned sharply away, and leant over the balcony. "Oh, please,
please!" she stammered.

When she saw him again, he was half-way down to the landing-stage. He
turned, waved his hand, and so passed out of sight--and out of life for
Winnie Maxon.



CHAPTER XXV

"PERHAPS!"


"Good gracious!" exclaimed Mrs. Ladd, laying down her knife and fork.

From her table in the dining-room of the Hôtel de la Grande Bretagne at
Bellaggio, she commanded a view of the door, and could scrutinize her
fellow-guests as they entered. The hotel was full of fresh birds of
passage every evening, for the end of the season was approaching, and
all the world was travelling through on its way northwards. A lady of
lively curiosity, possessed, moreover, by that sense of superiority over
the casual visitor which a long stay in a hotel always gives, Mrs. Ladd
allowed few of the new-comers to escape without comment or criticism.
Lady Rosaline, whose back was towards the door, often felt compelled to
twist her head round, in order to estimate for herself the justice of
her companion's remarks; but on this occasion she merely asked, "What's
the matter, dear?"

"Why, that woman who's just come in!" Her voice was full of pleasurable
excitement. "It's Cyril Maxon's wife. Who is it with her, I wonder!"
Mrs. Ladd was not acquainted personally, or even by hearsay, with Mrs.
Lenoir.

Lady Rosaline's head went round, not quickly or eagerly, but with a
well-bred show of indifference. She watched Winnie walking down the
room. "Did she see us?" she asked of Mrs. Ladd.

"No, she didn't look this way. What shall we do, Rosaline? It's very
awkward." Awkward as it was, Mrs. Ladd sounded more puzzled than pained.

"I only knew her very slightly--three or four quite formal calls--in the
old days."

"Oh, I used to see her now and then, though it was her husband who was
my friend, of course."

"Well, then, I think we can do as we like."

"I don't know. As friends of his--well, what's the right thing towards
him?"

"I don't mind what's the right thing--towards Mr. Maxon," said Lady
Rosaline pettishly. "It won't hurt him if we're civil to her. I shall
please myself. I shan't go out of my way to look for her, but if we meet
I shall bow."

"Oh, well, I must do the same as you, of course. Only I must say I hope
Cyril won't hear about it and be hurt. He always expects his friends to
make his quarrels theirs, you know!"

Lady Rosaline allowed herself a shrug of the shoulders; she was not
bound to please Cyril Maxon--not yet. The friendly correspondence was
still going on, but things looked as if it would either cease or assume
a different complexion before long. She had a letter upstairs in her
writing-case at this moment--an unanswered letter--in which he informed
her that the last tie between Winnie and himself would be severed in a
few weeks, and asked leave to join her at Bellaggio, or wherever else
she was going to be, for two or three days during the Whitsuntide
vacation.

"Then there will be nothing to prevent our arriving at a complete
understanding," he added.

Lady Rosaline knew what that meant. She must make up her mind. Unless
she could make it up in the manner desired by Mr. Maxon, she did not
think that they had better meet in the Whitsuntide vacation; he would
not be an agreeable companion if his wishes were thwarted. Even now,
while he was still in hope and had every motive to be as pleasant as he
could, there ran through the friendly letter a strain of resentment
imperfectly repressed.

Under these circumstances, with this decision of hers to make, it was
not strange that Lady Rosaline should be interested by the chance which
threw across her path the woman who had been--and technically still was,
for a little while longer--Cyril Maxon's wife. Mrs. Ladd, who guessed
her friend's situation pretty shrewdly, was hardly less curious, though
more restrained by her loyalty to Cyril. Still she was glad that Lady
Rosaline had determined that they need not cut Mrs. Maxon. That she was
'Mrs. Maxon'--'Mrs. Winifred Maxon'--became apparent from an examination
of the visitors' book, which Mrs. Ladd initiated directly after dinner.
Winnie was sailing under her own flag again, and proposed to continue to
fly it, unless Cyril Maxon objected. If he heard of it, he probably
would object; then she could find another sobriquet if Mrs. Lenoir was
still obdurate as regards the ''kins' which disfigured her own maiden
name of 'Wilkins.'

"And the woman with her seems to be a Mrs. Lenoir. At least, their names
are next one another, and so are their rooms. Did you ever hear of her?"

"Never," answered Lady Rosaline. It was just as well; they had plenty of
material for gossip already.

They were sitting in the hall of the hotel, where wicker chairs and
little tables were set out, and where it was customary to take coffee
after dinner. Mrs. Ladd had made her inspection and rejoined her friend.

"Have they come out from dinner yet?" she asked.

"No. They were late in beginning, you see. Where we're sitting, they
needn't pass us when they do come out. Well, we don't want to make a
rush for them, do we, Mrs. Ladd?"

"Indeed, no. I shall only speak if it's forced on me--just not to be
unkind, Rosaline. But I do wish they'd come out!"

At last the new-comers entered the hall, Mrs. Lenoir leading the way.
She looked handsome still, but rather old and haggard. By bad luck the
voyage had been stormy the last two days, and the railway journey had
wearied a body not very robust. But Winnie looked well, bright, and
alert. They did not pass Mrs. Ladd and Lady Rosaline, but sat down at a
table near the dining-room door. As they sat, their profiles were
presented to the gaze of the two ladies who were observing them so
closely.

"The other woman must have been very handsome once," Mrs. Ladd
pronounced. "I wonder who she was!" Mrs. Lenoir's air of past greatness
often caused people to speak of her in a corresponding tense.

"Winnie Maxon's looking well, too. I think she's somehow changed; don't
you, Mrs. Ladd? There's a new air about her, it seems to me--a sort of
assured air she hadn't before."

"My dear, she must carry it off! That's the meaning of it."

"I wonder!" Lady Rosaline was not satisfied. Her memory of Winnie,
slight as it was, reminded her quite definitely that Cyril Maxon's wife
possessed a rather timid air, a deprecatory manner. The woman over there
was in no way self-assertive or 'loud,' but she seemed entirely
self-possessed and self-reliant, and was talking in an animated fashion.
Mrs. Ladd looked again.

"Cyril said she accused him of tyrannizing over her. I'm sure she
doesn't look as if she'd been tyrannized over," she remarked. "All
nonsense, I've no doubt."

Lady Rosaline made no answer; she merely went on looking. But she could
not forget that many months had passed since Winnie ended her married
life with Cyril Maxon.

No encounter between the two couples occurred that night; indeed Mrs.
Lenoir and Winnie remained unconscious of the scrutiny to which they
were subjected, and of the presence of the ladies who were conducting
it. Wearied by travel they went early to bed, and Mrs. Ladd, feeling
immediately very dull, went and hunted out an elderly novel from the
drawing-room shelves. Lady Rosaline did not read; she sat on idly in the
hall--thinking still of Winnie, and of Mrs. Ladd's remark which she
herself had not answered. Should she--could she--question the one person
who might give it a pertinent answer? Could even she answer to any
purpose? That is, would Winnie's experience and opinion be any guide to
Lady Rosaline in settling her own problem? Perhaps it would be strange
to question, and perhaps no answer, useless or useful, would be
forthcoming. Yet, on the other hand, it might be possible to get some
light. These thoughts engrossed her mind till she went discontentedly to
bed, and, even after she had got into bed, remained to vex and puzzle
her still. But there was really no doubt what, in the end, she would do.
She was bound to try. Both curiosity and personal interest drove her on.
They were too strong to be suppressed, either by the fear of a snub or
by the doubt of useful results.

The next morning, directly after breakfast, she went out on to the broad
terrace in front of the hotel, and sat down on a bench close by the main
doorway. No one could leave the house without her seeing. She reckoned
on the new-comers being early afoot, to explore their surroundings; she
even surmised that the young woman would very likely be out before her
elderly companion--and that (said Lady Rosaline's secret thoughts) would
afford the best chance of all. She put up her parasol and waited. She
was safe from Mrs. Ladd, whom she did not want at that moment, for Mrs.
Ladd was upstairs, repairing some ravages suffered by one of her gowns.

"It's a funny situation!" So Lady Rosaline reflected, and she wondered,
in a whimsical mood of speculation, what Cyril Maxon himself would think
of it. "What I really want to do is to ask for his character from his
last place!" Yes, that was what it came to; and the parallel held good
still further, in that it was quite likely that the character would not
tell her very much, would not show whether the applicant were likely to
suit her, however well or ill he had suited in his previous situation.
Still, it must surely reveal something about him or about his wife
herself; even knowledge about the wife who had left Maxon would be, in a
way, knowledge about Maxon himself. But it was an odd situation. What
would Cyril think of it?

A surprising number of people came out of that doorway before Winnie;
but in the end Lady Rosaline's forecast was justified. Winnie did come
out, and she came out alone. She wore her hat, carried a parasol, and
walked with a quick step, as though she were bound on an expedition.
Lady Rosaline rose from her chair, and intercepted her.

"I thought it was you last night, at table d'hôte, and now I'm sure! How
do you do, Mrs. Maxon? You remember me--Rosaline Deering?" She held out
her hand. "I'm so glad to see you."

Winnie shook hands. "Yes, I remember you, Lady Rosaline, and I'm glad
to see you--if you're glad to see me, I mean, you know." She smiled.
"Well, you needn't have shaken hands with me if you hadn't wanted to,
need you? Isn't it lovely here?"

"It is, indeed. Mrs. Ladd--you remember her too, of course?--and I have
been here together for nearly a month, and hope to be here another
fortnight. Are you staying long?"

"We hoped to, but my friend isn't very well--she's staying in bed this
morning--and I'm afraid she's set her mind on getting home. So we might
be off really at any moment."

Clearly Lady Rosaline had no time to lose. "Are you going for a walk?"
she said.

"Oh, I'm just going to saunter through the town and look about me."

"May I come with you?"

"Of course! It'll be very kind." There was just the faintest note of
surprise in Winnie's voice. Her acquaintance with her husband's friend,
Rosaline Deering, had been very slight; it had never reached the pitch
of cordiality on which it seemed now, rather paradoxically, to be
establishing itself.

Off they went together--certainly a strange sight for Cyril Maxon, had
his eyes beheld it! But even eager Lady Rosaline could not plunge into
her questions at once, and Winnie, full of the new delight of Italy, was
intent on the sights of the little town, and on the beauty of the lake
and the hills. It was not till they had come back and sat down on a seat
facing the water that the talk came anywhere near the point. Yet the
walk had not been wasted; they had got on well together, the cordiality
was firmly established--and Lady Rosaline had enjoyed an opportunity of
observing more closely what manner of woman Cyril Maxon's wife was. The
old impression of the timid air and deprecatory manner needed drastic
revision to bring it up to date; these were not words that anybody would
use to describe the present Winnie Maxon.

Still Lady Rosaline found it hard to begin, hard to make any reference,
however guarded, to the past. In fact it was Winnie herself who in the
end gave the lead. Lady Rosaline was thankful; she had begun to be
afraid that a nervous desperation would drive her into some impossibly
crude question, such as "Do you think I should be a fool if I married
your husband?"

"I suppose you see Cyril sometimes, Lady Rosaline? Is he all right?"

"Oh yes, he's very much all right, I think, and I see him pretty often,
for so busy and sought-after a man." She decided that she must risk
something if she were to gain anything. "Isn't it rather a strange
feeling, after having been so very much to one another, to be so
absolutely apart now? I hope you'll tell me if you'd rather not talk?"

"I don't mind," smiled Winnie. "It's a great change, of course, but
really I don't often think of him--nor he of me, I expect." She added,
with a little laugh: "At least I hope he doesn't, because he wouldn't
think anything complimentary. Of course I was surprised about the
divorce."

"We were all rather surprised at that," Lady Rosaline murmured
discreetly; her object was to obtain, not to give, information.

"It's the one inconsistent thing I've ever known him do." She laughed.
"I wonder if it's possible that he's fallen in love with somebody else!"

Lady Rosaline threw no light. "Oh, well, he wouldn't have to ask in
vain, I should think."

Winnie said nothing. She looked at the sea with a smile which her
companion felt justified in calling inscrutable. Lady Rosaline took
another risk.

"So much the worse for the woman, you'd say, I suppose?"

"I don't want to say anything. What I felt seems pretty well indicated
by what I did, doesn't it, Lady Rosaline? Because I wasn't in love with
anybody else then, you know."

No, what she felt was not sufficiently indicated for Lady Rosaline's
purposes. What Winnie had done showed that, to her, life with Cyril was
impossible; but it did not show why. Just the point essential to Lady
Rosaline was omitted.

"I should think some women might get on very well with him, though?" she
hazarded.

Winnie gazed over the lake; she appeared to ruminate. Then she turned to
her companion, smiling.

"Perhaps!" she said. "And now I really must go and see how Mrs.
Lenoir--my friend--is. I hope we shall have another talk before we go--I
don't mean about Cyril!"

Lady Rosaline watched her erect figure and her buoyant step as she
walked back to the hotel, recalled her gaiety and the merriment of her
smile as she enjoyed lake, mountains, and the little town, caught again
the elusive twinkle of her eyes as she referred to the one inconsistent
thing that Cyril Maxon had ever done. And that 'Perhaps!'--that most
unsatisfactory, tantalizing 'Perhaps!' Was it a genuine assent, or
merely a civil dismissal of the question, as one of no moment to the
person interrogated? Or was it in effect a dissent--a reception of the
suggestion profoundly sceptical, almost scornful? Probably a different
woman could--possibly some woman might--no woman conceivably
could--that 'Perhaps!' seemed susceptible of any of the three
interpretations. Lady Rosaline made impotent clutches at the slippery
word; it gave her no hand-hold; it was not to be tackled.

It was no use consulting Mrs. Ladd; she had not heard the elusive
answer. Could Lady Rosaline unbosom herself plainly to Mrs. Maxon? That
was her secret and urgent instinct, but, somehow, it did not seem an
admissible thing to do; it was bizarre, and distasteful to her feelings.
Yet before long she must answer Cyril's letter. To allow him to come and
meet her would be tantamount to an acceptance. To refuse to allow him
would be, at least, such a postponement as he would bitterly resent and
probably decline to agree to; he would either take it as a definite
rejection, or he would come without leave--and 'bully' her again? She
could hide herself--but could she? Mrs. Ladd would want to know why, and
laugh at her--and not improbably put Cyril on the track. Lady Rosaline
felt herself wrapped in perplexity as in a garment.

"Bother the man!" she suddenly said to herself aloud. Then she started
violently. A tall, handsome, elderly lady, carrying a parasol, a large
cushion, and a book, was absolutely at her elbow. She recognized
Winnie's companion, Mrs. Lenoir.

"I'm afraid I startled you? May I sit down here? Winnie Maxon told me
who you were, and you've been talking to her, haven't you?" Mrs.
Lenoir's amused expression left no doubt that she was aware of the
subject of the conversation. "Oh, she only just mentioned that you were
a friend of Mr. Maxon's," she added. "She didn't betray your
confidences."

"I really don't think I made any," smiled Lady Rosaline. "But Mr. Maxon
is a friend of mine. Oh, do let me settle that cushion comfortably for
you. You're not feeling very well this morning, Mrs. Maxon told me."

"I feel better now," said Mrs. Lenoir, graciously accepting the
proffered service. "And the day's so beautiful that I thought I'd come
out. But I didn't mean to make you jump, Lady Rosaline."

She gave a sigh of contentment as she achieved a satisfactory position
in regard to the cushion. "I don't know Mr. Maxon myself," she remarked.

"I like him very much."

"Yes?" She was just as non-committal as Winnie had been with her
'Perhaps!'

"Of course, you've heard her side of the story."

"I have," said Mrs. Lenoir. "Or as much of it as she'd tell me."

Lady Rosaline determined to try what a little provocation would do.

"Of course, we who are his friends think that all might have gone well
with a little more wisdom on her part."

Mrs. Lenoir raised her brows ever so slightly. "Oh, perhaps!" she
murmured gently.

It was really exasperating! To be baffled at every turn by that wretched
word, with its pretence of conceding that was no real concession, with
its feigned assent which might so likely cloak an obstinate dissent! It
was like listening for an expected sound from another room--the noise of
voices or of movements--and finding, instead, absolute silence and
stillness; there was something of the same uncanny effect. Lady Rosaline
passed from mere perplexity into a vague discomfort--an apprehension of
possibilities which she was refused the means of gauging, however
vitally they might affect her. Dare she walk into that strangely silent
room--and let them bolt and bar the door on her?

"After all, it's not our business," Mrs. Lenoir remarked, with a smile.
"Winnie couldn't stand it, but, as you say, perhaps a wiser woman----"

"Couldn't stand what?" Lady Rosaline broke in impatiently.

"Oh, Cyril Maxon, you know."

Not a step in advance! Silence still! Lady Rosaline, frowning fretfully,
rose to her feet. Mrs. Lenoir looked up, smiling again. She was not sure
of the case, but she was putting two and two together, helped by the
exclamation which she had involuntarily overheard. In any case, she had
no mind to interfere. This woman was Cyril Maxon's friend, not Winnie's.
Mrs. Lenoir instinctively associated the husband's women-friends with
the wife's hardships. Let this friend of Maxon's fend for herself!

"But, of course, one woman's poison may be another woman's meat. Are you
going in?"

"Yes, I think so. The sun's rather hot."

"Oh, I'm a salamander! Good-bye, then, for the present, Lady Rosaline."

Lady Rosaline had come from abroad for a breathing space, to take stock
of the situation, to make up her mind about Cyril Maxon. It had not
proved easy, and her encounter with these two women made it harder
still. The perplexity irked her sorely. She bore a grudge against the
two for their baffling reticence; insensibly the grudge extended itself
to the man who was the ultimate cause of her disquiet. He was spoiling
her holiday for her. "I shall fret myself into a fever!" she declared,
as she wandered disconsolately up to her bedroom, to make herself tidy
for _déjeuner_.

On her dressing-table lay a letter--from Venice. She had not forgotten
her promise to send an address to the Hôtel Danieli. Now Sir Axel
Thrapston informed her that he was starting for home in a couple of
days' time, and would make it convenient--and consider it delightful--to
pass through Bellaggio on his way; would she still be there, and put up
with his company for a day or two? "Pictures and churches and gondolas
are all very well; but I shall like a gossip with a friend better
still," wrote Sir Axel.

As she read, Lady Rosaline was conscious of a relief as vague as her
discomfort had been, and yet as great. The atmosphere about her seemed
suddenly changed and lightened. Almost with a start she recalled how she
had experienced a similar feeling when Cyril Maxon had gone and Sir Axel
had come that afternoon in Hans Place. The feeling was not of
excitement, nor even primarily of pleasure; it was of rest, instead of
struggle--of security, as against some unascertained but possibly
enormous liability. And it was present in her in even stronger force
than it had been before, because of those two women and their baffling
slippery 'Perhaps!' As she took off her hat and arranged her hair before
going downstairs, the import of this vague change of feeling began to
take shape in her mind. Slowly it grew to definiteness. Lady Rosaline
was making up her mind at last! The possibilities lurking in the
darkness of that 'Perhaps!' were too much for her. "If I feel like this
about it, how can I dare to do it?" was the shape her thoughts took.
Yet, even if she dared not do it, there was trouble before her. Cyril
Maxon would not sit down tamely under that decision. He would protest,
he would persist, he might 'bully' her again; he might seek her even
though she forbade him, and, if he found her, she was not quite
confident of her power to resist.

A smile came slowly to her lips as she looked at herself in the
pier-glass and put the finishing touches to her array. It would be
pleasant to have Sir Axel's company; it might even be agreeable to
travel home under Sir Axel's escort, if that gentleman's leisure
allowed. Lady Rosaline's thoughts embraced the idea of Sir Axel as an
ally, perhaps envisaged him as a shield. Possibly they went so far as to
hazard the suggestion that a man who will not bow before a decision may
be confronted with a situation which he cannot but accept. At any rate,
when she went downstairs to the dining-room, Lady Rosaline's fretful
frown had disappeared; passing Mrs. Lenoir and Winnie in the doorway,
she smiled at them with no trace of grudge. "I'm glad I met them now,"
was her reflection. She forgave 'Perhaps!'



CHAPTER XXVI

A FRIEND DEPARTS


Mrs. Lenoir and Winnie stayed at Bellaggio four or five days, during
which time their acquaintance with the other two ladies blossomed into
more intimate cordiality. Yet neither of the two who knew the position,
nor yet the one who confidently suspected it, thought it well to suggest
to Winnie the existence of any special situation or any urgent question
in which Lady Rosaline and Cyril Maxon were concerned. Such a disclosure
would, it was felt by all three, lead to awkwardness. But when once the
two parties had said farewell, and Winnie and she were on their way
home, Mrs. Lenoir saw no reason against mentioning the conclusion at
which she had arrived, or against conjecturing what, if any, bearing on
the state of affairs the arrival of Sir Axel Thrapston might have; he
had reached Bellaggio the day before their own departure, and had been
received by Lady Rosaline with much graciousness.

Winnie had not stumbled on the truth for herself; indeed her mind had
been occupied with the thought of another man than Cyril Maxon. She
heard it from her friend without surprise, and was not unable to
appreciate Mrs. Lenoir's grimly humorous embroidering of the situation.
Yet her native and intimate feeling was one of protest against that way
of the world which, under the pressure of her various experiences, she
was beginning to recognize and to learn that she would have to accept.
On the day she left Cyril Maxon's house for good and all, she had
conceived herself to be leaving Cyril Maxon also for good and all, to be
putting him out of her life, away from and behind her, without the right
or power to demand one backward glance from her as she trod a path
conditioned, indeed, in one respect by his existence, but, for the
future, essentially independent of him. The course of events had hardly
justified this forecast. Freedom from the thought of him had not proved
possible; he did more than impose conditions; he still figured as rather
a determining factor in life and her outlook on it. She seemed to take
him with her where she went, so to say, and thus to bring him into
contact with all those with whom she had relations herself. Both in
small things and in great it happened--as, for example, in this queer
encounter with Rosaline Deering, and in the moving episode of her
acquaintance with Bertie Merriam, no less than in the earlier history of
the West Kensington studio. She had not succeeded in disassociating her
destiny from his, in severing to the last link the tie which had once so
closely bound her to him. Complete freedom, and the full sense of it,
might come in the future; for the moment her feeling was one of scorn
for the ignorant young woman who had thought that a big thing could so
easily be undone--robbed of effect and made as if it had never been. And
suppose that complete freedom, now possible in action to her, should
really come, and with it a corresponding inward emancipation; yet there
stood and would stand the effect on those other lives--effects great or
small, transitory or permanent, but in the mass amounting to a
considerable sum of human experience, owing its shape and colour in the
end to her own action.

Though she had not loved Bertie Merriam, their intercourse, his
revelation of himself, and the manner of their parting had deeply
affected her. For the first time she had seen the enemy, convention--the
established order, the proper thing--in a form which she could not only
understand, but with which she was obliged to sympathize. What had
seemed to her hard dogmatism in her husband and Attlebury, and a mere
caste-respectability, external, narrow, and cowardly, in the denizens of
Woburn Square, took on a new shape when it was embodied in the loyalty
of a soldier and found its expression, not in demands upon another, but
in the sacrifice of self to an obligation and an ideal. Liberty had been
her god, and she would not desert the shrine at which Shaylor's Patch
had taught her to worship; but Merriam had shown her, had brought home
to her through the penetrating appeal of vivid emotion, that there were
other deities worthy of offerings and noble worshippers who made them.
It was a great revulsion of feeling which drove her to declare that
Merriam could do no other than sacrifice his hope of her to his sworn
service and to the regiment.

In justifying, or more than justifying, himself, in some sort Merriam
pleaded for Cyril Maxon. Winnie held herself to a stricter account of
her dealings with her husband. When she understood why he had deviated
from his strict conviction, and how it was likely that the deviation
would be in vain, she was anxious to rid her soul of any sense of
responsibility. She recalled just what she had said, as near as she
could; she listened carefully to Mrs. Lenoir's account of her own
conversation with Lady Rosaline.

"Do you think that we influenced her--that we stopped her?" she asked.
"Because I wouldn't have done that on purpose."

"I certainly wouldn't have encouraged her on purpose. And, if you ask
me, I think that our attitude of--well, of reserve (Mrs. Lenoir was
smiling) will have its weight--combined, perhaps, with Sir Axel's
attractions."

"I'm sorry. If Cyril does want her, and it doesn't come off, he'll hate
me worse than ever."

"He won't guess you've had anything to do with it--supposing you have."

"No, but he'll trace the whole thing back to me, of course. He'll blame
me for having forced him into acting against his conscience."

"Tut, tut, he shouldn't have such a silly conscience," said Mrs. Lenoir
easily. To her, consciences were not things to be treated with an
exaggerated punctilio. "After all, if she'd asked you right out, what
would you have said?"

"I should have refused to say anything, of course."

"She probably thought as much, so she tried to pump you indirectly. I
think you seem to have been very moderate--and I'm sure I was. And, as
one woman towards another, you ought to be glad if Lady Rosaline does
prove quick at taking a hint. I shall be glad too, incidentally, because
I like her, and hope to see something of her in town--which I certainly
shouldn't do, if she became Lady Rosaline Maxon."

"Well, I had no idea how matters stood, and I said as little as I
could," Winnie ended, protesting against any new entry on the debit side
of her account with Cyril--a column about which she had not been wont
greatly to concern herself.

Winnie soon found distraction from curious probings of her conscience in
the care and tendance of her friend, in which she assisted the
invaluable Emily. As they travelled gradually homewards, Mrs. Lenoir
developed a severe and distressing cough, which made sleep very
difficult and reduced her none too great strength to dangerous weakness.
Yet home she would go, rejecting almost curtly any suggestion of a
return to a milder climate. She faced her position with a fatalistic
courage, and her attitude towards it was marked by her habitual
clearness of vision.

"If I'm going to die--and I rather think I am--I'd sooner die at home
than in a hotel."

"Oh, don't talk about dying!" Winnie implored. "What am I to do?" Indeed
she was now bound to her friend by a strong affection.

"Well, there's just you--and the General. But the General will die too
quite soon, and you'll go away anyhow. Oh yes, you'll have to, somehow;
it'll happen like that. There's nobody else who cares. And I don't know
that women like me do themselves any good by living to be old. I'm not
complaining; I chose my life and I've enjoyed it. Let me go home,
Winnie!"

The appeal could not be resisted, and the beginning of May found them at
home. A late cold spring filled Winnie with fears for her friend. Yet
Mrs. Lenoir neither would nor, as it now seemed, could make another
move. She lay on her sofa, her beautiful eyes steadily in front of her.
She moved and spoke little. She seemed just to be waiting. Often Winnie
wondered through what scenes of recollection, through what strains of
meditation, her mind was passing. But she preserved all that
defensiveness which her life had taught her--the power of saying nothing
about herself, of giving no opening either to praise or to blame, of
asking no outside support. Perhaps she talked to the General. He came
every day, and Winnie was at pains to leave them alone together. Towards
the rest of the world, including even Winnie, she was evidently minded
to maintain to the end her consistent reticence. Sickness puts a house
out of the traffic of the world; day followed day in a quiet isolation
and a sad tranquillity.

What had passed left its mark on Winnie's relations with the General. He
was, of course, courteous and more than that. He was uniformly kind,
even affectionate, and constituted himself her partner in all that could
be done or attempted for the patient whom they both loved. That link
between them held, and would hold till another power than theirs severed
it. But it was all that now kept them together; when it was gone, he
would be in effect a stranger to her. If she said to herself, with a
touch of bitterness, "He has lost all his interest in me," there was a
sense in which she spoke the truth. He had pictured her as coming into
the inner circle of his life, and had urgently desired the realization
of the picture. Now she was definitely relegated to the outskirts; she
was again just Mrs. Lenoir's young friend--with this change--that he
cherished a pathetically amiable grudge against her for the loss of the
picture. How much he knew of what had passed between herself and his son
on that last evening, she was not aware; but he knew the essence of it.
Though in charity he might refrain from censure, she had been an
occasion of sore distress to his best-beloved son. To her sensitive
mind, in spite of his kindness, there was a reserve in his bearing; he
now held their friendship to its limits. The love he had borne her was
wounded to death by the pain she had given him. She could imagine his
thoughts made articulate in the words, "You shan't have it in your power
to hurt mine and me again." She opened her eyes to the fact that she had
lost a good friend, in these days which menaced her, only too surely,
with the loss of a dear one. This chapter of her life seemed like to
come to its end--as other chapters had before.

One visitant from the outside world--the General seemed a part of the
household--made an appearance in the person of Mrs. Ladd. She came to
call on Mrs. Lenoir, unaware of her illness; it was one of the
patient's days of exhaustion, and Winnie had to entertain the good lady
and, after listening to her appropriate sympathy, to hear her news. She
had come back to England alone. Rosaline had gone to stay with friends
at Biarritz.

"I think she didn't want to come home just now," said Mrs. Ladd, with a
glance at Winnie which plainly fished for information.

"Mrs. Lenoir has told me a certain impression of hers, which I didn't
form for myself at Bellaggio," Winnie remarked. "Are you referring to
that, Mrs. Ladd?"

"Yes. Rosaline told me that you suspected nothing. But since it's all
settled, there's no harm in speaking of it now. Sir Axel is at Biarritz
too. I think they'll probably be married as they pass through Paris on
their way home."

"Oh, it's as settled as that, is it?" Winnie's speculations revived. How
much had she and Mrs. Lenoir between them contributed to the settlement?

"I think she's right to bring it to a point. It avoids all question."
Mrs. Ladd put her head on one side. "I've seen Mr. Maxon. Of course he
doesn't know that you've ever seen Rosaline since--since the old
days--much less that you had anything to do with it?"

"Had I? I never meant to have."

"Oh, I think so. Rosaline spoke vaguely, but I think something in your
manner--of course you couldn't help it, and you didn't know. And, as I
say, he has no notion of it."

"I'm glad. He'd be so angry with me, and I don't want him to be more
angry than he must."

"I don't think he's got any anger to spare for you. He never referred to
you. But her! Oh, my dear!" Mrs. Ladd's kindly old face assumed an
almost frightened expression. "Well, I just had to stop him. I told him
Rosaline was my friend, and that I wouldn't listen to it. He declared
that he had a promise from her, and that on the faith of it, and of it
alone, he--well, you know, don't you? Of course I said that there must
have been a complete misunderstanding, but he wouldn't have it. Really,
we all but quarrelled, if not quite."

How well Winnie knew! The domineering man, so sure both of his desires
and of his claims, so confident in his version of the facts, so
impervious to any other impression of them--from out the past the
picture of him rose complete.

"I knew, of course, that he liked his own way," said Mrs. Ladd. "But,
really, I was rather startled." She suddenly leant forward and patted
Winnie's hand. No words passed, but Winnie understood that Mrs. Ladd had
been, to some extent at least, revising a judgment, and wished her to
know it.

"He'll marry, though--mark my words! I know him, and I know something
about that sort of man. He'll marry in a twelvemonth, if it's only to
show Rosaline he can, and to hold up his end against Mr. Attlebury. I
told Mr. Attlebury so. 'He's taken his line, and he'll go through with
it,' I said, 'as soon as he finds a woman to help him.'"

"What did Mr. Attlebury say?"

"Nothing! He wouldn't talk about it. He just waved his hands in that way
he has. But you may take it from me that that's what will happen."

The prophecy, born of the old woman's amiable worldly wisdom, seemed
likely of fulfilment. There was nothing Cyril Maxon hated so much as
failure or the imputation of it, nothing he prized so dearly as proving
himself right, to which end it was ever necessary to refuse to admit
that he had been wrong. Winnie seemed to hear him grimly declaring
that, since he had taken his course, not Lady Rosaline, not a dozen
Attleburys, should turn him from it. He would follow it to the end, even
though he had little desire for it; antagonism was often to him stimulus
enough. Thus it was that he became an implacable enemy to the liberty of
those about him, warring with them if they asserted any independence,
tyrannizing if they submitted. Such people create resistance, as it were
out of a vacuum--even a wild and desperate resistance, which takes
little heed of what it may hurt or overthrow in its struggle against
domination. Venerable institutions, high ideals, personal loyalty may
have to pay the price. All go by the board when the limits of human
endurance are reached.

Had Winnie Maxon received a classical education--the absence of which
had not in her case proved a panacea against all forms of failure--she
might have found in wise old Mrs. Ladd a good embodiment of the Greek
Chorus--usually people with little business of their own (as would
appear for all that appears to the contrary) and bent on settling other
people's on lines safely traditional; yet with a salt of shrewdness, not
revolutionaries, but brave enough to be critics, admitting that
acceptance and submission present their difficulties--but you may go
further, and far worse by a great deal! Those limits of endurance must
be stretched as far as possible.

On the next day but one, the expected blow fell. Pneumonia
declared itself; the patient took the doctor's diagnosis as a
death-sentence--final, hardly unwelcome. Her nights were pain; day
brought relief, yet increasing weakness. Now the General could not
endure much of the sick-room; he came, but his visits were briefer.
Besides his grief for his friend, some distress was upon him--distress
still for her sake, perhaps also for the sake of others who had gone
before, even for himself, it may be. He knew so much more than Winnie
did. Infinitely tender to his dying friend, he said but one word to
Winnie. "When I suggest that she might see somebody, she only smiles."

Winnie understood the suggestion. "We must all of us settle that for
ourselves in the end, mustn't we? I think she seems happy--at least,
quite at peace."

He made a fretful gesture of protest. She had no right to be quite at
peace. He lived in the ideas in which he had been bred. If he had
offended a gentleman, let him apologize before it was too late.
Insensibly he applied the parallel from the seen world to the
unseen--as, indeed, he had been taught. His mind stuck in particular
categories of conduct; for some credit was to be given, for some
penalties had to be paid; it was a system of marks good and bad. Even in
the education of the young this is now held to be a disputable theory.

He thought that he had known very intimately his dear old friend who now
lay dying. He found that he knew her very little; he could not get close
to her mind at the end. For Winnie Maxon she had one more revelation.
Mrs. Lenoir would not 'see anybody'--she also detected the special
meaning, and, with a tired smile, repelled the suggestion--but in hints
and fragments she displayed to Winnie in what mood she was facing death.
Courageously--almost indifferently; the sun was set, and at night people
go to bed--tired people they are generally. She had not thought much of
responsibility, of a reckoning; she suffered or achieved none of the
resulting impulse to penitence; she even smiled again at the virtue of a
repentance become compulsory, because it was possible to sin no more.
"Some women I've known became terribly penitent at forty," she said to
Winnie. "I never knew one do it at twenty-five." Her attitude seemed to
say that she had been born such and such a creature, and, accordingly,
had done such and such things--and thus had lived till it became time
for the conditioned, hardly voluntary, life of the creature to end. On
the religious side it was pure negation, but on the worldly there was
something positive. As verily as the General, as Bertie Merriam himself,
she had 'played the game.' Her code was intact; her honour, as judged by
it, unsmirched. "I've been straight, Winnie," she said, in almost the
last conscious minute.

Then came oblivion; the soul was rid of its burden many hours before the
body was. She passed from the life in which she had been so great an
offender against the rules, had played so interesting a part, had done
so many kind things, had been such a good friend, even on occasion so
resolute a resister of temptation--and a woman not to be mentioned. As
Winnie wept over her and paid her the last offices of love--for she, at
least, had received the purest gold of unseeking love--her heart
suffered a mighty searching pang of tenderness. Old words, of old time
familiar, came back. "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was
thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in."
Such things had her dead friend done for her.

An exaltation and a confidence took hold on her after she had kissed the
cold brow. But outside the room stood the old General, sad, grey, heavy
of face. His voice was broken, his hands tremulous.

"I wish--I wish she'd have seen somebody, Winnie!"

Winnie threw herself into his arms, and looked up at him, her eyes
streaming with tears. "Dear General, she sees nothing or she sees God.
Why are we to be afraid?"



CHAPTER XXVII

A PHILOSOPHICAL PROJECT


Mrs. Lenoir did not, as the phrase runs, "do as much for" Winnie Maxon
as she had been prepared to do for the prospective Mrs. Bertie Merriam.
Perhaps because, though she had accepted the decision, her
disappointment over the issue persisted. Perhaps merely because, as
matters now stood, her bounty would not go in the end to benefit her old
friend's stock. After providing an annuity for her precious Emily, and
bequeathing a few personal relics to the General, she left to Winnie the
furniture of her flat and fifteen hundred pounds. The residue which was
at her disposition she gave--it may be with a parting kick at
respectability; it may be because she thought he would enjoy it most--to
her favourite, and the least meritorious, of the General's sons--the one
who went in for too much polo and private theatricals in India.

"There's no immediate need for you to hurry out of here," the General
added; he was the executor. "The rent must be paid till the summer
anyhow, and Clara told me that she wished you to stay till then if you
liked. I've no doubt Emily will stay with you."

"It was very kind of her, but I can't afford to live here long."

"Oh, well, just while you look about you, anyhow. And if there's
anything I can do for you, you won't hesitate to let me know, will
you?"

Winnie promised to call upon his services if she required them, but
again the feeling came over her that, however kind and obliging he might
be, the General did in his heart--even if unwillingly--regard their
connexion with one another as over. The bond which Mrs. Lenoir had made
was broken; that other and closer bond had never come into existence. It
would have been unjust to say that the General was washing his hands of
her. It was merely a recognition of facts to admit that fate--the course
of events--was performing the operation for him. They had no longer any
purchase on one another's lives, any common interest to unite them. His
only surviving concern now was in his three sons, and it had been
irrevocably decided that there Winnie was not to count.

The consciousness of this involuntary drifting apart from the old man
whom she liked and admired for his gentleness and his loyalty
intensified the loneliness with which Mrs. Lenoir's death afflicted
Winnie. She was in no better case now than when her friend had rescued
her from the empty studio and thereby seemed to open to her a new life.
The new life, too, was gone with the friend who had given it. Looking
back on her career since she had left Cyril Maxon's roof, she saw the
same thing happening again and again. She had made friends and lost
them; she had picked them up, walked with them to the next fork in the
road, and there parted company. "Is it mere chance, or something in me,
or something in my position?" she asked herself. A candid survey could
not refuse the conclusion that the position had contributed largely to
the result. The case of Godfrey Ledstone, the more trivial instance of
Bob Purnett, were there to prove it. The position had been a vital and
practically exclusive factor in bringing about her parting from Bertie
Merriam; she had an idea that its action was to be traced in the
continued absence and silence of Dick Dennehy. The same thing which had
parted her from her men-friends had forbidden her friendships with
women. She could, she felt, have made a friend of Amy Ledstone. To-day
she would have liked to make a friend of kindly shrewd old Mrs. Ladd;
but though Mrs. Ladd came to see her at the flat which had been Mrs.
Lenoir's, she received no invitation to Mrs. Ladd's house. The pressure
of public opinion, the feelings of Mr. Attlebury's congregation, the
'awkwardness' which would arise with Mrs. Ladd's old, if too exacting,
friend, Cyril Maxon, forbade. The one friendship which had proved able
to resist the disintegrating influence was ended now by death.

Well, great benefits cannot reasonably be expected for nothing. If she
was alone, she was also free--wonderfully free. And, of a certainty,
complete freedom can seldom be achieved save at the cost of a voluntary
or involuntary severing of ties. Must every one then be either a slave
or a solitary? She was not so soured as to accept that conclusion. She
knew that there was a way out--only she had not found it. The Aikenheads
had, down at Shaylor's Patch! Thither--to her old haven--her thoughts
turned longingly. While it stood, she did it injustice in calling
herself friendless. Yet to retire to that pleasant seclusion went
against pride; it seemed like a retreat, a confession that the world had
been too much for her, that she was beaten. She was not prepared to
acknowledge herself beaten--at least, not by the enemy in a fair square
fight. Her disasters were due to the defection of her allies. So she
insisted, as she sat long hours alone in the flat--ah, now so quiet
indeed!

Shaylor's Patch had not forgotten her. The Aikenheads did not attend
their friend Mrs. Lenoir's funeral--they had a theory antagonistic to
graveside gatherings, which was not totally lacking in plausibility--but
Stephen had written to her, promising to come and see her as soon as he
could get to town. He came there very seldom--Winnie, indeed, had never
met him in London--and it was above a fortnight before he made his
appearance at the flat. Delighted as Winnie was by his visit, her glad
welcome was almost smothered in amazement at his appearance. He wore the
full uniform of a man about town, all in the latest fashion, from the
curl of the brim of his silk hat to the exact cut of his coat-tails.
Save that his hair was a trifle long and full, he was a typical
Londoner, dressed for a ceremonial occasion. As it was, he would pass
well for a poet with social ambitions.

"Good gracious!" said Winnie, holding up her hands. "You got up like
that, Stephen!"

"Yes, I think I can hold my own in Piccadilly," said Stephen,
complacently regarding himself in the long gilt mirror. "I believe I
once told you I had atavistic streaks? This is one of them. I can
mention my opinions if I want to--and I generally do; but there's no
need for my coat and hat to go yelling them out in the street. That's my
view; of course it isn't in the least Tora's. She thinks me an awful
fool for doing it."

Winnie did not feel it necessary to settle this difficult point in the
philosophy of clothes--on which eminent men hold widely varying
opinions, as anybody who takes his walks abroad and keeps his eyes open
for the celebrities of the day will have no difficulty in observing.

"Well, at any rate, I think you look awfully nice--quite handsome! I
expect Tora's just afraid of your being too fascinating in your best
clothes."

He sat down with a laugh and looked across at her inquiringly. "Pretty
cheerful, Winnie?"

"Not so very particularly. I do feel her loss awfully, you know. I was
very fond of her, and it seems to leave me so adrift. I had an
anchorage here, but the anchor won't hold any more."

"Come and anchor at Shaylor's Patch. The anchor always holds there for
you."

Winnie both made her confession and produced her objection. "I can't
deny I've been thinking of you rather wistfully in these melancholy
days, but it seems like--like giving up."

"Not a bit of it. You can be absolutely in the thick of the fight there,
if you like." He looked across at her with his whimsical smile. "I'm
actually going to do something at last, Winnie. I'm about to start on my
life's work. I'm going to do a Synopsis of Social Philosophy."

"It sounds like a life's work," Winnie remarked. His society always
cheered her, and already her manner showed something of its normal
gaiety.

"Yes, it's a big job, but I'm a healthy man. You see, I shall take all
the great fellows from the earliest time down to to-day, and collect
from them everything that bears on the questions that we of to-day have
to face--not worrying about their metaphysics and that sort of stuff,
but taking what bears on the things we've really got to settle--the live
things, you know. See the idea? There'll be a section on Education, for
instance, one on Private Property, one on Marriage, one on Women and
Labour. I want it to reach the masses, so all the excerpts will be in
English. Then each section will have an appendix, in which I shall
collate the excerpts, and point out the main lines of agreement and
difference. Perhaps I shall add a few suggestions of my own."

"I think you very likely will, Stephen."

"Now don't you think it's a ripping idea? Of course I shall take in
poetry and novels and plays, as well as philosophers and historians. A
comparison between Lecky and Ibsen, for instance! Bound to be fruitful!
Oh, it'll be a big job, but I mean to put it through." He leant forward
to her. "That's not giving up, is it? That's fighting! And the point
is--you can help me. You see, there'll be no end of books to read, just
to see if there's anything of possible use in them. You can do lots of
spade-work for me. Besides, you've got very good judgment."

"Wouldn't Tora help you better than I could?"

His eyes twinkled. "I wouldn't trust Tora, and I've told her so plainly.
She's so convinced of what she thinks herself that she considers the
other view all nonsense--or, if she did hit on a particularly clever
fellow who put the case too well against her, it's my firm belief that
she'd have no scruple about suppressing him. Yours is much more the mind
for me. We're inquirers, not dogmatists, you and I. With you, and a
secretary learned in tongues, and a couple of typewriters, we shall make
a hole in the work in no time."

Winnie could not be sure that he was not building a golden bridge for
her retreat. Perhaps she did not wish to risk being made quite sure. The
plan sounded so attractive. What things she would read and learn! And it
was certainly possible to argue that she would still be fighting the
battle of liberty and progress. After all, is it not the students who
really set the line of advance? They originate the ideas, which some day
or other the practical men carry out. It was Moltke who won the
campaign, not the generals in the field. Such was the plea which
inclination offered to persuade pride.

"But, Stephen, apart from anything else, it would mean quartering myself
on you practically for ever!"

"What if it did? But, as a matter of fact, Tora thought you'd like to
have your own place. You remember that cottage Godfrey had? He took it
furnished; but it's to be let on lease unfurnished now, and if you liked
it----"

"Oh, I shouldn't mind it. And Mrs. Lenoir has left me her furniture."

"The whole thing works out beautifully," Stephen declared. He grew a
little graver. "Come and try it, anyhow. Look here--I'll take the
cottage, and sublet it to you. Then you can give it up at any moment, if
you get sick of it. We shall be a jolly little colony. Old Dick
Dennehy's house--you remember how we put him up to it?--is almost
finished, and he'll be in it in six months. Of course he'll hate the
Synopsis, and we shall have lots of fun with him."

"Oh, my dear, you're good!" sighed Winnie--and a smile followed the
sigh. For suddenly life and activity, comradeship and gaiety, crossed
her path again. The thing was not over. It had almost seemed over--there
in the lonely flat. "How is dear old Dick Dennehy?" she asked.

"We've hardly seen him--he's only been down once. He's left me to build
his house for him, and says encouragingly that he doesn't care a hang
what it's like. He's been settling into his new job, I suppose. After a
bit, perhaps, he'll be more amiable and accessible. You'll come and give
it a trial, Winnie?" He got up and came over to her. "You've done enough
off your own bat," he said. "I don't quite know how to put it to you,
but what I think I mean is that no single person does any good by more
than one protest. Intelligent people recognize that; but if you go on,
you get put down not as a Protestant, but just as an anarchist--like our
poor dear old friend here, you know."

He touched, with a true and discerning hand, on one of the great
difficulties. If you were burnt at the stake for conscience' sake, it
was hard to question your sincerity--though it appears that an
uncalled-for and wanton quest of even the martyr's crown was not always
approved by the soberer heads of and in the Churches. It was far harder
to make people believe or understand that what you wanted to do might
seem also what it was your duty to do--that the want made the duty. Only
because the want was great--a thing which must be satisfied if a human
life were not to be fruitlessly wasted--did the duty become imperative.
A doctrine true, perhaps, but perilous! Its professors should be above
suspicion.

"It's awfully difficult," Stephen went on, stroking his forehead the
while. "It's war, you see, and in any war worth arguing about both sides
have a lot to say for themselves. We shall bring that out in the
Synopsis."

"Don't be too impartial, Stephen!"

"No, I've got my side--but the other fellows shall have a fair show."
His smile grew affectionate. "But I think you're entitled to come out of
the fighting line and go into the organizing department--whatever it's
called technically."

"I'll tell you all about it some day. I'll wait a little. I seem only
just to be getting a view of it."

"You're very young. You may have a bit more practical work to deal with
still. At any rate, I shall be very glad to hear all about it." He rose
and took his resplendent silk hat--that symbol of a sentimental
attachment to the old order, from which he sprang, to which his
sceptical mind had so many questions to put. "Look here, Winnie, I
believe you've been thinking life was finished--at any rate, not seeing
any new start in it. Here's one--take it. It'll develop. The only way to
put a stopper on life is to refuse to go along the open lines. Don't do
that." He smiled. "I rather think we started you from Shaylor's Patch
once. We may do it again."

The plain truth came suddenly in a burst from her. "I'm so tired,
Stephen!"

He laid down the hat again and took her two hands in his. "The Synopsis
will be infinitely restful, Winnie. I'm going straight back to take the
cottage, and begin to whitewash it. Send me word when you're ready to
come. I'll tell you the truth before I go--or shan't I? Yes, I will,
because, as I've told you before now, you've got pluck. You tell
yourself you're facing things by staying here. You're not. You're hiding
from things--and people. There are people you fear to meet, from one
reason or another, in London, aren't there? Leave all that then. Come
and live and work with us--and get your nerve back."

She looked at him in a long silence, then drew her breath. "Yes, I think
you're right. I've turned afraid." She threw out her arms in a spreading
gesture. "Here it is so big--and it takes no notice of me! On it
goes--on--on!"

"You didn't expect to stop it, all on your own, did you?" asked Stephen,
smiling.

"Or if it does take notice for a minute, half of it shudders, and the
other half sniggers! Is there nothing in between?"

"Oh, well, those are the two attitudes of conservatism. Always have
been--and, I suppose, always with a good deal of excuse. We do blunder,
and we have a knack of attracting ridiculous people. It sets us back,
but it can't be helped. We win in the end." He took up his hat again.
"And the Synopsis is going to leaven the lump. Send me a wire to-morrow,
Winnie, and the whitewashing shall begin!"

Faith, patience, candour--these were the three great qualities; these
composed the temper needed for the work. Stephen Aikenhead had them,
and, even though he never put himself to the ordeal of experience, nay,
even though he never finished the Synopsis (a contingency likely
enough), encouragement radiated from him, and thus his existence was
justified and valuable. There were bigots on both sides, and every cause
counted some fools among its adherents. Probably, indeed, every
individual in the world, however wise and open-minded in the sum, had
his spot of bigotry and his strain of folly. After Stephen's departure
Winnie did much moralizing along these and similar lines, but her
moralizing was at once more cheerful and more tolerant than it had been
before he came. She had a greater charity towards her enemy the
world--even towards the shudders and the sniggers. Why, the regiment
would have been divided between shudders and sniggers--exactly the
attitudes which Bertie Merriam had sketched--and yet she had felt, under
his inspiration, both liking and respect for the regiment. Why not then
for that greater regiment, the world? Liking and respect, yes--but not,
therefore, assent or even acquiescence. And on her own proceedings, too,
Stephen enabled her to cast new eyes--eyes more open to the humorous
aspect, taking a juster view of how much she might have expected to do
and could reasonably consider herself to have done. Both seemed to come
to very little compared with the wear and tear of the effort. But, then,
if everybody did even a very little--why, the lump would be leavened, as
Stephen said.

Three days later--just after she had made up her mind for Shaylor's
Patch and the Synopsis, and had given notice to the General--and to
Emily--of her approaching departure, there came a short note from the
obstinately absent and invisible Dick Dennehy. It was on the official
notepaper of the great journal:

     "I hear from Tora that you're going back to Shaylor's Patch, to
     settle down there quietly. Thank God for it! Perhaps I shall see
     you there before very long, but I'm still very busy.--Yours, R. D."

She read with a mixture of affection and resentment. She had been
arriving at her own verdict on her efforts and adventures. Here was Dick
Dennehy's! He thanked God that efforts and adventures were at an end,
and that she was going to settle down quietly--in fact, to take care of
herself, as he had put it that evening when he walked with her to the
railway station. A very unjust verdict, thought Winnie, but then--she
added, smiling--"It's only old Dick Dennehy's!" What else was to be
expected from him--from him who liked her so much and disapproved of her
'goings-on' so strenuously? What about his own? How was he settling that
question of his? Or how had he settled it? That problem which was 'not
serious'! "Perhaps I shall see you"! Only 'perhaps'? Yet she was going
to settle down at Nether End, and he was building his house there. The
probabilities of an encounter between them seemed to warrant more than
'perhaps.' The atmosphere of the railway waiting-room, the look on his
face, that shout, muffled by engine-snorts, about somebody being a
fool--they all came back to her. "But I'm very busy"--meaning
thereby--Winnie took leave to add the innuendo--"I shan't be able to see
you often!" Irresistibly her lips curved into a smile. It looked as if
the problem weren't quite settled yet! If it were finally settled either
way, why should Dick be so busy, so entirely unable to give reasonable
attention to his house, or--as Stephen had told her--to care a hang
about it?

"Oh, nonsense!" Winnie contrived to say to herself, though not with
absolute conviction. "If it ever was that, he must have got over it by
now, and I shall bury myself in the Synopsis."

It was really rather soon to find herself pitted against another
Institution!



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE VIEW FROM A HOUSE


Winnie shut Dr. Westermarck on _The Origin and Development of the Moral
Ideas_ with a bang. "I'm not going to do any more at the Synopsis
to-day," she announced. "It's much too fine. And what are you chuckling
at, Stephen?"

With the help of Liddell and Scott, and a crib, Stephen was digesting
Aristophanes' skit on Socrates. "An awful old Tory, but it's dashed good
stuff. On no account work if you don't want to, Winnie. This job's not
to be done in a day, you know."

It certainly was not--and least of all in one of his working days, in
which the labour of research was constantly checked by the incursion of
distantly related argument. Winnie could not make out how far he was in
earnest about the Synopsis. Sometimes he would talk about its
completion--and the consequent amelioration of society--in sanguine
words, yet with a twinkle in his eye; at other moments he would declare
in an apparent despair that it was properly the work of fifty men, and
forthwith abandon for the day a labour impossibly Herculean. Tora
maintained towards the great undertaking an attitude of serene scorn;
she did not see the use of delving into dark ages in search of the light
which only now, at last, was glimmering on the horizon of the future.
Alice, however, was all for the Synopsis; it was to make her father
famous, and itself became famous among her school-mates these many
years before there was the least chance of its coming to birth. "To find
out all that anyone ever said since the world began, and tell us whether
it's true or not," was Alice's handsome description of the proposed
work; no wonder the school-mates were impressed.

Though the 'awful old Tory' might well have seen in Shaylor's Patch a
lesser Phrontisterion, to Winnie Maxon the passage of the summer months
there proved a rest-cure. The tissues of brain and heart recovered. She
was neither oppressed as in the days of her marriage, nor hurried from
emotion to emotion as in the period of struggle which had followed her
escape. Her memories--of exultation, of pain, of poignant
feeling--softened in outline; becoming in some degree external to all
that she had done and suffered, she was the better able to assess it and
to estimate where it left her. A great gulf separated her from the woman
who had fled from Cyril Maxon; yet the essential woman had passed
through the flood of the gulf undrowned--with all her potentialities of
life, with her spirit schooled, but not broken. This is, perhaps, to say
that she had fought a drawn battle with the world; if it really came to
that, it was no mean achievement.

Dick Dennehy's new house was finished--at least it wanted only its last
coat of paint and, if the weather held fine, would soon be dry enough to
receive it profitably. By fits and starts consignments of its necessary
gear--conceived on extremely Spartan lines--arrived from London. But the
master of it had himself made no appearance. Every invitation from
Shaylor's Patch--and now and then the invitation amounted to an
entreaty, since Tora could not for the life of her make out what he
wanted done at the house--was met by protestations of absorbing work.
The problem which Winnie's imagination had forecasted did not arise--or
at least it exhibited no development. Dick's obstinate absence did not
disprove its existence, but might be said to suspend its animation.
Winnie, dwelling in the cottage where Godfrey Ledstone once abode, had a
rest from the other sex; here, too, a truce was called, after her brisk
series of engagements. She welcomed it; it would have seemed shallow to
pass too quickly from the thought of Bertie Merriam. She neither
rejected nor winced at the idea that the truce might be perpetual. With
Dennehy still away, the thought of the problem died down, leaving traces
only in the compassionate amusement with which she again, from time to
time, reflected that he had 'got over it.' She acquiesced very willingly
in the conclusion. As matters stood, life was full, pleasant, peaceful,
and fruitful in the growth of her mind.

"I don't know whether you'll ever transform the world, but at least
you're educating one ignorant woman, Stephen," she said.

Dr. Westermarck being finished, Stephen had, with a sudden jump,
transferred her to the study of Utopias, old and new; for these, of
course, must figure in the Synopsis.

"Ah, you bring some knowledge of life with you now. That makes learning
ever so much easier." He smiled at her. "I really ought to go and get
into some scrapes too. But there--I couldn't put my heart into the job,
so it wouldn't be much use."

"Wouldn't Tora object?"

"I'm the one exception which mars the otherwise perfect harmony of
Tora's conception of the male sex. She would be bound to greet any lapse
on my part with scientific exultation. But, I say, I'm not going to have
you burying yourself in the Synopsis."

"That's just what I came here to do--exactly as I put it to myself!"

"You shan't do it. You're much too young and pretty. I shall get some
young men down, to tempt you."

Two or three young men came, but they did not tempt Winnie. She found
herself possessed by a great caution. Her old confidence in her own
impulses was replaced by a deep distrust of any impulse. She stood on
the defensive against the approach of even a liking; she constituted
herself _advocatus diaboli_ whenever Stephen ventured to praise any of
his young friends. She found one shallow and conceited, another learned
but a bore, a third--well, there were limits to the allowable degree of
ugliness, now weren't there? Stephen laughed; his poor friends were
contributing to the payment of a score run up by other men.

At last in very decency Dick Dennehy had to come; Stephen sent him word
that, as he had built the house, so he would pull it down, if its owner
continued to show such a want of appreciation of his friendly labours.
He arrived early one afternoon in mid-September. He was perceptibly
changed; being broken into London harness had set its mark on him in
manner and in appearance. He was better groomed, his hair had been
persuaded to lie down, he had cut off the upturned bristly ends of his
moustache. His brogue had lost in richness; he said 'ye' much seldomer
when he meant 'you.' His ways were quieter, his arguments less
tempestuous, and his contradictions not so passionate. Though thus a
little outwardly and possibly inwardly conventionalized, he displayed
all his old friendly heartiness in his greeting of Tora and
Stephen--Alice had just gone back to school. Only when he turned to
Winnie, who was in the garden with them, did a shade of constraint
appear in his demeanour. She put it down to the memory of the note he
had sent her; she had not replied, and probably he thought that she had
resented it.

The constraint was due to a deeper cause. He had determined not to make
love to Winnie Maxon, and now, at the sight of her, he found that he
wanted to do it, and that the assurances which he had managed to make to
himself that he would not want to do it--at least would not be seriously
tempted to do it--were all in vain. In loyalty to his convictions, and
in accordance with a personal obstinacy which buttressed the
convictions, all these months he had fought his fight. Winnie was
forbidden to him; he had taken no pains to conceal his views from his
and her friends; he had taken great pains to conceal his feelings from
her, and conceived that he had, in the main at least, succeeded. But for
that house of his--but for wounding the Aikenheads' feelings--he would
have given himself a little longer period of quarantine. Yet he had felt
pretty safe until he saw Winnie. And he had brought his bag; he was
booked for a three days' stay--there in the very zone of danger.

"I was a fool to come," he kept saying to himself, while he was being
politely, and now and then urgently, requested to take note of and to
admire this and that feature of his new house. In truth he could take
very little interest in the house, for it had come over him, with sudden
but irresistible certainty, that he would never be able to live in it.
He could not say so, of course--not just now, and not without a much
better parade of reasons than he could manage to put into line
impromptu. But there the certainty was--full-blown in his mind. Unless
he could away with his convictions and his obstinacy, unless he could
undertake and succeed in his quest, it would be impossible for him to
live in the house here on the hill, with Winnie hardly a stone's throw
away at the cottage on the road to Nether End. The idea was
preposterous. Yet he had to go on looking at the house and admiring it.
The Aikenheads demanded nothing short of enthusiasm. About a house he
could never live in! Poor Dick Dennehy did his best to pump it up, but
the trials inherent in his position were terribly aggravated by this
incidental addition of the house. Cyril Maxon and Bertie Merriam, in
their kindred struggles with loyalties and convictions, had at least
been spared this irritating feature. Why, there, actually visible from
his study windows, were the chimneys of Winnie's cottage! Tora
triumphantly pointed them out to him.

Dick Dennehy had the gift--the genius--of his race; he saw the fun of
his own sufferings. As he surveyed the tops of Winnie's chimneys--with
Winnie at his elbow, discreetly awaiting his opinion as to whether their
presence enhanced the beauty of the landscape--his face wore a look of
rueful amusement, instead of the simple admiration which the outlook
from his study ought to have inspired in him. At the moment Tora and
Stephen were having an animated wrangle in the passage outside, relative
to the merits of a dustbin, sent on approval.

"I hope I don't intrude?" said Winnie, waving her hand towards her
chimney-pots.

"I'll be reminded of you, if I'm ever in danger of forgetting."

"We could almost start a system of communication--flag-wagging, or even
wireless. Anything except thought-transference! I couldn't risk that
with you--though you could with me quite safely."

"Ah, you're always teasing me, Winnie."

"You've not been nearly enthusiastic enough about the house, you know.
Make an effort."

"I'll be trying to say a few words on it after dinner. Will you be at
dinner?"

"I shall. Tora has asked me, to entertain you."

"You can do that--and more when you've the mind to it."

"I must warn you at once that I take most of my meals, except breakfast,
at the Patch--in brief intervals of relaxation from the Synopsis."

Dick had heard of the Synopsis. "You'll be learning a lot of nonsense,"
he remarked.

"Oh, I don't need the Synopsis to learn that. Just talking to people is
quite enough."

"We won't have a telegraph; we'll have a telephone, Winnie. Then I'll
hear your voice and admire your conversation." "And not see your face,"
he had very nearly added.

Winnie demurely surveyed the landscape again. "My chimneys are a pity,
aren't they? They spoil the impression of solitude--of being alone with
nature--don't they? But judging from Tora's voice--it sounds really
aggrieved--I think it's time we went and umpired about the dustbin. When
those two do quarrel, the contempt they express for one another's
opinions is awful."

If the situation had its pathetic side for poor Dick Dennehy, there was
more than one aspect on which a sense of humour could lay hold. Besides
Dick, impelled by love yet racked by conscience, and, in consequence, by
chimney-pots in the middle distance, there were the Aikenheads.
Engrossed in one another, in their studies and theories, they saw
nothing of what was going on under--and seemed now to Winnie as plain to
see as--their noses. They had bestowed immense pains on the house, and
had counted on giving Dick a triumphant surprise. His behaviour--for
even after dinner he achieved but a very halting enthusiasm--was a sore
disappointment. They understood neither why he was not delighted nor
why, failing that, in common decency and gratitude he could not make a
better show of being delighted. Good-tempered as they were, they could
not help betraying their feelings--Tora by a sudden and stony silence
touching the house of whose beauties she had been so full; Stephen by
satirical remarks about the heights of splendour on which Dick now
required to be seated in his daily life and surroundings. Dick marked
their vexation and understood it, but could not so transform his
demeanour as to remove it, and, being unable to do that, began by a
natural movement of the mind to resent it. "They really might see that
there's something else the matter," he argued within himself in
plaintive vexation. Within twenty-four hours of his arrival, the three
were manifestly at odds on this false issue, and the tension threatened
to become greater and greater. It was all ridiculous, a comedy of
mistakes, but it might end in a sad straining of an old and dear
friendship.

To avert this catastrophe, Winnie determined to give the go-by to coy
modesty. Dick Dennehy had not told her that he loved her, but she
determined to acquaint the Aikenheads with the interesting fact. What
would happen after that she did not know, but it seemed the only thing
to do at the moment.

After lunch on the second day of the visit, Dick Dennehy, in a desperate
effort to be more gracious, said that he would go across and have
another look at the house. Nobody offered to accompany him. Tora seemed
not to hear his remark; Stephen observed sarcastically that Dick might
consider the desirability of adding a ball-room and a theatre, and with
that returned to his labours on the Synopsis. Winnie sat smiling while
Dick departed and left her alone with Tora.

"You think he's not appreciative enough about the house, don't you,
Tora?" she asked.

"I think he just hates it, but I really don't know why."

"It's not his own house that he hates; it's my chimneys."

"Your chimneys? What in the world do you mean?"

"He can see them from his study window--just where he wants to be
undisturbed."

Tora might be a profound speculative thinker, but, no, she was not quick
in the little matters of the world. "Do you mean to say that the man
objects to seeing any single house from his windows? Really Dick is
putting on airs!"

"It depends on who lives in the single house."

"But you live there." Tora stared at her. "Have you quarrelled with him?
Do you mean to say he dislikes you?"

Winnie broke into a laugh. "On the contrary, Tora."

At last light dawned. A long-drawn "Oh!" proclaimed its coming. "I see.
I never do notice things like that. Then you've refused him, have you?"

"Oh no, he's never asked me. He never told me anything about it--not
directly, or meaning to, at least." This qualification in view of the
talk at the railway station. "But I'm sure of it."

"Then why doesn't he tell you? Or have you snubbed him hopelessly?"

"I haven't done much either way, but it's not that. You see, he thinks
that he's not free to marry me, and that I'm not free to marry anybody."

"Then he'd better stop thinking such nonsense," said Tora, with her
habitual and most unphilosophical contempt for other people's opinions.

"I don't know about that." Winnie shook her head doubtfully. "But I
think that it would ease the situation if you gave Stephen just a hint."

"I'll go and tell him at once." Hints were not in Tora's line.

The first result of her friend's mission which reached Winnie's ears was
a ringing peal of laughter from the sanctum where the Synopsis was in
course of preparation. It was Wednesday--a half-holiday for the
assistants--and Stephen was alone. When once the situation was
elucidated, he enjoyed the humour of it immensely.

"Well, we have been a pair of dolts, you and I, Tora. Poor old Dick! He
must have been wishing us, and the house too, at the bottom of the sea.
But what's to be done?"

"Why, you must tell him not to be so silly, of course; I don't know what
she'll say, but let him take his chance."

"I'm getting a bit shy of taking a hand in these complications. We
didn't make much of a success out of the Ledstone affair, among us! I
think I shall let it alone, and leave them to settle it for themselves."

"You never have the courage of your convictions. It's one of your worst
faults, Stephen." With this condemnation on her lips, Tora departed into
the garden.

When Winnie went in to resume her labours, Stephen looked up from his
books with a twinkle in his eye. "Trouble again, Winnie?"

"I really thought you'd better know about it, or you'd burn Dick's house
down."

"You seem to have a knack of setting fires ablaze too."

"You might just let it appear that you've come to the conclusion that
it's not the house which makes Dick so grumpy. Don't say a word about
me, of course."

"He'll think me much cleverer than I have been."

"Well, I should think you'd like that, Stephen. I should, in your
place."

He laughed good-humouredly. "Oh, well, I deserve that dig."

"It's rather funny how this sort of thing pursues me, isn't it? But it's
quite half your fault. If you will collect a menagerie of opinions, and
throw me into the middle of it----"

"It's not strange that the animals like the dainty morsel, even though
the keepers don't approve of the diet? But I didn't collect all the
animals."

"No," said Winnie, smiling reflectively. "I did pick up one or two for
myself in the course of my journeyings through the world. I'm not quite
sure I want any others."

"He's an awfully good fellow, old Dick."

"Yes. And now I'm going back to Utopia--where animals like only their
proper diet."

Meanwhile Dick Dennehy was not taking another look at his house, nor
endeavouring to form a more favourable estimate of it. He was walking up
and down in the field behind it, which under Tora Aikenhead's skilled
care had already assumed something of the semblance of a garden. He had
to settle his question one way or the other. If one way, then good-bye,
for a long while at least, to the new house and to Shaylor's Patch; if
the other, he would try his fortune with a good courage. Although his
case had points of similarity enough to justify Winnie in linking it
with those others which had presented themselves in her experience, it
was not identical with any one of them, but had its own complexion. He
was not called upon to defy public opinion and to confuse the lines of
social demarcation, as Godfrey Ledstone had been. Nor to revolutionize
his ideas and mode of life, like Bob Purnett. Nor to be what he must
deem disloyal to his profession and false to his work in the world,
like Bertie Merriam. Cyril Maxon's case was closer; yet Cyril had only
to pass, by an ingeniously constructed bridge, from the more extreme to
the less extreme of two theories, and in so doing found abundance of
approval and countenance among men of his own persuasion. Dick was
confronted with a straight, rigid, unbending prohibition from an
authority which he had always respected as final and infallible.

Yet he seemed asked to give up the whole of his real life, to empty life
of what made it worth living. Save for one or two boyish episodes of
sentiment, he had kept clear of love-affairs. He brought to Winnie's
service both the fresh ardour of a young man and the settled conviction
of maturity. He had never a doubt in his mind that for him it was this
woman or no woman; his knowledge of himself and his past record made the
certainty more trustworthy than it generally is. Given then that he had
a chance of winning her, it was a mighty sacrifice which was demanded of
him--even to the spoiling and maiming of his life, and the starvation of
his spirit.

His was a perfectly straight case; there was no confusing it, there
could be no golden bridge; a supreme authority on the one side, on the
other the natural man, fortified by every secular justification--for he
would be breaking no law of the land, infringing no code of honour,
injuring no man whose rights or feelings he was under an obligation to
respect. And he would be affording to the creature he loved best in the
world happiness, as he believed, and, of a certain, peace, protection,
and loving care--things of which she stood in need; to Dick Dennehy's
notions, notwithstanding his love and admiration, her record showed that
she stood sorely in need of them. Here, on one side of his mind, he
found himself in a paradoxical agreement with the authority which the
other side wanted to defy. It and he agreed about her past doings, but
drew from them a different conclusion. He adored her, but he did not
think that she could take care of herself. He believed that he could
take care of her--at the cost of defying his supreme authority; or he
would not use the word defying--he would throw himself on its mercy in a
very difficult case. The creature he loved best of all things in life
would do, he feared, more unpardonable things, unless he himself did a
thing which he had been taught to think unpardonable in itself. He
invited her to nothing that she was obliged to hold as wrongdoing; he
did not ask her to sin against the light she possessed. That sin would
be his. His chivalry joined forces with his love; to refrain seemed
cowardice as well as almost impossibility. There was the dogma--but
should there be no dispensation? Not when every fibre of a man's heart,
every impulse of a man's courage, cried out for it?

The sun sank to its setting. He stood in the garden, and watched how its
decline made more beautiful the gracious prospect. A little trail of
smoke rose in leisurely fashion from the chimneys of Winnie's cottage.
The air was very still. He turned and looked at the new house with a new
interest. "Would it be good enough for her, now?" asked Dick Dennehy.
The sudden vision of her in the house--of her dainty ways and gracious
presence, her chaff and her sincerity--swept over his mind. She had been
wrong--but she had been brave. Braver than he was himself?

To the horizon sank the sun. Dick Dennehy turned to look at it again. As
the glow faded, peace and quiet reigned. Very gradually evening fell. He
lifted his hat from his head and stood watching the last rays, the
breeze stirring his hair and freshening his brow. He stood for a long
time very still, as he was wont to stand, quiet, attentive, obedient, at
the solemn offices of his Church--the Church that was to him creed,
conscience, and half-motherland. Suddenly his soul was at peace, and he
spoke aloud with his lips, even as though in response to the voice of
One walking in the garden in the cool of the day. "I must do what I must
do, and leave it to the mercy of God."



CHAPTER XXIX

IN THE RESULT


"On further inspection it turns out to be a perfectly corking house--a
jewel of a house, Stephen!"

Winnie had gone home, and Stephen was working alone at the Synopsis when
Dick Dennehy walked into the room with these words on his lips. Stephen
looked up and saw that something had happened to his friend. The
embarrassed hang-dog air had left his face. He looked a trifle obstinate
about the mouth, but his eyes were peaceful and met Stephen's
straightforwardly.

"In fact, there's only one fault at all to be found with it."

"Give it a name, and Tora will put it right," said Stephen, in genial
response to his friend's altered mood.

Dick smiled. "I'm afraid Tora can't, but I know of another lady who
can--if she will. It's a bit big for a bachelor; I'll be feeling lonely
there."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" Stephen laughed. "Now I rather thought it was,
all along." At some cost to truth, he was carrying out Winnie's
injunction. "You were so--well--restless."

"I was. And Tora was cross with me, and you laughed at me, and then I
got savage. But it's all over now--so far as I'm concerned, at least.
You know who it is?"

"Well, I almost think I can guess, old fellow. We're not blind.
Winnie?"

Dick Dennehy nodded his head. "I'll have it settled before I'm many days
older."

His mouth was now very firm, and his eyes almost challenging. It was
evident even to the lover of discussion that here was a decision which
was not to be discussed, one which only the man who came to it himself
could judge. Stephen felt the implication in Dick's manner so strongly
that he even retrenched his faint smile of amusement, as he held out his
hand, and said, "Good luck!"

Dick nodded again, gave a tight grip, and marched out of the room.

Leaving the patient Synopsis and lighting a pipe, Stephen indemnified
himself for the self-restraint he had exercised in not talking the case
over with Dick by indulging in a survey of a wider order--one which
embraced all Winnie's career from the time of her rebellion; there were
few features with which confidential talks, interspersed between their
labours, had not familiarized him. His mind was not now on Winnie's
share in the matter--neither on how she had conducted herself nor on how
she had been affected by her experiment and experience. It fastened,
with its usual speculative zest, on the conflict and clash of theory and
practice, opinion and conduct, which the story revealed throughout its
course and exemplified in instance after instance. When put to a
searching personal test, everybody, or almost everybody, had in some way
or another broken down; if they were to be judged by the strict
standards which they professed, or by the canons which habitually
governed their lives, they had been failures. Here was Dick Dennehy
ending the series with a striking example. But Godfrey Ledstone had
begun it. His was a twofold failure; he was false to his own
theories--to that code of his--when he adopted Winnie's; he was false in
turn to Winnie's when he was ashamed of her and fled back to
respectability tempered by elasticities. Cyril Maxon followed suit,
bartering his high doctrine, wriggling out of its exacting claims, for
the chance of Rosaline Deering. Even that fellow Purnett, to whom
regularity and domesticity were anathema, had offered to become regular
and domestic. The only exception seemed to be the soldier Merriam; even
here Stephen doubted the existence of a sure exception. Winnie had left
the details of that talk in the garden at Madeira in obscurity, yet it
was clear enough that she had not put out her power. Supposing she had?
Yet, granting the exception, he proved it to his own satisfaction to be
more apparent than real. Merriam's case was not a conflict of opinion
and conduct; it was more properly a clash between two allegiances, both
in essence personal in their nature; between inclination and a
conception of duty, no doubt, but of a duty so specialized and (if the
word might be used) so incarnated as to lose its abstract quality and,
by virtue of concreteness, to acquire a power of appeal really as
emotional in character as the emotion with which it came into collision.
It seemed to him that here was a case of an apparent exception testing
the rule, not disproving it. The rule emerged triumphant from the
test--so declared Stephen Aikenhead, very anxious to find a clue to the
labyrinth and fast colours in the shifting web of human nature. When it
came to a pitched battle, the views and theories were worsted; the man
himself won the day, calling to his aid reserves ordinarily hidden in
the depths of his nature. By a pardonable instinct they all made the
best case they could for their failures and deviations--explanations,
excuses, bridges; they saved the show of consistency as far as they
could. But however great or small the success of this special pleading,
it did not alter the truth. The natural, essential--to use a new word,
the subliminal--man himself in the end decided the issue.

Small wonder! thought Stephen; for these opinions were a motley
host--enemies among themselves. If one of them were putting up a good
fight, another was already ready to fall on its flank. If one were
making a strong case, there was another to whisper its weak point in the
adversary's ear, or to suggest insinuatingly--"Well, if he can't allow
you what you want, try me! I'm much more accommodating. I recognize
exceptions. I know the meaning of counsels of perfection. I understand
the limits of human nature." Or conversely--"You'll get no real comfort
from that shifty fellow. He'll betray you in this world, to say nothing
of the next. Rest on me. I'm a rock. Rocks make hard beds, you say? A
little, perhaps, now and then, but think how safe they are! And how they
appeal to your imagination, rising foursquare to heaven, unshakable,
eternal!" And then there was that plausible little rogue of an opinion
which protests always that it is not an opinion at all--nothing so
troublesome--"Don't bother your head with any of those fellows. Please
yourself! What does it matter? Anyhow, what do any of them really know
about it? You might just as well toss up as try to decide between them.
I'm an opinion myself, you say--just as bad as they are? Not at all! How
dare you?" So they went on, betraying, competing, outbidding one
another--like a row of men selling penny toys in the street, each trying
to shout louder and to get more custom than the other. In such an
irreverent image did Stephen Aikenhead envisage the Quest after Truth,
whereof he was himself so ardent a devotee.

He had got back to his old formula. Things were 'in solution.' It was a
very welter of opinions. Was that state of things to last for ever?
"Or"--he mused--"shall we to some future age seem, oh, ridiculously
mixed? Will they have settled things? Will they have straightened out
the moral and social world as the scientific fellows are straightening
out the physical universe? If they have, they'll never understand how we
doubted and squabbled. Only some great historian will be able to make
that intelligible to them. Or will men go on for ever swirling round and
round in a whirlpool, and never sail on a clear strong stream to the
ocean of truth?"

So the muser mused in his quiet study, with the roar of the water in his
ears. Had he chanced to think of it, he would have found that he was
himself an example of the conclusion to which his survey of Winnie
Maxon's experiences had led him. His speculations might ask, with
'jesting Pilate,' 'What is truth?' and stay not for an answer that could
never come. The natural man, Stephen Aikenhead, was irresistibly bent on
finding out. He returned briskly to the Synopsis--to his own little task
of blasting away, if by chance he could, one fragment of the rocks that
dammed the current.

He worked on, reading and making notes. The clock struck six, and seven,
and half-past. He did not notice. Five minutes later the door opened,
and Winnie came in.

"What's come over the house?" she asked. "You invited me to dinner at
half-past seven! Here you are, not only not dressed, but with your hair
obviously unbrushed! And Tora and Dick went off to the new house, Ellen
tells me, at half-past five, with a lantern, and haven't come back yet!"

"Oh, did they? Then Dick's evidently made it all right with Tora too."
He rose and stretched himself. "I think you'll have to look out for
something to-night or to-morrow, Winnie. Dick has made up his mind; he's
decided that the house is otherwise delightful, but has just one fault.
He'd be lonely in it as a bachelor."

Winnie sat down and looked at him thoughtfully. "I wish it hadn't come
so soon. I'm not ready. And I do have such bad luck!"

"He'll wait as long as you like. And how does the bad luck come in
here?"

"I'm always forced into seeming to exact a sacrifice of some sort."

"Well, from some points of view that was likely to follow from the line
you took. From your own side of the matter, is it altogether a bad thing
that a man should have to search his heart--to ask what you're really
worth to him?"

"Suppose he should bear me a grudge afterwards?"

"Dick's too square with his conscience to do that. He knows it's his own
act and his own responsibility."

"At any rate I won't have any more vows, Stephen, no more on either
side. I don't like them. I broke mine once. I thought I had a right to,
but I didn't like doing it. Cyril had broken most of his, in my view,
but people seem so often to forget that there's more than one." She gave
an abrupt little laugh. "Cyril vowed to 'comfort' me! Imagine Cyril
being obliged to vow to comfort anybody, poor man! He couldn't possibly
do it."

"In the matter of vows they let you down easy at the registry office."

"In his heart Dick won't think that a marriage at all."

"You put that just wrong. In his opinions he mayn't, in his heart he
will. I know Dick Dennehy pretty well, and you may be sure of that."

"I never wanted to be a lawless woman. But it was coming, or had come,
to hatred; and it's such awful ruin to live with a person you hate--much
worse, I think, than the things they do set you free for."

Stephen smiled. "I can find you some very respectable authority for
that--a good passage in Döllinger--but, I think, don't you, to-morrow?
After all, there's such a thing as dinner!"

"There is, and it'll be disgracefully overcooked." She rose and came
across to him. "Give me your blessing and a kiss, Cousin Stephen. I
think I see happiness glimmering a long way off."

"I don't think it's ever very far off, if you can see it," said Stephen,
and kissed her.

Winnie shook her head doubtfully. She had suffered such a tossing and
buffeting; the quiet of harbour seemed a distant goal, even if she could
now steer a straight course towards it. Her feelings were still on edge;
she shrank instinctively from any immediate call to strong emotion.
There was another trouble in her mind secret, hardly explicit, but real;
if, because of what she had done, Dick Dennehy, still dominated by the
convictions which he meant to disobey, should show that he thought she
was to be had for the asking, she would resent it bitterly--even to a
curt and final refusal. That would be almost as great a failure as
Godfrey Ledstone's, and such a rock might still lie in the way of her
ship to its harbour. Much turned on Dick Dennehy's bearing towards her.

But the days that ensued at Shaylor's Patch were full of healing grace.
There was the cordiality of friendship again unclouded, Tora's serenity,
Stephen's alert and understanding comradeship. Dick came when his work
allowed--it may be surmised that he stretched its allowance to the
full--and there were now infinite interest and unbounded fun over
furnishing his house. In this work a formula was hit upon, suitable to
the state of suspense in which the master's affairs stood.
"Eventualities must be borne in view," said Stephen, with treacherous
gravity. Dick bore them in view to the full limit of his purse--and how
could Winnie refuse a friendly opinion on questions of taste? Nobody
mentioned Mrs. Lenoir's furniture, now at the cottage. It was not really
very suitable for a country house, and in any case it would be
pleasanter to make the fresh start in wholly fresh surroundings. Winnie
mentally transmuted it into new frocks, in which shape it would serve a
purpose, temporary indeed, but less charged with associations.

In no set confession, but in various intimate talks, the whole of her
story, and the whole of her own attitude towards it, came to Dick's
knowledge. She attempted to conceal neither her passion for Godfrey
Ledstone nor the attraction with which at the last Merriam had drawn
her. The latter case she was especially anxious that he should
understand.

"I was angry at first at being thought impossible, but he made me see
his point of view, and then I almost fell in love with him," she said,
smiling. "Only almost!"

It was not the old Dick Dennehy who listened; he would have had a ready
explanation of how all the troubles had come about, and a vehement,
though good-humoured, denunciation for the origin of them. Not only his
feeling for Winnie, but his own struggle, with its revelation and its
compromise, changed him. He listened with a grave attention or,
sometimes, with a readily humorous sympathy. If he was rightly or
wrongly--probably he himself would have used neither word, but would
have said 'perforce'--disobeying his supreme authority, yet, as a man
here in this world, he found some compensation in an increased humanity,
a widened charity, an intensified sense of human brotherhood. He
deliberately abandoned the effort to strike a balance between loss and
gain, but the gain he accepted gladly, with a sense, as it were, of
discovery, of opened eyes, of a vision more penetrating. He got rid of
the idea that it was easy for everybody to believe what he believed, if
only they would be at the pains, or that it was mere perverseness of
spirit which prevented them from acting in exact accord with his
standards--or even with their own. Thus, as the days passed, his aim was
no more to forgive and forget, but to appreciate and to understand. With
Winnie this was an essential, if their harmony were to be complete. So
much of the spirit--or the pride--of the theorist survived in her. She
would not take even a great love if it came accompanied by utter
condemnation; perhaps she could not have believed in it, or, believing
in it for the time, would have seen no basis of permanence.

In the early days the ardour of love was all on his side; her heart was
not so easily kindled again into flame. Only gradually did the woman's
absolute faith and grateful affection for the man blossom into their
natural fruit--even as by degrees Winnie's joy in life and delight in
her own powers emerged from their eclipse. Again, now, her eyes sparkled
and her laugh rang out exultantly.

"She sounds in a good humour," said Stephen Aikenhead. "If one did
happen to want anything of her, it might be rather a good moment to ask
it, I should think."

Dick looked up from the evening paper. "Is she ready, Stephen?"

"I think so, Dick."

With a buoyant step Dick Dennehy walked out into the garden, whence the
laugh had come. Winnie was alone; her laugh had been only for a hen
ludicrously scuttling back to her proper territory in fear of the menace
of clapped hands. She wore a black lace scarf twisted about her head;
from under its folds her eyes gleamed merrily.

"Would you be walking with me in the meadow a bit, by chance?" he asked.

Something in his gaze caught her attention. She blushed a little. "Yes,
Dick."

But they walked in silence for a long while. Then she felt her eyes
irresistibly drawn to him. As she turned her head, he held out his
hands. Slowly hers came forward to meet them.

"You couldn't send me away now, could you, Winnie?"

"Oh, Dick, have you thought it all over, looked at every side of
it--twenty times, a hundred times, five hundred times?"

"Not I! I looked at it all round once for all, and I've never doubted of
it since. I've been waiting for you to do all that." His smile was happy
and now confident.

"Well, in the end, I like it better like that. I like you to think so,
anyhow, even if you're deceiving yourself. Because it shows----" She
broke off mischievously. "What does it show, Dick?"

"Why, that you're the jewel of the world! What else would it be
showing?"

"But what about the lady you were unhappy over, that evening at the
station?"

"You knew it was yourself all the time!"

"Then how did you dare to say it wasn't serious? And to call
yourself--or me--a fool?"

"You're teasing me to the end, Winnie."

She grew grave and slipped her arm through his. "I knew really why it
wasn't and couldn't be serious to you--and why just in that way it
became terribly serious. Time was when I should have thought you silly
to think it so serious, and when you would have kept it 'not serious'
right to the end. We've changed one another, Dick. I you, you me--and
life both of us! And so we can make terms with one another."

"Terms of perfect peace," he answered. He knew what was in her mind. "I
give you my honour--in my soul I'm at peace."

"Then so be it, dear old Dick. For neither am I ashamed." She turned
round to face him, and, putting her hands on his shoulders, kissed his
lips. "Now let's go over to your house, and see that this eventuality
really has been properly borne in view. Dear Stephen! He'll philosophize
over us, Dick!"

That was, of course, only to be expected. Yet it did not happen when
Stephen and his wife were told the great news after dinner. On the
contrary, after brief but hearty congratulations, the host and hostess
disappeared. Winnie thought that she had detected a glance passing
between them.

"They needn't be so very tactful!" she said laughing.

They were very tactful; for even to lovers the time they stayed away was
undeniably long. There could be no illusion about the progress of the
hands of the clock. Yet when Tora and Stephen came in and were accused
of an excessive display of the useful social quality in question, Tora
blushed, denied the charge rather angrily, and bade them all a brief
good night. Stephen glared through his spectacles in mock fury.

"You two think yourselves everybody! As a matter of fact, for the last
hour or so--how late is it? Eleven! Oh, I say! Yes, of course! Well, for
the last two hours or so, Tora and I have forgotten your very existence;
and, if I may use the candour of an old friend, it's rather a jar to
find you here. You'd better escort your friend home, Mr. Dennehy."

"Well, what have you been doing then?" laughed Winnie.

"It's one of Tora's theories that I should propose to her all over again
about once a year--and somehow to-night seemed rather a suitable
opportunity," Stephen explained. "She's at perfect liberty to refuse me,
and, as a matter of fact, she's generally rather difficult about it.
That's why it's so late." His eyes twinkled again. "She imposes all
sorts of conditions as to my future conduct. I argue a bit, or she
wouldn't respect me. Then I give in--but, of course, I don't observe
them all, or what fun would it be next year? She's accepted me this
time, but she says it's the last time, unless I mend my ways
considerably."

A spark of Dick Dennehy's old scorn blazed out. "So that's the way she
gets round her precious theory, is it? And the woman a respectable wife
and mother all the time!"

Winnie laid her hand on his arm. "There is one thing that can get round
everything, Dick."

"A fact which, in all its bearings for good and evil, must be carefully
brought out in the Synopsis," said Stephen Aikenhead.

They left him twinkling luminously at them through clouds of tobacco
smoke.

"Hang the man, is he in earnest about his old Synopsis, as he calls the
thing?" asked Dick Dennehy, as they started for the cottage.

Winnie considered. "I don't quite know. That's the fun of Stephen! But,
anyhow"--she pressed his arm--"if this thing--our thing--doesn't end
before the Synopsis does, we're all right! It'll last our lives, I
think, and be still unfinished." Her laugh ended in a sigh, her sigh
again in a smile. "Oh, I'm talking as if it were a fairy-tale ending,
out of one of Alice's stories. Well, just for to-night! But it isn't
really--it can't be, Dick. It's not an ending at all. It's a beginning,
and a beginning of something difficult. Look what you're giving up for
me--the great thing I'm accepting from you! And it's not a thing to be
done once and for all. It'll be a continuing thing, always cropping up
over other things great and small. Oh, it's not an ending; it's only a
start. Is it even a fair start, Dick?"

"It's a matter of faith, like everything else in the world that's worth
a rap," said Dick Dennehy. "At all events, we know this about one
another--that we're equal to putting up a fight for what we believe in
and love. And odds against don't frighten us! I call that a fair start.
What do you make of life, anyhow, unless it's a fight? We'll fight our
fight to a finish!"

His voice rang bravely confident; his sanguine spirit soared high in
hope. When she opened the cottage door, and the light from a hanging
lamp in the narrow passage fell on him, his face was happy and serene.
With a smile he coaxed her apprehensions. "Ah, now, you're not the girl
you were if ye're afraid of an experiment!"

She put her hands in his. "Not the girl I was, indeed! How could I be,
after it all? But here's my life--am I to be afraid of it? Any use I
am, any joy I have--am I to turn tail? I won't, Dick!"

"Always plucky! As plucky as wrong-headed, Winnie!"

"Wrongheaded still?" she laughed, now gaily. "That question, like
everything else, is, as Stephen says, 'in solution.' It's not my fate to
settle questions, but it seems as if I couldn't help raising them!"

To those who would see design in such matters--in the interaction of
lives and minds--it might well seem that here she put her finger on a
function to which she had never aspired, but for which she had been
effectually used in several cases. She had raised questions in
unquestioning people. Her management of her life put them on inquiry as
to the foundations and the canons of their own. For Dick Dennehy even
her chimney-pots had streaked the sky with notes of interrogation! She
had been, as it were, a touchstone, proving true metal, detecting the
base, revealing alloy; a test of quality, of courage, of faith; an
explorer's shaft sunk deep in the ore of the human heart. She had struck
strata scantily auriferous, she had come upon some sheer dross, yet the
search left her not merely hopeful, but already enriched. Twice she had
found gold--in the soldier who would not desert his flag even for her
sake, in the believer who, for her soul's sake and his love of her,
flung himself on the mercy of an affronted Heaven. Both could dare,
sacrifice, and dedicate. They obeyed the call their ears heard, though
it were to their own hurt--in this world or, mayhap, in another. There
was the point of union between the man who forswore her for his
loyalty's sake and the man who sheltered her against his creed.

In the small circle of those with whom she had shared the issues of
destiny she had unsettled much; of a certainty she had settled nothing.
Things were just as much 'in solution' as ever; the welter was not
abated. Man being imperfect, laws must be made. Man being imperfect,
laws must be broken or ever new laws will be made. Winnie Maxon had
broken a law and asked a question. When thousands do the like, the
Giant, after giving the first-comers a box on the ear, may at last put
his hand to his own and ponderously consider.

       *       *       *       *       *

                  _Printed by_
             MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED
                  _Edinburgh_

       *       *       *       *       *

                 BY THE SAME AUTHOR


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    PHROSO

    SIMON DALE

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    QUISANTÉ

    THE DOLLY DIALOGUES

    A SERVANT OF THE PUBLIC

    TALES OF TWO PEOPLE

    THE GREAT MISS DRIVER





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