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Title: The Confounding of Camelia
Author: Sedgwick, Anne Douglas, 1873-1935
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The Confounding of
Camelia

By
Anne Douglas Sedgwick

Author of
"The Dull Miss Archinard," Etc.

New York
Charles Scribner's Sons
1899

Copyright, 1899, by
Charles Scribner's Sons

MANHATTAN PRESS
474 W. BROADWAY
NEW YORK


_TO

"CHARLIE" AND "JIMMIE"_



The Confounding of Camelia



CHAPTER I


When Camelia came down into the country after her second London season,
descended lightly upon the home of her forefathers, her coming
unannounced, and as much a matter of caprice as had been her long
absence, a slowly growing opinion, an opinion that had begun to form
itself during Camelia's most irresponsible girlhood, became clearly
defined, a judgment fixed and apparently irrevocable. The Patons had
always been good, quiet people; absolutely undistinguished, were it not
that the superlative quality of their tranquil excellence gave a certain
distinction. There were no black sheep in their annals, and a black
sheep gives, by contrast, a brilliancy lacking to unaccented bucolic
groupings, strikes a note of interest at any rate; but none of the Paton
sheep were even gray. They fed in pleasant, plenteous pastures, for it
was a wealthy, though not noticeably wealthy family, and perhaps a
rather sheep-like dulness, an unimaginative contentment not conducive to
adventurous strayings, accounted for the spotless fleeces.

Their cupboards had never held a skeleton--nor so much as the bone of
one. The family portraits, none even pretending to be Sir Joshuas or
Vandycks, only presented a respectable number of generations, so that
the mellow perspective of old ancestry, remarkable at least for a
lengthy retrogression into antiquity, made no background to their
commonplace. Sir Charles, Camelia's father, was the first Paton weighted
with an individuality that entailed nonconformity, and since Sir
Charles's individuality had confused all anticipations, further
developments of the wild streak could not be unexpected. Many of the
quiet, conservative people, who had known Camelia, her father and
mother, and Patons of an earlier epoch, pronounced with emphasis that
Camelia was spoiled; there was a tenderness in the term, an implication
of might-have-beens; and other people, more bitter and perhaps more
sensitive, remarked that not her head-turning London successes, of which
big echoes had rolled down to Clievesbury, but the inherent, the no
doubt inherited defects of Miss Paton's character were responsible for
her noticeable variation from family traditions. Did not that portion of
Blankshire, which lay about the dim old village of Clievesbury, send up
to the capital every year its native offerings of maidenhood? A London
season had never induced in these well-balanced young ladies the merry
arrogance so provokingly apparent in Miss Paton. Old Mrs. Jedsley it
was, the last rector's widow, who most openly denounced Camelia, and
that, despite her long friendship for the Patons; denounced her
frivolity, her insincerity, her egotism, and her wonderful gowns--their
simplicity did not deceive Mrs. Jedsley's keen eye; the price of one
would keep the parish in flannel for a year she declared, and, no doubt,
include the school feast. Mrs. Jedsley prided herself on her impartial
faculty for seeing disagreeable truths clearly and for announcing them
unflinchingly. Her fondness for Lady Paton--"poor Lady Paton"--could not
blind or silence her. Poor Lady Paton was more than ever effaced, Mrs.
Jedsley said; one might have thought that Sir Charles had required as
much submission as a woman's life could well yield, but the daughter had
called forth further capabilities.

"The very way in which she says 'Oh, Camelia!' is flattering to the
girl. Her mother's half-shocked admiration encourages her in the belief
that she is very naughty and very clever; and really while Camelia talks
Lady Paton looks like a hare under a bramble."

The simile hit the mark so nicely that the alarmed retirement of Lady
Paton's attitude was pictorially apparent forthwith. And, "Ah, well!"
Mrs. Jedsley added, "What can one expect in the child of such a father!
The most gracefully selfish man who ever lived. Charles Paton would have
smiled you out of house and home, and left you to sit in the snow, while
he warmed himself at your fireplace."

Indeed this application of the laws of heredity might have induced a
certain charitable philosophy on Camelia's behalf. The love of
adventure, of prowess, of power, had shown itself in Charles Paton; but
much had been forgiven--even admired--with a sense of breathlessness, in
a cloud-compelling younger son (his good looks had been altogether
supreme), which, when seen flaunting indecorously in the daughter, was
highly unpopular. Charles Paton at a very early age had found the family
traditions "devilish dull" (and, indeed, it could not be denied that
dull they were); he entered the army, kicked over the traces, and was
"wild" with all his might and main. Clievesbury disapproved, but at the
same time Clievesbury was dazzled.

Surrounded by this naughty atmosphere, reverberating with racing and
betting, dare-devil big-game shooting, and the extreme fashion that is
supposed to reverse the "devilish dull" morality of tradition, Charles
Paton--like his daughter--returned to Clievesbury, and there fell most
magnanimously and becomingly in love with little Miss Fairleigh, the
eighth daughter of a country baronet--a softly pink and white
maiden--wooed and married her and settled down, after a fashion, to
carve out an army career for himself. He carved to good purpose, luck
giving him the opportunity. He carried his life as lightly and gallantly
as a flag; sought peril, and the tingling excitement of the strangest
feats. His reckless bravery won him a knighthood; his fame, his happy
good-nature, and extreme good looks, made him a hero wherever he went.
Charles Paton's yellow curls, his smile, the Apollo-like line of his
lips, were as well known as his martial exploits.

He was vastly popular, and his little wife in the shadow by his side,
looked up, like the others, and adored where they admired. Sir Charles
liked a sunny atmosphere, and though the hearthstone flame in its steady
commonplace did not count for so much as the wider outdoor effulgence,
it was very cosy to come back to, when domesticity was a momentary
necessity. He would not have liked a change of temperature, and
tolerated the wifely worship very graciously. He was fond of her too;
she was very pretty, not clever--(an undesirable quality in a wife)--far
more of a help than a hindrance, though how much of a help he perhaps
never realized. That broad triumphal road down which the hero marched
was swept and garnished by the indefatigable wife. The dustiness and
thorniness of daily life were kept from him. Lady Paton packed and paid,
and dashed from post to pillar. She was a delicate woman who, petted and
made much of, might have allowed herself an occasional headache and a
tea-gown existence. The years in India were not easy years; through them
all she unwaveringly adored her husband, and in many phases of a varied
life showed the steely fibre so often and so unexpectedly displayed by
the most delicately inefficient looking women.

Camelia was the fifth child; the others died, two in India and two in
England, away from the poor mother. This last one was little more than a
baby when ill-health and the death of his brother decided Sir Charles on
a return to England. Lady Paton rejoiced in the home-coming. With her
pretty baby--a girl, alas! but the estate was unentailed--and her great
and glorious husband by her side--the future seemed to open on an
unknown happiness. But Lady Paton was to know few compensations. Sir
Charles found the rôle of country gentleman very flavorless, and his
attempts to evade boredom left his wife more lonely--and too, more
conscious of loneliness, than in busier days.

When Camelia was eight her father died. One saw then that Lady Paton was
supremely adapted to eternal mourning. As a widow, she reached a
black-encompassed repose, a broken-hearted finality of woe. Camelia was
the one reason for her life. The child had never to enforce her will,
her mother's devotion yielded to the slightest pressure. Camelia was
hardly conscious of ruling, nor the mother of being ruled. As the
stronger egoism, Camelia domineered inevitably. She was a gay, kind
child, happy in the unfettered expansion of her individuality; she
delighted in its exercise, and in all sorts of unconventional
acquirements. She read voraciously and loved travel. Lady Paton had by
no means reached the end of packing and paying days. Camelia hated
beaten tracks; the travelling must be different from other people's; she
managed in a tourist-ridden Europe to find the element of adventurous
experience. Camelia was keen on experiences. Lady Paton did not
appreciate them properly; but then Lady Paton saw life from no artistic
standpoint. She thought undiscovered Greece and Poland more trying than
the most trying places in India. The steppes depressed her; she dared
not mention wolves, but her mind dwelt dejectedly upon them. She could
hardly think of the cooking in certain out-of-the-way corners in Spain
without shuddering. But she bore all with apparent placidity, and her
helpful qualities won her daughter's approval just as they had won her
husband's.

There was nothing rude or uncouth in Camelia's domineering spirit, it
was too happy, too spontaneous, too sure of its own right. Even after
these two years of London her severest detractors could not accuse her
of the grosser forms of vanity, nor of affectation, nor of the ugly
thing that goes by the name of "fastness." Her unerring sense of the
best possible taste made "fast" girls seem very tawdry, and her coolly
smiling eyes told them that she found them so. Even with the fact of her
serene indifference to them growing into the consciousnesses of the
people about Clievesbury, they still owned, generously, but perforce,
that she was neither strident nor slangy, nor given to any form of
posing. The change in Camelia, if change there were, was a mere
evolution. She had tasted the joys of a wide effectiveness. She was only
twenty-three, and more than once had been told that she was the only
woman in London fitted to hold a "salon," a "salon" that would be a
power social, artistic, and political. Authors talked to her about their
books, painters about their pictures; her presence at the opera was
recorded as having judicial importance; a new pianist was made if he
played at one of her musicals. She was a somebody to whom the
Clievesburyites were nobodies indeed.

Camelia smiled at her own power. She did not think more highly of
herself, but less well of other people, for she measured at once the
comparative worth of her own attributes in a world of mediocrity. She
saw through the flattery, valued it at its proper rate, but enjoyed it,
and indulged in a little air of self-mockery that to appreciative minds
crowned her beauty irresistibly. But she was rather disappointed in
finding most people so stupid. It was difficult to hold to one's
standard in a world where the second-best passed so fluently. By those
standards Camelia saw herself very second-best; but were there then no
clever people to see it with her? She caught herself in a yawning
weariness of it all. A lazy month or so in the country appealed to her;
other motives, too, were perhaps not wanting. With a little retinue of
friends she reappeared at Clievesbury, and, by degrees, old neighbors
discovered that little Camelia had developed into a rather prickling
personality. On calling they found Lady Paton very much in the
background. Camelia seemed to make no claim, and yet she was the
important personage, and to ignore her prominence was to efface oneself
with her mother. It was thought--and hoped--that Lady Haversham, the
magnate of the county, would vanquish that complacent sweetness, the
aerial lightness of demeanor that glanced over one's head while one
spoke, and "positively" said Mrs. Jedsley "makes one feel like a cow
being looked at along with the landscape."

But although Lady Haversham held rule in the country, in London she,
too, was a nobody, and Camelia very much the contrary. Lady Haversham
knew right well that in going to see her old friend Lady Paton, Camelia
was her objective point, and to try a fall with Camelia upon her native
heath, her intention. Lady Haversham knew that in the eyes of the
world--the world that counted--she was a mere country mouse creeping
into the radiant effulgence of the young beauty, and this unpleasant
consciousness gave her quite a drum-like sonority of manner--a fatal
manner, as she felt helplessly while she beat out her imposing phrases
beneath the clear smiling of Camelia's eyes. Lady Haversham tried in
the first place to exclude Camelia, and addressed herself with most
solicitous fondness to Lady Paton; but Camelia's silent placidity stung
her into self-betrayal. Camelia evidently cared nothing for Lady
Haversham's graciousness--or lack of it; seemed, indeed, unconscious of
the cold shoulder turned so emphatically upon her. Lady Haversham
thumped and rumbled, and knew herself worsted.

"Manner! Unpleasant manner!" she said to Mrs. Jedsley later on in the
day, "the child has no manners at all! That takes in London nowadays,
you know. Anything in the shape of arrogant youth and prettiness is sure
of having its head turned. And as to prettiness, I should call her
curious-looking rather than pretty." And by this Mrs. Jedsley knew that
Camelia had snubbed Lady Haversham, without trying to--there was the
smart; Camelia was making no effort at all to be unpleasant, to impose
herself, but, unmistakably, she only thought of the good people about
her home as cows in the landscape.

"I suppose she finds us all very provincial," said Mrs. Jedsley, not
averse to planting the shaft, for she had felt Lady Haversham's
graciousness to be rather rasping at times.



CHAPTER II


On the sunny autumn day with which this story opens, Miss Paton was in
the morning room at Enthorpe Lodge, waiting for some one--a some one who
to her was not a nobody; and though her attitude hardly denoted much
anxiety, her mind was alert and very conscious of a pleasing and yet
exasperating suspense. Her friend Mrs. Fox-Darriel was with her. Miss
Paton leaned against the mantelpiece as she talked, her eyes often
swerving to the clock, but calmly, with no perceptible impatience, or
passing in a quiet glance over her hand, the falling folds of her white
dress, her friend's face and figure--figure and face equally artificial,
and perhaps affording to Miss Paton's mind a pleasing contrast to her
own distinctive elegance.

There is in Florence a plaque by one of the della Robbia; a long
throated girl's head leans from it, serenely looking down upon the
world; a delicate head, with a clear brow, a pure cheek, a mouth of sad
enchanting loveliness; Camelia's head was like it; saint-like in
contour, but with an added air, an air of merry irresponsibility. The
outward corners of her eyes smiled into a long upward curve of shadow,
her brows above them made a wing-like line, wings hovering extended, and
a little raised. The upward tilt pervaded the corners of her mouth, a
sad mouth, yet even in repose it seemed just about to smile, and its
smile sliding to a laugh. The very moulding of her cheek and chin showed
a tender gaiety. As for coloring it might have been the coloring of a
pensive Madonna, so white was her skin, so palely gold her smooth thick
hair. She was slender too, with the long narrow hands and feet of an
Artemis, and on seeing her one thought of a maiden-goddess, of a St.
Cecilia, and, without surprise over the incongruity, of an intimately
modern young taster of life, whose look of pagan joyousness took neither
herself nor other people seriously, said "que voulez-vous," to all
blame, and gently mocked puritanical earnestness.

Mrs. Fox-Darriel was plunged into the depths of an easy-chair, a type
without hints and whispers to baffle and fascinate. She was thoroughly
conventional and not in the least perplexing. Her elaborate head, a
masterpiece of wave and coil and curl, rested against the high-chair
back, its lustre a trifle suspicious where the light caught too gold a
bronze on the sharp ripples.

She was considered a beauty, and her steely, regular face looked at one
from every stationer's shop in London. Miss Paton's photographs were to
be procured at no stationer's, one among the many differences that
distinguished her from her friend.

On Camelia's "coming-out" in all the dryad-like freshness of her one and
twenty years, Mrs. Fox-Darriel, smartest of the "smart," kindly
determined to "form" and "launch" her. She was very winning, and Camelia
seemed very willing. But Mrs. Fox-Darriel soon recognized that she was
being led--not leading, soon recognized that Camelia would never follow.
The first defeat was at the corsetière's visible symbol of the "forming"
process. Under Mrs. Fox-Darriel's eye, Miss Paton's nymph-like slimness
was measured for stays of all sorts and descriptions; Camelia, when the
stays were done, surveyed her figure therein confined, with reflective
rather than submissive silence.

The week after she went to Paris, and when she returned it was with a
stayless wardrobe. Mrs. Fox-Darriel was fairly quelled as Camelia swept
before her in these masterpieces of the Rue de la Paix.

"They are not æsthetic," said Mrs. Fox-Darriel--"I own that--not a
greenery-yallery whiff about them; nor too self-conscious; but my dear,
why? Don't you like my figure?"

Camelia turned candid eyes upon the accurate waist, the rigid curves and
right angles. "I can't say I do, Frances," she owned, wherewith Mrs.
Fox-Darriel winced a little. "I don't think it looks alive, you know,"
said Miss Paton. "Of course one must know how to dress one's
nonconformity. I think I have succeeded." And Camelia went to court
looking like a glorified Romney, with hardly a whalebone about her.
Their future relationship was forecast by this declaration of
independence. The stayless protégée conferred, did not receive lustre.

Inevitably Mrs. Fox-Darriel found herself revolving about the young
beauty--a satellite among the other satellites, and more than Camelia
herself was Mrs. Fox-Darriel impressed by Camelia's effectiveness.

On this morning from the depth of her laziness she observed her young
friend's glances at the clock with some wondering curiosity; it was
difficult to imagine a cause for the stirring of Camelia's contemplative
quiescence under country influences, but Mrs. Fox-Darriel was quick to
see the faintest ripple of change, and to her well-sharpened acuteness
the ripple this morning was perceptible.

"No new guests coming to-day?" she had asked, receiving a placid
negative. "And what are you going to do?" she pursued, patting the
regular outline of her fringe.

"I thought of a ride with Mr. Merriman and Sir Harry. Do you care to
come?"

"No, no, I have too much of Sir Harry and Mr. Merriman as it is."

"It is dull down here, Frances. Perhaps you had best be off to Homburg.
I am bent on recuperative vegetating, you know."

"Whom are you waiting for?" Mrs. Fox-Darriel asked, coming to the point
with a circumspection rendered rather ridiculous by the frank promptness
of Miss Paton's answer.

"I'm waiting for Mr. Perior, Frances," and she laughed a little,
glancing at her friend with a rapid touch of ridicule, "and he is
half-an-hour late; and I want to see him very badly."

"Mr. Perior?" Mrs. Fox-Darriel's vagueness was not affected. "One of the
vegetables, my dear? Has not the curiosity of the neighborhood exhausted
itself?"

"Ah--this vegetable isn't curious, I fear, not a shoot shows at least.
If he is curious he will pretend not to be, and pretend very
successfully."

"That is subtle for a vegetable. Perior, the name is familiar. Who is
this evasive person?"

Miss Paton's serene eyes looked over her friend's head at the strip of
blue and green outside framed by the long window. She was asking herself
with an inward smile for her own perversity, whether she had not come
down into the country for the purpose of seeing the "evasive person."
She would not mind owning to it in the least. Pickles after sweets; she
anticipated the tart taste of disapproval pleasantly.

"Who is he?" Mrs. Fox-Darriel repeated.

"He is my oldest friend; he doesn't admire me in the least--so I am very
fond of him. I christened him 'Alceste,' and he retaliated with
'Célimène.' He is forty odd; a bachelor; he lives in a square stone
house, and taught me very nearly everything I know. My Greek is almost
as good as my skirt dancing."

"The square-stone gentleman didn't teach you skirt-dancing, I suppose. I
begin to place him. The editor; the family friend; the misanthrope."

"Yes, my 'Alceste.' He has reason for misanthropy. His life has been a
succession of disappointments. I am one of them, I fear."

"Dear me, Camelia!" Mrs. Fox-Darriel sat upright, "have you ever dallied
with this provincial Diogenes?"

Miss Paton smiled over the supposition. "His disappointments are moral,
not amorous. Why do I tell you this, I wonder?"

"To show me that you don't care for him perhaps," said Mrs. Fox-Darriel,
who to tell the truth, was rather alarmed. Since she had resigned
herself to a planetary, a reflected brilliancy, her star at least must
never wane; its orbit must widen. Camelia's whole manner seemed suddenly
suspicious. She was evidently waiting for this person, pleased,
evidently, to talk of him, and though Camelia might be trusted for a
full appreciation of her future's possibilities, Mrs. Fox-Darriel was
hardly satisfied by the frankness of her "Oh! but I do care for him; he
preoccupies me."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel reflected for some moments on the dangers of
country-house propinquity and retrospective intimacy before saying
pleasantly--

"What does he look like?"

Camelia laughed again, soothing Mrs. Fox-Darriel somewhat by the
good-humored glance which seemed to pierce with amusement the anxiety on
her behalf.

"His eyes are thunderous; his lips pale with suppressed anger."

"Dear me! I am really anxious to see this vial of wrath."

"And since that is his footstep on the gravel, you shall see him
immediately," said Camelia.

A moment after Mr. Perior was announced.



CHAPTER III


Mr. Perior was a tall man, well built, yet carrying himself with a
certain ungainliness. He had an air of eagerness reined back. His face
was at once severe and sensitive.

He gave no notice to Mrs. Fox-Darriel, whose head twisted round to
observe his entrance, and walking up to Miss Paton he took her
hands--she had put out both her hands in welcome--and, looking at her
kindly, he said--

"Well, Célimène."

"Well, Alceste."

The smile that made of Camelia's face a changing loveliness seemed to
come and go, and come again while she looked at him, as a butterfly's
wings fold and open while it rests upon a flower. She rarely laughed
outright, but her face in gravity was unfamiliar; one could hardly
imagine it without the shifting charm.

"You might have come before," she said--her hands in his, "and I
expected you."

"I was away until yesterday."

"You will come often now."

"Yes, I will."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel's eye--a none too friendly eye--travelled meanwhile up
and down the "vial of wrath." Clever, eccentric, he had evidently made
an impression upon the not easily impressed Camelia, and his
clean-shaved face, and the rough gray hair that gave his head a look of
shaggy heaviness, seemed to express both qualities significantly.

"Did you ride over?" Camelia asked. "No? Hot for walking, isn't it?
Frances, my friend Mr. Perior."

"You live near here, Mr. Perior?" said Mrs. Fox-Darriel, glancing at his
boots, which were peculiarly solid and very dusty.

"Only five miles away," he said. Mr. Perior's very boots partook of
their wearer's expression of uningratiating self-reliance.

"We have heard of you in London too, I believe. You are editor of--what
review is it, Camelia?"

"I was the editor of the _Friday Review_, but I've given that up."

"He quarrelled with everybody!" Camelia put in, "but you can hear him
once a week in the leading article--dealing hatchet-blows right and
left. They don't care to keep him at closer quarters."

Mr. Perior looked at her, smiling but making no repartee.

"And Camelia has been telling me that you are responsible for her
Greek."

"Is Camelia ashamed of her Greek? She needn't be. She was quite a good
scholar."

"But Greek! For Camelia! Don't you think it jars? To bind such dusty
laurels on that head!"

"Laurels? Camelia can't boast of the adornment--dusty or otherwise."

"Oh! leave me a leaf or two. You are disloyal. I am glad of my Greek.
When one is so frivolous the contrast is becoming. And every twig of
knowledge is useful nowadays in a woman's motley crown, provided she
wears it like a French bonnet."

Perior observed her laughingly--Mrs. Fox-Darriel had as yet seen no
hatchets.

"No danger of your being taken for a blue-stocking, Camelia."

"No, indeed! I see to that!"

"You little hypocrite," said Perior.

Mrs. Fox-Darriel's eyebrows arched into her fringe. She got out of her
chair trailingly.

"I will go into the garden. Lady Paton is there, Camelia? I think so. I
know that you have reminiscences. I am in the way."

"You are, rather," said Perior, when she had gone out. "A very
disagreeable face that, Camelia; how do the women manage to look so hard
nowadays?"

"Thanks. She is a dear friend."

"I am sorry for it. I hate to see eyes touched up; it gives me the
creeps. I am sorry she is a dear friend."

"I am afraid I shall often give you cause for sorriness." Camelia stood
by the mantelpiece, smiling most winningly. "Come, now, let us
reminisce. I saw you last in London. Why didn't you stop there longer?"

"I had enough of London to last me for a lifetime when I lived there,"
said Perior. "I do go up for a bout of concerts now and then," he added,
and looking away from her he took up a large photograph that stood on
the table beside him. "Is this the latest?"

"How do you like it?" she asked, leaning forward to look with him.

"It makes a very saintly little personage of you; but it doesn't do you
justice. Your Whistler portrait--the portrait of a smile--is the best
likeness you'll ever get."

Camelia looked pleased, and yet a trifle taken aback.

"What a nice Alceste you are this morning!" she said. "Tell me, what are
you doing with yourself down here? Growing more and more of the stoic? I
expect some day to hear that you have left the Grange and moved into a
tub. How do you get on without your pupil?" and Camelia as she stood
before him made ever so faint a little dancing step backwards and
forwards, expressive of her question's merriment.

"I have existed--more comfortably perhaps than when I had her."

"Now tell me, be sincere," she came close to him, her own gay steadiness
of look exemplary in the quality she recommended, "_Are_ you crunchingly
disapproving? Ready to bite me? Have you heard dreadful tales of
frivolity and worldliness?"

"Not more than are becoming to a pretty young woman with such capacities
for enjoyment."

"You don't disapprove then?"

"Of what, my dear Camelia?"

"Of my determination to enjoy myself."

"Why should I? Why shouldn't you have your try like the rest of us? I am
not going to throw cold water on your laudable aspirations."

Camelia still looked at him steadily, smilingly, and a little
mockingly. Their eyes at these close quarters could but show a
consciousness of familiarity that made evasions funny. Camelia's eyes
were gray, the sunlit gray of a brook--reflecting broken browns and
greens, _yeux pailletés_, as changing as her smile; and Perior's eyes,
too, were gray, but the fixed, stony gray that is altogether another
color, and they contemplated her fluctuations with an apparently
unmoved, though smiling calm.

She laughed outright, and then Perior permitted himself a dry little
responsive laugh that left his lips unparted.

"What are you up to, Camelia?" he asked.

"We _do_ see through one another, don't we?" she cried joyfully. "I see
you are going to pretend not to mind anything. 'That will sting
her!--take down her conceit! I'll not flatter her by scoldings!' Eh!
Alceste?"

"You little scamp!" he murmured, while Camelia, sitting down on the
sofa, swept her white draperies over her feet and motioned to the place
beside her. "You will not--no, you will not take me seriously."

"If you see through me, Camelia," said Perior, taking the seat beside
her with a certain air of resignation, "you see that I am very sincere
in finding your behavior perfectly normal--not in the least surprising.
You are merely gay, and happy, and self-centred; and behaving as all
girls, who have the chance, behave," he added, putting his finger under
her chin with a paternal pat and a look of gentle ridicule.

"Well done! That was very neat! Do you want me to show signs of
discomfiture. I won't. You know that I am quite individual, and that
for years you have thought me a selfish, hard-hearted little scoundrel."

"Oh no; not so bad as that."

"What have you thought, then?" she demanded.

"I have thought that, like other girls, you can't evade that label----"

"Oh, wretch!" Camelia interjected.

"That, like other girls," Perior repeated with an unkind emphasis, "you
are going to try to make a 'good match.'" His face, for all its attempt
at lightness, took on a shade of irrepressible repugnance as he spoke.
"The accessories don't count for much. You may be quite individually
naughty, but in your motives I see only a very conventional conformity."

"That's bad--bad and crude. The good match is, with me, the accessory;
therein lies my difference, and you know it. You know I am not like
other girls. You saw it in London. You saw," Camelia added, wrinkling up
her nose in a self-mockery that robbed the coming remark of fatuity,
"that I was a personage there."

"As a noticeably pretty girl is a personage. You really are beating your
drum rather deafeningly, Camelia."

"Yes; I'll shock you by mere noise. But, Alceste, I am not as conceited
as I seem; no, really, I am not," and with her change of tone her look
became humorously grave. "I know very well that the people who make much
of me--who think me a personage--are sillies. Still, in a world of
sillies, I am a personage. It does come round to that, you see."

"Yes; I see."

Camelia leaned back in her end of the little sofa, her arms folded, her
head bent in a light scrutiny of her companion's face. The warm quiet of
the summer day pervaded the peaceful room, a room with so many
associations for both of them. They had studied, read there together for
years; laughed, quarrelled, been the best of friends and the fondest of
enemies. Perior, as he looked about it, could call up a long vista of
Camelias, all gay, all attaching, all evasive, all culminating and
fulfilling themselves with an almost mathematical inevitableness, as was
now so apparent to him, in the long, slim "personage" beside him, her
eyes, as he knew, studying him, her mind amused with conjectures as to
what he really thought of her, she herself quite ready to display the
utmost sincerity in the attempt to elicit that thought. Oh no, Camelia
would keep up very few pretences with him. Perior, gazing placidly
enough at the sunlit green outside the morning-room, knew very well what
he thought of her.

"Are you estimating the full extent of my folly," she asked presently,
"tempering your verdict by the consideration of extenuations?"

This was so apt an exposition of his mental process that Perior smiled
rather helplessly.

"See," she said, rising and going to the writing-table, "I'll help you
to leniency; show you some very evident extenuations." From a large
bundle of letters she selected two. "Weigh the extent of my influence,
and find it funny, if you like, as I do."

"I wonder if you quite realize the ludicrous aspect of our
conversation," said Perior, taking a thick sheaf of paper from the first
letter.

"Quite--quite. Only you push me to extremes. I must make you own my
importance--my individuality."

"Ah, from Henge," said Perior, looking at the end of the letter. "He was
my fag at Eton, you know; dear old Arthur!"

"Yes, and you quarrelled with him five years ago, about politics."

"We didn't quarrel," said Perior, with a touch of asperity; "he was
quite big enough not to misunderstand my opposition. Must I read all
this, Camelia? It looks rather dry."

"Well, I should like you to. He is one of the strongest men in the
government, you know."

"Quite. He is the man for me, despite past differences of opinion. The
man for you, too, perhaps," he added, glancing sharply up at her from
the letter; "his devotion is public property, you know."

"But my reception of his devotion isn't," laughed Camelia.

"I am snubbed," said Perior, returning to the letter, and flushing a
little. Camelia noted the flush. Dear old Alceste! Shielding so
ineffectually, under his sharp blunt bearing, that quivering
sensitiveness.

She put her hand through his arm, sinking down beside him, her eyes over
his shoulder following his, while he read her--certificate. Perior quite
understood the smooth making of amends.

"Well, what do you say to that?" she asked when he had obediently read
to the very end.

"I should say that he was a man very much in love," said Perior, folding
the letter.

"You are subtle if you can trace an amorous influence in that letter."

"It doesn't call for subtlety. Samson only abandons himself so
completely under amorous circumstances. I hope you are not going to
shear the poor fellow."

"For shame," said Camelia, while Perior, looking at her reflectively,
softly slapped the palm of his hand with Arthur Henge's letter. "I am
his comrade. I help him; I am on his side, if you please, and against
the Philistines."

"Oh, are you? And this? Ah! this is from the leader of the Philistines,
Rodrigg. Yes, I heard that Rodrigg was in the toils." Perior examined
the small, compact handwriting without much apparent curiosity.

"That is simply nonsense. There was a time--but he soon saw the
hopelessness. He is my friend now; not that I am particularly fond of
him--the grain is rather coarse: but he is a good creature, far more
honest than he imagines, simple, after a clumsy fashion. He aims at
distinguished diplomatic complexity, I may tell you, and, I fancy, comes
to me for the necessary polishing. Read his letter."

Perior had looked at her, still smiling, but more absently, while she
spoke.

"Oh! Rodrigg is more cautious," he said glancing through the great man's
neatly constructed phrases. "You are not with the Philistines; he feels
that."

"Politically no; but I have a good deal of influence with him. You see
those reviews he mentions; I went through a lot of heavy French and
Italian reading for him--sociology, industrialism--and saw the result in
his last speech."

"Really."

"Ah, really. Don't be sarcastic, Alceste, to me. One of those men will
probably be Prime Minister some day. You can't deny that they are
eminent men."

"And therefore you are an eminent woman. Well, the logic isn't too lame.
I'll conclude, Camelia, that you may do quite a lot of harm in the
world."

"You don't believe that a woman's influence in politics can be for
good?"

"Not the influence of a woman like you--a--a _femme bibelot_."

"Good!" cried Camelia, gently clapping her hands.

"It is as that, you know, that these men court you. An _objet d'art_ for
their drawing-rooms."

"You are mistaken, Alceste."

"If I am mistaken--if they cherish ideals, they are unlucky devils."

"No, Alceste, I am well justified in keeping my self-respect intact. It
is not for my _beaux yeux_ that I am courted--yes, yes--that wry look
isn't needed! I know in what hideously bad taste I am talking, but one
can't use artistic methods with you. As I say, I have my finger in any
number of pies besides the pie political. You should see the respect in
which I am held by the writers and painters. And I _have_ good taste; I
know that. You can't deny it, since you helped it to grow. What other
woman in London has a collection to equal mine? Dégas--Outamaro--Oh,
Alceste, don't look so funnily! Do you really imagine that I am not
conscious of the baldness of my exposition? But what is the good of
putting on a wig for you!"

"And all this to convince me----"

"Yes, to convince you."

"Of what, pray?"

"That I am not a little insignificance to be passed by with indulgence."

"Should you prefer severity?" and Perior, conscious that she had
succeeded in "drawing" him, could not repress "You are an outrageous
little egotist, Camelia."

Camelia, her hands clasped over her knee, contemplated him with more
gravity than he had expected.

"No," she demurred, "selfish, but not egotistic. There is a difference,
isn't there? Egotism is subjective, selfishness objective. I wonder,"
she added, "what you _do_ think of me. Not that I care--much! Am I not
frank? I must care, since I am shuffling about before you; getting a
cuffing for my pains!" She rose suddenly, laughing, not in the least
bitterly, and walked to the window.

"Mamma and Mary," she announced. "Did Frances evade them? They disconcert
her. Frances, you know, goes in for knowingness--cleverness--the modern
vice. Don't you hate clever people? Frances doesn't dare talk epigrams
to me; I can't stand it. You saw a lot of Mamma and Mary last winter,
didn't you? Took Mary out riding. Now, come here, Mr. Perior, and tell
me _how_ she looked on horseback."

Camelia was smiling irrepressibly as he joined her, and they watched the
approach of the two ladies across the lawn. Certainly the angular,
thick-set form of the younger gave no hint of pleasing possibilities
under circumstances so trying as the equestrian.

"_I_ never could wheedle Mary into the saddle. I should like to see her
on horseback immensely." Camelia's eyes twinkled: "A sort of cowering
desperation, wasn't it?"

"No, she rode rather nicely," said Perior concisely. There was something
rather brutal in Camelia's comments as she stood there with such
rhythmic loveliness of pose and contour.

"I wish Mary did not look so much like a milk pudding," she went on; "a
raisinless milk pudding--so sane, so formless, so uneventful."

Perior did not smile.



CHAPTER IV


Lady Paton was a thin, graceful woman, her slenderness emphasized, like
her daughter's, by a very small head. Since her husband's death she had
worn black, and even now it seemed to invade her delicate whiteness
rather overwhelmingly, rising closely about her throat, falling over her
fragile hands, enfolding her with a soft solemnity. Her white hair was
smoothed thickly under the transparent cambrics of an exquisite cap, and
framed the sweetness of a faded face, in profile like Camelia's.
Camelia's eyes were her father's, and her smile; Lady Paton's eyes were
round like a child's, and her smile half-frightened, half-explanatory.
With all the gentlewoman's mild dignity, her look was timid, as though
it besought indulgence for a lifelong sense of insignificance, a look
that aroused in Perior his grimmest scorn for a world in which such
flower-like moral loveliness is inevitably victimized by garish
egotisms. He had known Sir Charles, a charming companion, a good
fellow--in the somewhat widely licensed sense the term implies, but not
fit to untie his wife's shoe-strings when it came to a comparison.
Camelia now had stepped upon her father's undeserved pedestal, and
Perior, watching the new epoch of incense-burning, had smiled more and
more grimly. He was devoted to Lady Paton, and had been so since the
days when a raw, sensitive, high-strung youth, fresh from college, her
Madonna head had roused in him poetical idealizations, and her husband's
gay indifference a chafing resentment. With years he had grown rather
fond of Sir Charles, could make allowances for him, and, too, had no
longer idealized Lady Paton; but though he now saw her, sweet but dull,
lovely in unselfishness, yet weak in all except a submission noble in
its own way, the fragrant charm still stirred him with an almost
paternal tenderness, a pity, even a reverence. She was too obtuse to see
her own cramped and imprisoned life, but he saw it, and her
unconsciousness was part of the pathos. He was very fond of her, and she
of him, so that with all his protective partisanship there was, too, a
willing filial deference.

This little corner of appreciation and affection was the softest spot in
Perior's character. He took both her hands now and said, looking at her
with a whimsical gentleness, "So you are back at last! And glad to be
back, too, are you not?"

"Oh, very. And Camelia seems to like it so much," she smiled round at
her daughter; "she was beginning to look quite fagged; already the
country has done her good."

Camelia smiled back with a humoring lightness.

Mary Fairleigh stood quietly behind her aunt. Her expressionless face
certainly did suggest a lacteal dulness. The Fairleighs were not
responsible for her short nose and clumsily-cut mouth. Impecunious
Maurice Fairleigh, third son, had "done for himself" when he married his
younger sisters' nursery governess. Maurice had no money--and not many
brains, and poor Miss Hockey had neither brains nor beauty, nor family
nor money. Her flaxen hair and vacant blue eyes captured Maurice's
vagrant fancy during a lazy summer. He was very young, that fact was the
only excuse possible; but, as the Fairleighs said, there was no
accounting for Maurice's folly. Maurice himself, after a very little
time, could no longer account for it. He was a good-natured fellow, and
his wonder at himself did not become too painfully apparent to his wife;
but the short years of their married life were by no means a success.
Maurice was very delicate, and the struggle to make both ends meet was
but grudgingly aided by disapproving relatives. Lady Paton, only, was
sympathetic, practically sympathetic too; but during the greater part of
Maurice's matrimonial venture she was in India, and, as the other
Fairleighs said, Angelica never had the wit to resent anything. Maurice
died at Davos-Platz, and Mrs. Fairleigh, when her daughter was sixteen,
departed her seemingly very pointless existence. Her last years had been
sweetened by Lady Paton's devoted kindness, and she left Mary to this
guardian angel. Since that time Mary had lived at Enthorpe Lodge; a
grave, good little girl, solemnly submissive to her cousin, painstaking
in dutiful gratitude toward her aunt. Camelia had always found this
gratitude irritating, and Mary's manner--as of one on whom Providence
had laid the patiently-borne burden of obscurity and dependence, very
vexing. Camelia intended as little as her mother to recognize a
difference, and did not realize that her own dominant characteristics
necessitated Mary's non-resistance.

She laughed at Mary's gravity, tried to tease her out of her stolid
acceptance of the rôle of poor relation, but, inevitably, she came to
treat Mary with the tolerant carelessness she seemed only to expect. As
for Lady Paton, she never surmised about Mary, nor analyzed her. Lady
Paton accepted people and things as they appeared, and without
conjecture. Mary was a dear, good girl. It was indeed impossible that
her uninteresting virtues should arouse enthusiasm, and her aunt's
appreciation from its very fulness was calmly unemotional.

Lady Paton having become in these latter days a sort of decorative
adjunct to her daughter--for Camelia used her mother to the very best
advantage,--lace caps, sweetness and all,--it was upon Mary that the
duller duties fell. Mary managed bills and servants, and household
matters; wrote little notes, ran little errands, chose embroidery silks,
and sent for the books to Mudie's,--the tender books with happy
matrimonial endings that Lady Paton liked. She read these books aloud,
and talked to her aunt--as Camelia never did, never could. Lady Paton
listened to her daughter, but she and Mary talked about her. Mary's
conversation required no adjustment of amazed faculties, no quelling of
old-fashioned alarms, nor acceptance of a wondering incompetence.

The little prattle of gardening and gowns, and Camelia's doings went on
happily, unless hushed in an absorbed observance of that young heroine
herself,--flinging pretty missiles of speech far above the heads of her
mother and cousin.

Both dull dears; such was Camelia's realistic inner comment, but Mary
was an earthenware dear, and Mamma translucent porcelain. Camelia, who
appreciated and loved all dainty perfection, appreciated and loved her
mother, with much the same love that she would have given a slender
white vase of priceless ware, displayed on a stand of honor in her
knowingly grouped drawing-room. She was a distinctly creditable and
decorative Mamma. As for Mary, she was not decorative; a harmless,
necessary hot water jug.

Camelia, now, as her mother spoke to Perior, went to her side and gave
the muslin that fell over her shoulder a little touch and settling.

"You have had a nice walk round the garden?" she said, smiling, "your
cheek is just the pink of a sweet-pea."

"And how are you, Mary?" Perior asked, turning to Miss Fairleigh. "You
might have more color I think."

"Mary has a headache," said Lady Paton, the fluttering smile with which
she had received her daughter's commendation fading, "I think she often
has them and says nothing."

"You must play tennis with the Mappuck girls. You need more exercise,"
Perior continued. "They are at it vigorously from morning till night."

"Oh--really," Mary protested, "it is only Aunt Angelica's kindness--I am
quite well."

"And no one must dare be otherwise in this house," Camelia added. "Go
and play tennis at once, Mary. I don't approve of headaches." Mary
smiled a modest, decorous little smile.

"Nor do I," said Perior, and then as Lady Paton had taken a chair near
her work-table, he sat down beside her, while Mary sank from her
temporary prominence, and, near the window, took up some sewing. Camelia
remained near her, looking out at the smooth green stretches of the
lawn, lending half an ear to the talk behind her, but keeping up at the
same time a kindly little flow of question and reply with her cousin.
How were the flowers getting on? and the hay making? Had she seen that
morning her poor village people? The questions were rather perfunctory;
and while she spoke Camelia aided the faltering march of a burnished
little beetle up the window, and helped him out on to the fragrant
branch of syringa that brushed the pane.

"I hear that you are embarked on a season of parties," said Perior to
Lady Paton.

"Yes, Camelia has so many friends. She thought she would like it here if
she could keep it gay with people."

"You will like it too. You were lonely last winter."

"Ah, Camelia was not here; but I was not lonely, Michael; you were too
kind for that; and I had Mary. You don't think Camelia looks thin,
Michael?" She had always called the family friend by his Christian name.
Perior had Irish ancestry. "She has been doing so much all spring--all
winter too; I can't understand how a delicate girl can press so many
things into her life--and studying with it too; she must keep up with
everything."

"Ahead of everything," Perior smiled.

"Yes, she is really so intellectual, Michael. You don't think she looks
badly?"

"She is as pretty a little pagan as ever," said Perior, glancing at Miss
Paton.

"A pagan!" Lady Paton looked rather alarmed. "You mean it, Michael? I
have been troubled, but Camelia comes to church with me. It is you who
are the pagan, Michael," she added, finding the gentle retort with
evident relief.

"Oh, I wasn't speaking literally. I have no doubt that Camelia is a
staunch church-woman," he smiled to himself. Camelia was a brazen little
conformist, when conformity was of service.

"No, not that. I don't quite know. I have heard her talk of religion,
with Mr. Ballenden, who writes those books, you know, scientific,
atheistic books, and Camelia seemed quite to overpower him; the
illusions of science, the claims of authority." Lady Paton spoke with
some little vagueness. "I did not quite follow it all; but he became
very much excited. Controversial religion does not interest me, it
confuses me. It is the inner change of heart, Michael," she added with a
mild glance of affection, "the reliance on the higher will that guides
us, that has revealed itself to us."

Perior looked somewhat gloomily on the ground. The thought of Lady
Paton's religion, and Camelia's deft juggling with negatives, jarred
upon him.

"You don't agree with me, Michael?" Lady Paton asked timidly.

"Of course I do," he said, looking up at her, "that is the only
definition needful. We may interpret differently, from different points
of view."

"You would find, I think, greater peace in mine, Michael. May you come
to it in time!"

They were both silent for a moment, and both looked presently at
Camelia.

"She is so much admired, and so unspoiled by it. So frank, so
unaffected. She is found so clever."

"So she tells me," Perior could not repress.

"And so humorous," Lady Paton added, taking his smile in its kindest
sense, "she says the most amusing things."

"Mr. Perior," said Camelia, turning rather abruptly, "if Mamma is
singing my praises I give you leave to repress her sternly." She joined
them, standing behind Lady Paton's chair, and, over her head, looking at
Perior. "I know how trying such praises are, heard outside the family
circle."

"In which I hope I may include myself. I enjoy Lady Paton's
interpretation."

"Mamma would not believe the biting intention of that speech. Cuff!
cuff! cuff! _Il me fait des misères_, Mamma!"

Lady Paton's smile went from one to the other.

"You have always teased Michael, Camelia, and he has always been so
patient with you."

"Every one is patient with me, because I am a good girl. 'Be good, sweet
maid--' I believe in a moral universe," and Camelia over her mother's
head wrinkled up her nose roguishly as she made the edifying statement.
"Mamma," she added, "where is my flock this morning? I fancied that you
were shepherding some of them. I want to trot them out before Mr.
Perior. I want to study his expression as Sir Harry and Mr. Merriman
present themselves. Sir Harry the mere superlative of Mr. Merriman's
fatuity. I imagine that by some biological adaptation of function they
use their brains for digestive purposes, since I am sure they never
think with them."

Lady Paton took refuge from a painful recognition of the inhospitable
nature of these remarks in a vague smile. Lady Paton had a faculty for
misunderstanding when either misunderstanding or disapproval was
necessary. If Camelia hoped by her brisk personalities to shock her
former preceptor she failed signally, for laughing appreciatively he
asked, "And for what purpose were these latest sports of evolution
imported?"

"Purpose! Could one pin a purpose to such aimless beings? They came
because I like to have beautiful things about me, and, in their way,
they are beautiful. Then, too, with a plant-like persistency they turn
to the sun, and I do not flatter myself in owning that I am their sun.
It would have been cruel to deny them the opportunity of basking."

"The hunting, dancing, yachting species, I suppose."

"Yes; their lives comprise a few more movements, but very few. It is a
mere sort of rhythmic necessity."

Perior laughed again, and his eyes met hers, as she leaned above her
mother's chair, in quite a twinkling mood.

Mary, near the window, paused in her stitching to look at them both with
a seemingly bovine contemplation.

"And who are your other specimens?" asked Perior, less conscious
perhaps than was Camelia of the purely dual nature of the conversation.
She enjoyed this little display before him, and her enjoyment was
emphasized by the presence of two alien listeners, it defined so well
the fundamental intellectual sympathy.

Her smile rested on him as she replied, "You saw Mrs. Fox-Darriel."

"Yes."

"My only other guest just now is Gwendolen Holt, in appearance a
youthful replica of Mrs. Fox-Darriel, but in character very embryotic."

"A very pretty girl," said Lady Paton, finding at last her little
foothold.

"A spice of ugliness--just a something to jar the insignificant
regularity of her face, would make her charming. As it is, her
prettiness is a bore. You will stay to lunch, Alceste, and see these
people?"

"I can't say that you have made me anxious to see them."

"Have you no taste for sociology?"

"You will stay and see _us_, however, will you not?" said Lady Paton,
advancing now in happy security. "I want a long talk with you."

"Then I stay."

"His majesty stays!" Camelia murmured.

"How are the tenants getting on?" asked Lady Paton, taking from the
table a soft mass of white wool, and beginning to knit. She was one of
those women whose hands are always uselessly and prettily busy.

"Mary and I drove past the cottages yesterday--I wish you had come,
dear--you would have liked to see them. So pretty they are, among their
orchards, with such beautiful gardens full of flowers."

"Yes, don't they look well?" said Perior, much pleased. "I am trying to
get the people to devote themselves to fruit and flower growing. It pays
well."

"And do the cottages themselves pay?" Camelia inquired mischievously. "I
hear that, asking the ridiculous rents you do, you need never expect to
make the smallest profit--or even get back the capital expended."

"Thank Heaven the money-making epoch of my life is over," said Perior,
folding his arms and looking at her rather defiantly.

"But what blasphemy against political economy! Cottages that don't pay!
It's very immoral, Alceste. It is feminine. You are pauperizing your
tenants."

"I don't at all disbelieve that a little infusion of femininity into
political economy would be a very good thing. Besides, the cottages will
pay in the end."

"The rents are lower than the lowest in the village. Lord Haversham was
telling me about it yesterday."

"Oh, Haversham!" laughed Perior.

"He was very plaintive. Said that times were hard enough for landlords
as it was, without your charitable visionaries and your socialistic
theories."

"The two accusations don't fit; but of the two I prefer the latter."

"It is a mere egotistic diversion then?"

"Yes, a purely scientific experiment."

"And your tenants have bath-tubs, I hear. Do they use them with Pears'
soap every morning?"

"I flatter myself that they are fairly clean. That alone is an
interesting experiment. Dirt, I firmly believe to be the root of all
evil."

"Ah, we come down to the bed-rock of ethics at last, don't we? Well, how
is the laboratory getting on? Have you found traces of original sin in
protoplasm?"

"I think I have spotted perverse tendencies," Perior smiled.

"What a Calvinist you are!"

"Michael a Calvinist, my dear child!" Lady Paton looked up from her
knitting in amazement.

"An illogical Calvinist. Instead of burning sinners he washes them! and
I've no doubt that to some of them the latter form of purification is as
disagreeable as the former. He puts them into model cottages, with
Morris wall-papers."

"I beg your pardon. No Morris wall-papers."

"Camelia, my dear, how extravagantly you talk," said Lady Paton, her
smile reflecting happily Perior's good-humor. Michael did not mind the
teasing--liked it perhaps; and though she did not understand she smiled.
Camelia sank down to a low chair beside her mother's, and taking her
mother's hand she held it up solemnly, saying, "Mamma, Mr. Perior is a
tissue of inconsistencies. He despises humanity; and he works for it
like a nigger."

"You are an impressionist, Camelia. Don't lay on your primaries so
glaringly."

"Confess that you are a philanthropist, though an unwilling one."

"I confess nothing," said Perior, looking across the room at Mary with a
smile that seemed to invite her participation in his well-borne baiting.

"Is not your life one long effort to help humanity--not _la sainte
canaille_ with you--but, and hence your inconsistency, the gross
_canaille_, the dull, treacherous, diabolical _canaille_?"

"Not to hurt it, rather; and as one is oneself gross, dull, treacherous,
and diabolical, that may well engage one's energies. There would be less
cant and more comfort in the world if we would merely avoid treading
upon our neighbor's corns. Let us cultivate the negative virtues. What
do you say, Mary? You have a right to a strong opinion, since I never
saw you hurt anybody."

Mary, thus unexpectedly appealed to, started, grew red, and laughed an
embarrassed and apprehensive laugh. Camelia cast a glance upon the long
strip of rather foolish embroidery lengthening under her cousin's
fingers.

"My philosophy!" she declared. "People who make a row about things are
such bores."

Lady Paton, still smiling, quite at sea, but conscious of a pleasant
atmosphere, bent her eyes upon an intricate turn in the futile garment
upon which she was engaged.

"Do you avoid your neighbor's corns, my young lady?" Perior inquired.

"I never think of such unpleasantnesses," Camelia replied lightly. "As I
haven't any corns myself, I proceed upon the supposition that other
people enjoy my immunity. If they don't, why, that is their own
fault--let them cut them and give up tight boots."

Perior, looking on the floor, his elbows on his knees, his hands
clasped, laughed again.

"Little pagan!" he said.

"Frank, healthy paganism, an excellent thing. I don't own to it, mind;
but is not the soul in our modern sense a disease of the body?"

"Oh, Camelia!" said Lady Paton, looking up with eyes rounded. Camelia's
smile reassured her somewhat, and she glanced for its confirmation at
Perior.

Mary Fairleigh, in her distant seat, carefully drew her silk about the
contour of an alarming flower.

"Never mind, Lady Paton, she doesn't shock me at all," said Perior.

"I am glad of that, Michael; she will make herself misunderstood.
Camelia dear, it is one o'clock. The others must be in the drawing-room.
Shall we go there?"

"Willingly, Mamma. I'm very hungry. Did you order a _good_ lunch, Mary?"

"I hope you will like it." Mary paused in the act of neatly rolling up
her work. "Fowls, asparagus----"

"_Don't_," Camelia interposed in mock horror; "the nicest part of a meal
is unexpectedness!" She laughed at her cousin; but Mary, securing her
work with a pin, murmured solemnly, "I am so sorry."

"Mary, you are as silly as your own fowls!" cried Camelia; she gave her
cousin's flaxen head a pat, and then, as Lady Paton had taken Perior's
arm and led the way, she drew herself up in a mimicry of their stately
progress, and followed them demurely.



CHAPTER V


Michael Perior was an unfortunate man; unfortunate in his temperament,
which was enthusiastic, sensitive, and idealistic; unfortunate in the
circumstances with which that temperament found itself called upon to do
battle. To a man who had expected less of life the circumstances might
have been more amenable and far more endurable, but Perior had the
ill-luck to be born with an unmanageable instinct for the best, with an
untamable scorn for the second-best. It is not necessary to go into the
details of a life which had not spared these qualities nor improved
while disillusionizing him. Two blinding buffets met him at its
threshold. His father was ruined in a lawsuit, which by every ethical
standard he should have won, and Perior was in consequence jilted by the
girl whom he had enshrined in his heart as the perfect star of his
existence. At twenty-three he found himself under a starless sky, with a
heart stupefied at its own emptiness, and in a world of thieves and
murderers--for his father died under the shock of disaster, and Perior
did not pick his phrases.

The abject common-sense of his ex-_fiancée_ could be borne with perhaps
more philosophy. He accepted the starlessness as in the nature of
things, and his own brief belief in stars as typifying the ignorance of
youth; but his father's death--the crushing out of life rather than its
departure--was tragedy, and it was with the sense of inevitable and
irretrievable tragedy that he began life. He had been thought clever at
Oxford, and had considered himself destined for Parliament. With a huge
load of debts upon his back, and an unresigned mother to support, all
thoughts of the career for which he had fitted himself were out of the
question. He turned to its only equivalent, and took up journalism. He
was much in earnest; he believed in a right and in a wrong, and was
intolerant of expediency. In a world of interested motives he bore
himself with unflinching disapproval. He would limit his freedom by no
party partiality, and in the laxity of public life his keen
individuality made itself felt like a knife cutting through cheese. At
the end of years of very bitter struggle he found himself in a position
of some eminence, editor of a courteous, caustic review, whose chief
characteristics were a stubborn isolation and a telling of truths that
made both friends and foes blink. No half-measures, no half-truths.
Conformity with the faintest taint upon it was intolerable to him. His
idealism had not evaporated in the storm and stress, it had condensed,
rather, into a steely resistance to ugly reality. Insincerity,
injustice, meanness, hurt him as badly in middle-age as they had at
twenty-five, but he now expected them, and by a stoical presage braced
himself against disappointment. The stoicism was only a rather brittle
crust, hastily improvised by Nature's kindly adaptation; he was soured,
but his heart was still soft; he expected nothing, and yet he was hurt
by everything. It was now some time since he had promised himself that
Camelia should never hurt him. Camelia had occupied his thoughts for a
good many years. The pretty child, with her face of subdued saint-like
curves, and her smile of frank unsaintliness, had seemed to claim him
from the very first home-coming. By a final irony of fate poor Mrs.
Perior died only a few months before the Grange was freed from its last
encumbrances. She had not made life easier for her son. She had always
refused to believe in the necessity for letting the Grange, had always
resented the lodgings in South Kensington, had always considered herself
injured, and had not been chary in demonstrations of injury. Perior had
looked forward with pride to the time when he should reinstate her in
her own home, and her death made a mockery of his own home-coming.

It was in Camelia's early girlhood that ill-health, overwork, and a
violent row with the powers of political darkness, made this home-coming
definite. The battered idealist sought rather sulkily a retreat from the
intolerable contemplation of a wider world's misdeeds. Young Camelia, so
different from her dully worthy ancestors, so different even from her
dashing but not intellectual papa, charmed him as the woods and flowers
of spring charm eyes weary with city winter. She was too young to be
taken seriously; that was a lifted weight, in the first place. The
joyous receptivity of her mind afforded to his scholarly instincts just
the foothold he required to excuse to himself an indulgent and
thoughtless affection. As friend and adviser of Lady Paton, he drifted
easily into a paternal attitude towards the fatherless Camelia; he was
over twenty years her senior, and her eagerness for knowledge appealed
to him. As she had said, he taught her nearly everything she knew; she
rebelled against other methods, and Perior himself would have felt
robbed had governess or tutor supplanted him. During those quiet and
pleasant years he felt that on a melancholy walk he had picked a handful
of primroses--their pale young gold irradiated his solitude. He did not
say to himself that Camelia would never disappoint him, nor own that the
handful of primroses meant much in his life, but hopefulness seemed to
emanate from her, and insensibly he lived in the sunny impression. Her
very defects were charming, the mere superfluity of exuberant vitality,
and with this conviction he observed her happy, youthful selfishness as
one observes a kitten's antics, and treated her claims for dominion with
gentle ridicule. Camelia laughed with him at herself, and this gave them
an irresistible sense of companionship; consoling too, since no defect
so humorously recognized could be deep; his primroses still kept their
dew. But as she grew older, Perior began to realize uncomfortably that
Camelia could laugh at the deepest defect, recognize it, analyze it, and
stick to it--a deft combination. This faculty for firm sticking despite
obstacles gave the paternal Perior food for reflection, and, as he
reflected, he felt with a sudden little turn of terror that he was in a
fair way to take Camelia seriously after all. His terror struck him as
very cowardly, a shrinking from responsibilities--his, of a truth, to a
certain extent. That lightly assumed guardianship meant much in her
life. Had he failed in some essential? Was she not the product of her
training? He owned with a sigh that the note of true authority it had
not been his right to emphasize; yet in defending himself from the
probable pain of a deep affection, had he not weakened his claim to a
moral influence? And had he defended himself? Perior turned from the
question. Camelia respected him, he knew that; and yet his very
frankness with her--he, too, had laughed at himself for her benefit--had
given her a power over him. He was not at all afraid of seeming
priggish, but he was shy before certain contingencies; he knew that he
should blunder if he preached, and that Camelia would force him to smile
at the blunder and to blur the sermon.

At the age of eighteen he caught her more than once managing,
manipulating the plastic elements about her with a skill approaching
deceit. The very absence of a necessity for deceit alarmed him; she had
so few temptations, there was no way of testing her, yet, that once or
twice, when circumstances by a little twist or turn opposed her, he had
caught her--too dexterous. Perior had not controlled himself, nor taken
the advantage he might have seized. He had immediately lost his balance,
exaggerated what Camelia regarded as a quite permissible and pretty
compromise into a fault worthy of biting denunciation, and in so doing
had given her a point of vantage from which she laughed--not even
angrily. Perior for many years had thought most goodness negative, and
preferred to see it tested before admiring, but he had forgotten to
apply his philosophy in this case. He lost his temper, and Camelia kept
hers, kept hers to the extent of soothing him by a smiling confession of
her misdoing, an affectionate declaration that she was wrong and he
quite right--"But don't be cross, dear Mr. Perior." What was he to do?
She did not care if she were wrong. Perior thought he would be wiser in
the future; he would give Camelia no further opportunity for facile
confession; but though the first sting of unexpected disappointment was
over, many unmerited aches were still reserved to him--all the more
painful from the fact that he had never intended to ache for Camelia.
Mary Fairleigh had come to the Patons when Camelia was sixteen, and
Camelia's treatment of her cousin was another and more constant cause
for growing discontent. Perior could not define the discomfort with
which he watched Camelia's indifferent kindness, or, worse still, an
unkindness as unintentional. He assumed by degrees an attitude of
compensatory gentleness towards poor Mary; it held, however, no sting
for Camelia; she seemed to watch his doing of the things she left undone
very complacently. It was by degrees that his dismay took refuge in a
manner of unshocked indifference which he hoped would prove salutary. It
did seem to irk and perplex her somewhat, and he had the consolation of
thinking that many of her perversities might be intentionally engineered
for his benefit. Perior, too, had learned to smile, and Camelia was
baffled. He would not scold her. After all, he counted for very little,
so Camelia assured herself as she entered upon her London life, and he
should see that she could be indifferent with far more effectiveness.
Perior saw little of her during those years. The little he saw on his
rare visits to London confirmed his grim conviction. She was a pretty,
clever, foolish, worthless creature; her frankness threw no dust into
his eyes. She might own herself a self-seeking worldling, and she did
not overshoot the mark. Many were the corns she danced over in her quest
of power and happiness. Her sincerity was insincere--it adapted itself
too cleverly. Perior had seen her flatter, when only he and she knew
that she was flattering; had seen her make her effect by pliancy or by
resistance; had watched her smile light for those who could serve her,
or stiffen to a sweet blankness for the incompetent. He recognized in
her his own scorn for the world without his ideal, which would not
permit him to stoop and use it; but, so Perior thought, Camelia knew no
ideals; reality did not hurt her--she met it with its own weapons. One
did not conquer an immoral world by moral methods; and if one lived in
it, not to conquer it would be intolerable. The scorn no doubt excused
her to herself, but it hedged her round with a sort of stupidity from
which Perior's quick recognition of moral beauty preserved him. Ethical
worth had come to be everything to him. Camelia simply did not see it.
He himself had armed her with that scientific impartiality before which
he felt himself rather helpless, before which good and bad resolved
themselves into very evasive elements. She told him that her science was
more logical than his, it had made her charitable to the whole world,
herself included, whereas he was hard on the world and hard on himself.
His very kindness lacked grace, while her unkindness wore a flower-like
color. He was sorry for people, not fond of them--but Camelia was
neither fond nor sorry. They were shadows woven into the web of her
experience, her business was to make that experience pleasant, to see it
beautifully. It was this love of beauty--beauty in the pagan sense--that
baffled him in her. She had put appreciation and an exquisite good taste
in the place of morality. Life to her was a game, to him a tragic,
insistent conundrum. These, at least, were Perior's reluctant
conclusions.

When he walked away from Enthorpe Lodge his mind was to a certain extent
already reverting to the daily preoccupations of cottages, perverse
protoplasm, and his weekly article for the _Friday Review;_ but also
dwelling with the dual peculiarity observable in our meditations, upon
the people he had just left, Lady Paton, Mary, Camelia's guests, and
Camelia herself. It seemed really unnecessary to remind himself of that
promise he had made himself some time ago; Camelia could not disappoint
him; he knew just what to expect from her; she could not hurt him. Yet
the promise had been made at a time when she was hurting him very badly,
and even now, while he recalled it with some vehemence, he was feeling a
most illogical smart.

The country road wound among dusty hedges and through the little
village. About half a mile beyond it lay a remnant of the Perior estate,
once large, second only in importance to the Haversham's, now sadly
shrunken and dislocated. By degrees, and during years of only meagre
competence, he had built upon this pretty bit of land a cluster of
cottages, his playthings; to make them unnecessarily delightful was his
perverse pleasure.

Perior was by no means a paternal landlord; the lucky occupants of the
cottages were never reminded of the propriety of gratitude. Indeed
Perior had enraged neighboring landowners by remarking that the cottages
were none too good for the rent--a saying big with implications, and
perhaps intentionally spiteful. Indeed intentional spite was attributed
to many of his actions. It was a great fox-hunting country; and one of
the finest coverts, rich in foxes lovingly preserved by Perior's
forefathers, lay on his estate. Now it was currently reported that
Perior had had all the foxes shot! A murder would have made him less
unpopular. Malicious insanity seemed the only explanation.

He did not scruple to proclaim his blasphemous heresies on the sacred
sport. He grew angry, said he abominated it, would do all in his power
to stamp it out, and at least would see that no animal should be
"tortured" on his property. The foxes had certainly disappeared from
Mandelly Woods, and good, honest sportsmen could hardly trust themselves
to mention the criminal fanatic's name. It must be owned that Perior's
love of animals approached the grotesque. He entertained at the Manor a
retinue of battered cats and outcast dogs, many garnered from London
streets. He could hardly bear to have surplus kittens drowned, and only
by the firmness of the housekeeper was the necessary severity
accomplished. He was exaggerated, peculiar, unpractical; the kindest
said it of him. He had sent two clever village boys to the University,
one the son of the village poacher and ne'er-do-weel, a handsome lad
with a Burns-like streak of genius, who had distinguished himself at
Oxford, and disappointed many pessimistic prophecies by turning out more
than creditably. At the present moment the son of one of Perior's
field-laborers came every day to the Grange for a coaching in the
humanities. Perior was a fine master, and Camelia was none too well
pleased when she heard of her successor. These experiments in sociology
aroused only less hostile comment than the black affair of the foxes.

Our misanthropic gentleman paused at an angle of the road to survey his
cottages, each set in its own happy acres, stretching flower-beds and
young orchards into the sunny country. His tenants all had a pleasant
look of successful adaptation. One was a cobbler, and made most of
Perior's boots; a fact rather apparent.

It was evening by the time he reached the tall gates through which the
roadway led up to the Grange, a high-standing, unpretentious, gray stone
house, rather bleakly situated on its height, but backed by a further
rise of wood, and, despite its vineless severity of outline, gravely
cheerful in aspect. An immaculately-kept lawn stretched in a gradual
slope before it, shaded by two yew trees, and the light grace of
beeches. Under the windows of the ground floor were beds of white and
purple pansies, and at one side, near the shrubberies, were long rows of
irises, also purple and white. From the other side of the house the
ground descended very abruptly, giving one the realization of height,
and a long view over woods, hills, and valleys to the distant sunset.

The house within carried out consistently the first impression of
pleasant bareness. The wainscotted walls were reflected in the gleaming
floors. No tenderness of draperies, no futile ornament. In the
drawing-room three old portraits of three dead Mrs. Periors looked
quietly from the walls; some good porcelain was on shelves where there
was no danger of its breaking; the faded brocade of the furniture was
covered with white chintz sprigged with green. The library, where the
light came serenely through high windows, was lined with books; here and
there on the peaceful spaces a good engraving or etching; philosophical
bronzes above the shelves. The writing-table was spacious; opposite it
was Perior's piano--he played well. This was the room he lived in. Now,
when he entered, an old setter, glossily well-groomed, looked up with an
emotional thudding of the tail, and of two cats curled exquisitely in
the easy-chair, one only opened placid eyes, while the other, after
arching itself in a yawn, advanced towards him with a soundless mew.

Perior was devoted to his cats, and adored his dogs. After stooping to
pat these animals, he took up a letter from the table. Arthur Henge's
writing was familiar, though of late years Perior had rarely seen it.
The old friendship had borne pretty sharp twinges--had survived even
Perior's ruthless handling of Henge's pet measure some years ago: Henge
had believed ardently in the bill, and thought Perior responsible to a
certain extent for its failure. That Henge had not been embittered by
this political antagonism had deeply touched Perior. He always
remembered the fact with a delightful, glowing comfort. His respect and
fondness for Henge were a staff to him. The two men were intrinsically
sympathetic, though they had hardly an opinion in common. Arthur Henge
was an optimist, and deeply religious, his wide humanism going hand in
hand with a fervent churchmanship. He was aided towards a happy view of
things by happy circumstances. He was one of the richest men in England,
and one of the most powerful; he held a high place in the present
Government. No sword of Damocles in the shape of a peerage hung over his
career in the Lower House, and at the same time the baronetcy, hoary
with an honorable antiquity, had the consequence and standing of many
greater but less significant titles. He was young, handsome, and
serious. Above all small cynicisms and hardness, his experience of life
seemed only to have taught him a wise, fine trust, and, perhaps in
consequence of this attitude of mind, it was impossible not to trust
him.

This was the man who had fallen in love with Camelia Paton. The fact was
town talk, though it was surmised that despite his evident absorption he
had not yet given her occasion to accept him. That he was courting her
was not yet apparent, but his devotion remained gravely steady. Lady
Henge was supposed to be the cause of this adjournment of decisive
measures. Lady Henge was even more serious than her son, and her
influence over him was paramount.

Now with all her ready qualities Camelia seldom pretended to
seriousness. To Perior there was something highly distasteful in the
whole matter. That Camelia should be the object of such comment, that
her achievement of the "good match" should be canvassed, infuriated him.
No blame could attach itself to Arthur's reticence; if reticence there
were it was on the highest grounds. It was the world's base,
materialistic chatter that jarred, its weighing of her charm and
loveliness against his wealth and prominence merely. Perior weighed
Camelia's merits against Arthur's. In his heart of hearts he did not
consider Camelia fitted to make a high-minded man happy--and some dim
foreboding of this fact no doubt chilled her lover's resolution. Perior,
however, was not logical. He might not approve of Camelia, but that Lady
Henge should disapprove nettled him. Arthur no doubt was a fool in
loving Camelia, but Perior wished to be alone in that knowledge. As for
the world's gross view of Henge as one of the greatest "catches" in
England, of Camelia as lucky if she got him, Perior's blood boiled when
he thought of it,--and that Camelia, with all her reliance on her own
attractions, was quite aware of the world's opinion and was not angered
by it.

She, too, thought Henge a great "catch," no doubt; a great catch even
for Camelia Paton.

Perior read the letter now, standing near the window and frowning very
gloomily. It was natural that Henge should write to him in this strain
of only thinly-veiled confidence.

Henge knew of the long paternal intimacy with Camelia, and relied
perhaps too much on a paternal sympathy. Henge and his mother were
coming down to Clievesbury to spend some weeks at Enthorpe. He avowed
no intention, but the whole note, its very restraint, was big with
intention. He seemed, too, to emphasize his mother's pleasure in coming,
and Perior felt in the emphasis a touch of triumph. He hoped to see a
great deal of Perior, there was in the concluding passages of the note
quite a prophecy of future relationship, nearer than any they had known.
But through it all Perior fancied just the hint of an appeal--a quite
unconscious appeal, none the less significant for that.

Camelia was to be put on trial before Lady Henge, and to Arthur the
process would be painful. The Henges had stately requirements; and
although Perior imagined that, were these requirements not satisfied,
Arthur had almost determined to overlook them, he felt the keenness of
the hope that all would be satisfactory, the support that the hope found
in Perior's intimacy with Camelia.

Lady Henge shared her son's respect for Perior, and to her Perior's
friendship could interpret many phases in Camelia's charming character
perplexing to the anxious mother's unaided vision.

"I am glad my mother is to know her better; she has seen only the
surface as yet," wrote Arthur. Arthur's love was a surety not quite
trustworthy, but the lifelong friendship of a man like Perior must
convince grave Lady Henge of many depths. Perior felt that his rigidity
was to be made use of. His well-known earnestness was to vouch for
Camelia's. His brow was very black as he finished the letter. He was
nearly angry with Arthur.



CHAPTER VI


"Mrs. Jedsley is in the drawing-room," Camelia announced, "so I ran
away. I am really afraid of her."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel laughed slightly; she put down the book with which she
was solacing a lazy afternoon on the sofa, and, looking at Camelia's
cloth dress and sailor hat, asked her if she had been out again.

"Yes, just back. I only stayed in the drawing-room long enough to show
Mrs. Jedsley that she scared me. It's those eyebrows, you know, that
lack of eyebrow rather, emphasized by an angry redness in the place
where they should be. No, I cannot face her."

"She is rather _épatante_. I suppose you were walking with your brace of
suitors."

"No, I don't know where they are. I was walking by myself. I think I
must have walked eight miles," Camelia added, stretching out her feet to
look at her dusty shoes.

"You certainly are an unsociable hostess, but those boys are becoming
bores. Whom do you expect next week? You must have something to leaven
the lump of pining youthful masculinity."

"That poet is coming--the one who writes the virile poems, you know, and
whose article of faith is the _joie de vivre;_ and Lady Tramley, dear
creature, Lord Tramley, and--would you specify Sir Arthur as leaven?"

"Do you mean to imply that he _isn't_ pining?"

"I imply nothing so evident."

"Wriggling, then--that you must own."

Camelia was sitting near the window, opened on its framing magnolia
leaves, and said rather coolly as she took off her hat--

"No, _I_ am wriggling. _I_ must decide now."

This was a masterly assurance. Mrs. Fox-Darriel reflecting that nothing
succeeds like unruffled self-confidence, and that Camelia's had never
shown a ripple of doubt, owned to herself that her slightly stinging
question was well answered.

"Don't wriggle, my dear; decide," she said, accepting the restatement
very placidly, "you could not do better. To speak vulgarly--the man is
rich beyond the dreams of avarice."

"Beautifully rich," Camelia assented.

"Ah--indeed he is."

"And he himself is wise and excellent," Camelia added; "I like him very
much."

"He is coming alone?"

"No, Lady Henge comes too."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel gave her friend a sharp glance.

"That's very serious, you know, Camelia. I think you must have
decided--to suit Lady Henge."

Camelia smiled good-humoredly. "I will suit her--and then see if he
suits me."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel lay reflecting on the sofa. Camelia accepted frankness
to a certain point, beyond that point she repulsed it. It was rather sly
of her, Mrs. Fox-Darriel thought, to keep up these needless pretences.
Camelia must be anxious for the match--anxious to a certain degree, and
her careful preservation of the false dignity of her position was really
rather mean. As for Mrs. Fox-Darriel, she desired the match with a
really disinterested fervor. She felt a certain personal pride in
Camelia's success; she had resigned supremacy, and only asked Camelia to
uphold her own. Camelia as Lady Henge would, from a very charming
person, have become a very important personage, a truly momentous
friend. Her fondness for the child would ensure the child's loyalty. A
near friend of the Prime Minister's wife--who knew? The thought flitted
pleasantly through Mrs. Fox-Darriel's mind, and the thought, too, of all
that Camelia, in an even less exalted position, could do for the
impecunious Hon. Charlie, Mrs. Fox-Darriel's husband. There was really
no possibility of a doubt in Camelia's mind. Mrs. Fox-Darriel simply did
not believe her, and regretted her lack of candor; but at the same time
she felt a little anxiety. There were certain phases in Camelia that had
always baffled her investigations, an unexpectedness that Mrs.
Fox-Darriel had encountered more than once.

"It is really the very best thing you could do," she observed now, "and
I wouldn't play with him if I were you. I know that he is the image of
fidelity, and yet the Duchess of Amshire is very anxious for him to
marry her girl, that ugly Lady Elizabeth, and Lady Henge favors that
match, and he really is under his mother's thumb."

"Decidedly I must waste no time," said Camelia, laughing, "and decidedly
it would be the best thing I could do, since the Marquis was snapped up
by the American girl--swarming with millions. I think I should have been
a Marchioness, Frances, had not that strange look, between a squint and
a goggle, in his eyes made me hesitate."

"Oh, the Marquis! You know that this is far better. This man means a
lot."

"He swarms with millions too," said Camelia. "Come, Frances, preach me a
nice little worldly sermon on the supreme utility of riches--without the
gloves now."

"I usually remove them when I approach the subject," Mrs. Fox-Darriel
sighed with much sincerity. "My poor Charlie! How we keep our heads
above water I really don't know, and, as it is, the sharks are nibbling
at our toes! Supreme! Money, my dear, is the only thing! Once you've
that foundation you may begin to erect your sentiments, your
moralities."

"And how few people are honest enough to say so. You and I are honest,
Frances; it buys everything, of course."

"Well, almost everything. One must thank Nature for beauty and
cleverness."

"Beauty and cleverness in rags have a sorry time of it in this world.
But money, of course, especially if not too new, buys friends, power,
good taste, morality. Poverty makes people base and cringing--makes
criminals. One is jumped on in this world, scrunched into the earth,
into the dirt, if one hasn't money, and yet the hypocrites talk of
compensation! Of all the sloppy, canting optimism with which people try
to make themselves comfortable that is the sorriest! And while they
talk they go on scrambling and scrunching for all they are worth; nasty
beasts! They kick a man on the head, and say 'the stupor compensates for
the pain.' That is the current theory about the lower classes."

"Yet you enjoy the world, Camelia."

"I am not jumped on."

"You jump on other people, then?"

"Not in a sordid manner; I don't have to soil my feet. Why shouldn't I
enjoy it?"

"And you think that Sir Arthur's millions would emphasize the
enjoyment?"

"Widen it, certainly. But don't be gross, Frances. A great deal depends
on him. I am not offering myself for sale, you know."

"No, I don't think you would. You have no need to."

"He would really be glaringly golden, wouldn't he, were he not draped
with the mossy antiquity of his name?" said Camelia, drawing a white
magnolia flower within the window frame, and bending her head to the
scented cup.

"An ideal husband, from every point of view," Mrs. Fox-Darriel resumed;
"clever, very clever, and very good--rather overpoweringly good,
Camelia."

"I think goodness a most charming phenomenon, I shouldn't mind studying
it in a husband."

"Mrs. Jedsley is good. Why don't you study her?"

"There is nothing phenomenal in her goodness, it is a product of
circumstance only. There is Mary," Camelia added, tipping her chair a
little towards the window for a clearer view of the lawn below. "Mary
in a Liberty silk, of yellow-green, and smocked. Why, Mary, why wear a
Liberty gown, especially smocked?"

"I have sometimes suspected that your colorless little cousin is here to
play the part of a discord that resolves into and heightens your
harmony," said Mrs. Fox-Darriel; "or is it the post of whipping-boy that
she fills?"

Camelia continued to look from the window placidly, only raising her
eyebrows a little.

"No, Mary never gets a whipping, not even when I deserve one. Mamma is
very fond of Mary; so am I," she added. Mrs. Fox-Darriel took up her
book with a little yawn that Camelia for all her placidity resented.

"How can you read that garbage?" she inquired smilingly, glancing at the
title.

"The _bête humaine_ rather interests me."

"Even interpreted by another? The man is far more insupportable than
Zola, inasmuch as he is clever, and an artist."

"That's why I read him. You seem to know a good deal about garbage, my
dear."

"I know a good deal about everything, I fancy!" said Camelia, with her
gayest laugh. "I took a course of garbage once, just enough to make up
my mind that I did not care for the flavor. We have a right to choose
the phases of life we want to see represented."

"I like garbage," Mrs. Fox-Darriel said stubbornly.

"Yes, you are very catholic, I know. I am more limited." Camelia still
eyed the lawn, sniffing at the magnolia. Now she rose suddenly and went
to the mirror.

"Mary puts on a sailor hat--so," she said gravely, setting hers far back
at a ludicrous angle. "Poor Mary!" She tilted the hat forward again, and
briskly put the pin through it. "I am going down to harry Mrs. Jedsley.
Good-bye, Frances."

"Good-bye. I shall be down to tea presently."

"The _bête humaine_ will spoil your appetite!" laughed Camelia as she
went out.

Mrs. Fox-Darriel heard her running down the corridor and the light
rhythm of her feet on the stairs.

"Pretty little minx!" she said good-humoredly; and her thoughts turned
to Sir Arthur. What a lucky girl was Camelia! It was rather tiresome,
perhaps, to sit by and watch her triumphs. Mrs. Fox-Darriel found the
rôle of second-fiddle a little dull; still, it was well worth while to
play it. She got up and went to the window, where the magnolia still
swayed faintly from the suddenness of Camelia's departure. Tapping the
sill lightly with her finger-tips, Mrs. Fox-Darriel looked out, yawning
once more, at the translucent blue of the sky, the still shining of the
little lake beyond the trees, the sun-dappled lawn, and at Mary
Fairleigh on the lawn in the funny Liberty dress. Mr. Perior was walking
beside her, in riding costume, a whip in his hand. Mrs. Fox-Darriel
surveyed them as they walked slowly away from the house. He had
evidently just joined Mary; and as Camelia herself appeared on the lawn
her departure took on an amusing aspect.

Now it really was too bad of Camelia, she could have no use for him
herself. The sun flashed from her hair as she bounded gaily across the
turf and caught Perior's arm with a schoolgirl familiarity. Mrs.
Fox-Darriel drew back sharply, but still observed from the screen of
magnolia leaves Mary's slow return to the house, and Camelia's skipping
step as she led Mr. Perior towards the garden. He held the whip clasped
in his hand behind his back, and, as he walked, switched his calf in its
leather gaiter. Mrs. Fox-Darriel fancied some temper in the action.



CHAPTER VII


When Mrs. Fox-Darriel descended to the drawing-room a quarter of an hour
later, she found Lady Paton and Mary alone with Mrs. Jedsley, who as yet
showed no intention of departing. Mrs. Jedsley was very stout, but of a
vigorous bearing. Her firm, wide face was dashed with rather choleric
notes of red on cheeks, chin, and eyebrows. Her eyes were witty and
humorous. Mrs. Fox-Darriel, very indifferently, felt these quickly
travelling eyes taking in every gleam and glitter of her tea-gown. Mrs.
Fox-Darriel always jingled a little as she walked; she was one of those
women who dangle lorgnettes at the ends of swaying neck-chains, and
circle their wrists with a multitude of bangles, and now, as she sank
into a chair beside Lady Paton, and smiled a languid acceptance of tea,
the infinity of pendent jewels and the linked gold that draped her
person, chimed out quite a harmonious clatter. Mrs. Fox-Darriel always
gave Lady Paton a fluttered look, the look of a child shrinking from a
too persistently obtrusive rattle, and she handed her the tea and bread
and butter with gently scared glances.

"What delicious tea," said Mrs. Fox-Darriel affably, "and the pouring of
tea is an art in its decadence. Really, dear Lady Paton, you have
spoiled me for all cups poured by other hands. Your aunt's hands add a
distinct charm, do they not?" she added, looking at Mary,--"and her
cap." Indeed Lady Paton's caps and hands resembled one another in
blanched delicacy.

"Oh yes," Mary replied hastily; she was not accustomed to this suave
mode of address from Mrs. Fox-Darriel.

"I saw you walking in the garden just now," pursued that glittering
personage; "you made quite a picture in your pretty dress, I assure
you."

"Oh! do you like it?" Mary's face was transfused by a blush of surprised
pleasure.

"It is really charming," said Mrs. Fox-Darriel unblinkingly, while Mrs.
Jedsley's eyes travelled up and down poor Mary's ungainliness.

"Against the deeper shades of green, you know, and with your golden
hair, you looked quite--quite like an Albert Moore. Has your friend, Mr.
Perior, gone? I saw him with you." There was a subtly delightful
intimation in this question that filled Mary with a half painful, half
delicious embarrassment.

"Mr. Perior is with Camelia," she said, the crude fact hardly jarring on
the dulcet echo of Mrs. Fox-Darriel's question. He was her friend, Mary
knew, felt it with a wave of gratitude that quieted many aches, but was
it then so evident--so noticeable?

"Ah yes! Camelia is rather fond of teasing him, I am afraid," said Mrs.
Fox-Darriel, observing Mary's flush, and noting as an unkindness of
nature that her hair, the only grace she possessed, should grow so
thickly at the back and with such unbecoming scantiness around the high
brow. Mary's whole being had been quivering with the pain of her
dispossession, but a grateful warmth now stole through the chill of
bereavement.

Her flush had not died when Camelia came in, Perior following her.
Camelia's face was imperturbably gay, but from a certain severity and
tension in Perior's expression, Mrs. Fox-Darriel surmised that the
pastoral promenade had not been altogether peaceful.

It was hardly possible, of course, that the indifference of this stiff
provincial should pique Camelia into an attitude that might compromise
real interests; no, hardly possible; yet Mrs. Fox-Darriel, with some
acuteness, determined that all her efforts should tend to make such an
absurdity impossible indeed.

Ugly Mary was evidently in love with the unattractive Diogenes; but
Camelia need not know that. Mrs. Fox-Darriel almost laughed at herself
while she meditated; Camelia could hardly intend more than the
purposeless capturing of Diogenes; Camelia's head was perfectly sound
when it came to decisive extremes. Only--well--women, all women, were
such _fools_ sometimes. That bounding, pursuing step across the lawn had
given Mrs. Fox-Darriel a new impression of Camelia.

"Look, Mamma, is not this beautiful? Look, Frances." Camelia held out a
branch of white roses, buds and leaves climbing on lovely curves to a
heavy, swaying flower;--"it is such a perfect spray that I am going to
attempt a Japanese arrangement with this bit of pine. Mary, will you
fetch me that bronze vase out of the morning room--with its little
stand, you know--and have it filled with water; and, Mary,--" Mary was
departing obediently, "a pair of scissors--don't forget. If there is
anything I dislike," Camelia went on, hers was always a temperate manner
of speech, "it is a heavy mass of flowers bunched together with all the
individuality, all the form and vitality, of line quite lost."

She smiled at Mrs. Jedsley as she spoke, skimming caressing finger-tips
over her rose branch, and adding, "You may see me at your place
to-morrow, Mrs. Jedsley. Mr. Perior has been giving me a dreadful
scolding on my neighborly deficiencies. To-morrow I make a conscientious
round of calls--and pour balm into all the wounded bosoms." Mrs.
Fox-Darriel glanced quickly at Perior to see how he relished this
offensive obedience; Perior, as he stood before the fireplace, was
looking at his boots. Mrs. Jedsley's eyebrows grew very red.

"I won't be at home to-morrow," she said decidedly, "and if I were
conscious of wounds I'd keep at a good distance from you, Camelia." Lady
Paton looked from her daughter to Perior, an alarmed appeal, but he did
not raise his eyes nor seem to notice Camelia's graceful promises.

"Mrs. Jedsley, _why_ are you always so unkind to me?" Camelia asked,
laughing. "I assure you that you may trust my balms. Mrs. Jedsley, I
will wager you--do you ever bet?--that by to-morrow night the whole
county-side will be singing my praises. I like people to sing my
praises--I like to feel affection and sympathy about me; now Mr. Perior
has been telling me that there is a distinct absence of these elements
in my atmosphere. I begin to feel the vacuum myself. Won't you help me
to fill it--help my regeneration?--No, Mary, that is the wrong vase--how
could I arrange flowers in that? On the stand, was it? The house-maid's
stupidity, then; and I bought together the stand and the proper vase to
go with it. No; don't take the _stand_ back with you, you goosie! put it
here. Now, Mrs. Jedsley," she added, when Mary had once more departed,
Perior having relieved her of the stand and carried it, not at all
graciously, to Camelia, "tell me how I can best please every one most?
You know them all so well--their pet pursuits, their pet hobbies. Mrs.
Harley has orchids, of course; I shall immediately ask her to take me to
the conservatory. And Mrs. Grier--that pensive little woman with the
long, long nose--has she not a son at Oxford, a boy she dotes on? Isn't
she very fond of music?"

Mrs. Jedsley was stirring her third cup of tea with an entirely
recovered composure. "Yes, Mrs. Grier plays the violin, and has a son
she dotes on; if you flatter her nicely enough, she will certainly join
in the 'Hallelujah.'"

"Well, that is nice to know." Mary had now brought the correct Japanese
vase, and Camelia neatly trimmed from her branch while she spoke a few
superfluous leaves and twigs.

"Is not Mrs. Grier a dear friend of Lady Henge's?" Mrs. Fox-Darriel
asked in an aside to Lady Paton--to the latter a very welcome aside, as
in murmured acquiescence she found a momentary refuge from the
bewildered sensations her daughter's projects gave her.

Yes, Lady Henge and Mrs. Grier were great friends, both musical, both
deeply interested in charitable work. Mrs. Grier, a sweet woman,--"and
you know," said Lady Paton, bending gently towards her guest, "her nose
is not so long. That is only Camelia's droll way of putting things, you
know."

"Oh, yes,"--Mrs. Fox-Darriel's smile was very reassuring--"you and I
understand Camelia, Lady Paton. It doesn't do to take her _au grand
sérieux_." Indeed, Mrs. Fox-Darriel smiled inwardly, feeling that all
disquiet on Camelia's account was very unnecessary, and convinced that
she knew her very thoroughly.

"You won't be at home to-morrow, then?" asked Camelia, looking around
from her vase as Mrs. Jedsley rose to go.

"No, my dear; and I'm afraid you won't find me of use at any time. I
haven't any particular foibles. You won't discover a handle about me by
which to wind me up to the required musical pitch."

"You traduce yourself, Mrs. Jedsley; with your charitable heart, do you
mean to tell me that, were I to wrap Clievesbury in red flannel, fill it
with buns and broth, you wouldn't think me charming, and make sweet
music in my ears?"

"I never denied that you were charming, balefully charming, you naughty
girl," said Mrs. Jedsley with a good humor that implied no submission.

"Here is a rose for you. May it give you kind thoughts of me." Camelia
fastened one of the rejected buds in the lady's portly bosom, and when
she was gone, Lady Paton, leaving the room with her, she added, "Mary,
is the piano tuned?"

Mary went to the Steinway. "Lady Henge is a composer, as you know." She
turned a face sparkling with mischief to Perior, who maintained his
silence beside the mantelpiece.

"You have heard her? Yes? Well, you shall hear her again. That's enough,
Mary," she added, lightly; "we hear that the piano needs tuning."

Now Mary had a certain little pride in the neat execution of Beethoven's
Sonatas, that many hours of faithful practice had seemed to justify, and
while Camelia stood back to admire her flower arrangement, both Perior
and Mrs. Fox-Darriel noticed the flush that swept over Mary's face.



CHAPTER VIII


By the time Sir Arthur and Lady Henge arrived, Camelia had fulfilled her
prophecy and become a popular person. Under the blighting indifference
of her first appearance Clievesbury had naturally retaliated with
severity, but that the first impression had been erroneous the most
severe owned--after Camelia had called on them. Camelia found the
process of winning the whole neighborhood great fun, and its success
gave her a delicious sense of efficiency. She cared nothing, absolutely
nothing, for her neighbors, but once she determined to be cared for by
them she found the facility of the task highly flattering to
self-esteem.

She drove from place to place, sweet, modest, adaptable. She dispensed
pretty compliments with a grace that disarmed the grimmest suspicion.
She showed a pretty interest in every one. Indeed why should they not
like her? Camelia thought she really deserved liking; and though she
laughed at herself a little for the complimentary conclusion, her
kindness struck her as rather nice. It was motiveless, was it not?
almost motiveless, a game that it pleased her to play. Certainly she did
not care to appear before Lady Henge on a background of unpopularity;
the background must harmonize, become her; she would see to that. At
the bottom of her heart Camelia cared very little for Lady Henge's
approval or disapproval; Lady Henge was part of the game; but Camelia
had determined that the game required Lady Henge, like everybody else,
to find her charming; the game required Arthur Henge to propose--then
she might accept him; but she must make quite secure the possibility of
refusing him. So Camelia aimed steadily at one result, and was not at
all sure of her own decision once the result was reached, and this
indecision gave her a happy sense of freedom.

She must capture Sir Arthur; this visit was definite, the last test; but
once captured, Camelia wondered if she would care to keep. Theoretically
she owned to a hard common-sense ambition that would make rejection
doubtful; but when the moment for decision finally arrived, Camelia felt
that this trait in her character might fail her; she did not really
believe in it, though she paraded it, flaunted it. Every one might think
her a hard-headed, hard-hearted little worldling--as far as practice
went they were right, no doubt, in all honesty she must own that she
gave them no occasion to think anything else; but she reserved a warm
corner of unrevealed ideals--ideals she never herself looked at, where a
purring self-content sat cosily.

Lady Henge and her son arrived on a Monday. Lady Henge was nervous,
though her massive personality concealed the tremor, and unhappy--for
she felt Arthur's fate to be a foregone conclusion. She was not a clever
but an immensely conscientious woman. She lived up to all her
principles, and she took only the highest view of everything. Her son's
love for the pretty Miss Paton, who meddled frivolously with politics
(Lady Henge meddled ponderously), and made collections of Japanese
pictures, had thrown her into a dismal perturbation. She could not like
Miss Paton; her cleverness was not disinterested; her sense of duty was
less than dubious, she lived for pleasure, for admiration; she was no
fit wife for a Henge.

The most imperative of the Henges' stately requirements was that solemn
sense of duty which Lady Henge embodied so conclusively.

She felt the tremor quieted, the unhappiness soothed, however, on seeing
Camelia in her home. Indeed, Camelia's background was masterly. By the
end of the first day Lady Henge was owning to herself that the glare of
London had perhaps been responsible for her former unfavorable
impression. Camelia's manner was perfect; she was quiet and gentle; her
wish to please was frank but very dignified. Lady Henge felt that in no
way was her favor being courted, and she was quite clever enough to
appreciate that. Lady Paton was left to take all the initiatives, and
behind her mother Camelia smiled with an air of happy obscurity.

The following days emphasized the initial approval. The image of the
excellent Lady Elizabeth faded by degrees from Lady Henge's mind, and
the ache of disappointment with it. She wonderingly expanded into
confidence under Camelia's gentle influence.

She was a shy woman; she had been afraid of Camelia; but with tender
touches the shyness and the fear seemed to be pressed away. There was
nothing to be afraid of. Was it possible? She doubted sometimes, when
alone and deeply thoughtful; but with Camelia quiet satisfaction was
irresistible.

Perior watched the little comedy, convinced of its artificiality. That
doubt of her final choice which preserved for Camelia her sense of
independent pride free from all tarnish of self-interested scheming, he
could not have believed in. Her motives were, he thought, very clear to
him--as they must be to everybody else. He could not credit her with
love; a girl so dexterously managing her hand was held by no compulsory
force of real feeling. She was going to marry Arthur Henge, because he
was a good match, not because she loved him; any girl might have loved
him certainly, but Camelia was capable of loving no one. He was very
sore, very angry, very moody. Lady Henge's transparent bids to him for
sympathy in irritating his scorn for Camelia irritated him, too, against
her, against Arthur even. Why couldn't they let him alone? They should
get neither yea or nay from him, for, after all, Perior was
inconsistent; the scorn did not shake his rather negative loyalty to his
pupil, and beneath that there lay another and a deeper feeling, the
feeling that made it possible for Camelia to hurt him.

"I was talking to her--to Miss Paton--about Woman's Suffrage to-day," so
Lady Henge would start a conversation, "she seems to have thought rather
deeply on the subject of a widened life for women--the development of
character by responsibility--the democratic ideal, is it not?" Lady
Henge combined staunch conservatism with a devout belief in Humanity.

Perior answered "Yes, I suppose so," to the question.

"She has, I see, a great deal of influence down here in the
country--more than I could have expected in such a gay young creature.
Mrs. Grier spoke to me of her good-heartedness, her generous help in
charitable matters. Mrs. Grier, as you know, is deeply interested in the
improvement of the condition of the laboring classes. I shall count upon
Miss Paton next year; her aid would be very effective; she could help me
with some of my clubs--a pretty face, a witty tongue, popularize one;
she has promised to address the Shirt Makers' Union. She takes so much
interest in all these absorbing social problems,--interest so
unassuming, so free from all self-reference."

They were in the drawing-room after dinner. Perior seemed, in watching
Camelia fulfil herself, to find a searing fascination, for he was often
at Enthorpe Lodge of late. The faint flavor of inquiry in Lady Henge's
assertions only elicitated, "I'm sure she'd be popular." No; he would
not be held responsible for Camelia; and again he determined that Lady
Henge should on the subject of Camelia's full fitness get from him
neither a yea or a nay.

Lady Henge's clear brown eyes had turned contemplatively upon her son
and Camelia, who were sitting on an isolated sofa in a frank
_tête-à-tête_.

Perior's glance followed hers, and while she read in Arthur's absorbed
attitude and expression the wisdom of submissive partisanship--the utter
futility of further resistance, Perior studied the half grave, half
playful smile with which Camelia received her lover's utterances. She
seemed to feel Perior's scrutiny, for her eyes swerved suddenly and met
his, and the smile hardened a little as she looked at him.

"She is very lovely," Lady Henge said with an irrepressible sigh. "It is
a very unusual type of loveliness," at which Perior looked away from
Camelia and back at his companion. "He is very fond of her," Lady Henge
added--a little tearfully, Perior suspected.

"He has taken it seriously for quite a while, I believe."

"Oh yes, yes indeed," Lady Henge, conscious of having herself made the
only barrier to an earlier declaration, spoke a little vaguely.
"Arthur's wife will have many responsibilities," she went on; "I think
that--if she accepts Arthur--Miss Paton will prove equal to them." The
"if she accepts Arthur" Perior thought rather noble, "and her gaiety
will be good for him, he needs such sunshine. I must not be so selfish
as to think that _I_ could give it him. And then--with all her gaiety,"
here a recrudescence of the vein of urgency crept once more into Lady
Henge's voice, "she has depths, Mr. Perior--great depths, has she not?
Neither Arthur nor I take life lightly, you know," and Lady Henge held
him with a waiting pause of silence.

"Yes, I know you don't," he said, and then found himself forced to add,
"there are many possibilities in Camelia."

At all events, he might have said much more. Again he looked across at
Camelia as he spoke, and again her eyes met his. She rose abruptly, and
crossed the room.

"Lady Henge," she said, standing before her guest in an attitude of
delicate request, "won't you play for us? We all want to hear you--and
not as mere interpreter, you know--one of your own compositions,
please."

If there were a vulnerable spot in Lady Henge's indisputable array of
virtues it was a touching egotism in regard to her musical capabilities.
She fancied herself the pioneer of a new school, and hoped for a rather
shallow smattering of form and polyphony to more than atone by an
immense amount of feeling. She smiled now, drawing off her gloves
immediately, even while saying, with the diffidence of a master--

"I am afraid my _poèmes symphoniques_ are not quite on the after-dinner
level, my dear. You know I can't promise a comfortable accompaniment to
conversation."

"Don't degrade us by the implication," smiled Camelia; "we are at least
appreciative."

"My music is emotionally exhaustive," said Lady Henge, shaking her head
and rising massively. "In my humbler way I have tried to do for the
abstract what Wagner did for the concrete. I do not depict the sea, but
the psychological sensations the sea arouses in us." Lady Henge was
moving towards the piano, her very back, with its serene, brocaded
breadth, imposing by its air of large self-confidence a hush upon the
babble of drawing-room flippancy.

"Oh, good gracious!" Gwendolen Holt ejaculated in an alarmed whisper to
her neighbor Mr. Merriman.

"Poor dear Lady Henge," murmured Lady Tramley, leaning back in her
delicate thinness, and fixing sad eyes upon her musical friend.

"Awfully bad, is it?" Mr. Merriman inquired.

"Awfully," said Gwendolen.

"Well, it's all one to me," said Mr. Merriman jocosely.

"I paint the soul of man, as influenced by the forces of nature," still
delivering explanatory comments, Lady Henge had seated herself at the
piano. "My symphonic poem--'Thalassa,' shall I give you that?" and from
a careful adjustment of the piano-stool, she looked up at Camelia, who
had followed her.

Sir Arthur, on his solitary sofa, showed some dismay at the imminence of
his mother's performance. Perior, who had heard Lady Henge play, fixed
enduring eyes on the cornice. Camelia dropped into the vacant seat
beside him.

"Hold your breath, Alceste," she murmured, her smiling eyes still gently
observant of Lady Henge, who, after a majestic turn up and down the
key-board, had paused in a menacing attitude, one hand lifted in a
heavily pouncing position.

"She'll have our heads under water in a minute. Ah! here comes the
splash!" The very walls quivered as that fierce hand fell. A volcanic,
incoherent volume of sound hurtled forth upon the stillness. From
thenceforward they might have been sitting amidst the clamorous
concussions of a thunder-storm, Lady Henge, high priestess of terrified
humanity, making valiant warfare with the angry gods. The wind, or
rather the effect of the wind upon the shrinking mind of man, shrieked
in long sweeps down the key-board--Lady Henge's execution with the flat
of her hand being boldly impressionistic; the waves beat out their
stormy rhythm in crashing chords of very feeble construction, but in
noisiness immensely effective, leaping, bounding, shouldering,
swallowing one another with a splendid inconsequence as to time or key.
A chaos of stammering phrases cried out fitfully above the steady
bellowing of the bass.

Physically the composition was most certainly exhausting. Lady Henge's
fine, flushed profile, bent with brooding intensity above the key-board,
evinced a panting effort to cope with the mighty requirements of her
creation.

"It sounds as if she were being tossed in her cabin, doesn't it?"
Camelia's soft voice murmured under the safe cover of the tumult, her
face keeping the expression of grave attention, "and horribly seasick.
One hears the bottles breaking, and the basins clashing, and the boots
being hurled from side to side. Anything but abstract. Intimately
descriptive rather--don't you think?" A side glint of her eye evidently
twinkled for sympathy; but Perior solemnly stared at the ceiling.

"The construction too," Camelia said more soberly, "she plunged us into
the free fantasia--and perhaps at the end she may fish us out with the
dominant phrase--but I haven't caught it yet; ah, this thudding finale
announces the journey's end." And she jumped up as Lady Henge, with a
fine, tense look of soul-experience, rose from the piano. The dazed and
wilted listeners chimed out the polite chorus usual on such occasions.
Camelia led Lady Henge to her chair. "Thank you--so much," she said.
Lady Henge smiled dimly, her eyes fixed on vacancy.

"It was like a glorious wind blowing about one. It made me think of
Wordsworth's sonnets--of the soul in nature," said Camelia. Perior still
looked stolidly at the ceiling, and she felt his silence to be ominous.

"Such music," she added, "gives one courage for life." She was angry
with Perior. Lady Henge pressed her hand.

"Thanks, my dear. Yes--you _felt_. One must hear, of course, a
composition many times before entering into the sanctuary of the
artist's meaning." Camelia's mouth retained its sympathetic gravity.
Perior said nothing; and faint, relieved little groups of talk twittered
like birds after a storm.

"And you, Mr. Perior," Lady Henge, fanning herself largely turned to
this silent critic. "You, too, are a musician as I know, a musician at
least in appreciation. What do you think of my 'Thalassa'? Frankly
now--as one artist to another." Perior moved his eyes slowly from the
ceiling, and dropped them to Camelia's face. He grew very red.

"Frankly now," Lady Henge reiterated with genial urgency.

"I think it is very bad," said Perior. The sentence fell with a thud,
like a stone.

Lady Henge flushed, and her fan fluttered to stillness; Camelia, her
eyebrows lightly lifted, met Perior's square look.

"Bad," Lady Henge repeated, with a pathetic mingling of deprecating
pride and pain, "really bad, Mr. Perior?"

"Very bad," said Perior.

The unmitigated sentence reduced her to feeble plaintiveness.

"But why? This is really savage, you know."

"Excuse me, I know I seem rude," he looked at her now with something of
an effort. "You see I tell you the uncompromising truth. Your piece is
weak, and crude, and incoherent!"

Now that she met his eyes, Lady Henge saw that it gave him pain to speak
so. Camelia standing over them smiled unruffled.

"It is a case of Berlioz and the Conservatoire, Schumann and the
Philistines, Lady Henge. Mr. Perior is an old classicist--understands
nothing outside strictest adherence to form. Your more modern march of
the _Davidsbündler_ could say nothing to him." Perior did not look at
her.

"If you will allow me, Lady Henge, I will come some day and go over a
lot of Schumann with you. I think you will recognize the difference. His
power and genuineness are apparent. And Schumann has a great deal to
say."

He smiled at her as he spoke, a very sweet smile--asking tolerance for
the friend in spite of the critic's unwilling arrogance. Lady Henge was
soothed, though decidedly shaken.

"You are severe, you know."

"But you prefer severity to silly fibs."

"I may be silly," Camelia here put in with a touch of coldness, "if so,
I stand convicted with you, Lady Henge, for I found your 'Thalassa'
neither crude, nor weak, nor incoherent; but I can't be accused of
fibbing. You will play your symphonic poem to me again, won't you? and
we will leave Mr. Perior to the pleasures of iconoclastic conservatism."
After so speaking, Camelia went back to her seat beside Sir Arthur.

He had a book in his hand, and was turning the leaves vaguely, he put it
down as he looked up at her. For a man well over thirty, Sir Arthur had
certain boyish traits, as a frank nervousness of glance now revealed.

"Well?" Camelia smiled, feeling a something in the silence.

"It was bad, wasn't it?" said Sir Arthur.

"Bad?"

"Yes, poor mother."

"I don't think it bad."

Sir Arthur surveyed her with pained hesitation.

"Why do you say that?" he demanded, with an abruptness of wounded
tenderness that put Camelia alertly on her guard.

"Why do you say _that_?" she asked, rounding innocent eyes at him.

"I saw you laughing at it, with Perior--not that he laughed. I heard
what he said too, I prefer that, you know."

Camelia herself was feeling wounded, was smarting under a sense of angry
humiliation. This added and unexpected blow brought the blood vividly
to her face, and the sincerity of her discomfort seemed even to herself
to warrant the sincerity of her quick question.

"You suspect me of lying?"

Camelia hardly thought that she had lied; neither the flush nor the tone
of voice was acted.

Sir Arthur looked away. "I saw you laughing," he repeated.

"I _was_ laughing," Camelia declared. "Not at Lady Henge," she added.

Sir Arthur kept a silence in which doubt and a longing to believe
evidently struggled.

"I said to Mr. Perior that the rocking passage with the chord
accompaniment made me feel seasick--from its realism; that touch of
levity doesn't imply insincerity in my admiration--I always smile at the
birds in the 'Pastoral.' Why should I be insincere? If I had not liked
it, I would have said so."

Sir Arthur's long breath escaped with the relief of recovered joy.

"Don't be insincere;--dearest," he added, looking at her; and seeing the
surprise with which she received the grave, impulsive word, he went on
quickly, yet gently.

"You know you often want to please people--to make every one like
you;--even I have fancied it--forgive me, won't you, at the price of a
little falseness. When one feels as I do, the least flaw cuts into one
like a knife." With Camelia's triumph there now mingled a bitter
distaste; she could hardly bring herself to look into his honest,
adoring eyes; the quickness of her breath and wavering of her glance
were, again, quite spontaneous, and that she knew them to be effective,
deepened her humiliation.

"To see you laugh at mother--and then praise her--I thought it; and I
can't tell you how it pained me. You forgive me?"

Her self-disgust now seemed to lend her a certain sense of atoning
self-respect. "How good you are!" she said, looking at him very gravely,
and this recognition of his goodness restoring still more fully that
sick self-respect, she was able to smile at him, to think that she must
not exaggerate the little _contretemps_, and to ask herself whether she
might not fall in love with Sir Arthur--simply and naturally. Dear man!
The words were almost on her lips--her eyes at least caressed him with
the implication.

He looked embarrassed, but very happy. "No--no! Please don't say that!
How divinely kind you are. I have been insufferable. It is noble of you
to understand--. Can't we get away from all these people--if only for a
moment. Let us go into the garden--it is very warm." She would rather
not have gone into the garden, but she could not refuse him, she felt
that to some extent she would like to justify his faith in her, and to
shake from her that snake-like imputation of baseness. She glanced at
Perior as she went out; he was talking most affably with Lady Henge, and
did not look at her. His lack of faith stung perhaps more than Sir
Arthur's faith. It was unmerited too, more unmerited than Sir Arthur's
trust, so she told herself, stepping down from the terrace on to the
gravel-path, and the sense of unmerited scorn sharpened that wish to
justify herself--as far as might be--to the kinder judge.

"No, Sir Arthur, you are good," she went on, pausing before him, her
hands clasped behind her after a little-girl fashion habitual with her;
"and I am horrid--it's quite true--but not as horrid as you thought me.
I do like to please people. I am often pettily, impulsively false; it's
quite, quite true. I do like your mother's piece, but probably not as
much as I implied to her by my praise--not as much as greater things:
and Mr. Perior's silence made me angry too; but I probably was a little
insincere, and that every one is the same is no excuse for me. I don't
want to be like every one, and you don't want me to be, do you? But if I
had _not_ liked it, you would not have wished me to express myself with
the bludgeon-like directness of our rugged friend, would you?" Camelia
asked the question with real anxiety, conscious though she was that she
had thought the composition quite as ridiculous as Perior had declared
it. After all, his ugly sincerity justified her kindly fibbing; and as
for the laughing, she was sorry she had laughed, since Sir Arthur had
seen her. His erectness of moral vision would so distort that
unintentional meanness that she could not be asked to confess it; but
her partial confession, all the same, left her confused by the stinging
of small, uncomfortable compunctions. These, however, did not show
themselves in her eyes, nor in the pure lines of her face. Her silvered
garments and exquisite whiteness gave her in the moonlight an angelic
look that might well humble modest manhood before her. Sir Arthur had
never felt himself so near to the girl he loved, nor his love so well
justified.

"No, I don't think it's necessary to give a person the truth like a box
on the ear," he said, and he would have taken her hands, but Camelia
again put them behind her back, and stood smiling at him.

"Poor old Perior," he added, and they walked slowly for a little way
down the path. "You can understand it, though, can't you? He thought you
were fibbing, and that made him give mother the ruthless _coup de
dent_."

This was very true, and so Camelia knew, knowing, too, that she _had_
been fibbing. "But that didn't justify the _coup de dent_," she
declared, "and why should he think I was fibbing?" The bit of audacity
was so inevitable that she hardly felt a qualm over its enunciation. On
Perior's loyalty she relied as she relied on the ground beneath her
feet.

"Well, he knows that you are clever, and that your taste has not been
distorted--as mother's has--by fancied talent." Sir Arthur was all
candid confidence.

"He was _very_ nasty," said Camelia, "and I shall tell him so. And now
that I have made my little confession, and that you have absolved
me--for I am absolved, am I not?--shall we go in?" Camelia drew back
from the proposal she saw looming in the moonlight; there was time,
ample time, for that, now that she was sure of him, quite sure. A warm
little thrill of pleasure went over her at the thought that it was she
who was not ready, was not sure, though she had never liked him more.

"Must we go in?" Sir Arthur looked up at her as she stood on the step
above him. He was very handsome Camelia thought with some complacency.

"I think we must," she said prettily, adding, "I promised to do my skirt
dancing for them, you know. You must tell me it is delightful when I
have done, even if you laugh at me while I am dancing." Sir Arthur had
held out his hand, and she put hers in it.

"You absolve me, don't you?" he said. "You forgive me? You are not
angry?"

"Angry? Have I seemed angry?"

"You had the right to be."

"Not with you," said Camelia, and at that he kissed her hand, and they
went back into the drawing-room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Camelia as she undressed that night decided that Perior was responsible
for her still smarting irritation. It was too tiresome. Of course,
apparently she had not behaved nicely; but, in neatly analyzing the
whole affair, she could find herself guilty of nothing worse than a
little humorous gaiety--that took an old friend's sympathy for
granted--(could one not think things one did not say? she had only
thought aloud--to him), and a little kindly hypocrisy practised every
day by models of uprightness. Perior's rudeness set a standard by which
social conventions were guilty of black falseness. It was too bad of
him, and her anger put him aside with a sense of relief. The only really
serious part was the stinging sequel. How closely Arthur Henge must have
watched her to catch that irrepressible glint of the eye. He had caught
it, though, and she had lied about it--well, yes--lied, deliberately
lied to a man she respected.

Of course it made her feel uncomfortable--of course it did. "I am not
the vain puppet _he_ thinks me," she said, leaning on her
dressing-table, and looking gravely at her illuminated reflection--the
_he_ being Perior--"the very fact of my worrying over such a trifling
incident proves that I am not. It is _his_ fault that I should feel so."
She paused for a further turn of silent meditation before adding, "My
only fault was in having trusted to his sense of fun, in having been
amused. The rest followed inevitably. I could not have told Arthur Henge
that I found his mother ridiculous, now _could_ I, you foolish
creature?" and irrepressibly Camelia smiled at her lenient accuser in
the glass. At this point of the colloquy a gentle tap at the door
ushered in Mary. Mary, in a dressing-gown of just the wrong shade, was
not an interesting object, and Camelia glanced over her reflection in
the mirror without turning. She continued her own train of thought,
hardly listening to Mary, though vaguely conscious that the awkward
inquiries after her comfort were rather pointless.

"I thought you might want something, Camelia. I thought you looked
rather pale," said Mary, drawing near with some timidity.

"No, thanks. I should have asked Grant, you know," replied Camelia, her
elbows still on the dressing-table. She absently watched Mary lift her
discarded gown from the floor, fold it, and lay it neatly over the back
of a chair. "Don't mind about picking up those things, Mary," she
added, yawning a little, and wishing rather that Mary would go. "Grant
can do all that."

"I like to tidy up after you." Mary's smile was slightly forced. "See,
Camelia, you need me to look after you--your pearl necklace under a
chair."

"It must have caught in my bodice," said Camelia, glancing at the
necklace as Mary laid it on the dressing-table. "That certainly was
stupid of me. Thanks, dear." Mary still lingered.

"You don't want anything, you are sure? You feel quite well--and--happy,
Camelia?" The question was so odd that Camelia turned her head and
looked up, surprised, at Mary's rather embarrassed countenance.

"Happy?" she repeated.

"Yes; I fancied you might have something to tell me." This initiative
was certainly amazing in the reserved Mary, and Camelia stared.

"Something to tell you?" Then her deliberate departure for the moonlit
_tête-à-tête_ with Sir Arthur coming luminously to her mind, she began
to laugh. "Why, Mary, did you come in a congratulatory mood?"

Mary's badly mastered nervousness melted somewhat. "Oh, Camelia--_may_
I?" her face lighted to an almost charming eagerness--a charm that our
æsthetic heroine was quick to recognize. "_May_ I?"

"May you? No, you little goose," Camelia said good-humoredly. "Upon my
word, Mary, you should have had your portrait painted at that moment;
you never looked so--significant. Are you so anxious to get rid of me
then?" The charming look had crumbled into inextricable confusion.

"Oh, Camelia, how can you?--how could you think----?"

"Now, Mary, imaginative efforts are bad for you; don't indulge them."

"I hoped--I only wanted----"

"Yes, of course, you want me to be happy; and very nice it is of you
too. Be patient, Mary; you shall congratulate me some day. I haven't
decided _when_ that shall be. I haven't really quite decided _how_ I
shall be happy--there are so many ways--the choice of a superlative is
perplexing. When I choose you need not come to me, I promise you."
Camelia rose, stretching her arms above her head, and smiling very
kindly at her cousin.

Her own words made her feel comfortable. Still smiling, she put her arm
around Mary's neck and kissed her. "I shall tell you _immediately_. Now
run to bed, dear, for _you_ look pale." When Mary was gone, Camelia
finished undressing, and got into bed in a frame of mind much reassured
as to her own intrinsic merit.



CHAPTER IX


The little moonlit episode had very thoroughly mended the rift within
the lute. Camelia's seeming frankness of confessional confidence more
than atoned for every doubting qualm. Sir Arthur evidently put doubts
and distresses behind him. He allowed himself to be wholly in love. He
wondered resentfully at himself for the mixed impulses he had known,
since all were now merged in one fixed determination.

The country influences of green trees and summer sky seemed to have
breathed a heretofore unrealized gentleness into his fair one. Her
playful sallies, her little audacities, delighted him now unreservedly,
for under the tantalizing shifting and shimmering of surface moods, the
translucent depths of a loyal and lovely nature, were at last fully
revealed to him.

Camelia felt the resultant ardor hovering during all their constant
companionship, but she evaded it. The conquest had been so easy, was so
complete, that fitness seemed to require a compensatory dallying. The
atmosphere of adoration, submissive in its certainty of ultimate
success, felt as flatteringly around her as the warm sweetness of a
summer breeze. Conquest was delightful, so was dallying, so was her own
indecision; that was the most delightful part of all. She felt, too, in
the loving warmth that encompassed her, a consolation, a refuge from
cold and rugged depreciation.

Perior had not reappeared since the musical _mêlée_, and, while enjoying
the sunny harbor where she rocked so peacefully, Camelia was conscious
that thoughts about that rough, that unsympathetic sea outside
preoccupied her amidst the kinder waters. Her gaiety was therefore a
little forced, absent-minded, in a sense a mask; her gentler mood was
the result of inner cogitations, so involved at times as to give to her
manner a dreamy sweetness. Her moral snubbing, though she rejected it as
undeserved, subdued her.

Lady Henge's vanity was of no petty or immovable order. Far from
antagonizing, Perior's judgment had aroused in her an anxious
self-doubt, an anxious respect for her candid critic. Despite Camelia's
sympathy--for Camelia stuck to her colors, entrenched herself behind a
staunch fidelity to a false position, listened with absorption to
frequent renderings of the "Thalassa," thoughtfully discussed its
iconoclastic merits, the high value of its full flavored modernity, and
felt a certain ethical elevation from these painful sacrifices to the
only constancy permitted her--despite this steady sympathy, Lady Henge
perversely longed for a further expression of unsympathetic opinion from
the ruthless Perior. And one morning she told Camelia that she had
written to him, had asked him to fulfil his promise, to bring some music
of his choosing that might, with his aid, be useful to her.

"I had hoped to see him every day," she owned, and Camelia realized the
power of a negative attitude--how flat beside it, how feeble, was her
exaggeratedly affirmative one. All her pretty conciliations were as
nothing to Lady Henge beside the stinging interest of Perior's dislike.

"I think he may help me about so many things, I so often feel a
helplessness in self-expression; the idea is there--but the form! the
form! ah, my dear, art, after all, is form." (This piece of information
was certainly bitter to our martyrized heroine.)

"As you said, his severity may, to a certain extent, be conservatism,
academic narrowness, but I have always heard of him as widely
appreciative."

Camelia could answer for the width of appreciation that her resentment
had falsified on the unlucky night of the first performance; she
remembered now, with a little flush, that her saddling of him with
tastes not his own must have seemed to him the culmination of spiteful
pettiness. And then he had not rejoined--had not defended himself, even
against that intimation of academics opposed to his dearly loved
Schumann. Camelia could soothe herself with an "I don't care! He
deserved it. He was horrid;" but all the same the memory brought a
hotness to her cheeks. She felt very angry, too, with Lady Henge, and,
while smiling pleasantly, found some satisfaction in various cynical
mental comments on the weighty intricacy of her cap, and the vast
stupidity of her self-absorption.

"Do you know, my dear, that phrase," and Lady Henge struck it out
demonstratively from the piano near which she stood; "that phrase does
sound a little weak." Weak! Camelia could have capped the criticism
very pungently. With a good deal of disgust at a situation which had so
neatly turned the tables upon her, she said, "Mr. Perior may tell you
so; I really can't." Her fate evidently was to support Lady Henge by a
fraternity in inferior taste; and to be branded with inferior taste,
even in Lady Henge's eyes, was certainly rather galling. She had not
bargained for it at all, nor dreamed that Lady Henge's complacency would
go down like a ninepin before Perior's brutal missile. Her little
perjury had not been in the least worth while.

Perior, having the grace to look somewhat embarrassed, arrived next
morning with an impressive roll of music, and Camelia laughed, with some
acidity it must be confessed, as she heard in the drawing-room the
convincing energy of his demonstrations. Fragments of the poor _poème
symphonique_, panting from their cruel dissection, reached her ears
while she strolled about the lawns with Sir Arthur.

She foresaw that Lady Henge would prove a humble convert, and that she
herself, if not to be convicted of gross insincerity, must remain
gibbeted in a stubborn unconversion.

"Your mother is very patient," she said, as, from the distant piano, the
dogged repetition of a phrase emphasized its feeble absurdity. "Mr.
Perior as mentor is in his element."

Sir Arthur laughed with a good-humored recollection of his own political
rebuff at Perior's hands.

"He is uncompromisingly honest. If you ask for his advice he'll give it
to you."

"Give it to you unasked sometimes," said Camelia.

Sir Arthur had told her all about that lost cause, and all about his
plans for the future. There was a very delightful plan for the very near
future; the next session would decide the fate of the Factory Bill that
went by her lover's name, and Camelia, under her attentive quietness,
felt a heaving sigh of ambition gather. Sir Arthur's grave eagerness
showed that after his winning of herself, his political campaign filled
the chief place in his hopes and thoughts. Her interest delighted him,
and the intelligence of her comments.

He had himself an almost reverent belief in the bill, and Camelia's
sympathetic affirmatives seemed to chime deliciously with his own deep,
active pity for the dim, toiling masses the bill was to reach and
succor. Such a common object was a sanctification; he could hardly, he
felt, have loved a woman who did not feel his own deep pity. They talked
now of the coming struggle, of the rather dubious success of the second
reading that might yet be enhanced for the third.

"And do you know," he said, "Perior, positively Perior, approves; he is
buckling on his armor for the final fray. An individuality like that
counts, you know. A few leaders in the _Friday_ would rally many
waverers."

Camelia flushed suddenly when he said this; it delighted her sense of
proprietorship in Perior to hear his praise--to hear that for others,
too, he counted. And yet a touch of pain came with the delight,
reminding her that under present conditions the delight was very
generous, and proprietorship very unassured.

How he evaded it! Yes, he certainly was horrid; but her breath came
quickly, and with a deft persistence she kept Sir Arthur still talking
of him, finding in his answers to her questions on his youth glimpses of
Perior's.

"Always generous, always intolerant, always tripping into ditches while
star-gazing," said Sir Arthur; "he has an exaggerated strain in him; it
must be that Irish ancestress. He feels everything more acutely than
thicker-skinned mortals, sees everything, the good and the bad,
magnified--a trifle grotesquely. But it is a noble nature;" and he went
on, as they walked back and forth over the lawn, Perior's pianoforte
exposition, firmly insistent, coming to their ears at broken intervals:
"Perior is staunch on individualism, as you know; believes in the
hygienic value to the race of the combat--a savage creed, I tell him;
but he has amended it; he is not one jot afraid of seeming inconsistent;
he owns to the scientific logic of our attitude. I was afraid he would
accuse us of socialistic methods, tyrannical kindness, State
intervention," and so from Perior Sir Arthur went back to the
all-absorbing topic of the bill; he could allow the bill to absorb him.
For all Camelia's evasions and smiling warnings to patience, he was
deliciously sure of the ultimate end of all. He could afford to be
patient with the luminous sympathy of her eyes upon him, afford to talk
of the unfortunate women-workers whose long hours the kind tyranny of
the bill would restrict, while this woman listened with such a sweet
chiming of pity.

"If you could only count on a fair following among the Liberals,"
Camelia said, phrasing his keenest anxiety, "horrid egotists! They all
have factories, I suppose. Mr. Rodrigg may wrest your dubious majority
from you; he is the lion in your path, isn't he? and he has a whole town
of factories. What chance has a moral conviction against a town of
factories? And he is such a bull-dog; I did wrong to dignify him by the
leonine simile."

"Such a clever chap, too," said Sir Arthur; "bull-dog cleverness, I
mean."

"And bull-dogs are so dear," Camelia said, as a small brindled member of
the race, his head haloed by a ferociously bristling collar, came
bounding to them over the lawn. "Dear, precious beastie," she put her
hand on the dog's head as he stood on his hind-legs to greet her, "we
must indeed find another epithet for Mr. Rodrigg, not that I dislike
him, you know. He shares some of your opinions," she added rather
roguishly.

"Not one, I fear."

"Yes, one," she insisted. Sir Arthur's eyes dwelt on her charming look;
it carried him into vagueness as he asked--

"What one?" not caring at all for Mr. Rodrigg's community of taste, and
smiling at her loveliness.

"I think he is rather fond of me," Camelia owned. Sir Arthur could
afford a generous laugh.

"Poor old Rodrigg! He has then a vulnerable point in his armor?"

"Yes, indeed, yes. I don't know that it amounts to a weakness. I fear I
couldn't wheedle him. But, you might convince him, and I might
help,--and, he is coming down next week." She laughed out at his look
of surprise. "That is news, isn't it?"

In her very heart of hearts Camelia was rather complacently convinced
that Mr. Rodrigg's fondness _did_ amount to a weakness. Mr. Rodrigg's
devotion was in our young lady's fastidious opinion his one redeeming
quality. She had kindly, but thoroughly, she thought, nipped in the bud
certain too aspiring attempts; but the man was all the more her friend.

His devotion was built upon a fine hopelessness that really dignified
him.

She was an Egeria who hovered above him, gently smiling at his
earthiness. Yes, she was kind; for Mr. Rodrigg was a most important
person--emphatically, personally important just now, it seemed; and
though Camelia's thoughts of him were merely humorously tolerant, she
felt quite sure of a wealth of unreturned friendship, ready to transmute
itself into golden action at her bidding. She could but pride herself a
little upon her intellectual influence over her unpresumptuous Numa, and
thought that she could, through that dignified influence alone, by all
means wheedle him, if wheedling became necessary. Sir Arthur would
hardly approve of these personal methods, and therefore he need not know
of the little game that might win his cause; a perfectly innocent game,
she assured herself, since it hurt no one and helped Sir Arthur; and if
Mr. Rodrigg were to be convinced, Sir Arthur must fancy himself sole
winner.

He did not seem to recognize the possibility, for after his pause of
surprise he laughed again, saying, "Is he coming on _my_ account?"

"Not on _his_, I am sure!"

"You know, it won't do any good," he smiled fondly at her, as one smiles
at the folly of a loved woman; "Rodrigg is too deeply pledged, has his
whole party behind him. I could no more convince him, even in these
enchanted premises, than in the dry precincts of the House. Political
conversions are very rare."

"But you _may_ convert him," Camelia urged. "I will give you every
opportunity."

"And it is rather unfair, you know." Sir Arthur paused in their
strolling to look at her face, half shadowed in the sunlight by the brim
of her white hat. "He perhaps imagines that he is coming for purposes
far removed from the political."

"Oh no, no, no. I tell you, dear Sir Arthur, that--well--since you must
have it--I refused him. He hasn't a hope; I pinched the last pangs out
of him a long time ago. In fact, I let him see that I found his audacity
rather funny than piteous. I have laughed him into most submissive
platonics. He will come, because he really is my friend, and really
likes me; and I want him to come, because he must like you."

"Camelia!" Sir Arthur had used her name more than once of late, and she
let it pass with a half-merry, half-menacing little glance.

"You dear little schemer," he added. Though spoken in tenderest teasing,
Camelia was just enough conscious of a certain applicability to say with
some quickness--

"Not _really_. You know I'm not. I only want to help you--legitimately,
I would not lift my little finger to win your cause if you did not want
me to."

"Really, I know you're not!" Sir Arthur's voice retained the teasing
quality, but the tenderness had deepened; Camelia was listening all the
while to those dogged passages from the piano. They ceased now, and a
certain gravity and determination of look that had succeeded Sir
Arthur's last words quite justified a sudden retreat.

"I must go and make Mr. Perior stop to lunch. One only gets him out of
his lair by force and wheedling! I wheedle _him_!" She left Sir Arthur
rather disconsolately cut short, and ran off to the house, her own words
ringing reassuringly in her ears. Yes, she could wheedle him. Despite
unreason, stupid unreason, despite rebellious crossness and pretended
indifference, she had the mastery. He cared so much; that was the
fundamental fact that upheld Camelia's assurance; he cared enough to be
very angry. He would try to hide his anger of course. Her heart had
beaten rather quickly when Sir Arthur's face took on that look of
resolve--she was not ready, not quite sure, not yet, but flight from his
purpose had been only a secondary impulse. She must see Perior. She ran
through the morning-room and met him coming down the stairs, and panting
a little, laughing a little, she leaned against the banisters and
opposed his passage.

"Well, have you taught her how bad it is?"

"I think I have," said Perior, looking over Camelia's head at the open
doorway. She stood aside to let him join her.

"What have you to teach me this morning--_caballero de la triste
figura_?" she said as he came down the stairs and stood beside her.

"I don't propose to teach you anything. I am not responsible for you."

Camelia had not analyzed his probable mood incorrectly; he was angry,
and he was trying to hide his anger, fearing for his self-control. But
more than that--though this the acute Camelia had never quite
divined--he was feeling very unhappy. That he was angry she saw,
however, with a little thrill of triumph running through her veins.
Smiling an even smile she said, slipping her hand through his arm--

"Ah! but you _are_ responsible. Come into the morning-room."

"Is Lady Paton there?" Perior asked gloomily.

"Yes." Camelia had seen her mother and Mary walking safely away into the
garden with Gwendolen Holt and Lady Tramley. She threw open the door and
ushered him in.



CHAPTER X


Perior surveyed the emptiness; it hardly surprised him, and well
understanding her determination to wheedle him, he felt an added
strength of determination not to be wheedled.

"What have you got to say, now that you've got me here?" he asked,
putting down his music and looking at her.

"You bandersnatch!" Camelia still held his arm. "I am sure you look like
a bandersnatch; a biting, snarling creature. You have a truly
_snatching_ way of speaking."

"What have you got to say, Camelia?" Perior repeated, withdrawing his
arm from the circling clasp upon it.

"I have got to say that you must stay to lunch."

"Well, I can't do that."

"Then you may sit down and talk to me a little--scold me if you like; do
you feel like scolding me?"

"I have never scolded you, Camelia," said Perior, knowing that before
her lightness his solemnity showed to disadvantage; but he would be
nothing but solemn, ludicrously solemn if necessary.

"You were never sure I deserved it, then," said Camelia, stooping to
gather up her dog for a swift kiss, and laughing over his round head at
Perior's stiffness; "else you would have done your duty, I am sure--you
never forget your duty."

"Thanks; your recognition is flattering."

"There, my pet, go--poor Sir Arthur is lonely, go to him," said Camelia,
opening the window for Siegfried's exit, "you know your sarcasm doesn't
impress me one bit--not one bit," she added.

"I don't fancy that anything I could say would impress you," Perior
replied, eyeing her little manoeuvres, "and since I have seen
Siegfried receive his kiss, I really must go," and at this Perior took
up his music with decision; to see him assuming indifference so badly
was delightful to Camelia.

"_Why_ were you so rude to poor Lady Henge the other evening?" she
demanded, couching her lance and preparing for the shock of encounter;
"you were hideously rude, you know."

"Yes, I know." Perior still eyed her, his departure effectually checked.

"Then, why were you?"

"Because you lied."

"Oh, what an ugly word!" cried Camelia lightly, though with a little
chill, for the unpleasant sincerity of Perior's look she felt to be more
than she had bargained for. "What a big, ungainly word to fling at poor
little me! You should eschew such gross elementary forms of speech,
Alceste; really, they are not becoming."

"I hate lies," said Perior tersely, thinking, as he spoke, that by the
logic of the words he should hate Camelia too--for what was she but
unmitigated falseness personified? He had lost his nervousness, now that
the moment for plain speaking had arrived.

"And you call _that_ a lie?"

"I call it a lie." She considered him gravely.

"I tried to give pleasure, you tried to give pain."

"I tried to restore the balance."

"I cannot think it wrong to slight the truth a little--from mere
kindness."

"And I think it wrong to lie. And," Perior added, his voice taking on an
added depth of indignant scorn, "you lied to Arthur; I saw you."

"You saw!" Camelia could not repress a little gasp.

"I saw that he caught your humorous and hospitable comments on his
mother's performance, and I saw your cajolery afterwards. I am sure I
can't imagine how you hoodwinked him. It was neatly done, Camelia."

Camelia felt herself growing pale, losing the victor's smiling calm.
Here he was brutally voicing the very scruples she had laid to rest
after moments of most generous self-doubt--atoning moments, as she felt.
The playful game in which she would tease him into comprehension--absolution,
had been turned into an ugly punishment. The wrinkled rose leaves of
self-accusation that had disturbed her serenity had actually--in his
hands--grown into thorny branches, and he was whipping her with them.
She had never felt so at a loss, for she could not laugh.

"You would have had me pain him too!" she cried, her anger vindictively
seeking a retaliatory lash. "Well, you are a prig!--an insufferable
prig! I did nothing wrong!--except mistake your sense of humor."

This was certainly on her side a less dignified colloquy than the one
with the looking-glass; she fancied that Perior looked with some
curiosity at her anger.

"Was it wrong to smile at you, then?" she said.

"Yes, it was wrong." Perior had all the advantage of calm, and she was
helplessly aware that her excitement fortified his self-control.

"I thought the piece funny. Was I to tell her so?"

"You should have kept still about it. You mocked your guest behind her
back and flattered her to her face. That is mean, despicable," said
Perior, planting his slashes very effectively.

"To laugh with you was like laughing to myself," said Camelia, steadying
her lips, and wondering vaguely if victory might not yet be wrested from
this humiliation; his inflexible cruelty forced from her that half
appeal. "It was merely thinking aloud, and to tell a few kindly little
fibs--as every woman does, a hundred times a day--is not flattery."

"To gain a person's liking on false pretences is base; and I don't care
how many women do it--nor how often they do it. I shan't argue with you,
Camelia. We don't see things alike. Follow your own path, by all means;
it will lead you to success no doubt, and for a nature like yours there
will be no bitterness in such success."

He looked away from her now, as if, despite her immunity from it, he
felt that bitterness. He felt it, though she did not. He looked away in
the depth of his disgust and pain, conscious, though, of the golden
blur of her hair, the indistinct oval of her face, the cool vague gray
of her linen dress, as she stood still, not far from him. Camelia felt
herself trembling. She beat off his cruel injustice--but it was hurting
her--it was making her helpless.

"For what success do you imply that I am scheming?" she asked, and even
while she spoke angry tears rushed to her eyes. To be misjudged was a
new sensation; a hot self-pity smarted within her.

Perior did not see the tears, for he still looked away, saying in a
voice that showed how clearly cut, how definitely perceived was the
conviction, "The success of marrying a man you love little enough to lie
to. Henge could not forgive you if he knew that you had lied to him and
to his mother, yet he adores you--you have that on false pretences too.
There is the truth for you, Camelia; and, upon my soul, I am sorry for
Arthur. I pity him from the bottom of my heart."

"How dare you! how dare you!" cried Camelia, bursting into tears. "It is
false--false--false!"

Taken aback, Perior stared blankly at her. It was the first time that he
had reduced her to weeping. "Oh, Camelia!" he stood still--he would not
approach her; he felt that since she could cry her helplessness was
fully armed, and he quite helpless; his supremacy robbed of all value.

"Every word you say is false!" she said, returning his stare defiantly,
while the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I am _not_ scheming to marry
him! I have not let him propose to me yet! I am not sure that I shall;
I am not sure that I shall accept him, and if I do, it will be because I
love him!"

Perior hardly believed her, and yet he was much confused, especially as
with a fresh access of sobs her face quivered in the pathetic grimace of
loveliness distorted; before that the real issue of the situation seemed
slipping away; her repudiation of the greater dishonesty effaced, for
the moment, the smaller; he had nothing to say--she probably believed in
herself; and those helpless sobs were so touching to him that,
notwithstanding his unappeased anger against her, he could have gone to
her and taken her in his arms to comfort her, at any cost--even at the
cost of seeming to ask pardon. He did not do this, however, but said,
"Don't cry, don't cry, Camelia; you mustn't cry. I'm glad you feel it in
that way; I am glad you can cry over it." He did not go to her, but his
very attitude of nervous hesitation told Camelia that he was worsted--at
least worsted enough for the practical purposes of the moment.

She got out her handkerchief and dried her eyes, still feeling very
sore-hearted, very much injured; but when the tears were gone she came
up to him saying, while she looked at him with all the victorious pathos
of wet lashes and trembling lips, "You are not kind to me, Alceste."

He moved away from her a little, but took her hands. "Because you are
naughty, Célimène."

"I will be good. I won't tell fibs."

"A very commendable resolution."

"You mock me. You won't believe a liar."

"Don't, please don't speak of it again, Camelia."

"Say you are sorry for having said it."

"Oh, you little rogue!" Taking her face between his hands he studied it
with a sad curiosity. "I am sorry for having _had_ to say it."

"Oh, prig, prig, prig." She smiled at him now from the narrow frame, her
own delicious smile.

"And bandersnatch if you will," said Perior, shaking her gently by the
shoulders, and putting her away with a certain resignation.

"My good old bandersnatch! _Dear_ old bandersnatch! After all, I need a
bandersnatch, don't I, to keep me straight? Yes, I forgive you. I must
put up with you, and you must put up with me, fibs and all--fibs, do you
hear, not lies. Oh, ugly word!" She clasped her hands on his arm, poor
Perior! "And you will stay to lunch?"

"No, I won't stay to lunch," said Perior, smiling despite himself.

"Why?"

"I am busy."

"You are a prig, you know," said Camelia, as if that summed up the
situation conclusively.



CHAPTER XI


Whether Camelia were decided on accepting Sir Arthur or not, every one
else, under a waiting silence, considered the engagement an accomplished
fact. Poor Mr. Merriman departed disconsolately when the reality of his
utter ruin forced itself upon his unwilling understanding. Sir Harry
contemplated the hopeless situation more compliantly, oscillated for a
few days between feeble despair and jocular resignation, and then
finding it impossible to utterly tear himself away from his charmer's
magnetic presence, he settled down to a melancholy flirtation with Mrs.
Fox-Darriel that masked his inability to retreat. Lord and Lady Tramley
went on to another visit, and the poet who wrote the virile poems and
believed in the joy of life, finding Miss Paton less sympathetic than
usual, penned a laconic, psychological verselet for her benefit, and
departed.

Camelia seemed rather vague in the furtherance of hospitable projects,
and the merest trickle of visitors went through the house, affecting
very slightly the really placid routine.

Lady Paton's whole personality expanded in prettiest contentment; the
calm so far surpassed her expectations, and Camelia seemed very happy.
Lady Paton could but take for granted her happiness.

Camelia was living the most poetical moment of life; she made no
confidences; but Lady Paton's trust walked in a sadly sweet dream where
her daughter's courtship mingled with tearful memories of her own.
Charles Paton's smile; the first fluttering consciousness that the smile
came oftenest for her; she still blushed as she remembered the moment
when he had murmured to her as they danced that she had the prettiest
throat in England; it had seemed so daring to little Miss Fairleigh, who
had read her first novel only six months before; the very memory still
had the glamour of daring. And Camelia was feeling all those tremulous
delights, with their deep undercurrent of sacred solemnity.

Camelia was not demonstrative, Lady Paton had sighed over the accepted
fact, but she could trace all such natural emotions on Sir Arthur's face
when he watched or spoke to her daughter. She already felt a maternal
tenderness for him, and his exquisite courtesy, that already implied
rights, was nothing less than filial.

Lady Henge's dignified intellectuality she found indeed rather awesome,
but she hoped by careful listening to expand her powers of
comprehension, and Lady Henge delivered her expositions of social ethics
with a pleasant faith in their tonic effect upon the suppressed mind of
her hostess--

"Suppressed, repressed, Arthur, not shallow," she said to her son, "and
you could not ask a daintier, truer gentlewoman for your wife's mother,
dear." Lady Henge sighed just a little--though quite resigned to the
future--for the Duchess of Amshire's mind was neither suppressed nor
shallow, but as expansive and capable an organ as her own, and
infinitely sympathetic. Lady Elizabeth, too!--Lady Elizabeth, who had
worked at shirt-making in the slums for two weeks, and had caught
typhoid fever at it--even Camelia's sunny charm could not efface the
thought of Lady Elizabeth's almost providential fitness. But in spite of
inevitable regrets Lady Henge was resigned, and the two mothers got on
together very pleasantly, since moulding capability can hardly carp at a
gentle, clay-like receptivity.

Mr. Rodrigg seemed the only new guest intended for any permanence of
stay. He duly arrived at the given date and hour, a punctual man, very
much aware of his own importance, and of the importance to him, and to
others, of every moment.

And Mr. Rodrigg was really a very important personage and his moments
weighty with significance. And this iron-gray, middle-aged man had not
at all foolishly fallen in love with the brilliant Miss Paton. A wife so
beautiful, so capable, so charming, would be the finishing touch to his
influence; matter-of-fact motives may well have underlain Mr. Rodrigg's
amorous determination, which Camelia thought so effectually snuffed out.
But indeed Mr. Rodrigg's determination was far too strong to credit
hers. His self-confidence smiled kindly upon a pretty coquetry. The
exquisite grace of Camelia's rebuff--she had almost thought it worthy of
publicity, so felicitous had been its delicate sweep round a corner
dangerous to friendship--had merely impressed Mr. Rodrigg's
unappreciative bluntness with a reassuring conviction of trifling and
postponement.

The lightness of touch, the deft cleverness upon which our poor Titania
so prided herself, were surveyed in this instance by an ass's head; the
effect she thought so prettily made was quite missed, and she herself
its only spectator.

The portentousness of Arthur Henge's presence at Enthorpe did not in the
least weigh with Mr. Rodrigg against the final choice he considered as
expressed in Lady Paton's invitation. Miss Paton had put him off--but
she had not let him go; so Mr. Rodrigg interpreted the Egeria attitude;
she demanded patience--and she should have it. She was too clever a girl
to tolerate whining commonplaces; she would appreciate his whimsical
calm; he would not whine--he would wait and humor her.

She liked to have important people about her, and Mr. Rodrigg explained
Sir Arthur very much as Camelia had explained Mr. Rodrigg. It was
platonic friendliness--quite hopeless. He realized that Camelia might
dally with his own hopes, that skill might be necessary to win her
finally, and he intended to be very skilful, to show no jealousy or
carping that might indispose her towards his future marital authority.
And Mr. Rodrigg hardly felt the fitness of jealousy. He was, he thought,
a cleverer man than Henge, a man of more intrinsic weight. Henge had a
light and pretty talent, spoke with conviction, but was not the man to
sway the world with socialism rewarmed in Tory saucepans; whereas Europe
trembled at Mr. Rodrigg's nod, at least so Mr. Rodrigg, not
unreasonably, was convinced. The "good match" theory in explanation of
Camelia's motives only fortified his own quiet consciousness of
supremacy. He quite gave Camelia credit for an undazzled directness of
vision that would surely apprise her of the side on which her bread was
most thickly buttered. So Mr. Rodrigg arrived in an atmosphere of
blue-books and business unavoidable, though with a minor effect of a
great mind unbending to lighter mundanities. His face was typically
British; ruddy, with broad features clearly hewn; keen eyes, a tight
mouth, and an expression of sagacious toleration of things in general.

Camelia met him with her prettiest air of mutual understanding that
would warrant the neatest epigrams. Her penetration of Mr. Rodrigg's
character had never quite realized his tenacious conceit.

He had been anxious, he had been hurt; but he had never imagined that
Camelia thought him hopeless. Her complacent conviction of intellectual
conquest was far indeed from his suppositions; the results of her
Italian reading had been adroitly thrown into his speech as a piece of
pretty flattery, that a great man might harmlessly permit himself
towards a wilful, easily flattered woman. So the two stupidities met
quite unconscious one of the other.

Mr. Rodrigg was to stop for a fortnight at least, and as Sir Arthur had
to absent himself at intervals during the period, Camelia was all the
more content. She feared that Sir Arthur's attitude of independence and
non-expectancy might antagonize Mr. Rodrigg. She relied upon her own
arguments, her own flattering influence. She sat up late at night
cramming the pamphlets, reports, and books with which Sir Arthur
supplied her. The resultant pallor at breakfast deepened the effect of
an intellectual atmosphere in which she wrapped herself serenely. Mr.
Rodrigg smiled, paternally almost, and with his most tolerant calm, upon
these efforts. He cut her a large slice of cold beef at the side-board
and advised her to take a glass of port; "You mustn't tire yourself, you
know, my dear young lady."

He rather resented Henge's evident influence when he saw how deeply
Camelia was determined on the bill, but not really troubled by it.
Camelia's fervor of sympathy seemed really personal; girlish
emotionalism, a futile but pretty pity quite interpreted her tenacity.
He was rather pleased that she should be on the side of the factory
women, though anxious to explain to her that the logic of his own
position need not exclude that partiality.

He thought it safer, however, to argue as little as possible, and
listened attentively and pleasantly, quite willing to go this far in
humoring. Meanwhile Camelia's delay in announcing an engagement imposed
a general silence; no one spoke of Sir Arthur as an accepted lover, and
Mr. Rodrigg might perhaps be pardoned if no such instinctive intimation
penetrated his thick self-confidence. Sir Arthur coming down for a
Saturday and Sunday in Mr. Rodrigg's visit, and going off again on a
Monday, rather avoided an encounter.

Mr. Rodrigg himself good-humoredly introduced the subject of the bill
one evening in the smoking-room, and they talked of it amicably and
impersonally for a little while. But after this talk Sir Arthur said to
Camelia--

"I see very plainly where he stands. He will be firmly against me; his
reticence doesn't conceal that."

"Are you sure?" asked Camelia. She herself was not at all sure. In a
walk with Mr. Rodrigg that morning she had certainly observed promising
leaf-blades break the stiff soil of his non-committal attitude. Camelia
did not imagine that her own beaming smile might well allure those
vernal symptoms.

"Quite sure," said Sir Arthur, who was really getting rather tired of
Mr. Rodrigg and his utility, "and--now that I won't see you again until
next Thursday--won't you talk of something as far removed from the bill
as possible."

"That would be a very uninteresting something," said Camelia. "No, I can
think of nothing but politics just now. Whose fault is that, pray? Did
you see the report Mr. Dobson sent me this morning? You don't want to
see it! Fie, you lukewarm reformer. Now pray be patient--we will talk of
something else on Thursday, perhaps." So she warded him off, conscious
always of that trembling retreat when the momentous question approached
her. She was almost glad when Sir Arthur was gone again. At all events,
she would make a good fight for his cause whether or no she accepted
him.

"And you are on our side too, are you not?" she said to Perior, for
Perior, more silent than ever, and revolving inner cogitations on his
own laxity, still made an almost daily visit.

He owned that he was on "their side."

"And you will support us in the _Friday_."

"I am going to do my best."

"But not because I ask you!" laughed Camelia, who still felt a little
soreness since that uncomfortable interview where she had so much
surprised herself. She was still rather resentful, and sorry that her
tears might have implied confession. She was conscious now of a touch of
defiance behind the light smiling of her eyes as he owned that her
asking formed no compulsory element in his decision.

"Don't you think that Mr. Rodrigg may be malleable?" Camelia pursued,
"Sir Arthur is to convert him, you know."

"You or Sir Arthur?" She laughed at this. "Would it be terribly wicked
if I tried my hand at it?"

"It would be terribly useless," Perior remarked; but Camelia looked
placidly unconvinced.

"I am justified in trying, am I not?"

"That depends;" Perior was decidedly cautious.

"Since I believe thoroughly in the bill; since only intellectual forces
will be brought to bear on our stodgy friend,--there is nothing of the
lobbyist in it."

"I am sure that Henge wouldn't like it," said Perior, with the certain
coolness he always evinced in speaking to her of Sir Arthur.

"Why not?"

"It would put him in a false position towards Rodrigg. Rodrigg will
imagine that you are bribing him."

"_Bribing_ him!" Camelia straightened herself.

"Yes; that the price paid for his apostasy will be your hand," and this
indeed was exactly what Mr. Rodrigg, with some alarm, was beginning to
think.

"Apostasy! If the creature won't be sincerely convinced we don't want
him!" cried Camelia.

"Very well, you have my opinion of the matter." Perior's whole manner
had of late been particularly irksome to Camelia.

Lady Henge meanwhile, seeing her son's foe within the gates, most
seriously and conscientiously, and openly, made good her opportunity.
She took her mental mastery far more gravely than Camelia took hers, and
poor Mr. Rodrigg began to think that he was asked to pay a heavy price
for his hymeneal visit when Lady Henge cornered him in the drawing-room
and stupefyingly admonished him. Lady Henge's arguments were all based
on superbly moral grounds, and levelled with severity at the iniquity of
individualistic theories, which she demonstrated to be scientifically
and ethically unsound. He at times found it very difficult to keep his
temper. But under the exquisite warmth of Camelia's urgency his hopes
were high. He could regard with humoring half compliances this pretty
whim of his pretty Camelia. Camelia would have raged could she have
known Mr. Rodrigg's real impressions--impressions accompanied by the
fatherly tolerance of that "pretty Camelia."



CHAPTER XII


Sir Arthur was back again on Thursday, alertly conscious of a half
promise, and he intended to put it to the test while he and Camelia rode
together in the afternoon. The party was made up: Mrs. Fox-Darriel,
Gwendolen Holt, Sir Harry, and another young man--but Camelia did not
go. The horses were already before the door, and she, fully equipped in
riding costume, engaged before her mirror on the final details of veil
and gloves, when Perior rode up; Camelia saw him through the window, and
heard him decline to join their party, as he had come for Mary. Mary was
not a good rider, nor could she be urged beyond the dullest trot, and
Perior's refusal was no doubt on her account. Poor Alceste! Condemned to
Mary for a whole afternoon! In a rapid change of project Camelia dashed
out of her habit and into her prettiest white dress, sent down a note to
Sir Arthur pleading sudden headache, and commanding him to go without
her, saw the five depart obediently, and placidly descended to capture
Perior. Mary was getting ready; Camelia, as she passed her room, saw her
sewing a button on a glove, her habit laid in readiness on the bed.
Camelia would have liked her ride; it was only from the impulsive wish
for ten or fifteen minutes with Perior that she had sacrificed it, and
she saw with satisfaction that Mary would take quite that time.

"Well, how do you do?" she said, finding him as usual in the
morning-room, "I _think_ we have got him," she added, picking up the
threads of their last conversation.

"That is Rodrigg, of course," said Perior, looking with a pleasure he
could not conceal at her charming appearance. He felt for a moment like
telling her that in that dress she was bewitchingly pretty, but checked
the impulse with some surprise at it.

"Yes, I argued out the whole third clause with him yesterday," said
Camelia, smiling her happiest smile, for she was quite conscious of
those unspoken words.

"Dear me!"

"He seemed impressed--though you are not. Sit down."

"He seemed what he was not, no doubt--I haven't the faculty." Perior
spoke quite good-temperedly. Indeed, Camelia's political manoeuvres
did not displease him--consoled him in a sense. There was a pretty folly
about them quite touching, and her earnestness seemed to vouch for some
real feeling.

"Why should you imagine that he pretends?" she asked, taking the place
beside him on the sofa and leaning forward, her arms on her knees.

"The man wants to please you," said Perior, looking at her white hands
hanging idly together. He wondered again whether egotism or a real
fondness for Arthur moved her.

The long delay of the engagement excited and made him nervous. It had
usually been so easy to see through Camelia, and he did not like the
perplexity. Still, the thought that she hesitated pleased him; she would
accept Arthur, doubtlessly, but at least she would imagine that she
cared for him. Camelia had gained some moral value in his eyes from that
pause.

"Why should you imagine that he pretends?" she asked, feeling
delightedly that the atmosphere was much less chilling than usual.

"The man wants to please you."

"Well, and what then?"

"He expects to marry you."

"Nonsense!" she said with a laugh of truest sincerity.

"Tell him that you are engaged to Arthur, and see." Perior's curiosity
made that little probe, and the eyes of both showed a mutual
self-consciousness; both thought of the last scene in the morning-room.

"I can't make the experiment yet, even to please you," said Camelia,
satisfied that her cheeks showed no rising color. "Mr. Rodrigg is really
attached to me. He would do a great deal for me."

"Your smile for all reward."

"Exactly."

"You are a goose, Camelia."

But she was pleasing him; her conceit amused him almost tenderly, and he
laughed.

"You think me fatuous, no doubt," said Camelia, laughing too.

"Yes, rather fatuous. Not as clear-sighted as usual."

"Mr. Rodrigg knows that I could never marry him," said Camelia more
gravely; "he can only hope for my smile, and, if he helps me through, I
shall always smile."

"I don't credit Mr. Rodrigg with the faintest flavor of such humility."

Camelia's smile, confidently unconvinced, now shifted to a humorous
little grimace. "He never really hoped. As though I _could_ have married
a man with a nose like that!"

"I maintain that he does so hope--despite his nose; an excellently
honest nose it is too."

"So broad at the tip! as though he had flattened it against adverse
forces all his life. It is a plebeian trait, an inheritance from
money-getting ancestors who held theirs conscientiously to the
grindstone."

"Mine should show the peculiarity," and Perior rubbed it, "it has been
ground persistently."

"Ah--a merely acquired tendency; besides, you are not going to ask me to
marry you--so you may carry your nose fearlessly." Camelia's eye,
despite the light audacity of her tone, fixed him with a certain alert
hardness.

Perior bowed, his hand on his heart. "Thanks for the intimation. I shall
carry it quite fearlessly, I assure you."

Camelia laughed. "But I like your nose," said she, leaning towards him;
and, very much as a kitten gives a roguish paw-tap, she drew a finger
briskly down the feature in question.

Perior grew a little red, and drew back rather sharply.

"What a staid person you are," said Camelia, quite unabashed; "you don't
take a compliment gracefully, Alceste; not that it was a compliment,
exactly, since your nose is not at all handsome; a poor thing but to my
taste. I like its dominant ruggedness, and that nice lift in the
bridge."

"Well, Camelia, I came to take Mary out riding, you know," said Perior,
who still showed signs of uneasiness under her scrutiny.

"Yes, I know; you are so good to Mary. She is getting ready."

Camelia contemplated Perior's paternal relation towards Mary most
unsuspectingly, yet she really did not like it. She could not like
anything that withdrew a very important tributary from the river-like
receptivity of her existence. Mary's narrow channel was quite unmeet for
such a complimentary contribution, and Camelia was sincerely convinced
of the mere charitableness of Perior's attitude. Then, above all, Perior
was her own especial property; Mary might profit by him when she did not
feel the want of him, and this afternoon she wanted him--very much, as
it now struck her. To have sacrificed her ride for this bare ten minutes
had been hardly worth while. She had not looked beyond the impulse of
the moment, and the lonely hours stretched in long inconsistency before
her. She thought of them now with some surprised dismay, and her eyes,
still contemplating Perior's nose, grew vague with conjecture. Perior
certainly, despite his latter severity, would rather spend his afternoon
with her than with Mary. He could not own to it, of course, nor would
she force him to such an issue; but it might be managed--pleasantly for
every one, for all three. Camelia's life, so wide in its all embracing
objectivity, had little time for self-analysis, little time therefore
for putting herself in other people's places. Her lack of sympathy was
grounded on a lack of all self-knowledge. Therefore her mind turned the
matter quickly in the direction that best suited the desire of the
moment, good and bad being to Camelia external facts that either pleased
or displeased herself, and she said without one inner compunction,
"Shall I hurry her up? And I must see that she puts her hat on properly.
Mary has an unerring instinct for the unbecoming."

"Has she?" said Perior, in the tone that Camelia well understood as
being altogether unencouraging and perhaps disgusted. "Don't hurry her.
I can wait."

"See how unkindly I dress my best impulses," said Camelia, smiling. "I
really want to help her, and to make her smart and tidy. A few touches
of my fingers about Mary's unfurnished forehead, and her face assumes a
certain grace and prettiness. Alceste, you must not take my flippancy
_au grand sérieux_--you are in danger of becoming ridiculous, Alceste, I
warn you of it." She had certainly succeeded in making "Alceste" smile,
and with a reassured and reassuring wave of the hand she left him,
delighted with her own ability for forcing him to swallow her
naughtinesses--for swallow them he must; she would feign nothing for
him; she would exaggerate even the defects he saw so solemnly. She was
quite sure now that she must not be left alone, and that Perior must
spend the afternoon with her. She ran upstairs quickly, conscious of
how prettily she sprang from stair to stair, of how charmingly with its
silk and muslin rustle her white dress swayed about her, conscious even
of the distinguished elegance of her white hand gliding up the hand
rail; for Camelia had always time for these æsthetic notes, and her
grace, her dress, and her hand were so many reasons for keeping Perior
to admire them. Mary was quite ready, and looking really nice; a pretty
color, and the dull fairness of her hair smoothed neatly beneath her
hat.

Camelia did not think of Mary as an obstacle to be callously pushed
aside; but as an insignificance rather, quite as well satisfied with the
barrel-organ equivalent she would offer, as with the orchestra that
Camelia intended to keep for herself, since she had the supreme right of
appreciation.

Indeed she hardly thought of Mary at all, as she acted surprise on the
threshold.

"Were you going with them? They are gone, dear!"

Mary turned from the mirror, her habit skirt falling from her arm; on
her face a dismal astonishment, that Camelia, absorbed in the mental
completion of her arrangement, hardly noticed.

"Sir Arthur, Gwendolen, the others--you were going out with them." She
scarcely knew why she hedged her position with this pretence of
ignorance. But Mary's face brightened happily.

"Oh no, Mr. Perior is going with me. You haven't seen him, then. He came
for me."

Camelia had the barrel-organ all in readiness, and prepared to roll it
forward without delay.

"Oh! did he? Well, Mary, I have another plan for you this afternoon,
you will like it just as well, I know. I promised Mrs. Grier to make
that charitable round of visits to her poor people with her this
afternoon. We were to go to the almshouses, and I have a basket of
sweets for the children in Copley, and now I must give up going because
of this dreadful headache, and knowing that nothing would please you
more----."

It was quite true that Camelia had made the appointment with Mrs. Grier,
but on agreeing to go out riding with Sir Arthur, she had intended to
ride to Mrs. Grier's house and make charming apologies--of which Sir
Arthur's tyrannous monopoly would bear the brunt. By her present plan
both Mary and Mrs. Grier would be pleased. She congratulated herself on
her thoughtful dexterity. Mary liked Mrs. Grier so much, liked
almshouses and poor children, and especially liked the distributing of
goodies among them; Mary gained everything by the little shuffle, and
she was not at all prepared for a certain stiffening and hardening in
her cousin's expression. "It is a lovely basket, and tea and curates
galore," she added, turning on the final roulade of the barrel-organ,
rather wondering, for the coldness of Mary's look was apparent, though
Camelia did not divine the underlying confusion.

Mary was well trained in self-abnegation, but she turned her eyes away
without replying for a moment: "Could you not send word to Mrs. Grier?"
she asked.

Camelia felt quite a shock of surprise at the tone, and a sense of
injury that hardened her in advance against possible opposition.

"Oh, it is too late, my dear--she would be terribly disappointed--and
the children--and the tea prepared for me--the people invited. Why,
Mary, don't you want to go?"

"I wanted the ride," said Mary in a low voice; and growing very red she
added, "I am afraid Mr. Perior will think me rude."

"Oh, I will make your excuses!" Camelia, in all the impetus of her
desire, was much vexed by this ungrateful doggedness.

"Mr. Perior and I could ride over and explain," Mary added.

Camelia had never met in her cousin such opposition, and a certain
dryness mingled with the real grievance in her voice as she said--

"Is your heart so set on this ride, Mary? Mr. Perior will take you out
again, and you know that the pleasure is always rather one-sided, since
he particularly likes a good gallop across country. It isn't quite like
you, I think, to disappoint a friend like Mrs. Grier--you are so fond of
Mrs. Grier, I thought."

During this speech Mary's face grew crimson. Setting her lips, she began
quickly to draw off her gloves; Camelia felt suddenly a sense of
discomfort.

"You will enjoy it, I am sure, Mary."

Mary made no reply, and silently unbuttoned her coat.

"I beg of you, Mary, not to go if you are going to feel aggrieved about
it. I do not see what I am to do. I thought it would be quite a treat
for you."

"Thanks, Camelia."

"You will go, then?"

"Oh yes, Camelia."

Camelia felt more and more uncomfortable; her object was gained and she
could hardly relinquish it, but she wanted to hurry away from the
unpleasing contemplation of this badly-tempered instrument. She
lingered, however.

"You are right to keep on that straw hat--it is very becoming to you.
Here, let me draw your hair forward a little. Now you will make
conquests, Mary! The basket is in my dressing-room on the little table.
Shall I order the dog-cart for you?"

"Thanks very much, Camelia."

"Mary, you make me feel--horridly!"

Camelia could not check that impulse. "Do you _mind_? You see that I
can't get out of it; you see that it wouldn't do--don't you? I hope you
don't really _mind_."

"Oh no; I was a little disappointed, it was very thoughtless--very
ungrateful." The conventional humility rasped Camelia's discontent. "And
you will tell Mr. Perior?--you will explain?"

"Yes, yes, dear."

Mary was now so completely divested of riding attire that Camelia left
her with the assurance of having effected her purpose most thoroughly.
But alas! it had rather lost its savor. As she slowly descended the
stairs she realized that the game, though worth the candle, perhaps, had
been decidedly spoiled by the candle's unmanageable smoking and
guttering. Mary's decided sullenness had been quite an unlooked-for
feature in the little scheme; it had involved her in a web of petty
falsities for which Perior would have scorned her.

Remembering that to account comfortably for Mary's absence she must lie
to him, she came to a sudden standstill outside the door of the
morning-room. How badly she had managed everything! She did not want to
lie to him. Why had not Mary been delighted to go--as she should have
been? Only the thought of Mary's general disagreeableness fortified her
a little.

Perior was still sitting on the sofa, abstractedly staring at the floor,
as she entered.

"Oh, Camelia," he said disappointedly.

"Only Camelia." She felt herself, to her dismay and disgust, growing
red.

"Where is Mary?"

"I have come to make Mary's excuses. She can't go--is so sorry." With an
effort she regained her composure. After all, he would never dream that
to be with him she had sent off Mary, and the sudden seeing of the
matter in that absolving light relieved her; it was rather to her
credit, so seen, and her fondness for Perior really touching.

"Can't go?" he repeated staring. "Why she sent me word that she would be
ready in twenty minutes."

"She had forgotten an engagement with Mrs. Grier; I was to have gone--"
(it was as well to be as near the truth as possible), "but couldn't
because of my headache--I have a horrible headache. I would have put her
off, but the engagement was one of a sort Mary especially likes, a round
of village visits to the almshouses, and poor children, and afterwards
tea and curates galore--" Camelia realized that with a confused
uninventiveness she was repeating her own words to Mary. "Mary likes tea
and likes curates," she went on, pushed even further by that sense of
confusion--she had never told her old friend so many lies, "and the
curates like Mary, and no doubt one day she will see her way to making a
choice among them." Her voice was smooth, and certainly left no cranny
for suspicion, yet Perior still stared.

"What a vacuous look!" laughed Camelia, wishing that she had not been
forced to cross quite so many Rubicons.

"I feel sure that Mary has been sacrificing herself--as usual," he said
slowly.

"Sacrificing herself? Conceited man! Do you weigh yourself against
half-a-dozen curates--reinforced by tea and sandwiches?"

"Mary likes our rides immensely--and I never saw any signs of a fondness
for curates."

"No, but a fondness for Mrs. Grier, almshouses, tea, curates, and the
Lady Bountiful atmosphere combined."

Perior looked absently out of the window; presently he said, "I don't
think she is looking over well--you know her father died of
consumption."

"Don't; he was my uncle!" Camelia exclaimed. "Still, my chest is as
sound as a drum." She gave it a reassuring thump.

"That must be very comforting to you, personally, but is Mary's?"

She looked at him candidly.

"You foolish, fussy old person! Mary is solidly, stolidly well; who
could associate the lilies and languors of illness with Mary? You are
trying to poetize Mary's prose to worry me, but you can't rhyme it, I
assure you."

"I don't know about that!" Perior was again, for a moment, silent. "I
don't think Mary has a very gay time of it," he said, speaking with a
half nervous resolution, as though he had often wished to speak and kept
back the words. "She doesn't go out much with you in London, does she?"

Camelia did not like his tone, but she replied with lightness, "Not
much, Mary is a home-keeping body. She is not exactly fitted for worldly
gaieties, and she understands it perfectly."

"How trying for Mary"--the nervousness was quite gone now--once he had
broached a delicate subject Perior could handle it with little
compunction.

"Mary is very happy, if you please. She adores me, and is devoted to
Mamma. Mamma is certainly nicer to her than I am--that is an affair of
temperament, for Mary does bore me tremendously--I think she knows that
she does, but she adores me, since I don't deserve it--the way of the
world--a horrid place--I don't deny it."

"Happy Mary! allowed to adore your effulgence--but at a distance--since
she bores you, and knows she does!" And over his collar Camelia could
observe that Perior's neck had grown red. She joined him at the window,
and said, looking up at his face--

"Why do you force me to such speeches? I am not responsible for the
inequalities of nature--though I recognize them so cold-bloodedly. The
contrast does not hurt her, for she is a good, contented little soul,
and then--for nature does give compensations--she has no keen
susceptibilities;" she locked her hands on his shoulder, and smiling at
him, "Come, you know that I am fond of Mary. You should have seen how
prettily I arranged her hair to-day--it would have softened your heart
towards me. Come, we are not going to quarrel again."

Perior's eye turned on her, certainly softened in expression, "By no
means, I hope," and he smiled a little, "especially as I must be
off--since I have missed my ride."

Camelia's face at this unlooked-for consummation took on an expression
of sincerest dismay.

"Going! you will leave me all alone! They have all gone!"

Perior laughed, looking at her now with the same touch of irrepressible
pleasure she could usually count on arousing.

"Poor little baby! and it has a headache, too?"

"Yes, it has; please stay with it."

She was quite sure that he wanted to stay; indeed, Camelia's certainty
of Perior's fundamental fondness for her was an article of faith
untouched by doubt.

"Very well, you want to show off your dress, I see." Perior's smile in
its humoring coyness was charming; Camelia felt that she quite adored
him when he so smiled at her. "A very pretty dress it is; I have been
taking it in."

"And we will have tea in the garden," said Camelia, in tones of happy
satisfaction, "and you will see how good I am--when you are good to me.
And I'll tell you all about the people who are coming--for I must have
more of them--droves of them; in batches, artistic batches, 'smart'
batches, intellectual batches, political batches. You and I will look at
them."

"Thanks; you don't limit me to a batch then?"

They were still standing near the window, and she kept a hand on his
shoulder, and looked at him now with the gravity that made her face so
strange.

"No, dear Alceste, you know I don't."

He returned her look, smiling with a little constraint.

"We must be more together," Camelia went on, "we must take up our
studying. No, Mr. Rodrigg, I can't walk with you this morning, I am
reading the Agamemnon with Mr. Perior." Camelia's eyes, mouth, the
delicately long lines of her cheek, quivered with the half malicious,
half tender smile that tilted every curve and every shadow from calm to
roguery.

"How Mr. Rodrigg will hate me, to be sure," said Perior, who at that
moment felt that he would like to kiss his bunch of primroses--an
illusion of dewiness possessed him.

"And now for tea under the copper beech. And I will read to you. What
shall I read? It will be quite like old days!"

"When we were young together," said Perior, smiling at her so fondly
that she felt deliciously reassured as to everything.

The gods always helped a young lady who helped herself. Such had been
Camelia's experience in life, even when she helped herself to other
people's belongings.

At all events, with hardly a qualm of conscience, Camelia enjoyed the
afternoon she had wrested from poor Mary.

The tea-table was duly installed under the wide shade of the
copper-beech. Perior carried out an armful of books and reviews from
which to choose. They drank their tea and ate their bread and butter,
and Camelia read aloud from the _Revue des Deux Mondes_. And it cannot
be denied that Perior, sitting in the cool green shadow, listening to
the perfect French accent, looking at the white figure sprinkled with
the pale shifting gold that filtered through the leaves above them,
enjoyed himself a great deal more than he would have done with Mary.
Truly at times the way of transgressors is very easy.



CHAPTER XIII


But retribution followed Camelia's manoeuvre. On the advent of Mr.
Rodrigg, very red and hot after a long country walk with Lord Haversham
(who also had axes to grind), Perior said good-bye, remounted his horse,
and rode off. It was six o'clock, a warmly rosy evening. The hot gold
was gone, but in the sunset influences there was a certain oppression.
Perior yawned and rode slowly along the strip of turf that bordered the
dusty road. But though he felt physically very indolent, his mind was
delightfully alert, weaving busily, with a sense of freedom and
joyousness, a web of hopeful imaginings, swinging the illusive,
intangible filaments from point to point of the afternoon's experience.
Nothing, in his estimation, could raise Camelia much above the level to
which that cluster of frivolous lies had sunk her; his very heart ached
when he thought of them--especially of the lie to Arthur; but the tears
of last week, though his reason denied their influence, had in reality
touched, surprised, and softened him, and made him hopeful. And now came
the smiles, the sincerity, the sweetness of this afternoon; he could not
distrust them. The idealist impulse--the master mood of his nature,
though reined in so often by bitter experience, began to evolve an ell
from the supposititious inch of excellence. The possibility of moral
worth; the implication of some real rectitude of soul, that her truth to
him seemed to justify; the formative power of a real affection for
Arthur: so Perior wove his spider web, working as the spider does, from
the merest foothold, and bridging chasms with a shining thread of trust.

Yet alas! for Camelia--that afternoon had certainly been a bungling
piece of mismanagement, a covetous snatching at the present, a foolhardy
forgetting of the future.

Perior met Mary returning in the dog-cart. He had not forgotten Mary,
nor his suspicions of self-sacrifice. He turned his horse's head again
and proposed to ride back with her. Yes, he had plenty of time; and in
assuring her of it he smiled his kindest smile, and the pony and the
horse fell into a walk. The hours under the copper-beech, with Camelia's
white dress, and Camelia's shining head to look at, had seemed
delightfully cool and pleasant, yet the autumn afternoon had been a hot
one, and Mary's face was flushed, tired, and to her own knowledge, even
a little tremulous.

"Did you have a nice afternoon?" he asked her.

"Oh, very, thanks," the habit of submissive gratitude was too strong to
be mastered at the first moment, though she added, "Camelia told you how
_sorry_ I was?"

"Yes, but I am still wounded. I did not think you would have deserted me
for the babies of Copley."

It was rather useless to attempt humor with Mary, for even he could
interpret as alarmed and distressed the look of her face as it turned
to him.

"Oh! but I did not want to go!" she exclaimed; "you know that! Camelia
wished it--she had a headache, and said Mrs. Grier expected her, so,
though I was quite ready for our ride, looking forward to it so much, I
had to go; but I didn't want to--indeed I was dreadfully disappointed--"
And then suddenly the sense of injury, of resentment, of dismay at
herself that she should wish to display that resentment--should wish to
retaliate for humiliations too deep for display, getting altogether the
better of her, two large tears--and Mary had been swallowing tears all
the afternoon--rolled suddenly down her cheeks and splashed upon her
dusty gloves.

"Why, Mary! _Mary!_" said Perior, aghast.

She searched for her handkerchief in hasty confusion. "How silly I am! I
can't help it; it has been so hot, I am so tired."

"My poor child!" But Perior was more stricken than the sympathy of his
tone made manifest. His pity sprang comprehendingly to Mary, but a
deeper emotion underlay it. It was as if Mary had thrust that dusty
dog-skin glove right through his beautiful, fragile spider web, and as
he was dashed from his illusion his thoughts gathered themselves in
quick bitter avengefulness.

"You were ready? dressed, you say?" he was already sure of Camelia's
falseness, but he wished to define it, to see just how much she had
lied, to see just how far went her heartlessness.

"Yes," Mary could not restrain the plaintive note, though she was
drying her eyes in a sort of terror over her weakness.

"And Camelia forced you to go?"

"Oh, don't think that!" Mary had thought it, but the words spoken by him
shocked her. "She did not know how much I had set my heart on the ride,
and it would have been a pity had Mrs. Grier been disappointed. That is
what Camelia thought of--" and Mary quite believed Camelia as far as
that went; but the cruel manner of discharging her duty! the deep injury
of the forces brought to bear! The memory of them rose irrepressibly,
poignantly.

"How considerate of Camelia!" Perior's anger made any careful analysis
of Camelia's motives impossible. She had shirked an irksome duty, and
kept him to entertain her laziness. The latter fact did not in the least
mollify him; it was of a piece with her grasping selfishness, Mary's
pleasure not weighing a feather's weight against the momentary wish. She
had gone to "hurry" Mary, and on her return from the cousinly little
errand, had given him the impression of Mary's uninfluenced change of
plan--even implying curates as its cause! Liar! The word almost choked
him as he kept it down, for he did not want Mary to know her a liar.

"She went to your room to ask you to go?" he pursued, choosing a safe
question.

But his persistence aroused in Mary a certain dim suspicion.

"Yes," she said; "she was surprised to see me dressed. She did not know
I was going with you." The very force of her inner resentment--a hating
resentment, as she felt with terror--made her grasp at an at least
outward loyalty. But hardly had she spoken the words when the suspicion,
definite, tingling with probability, leaped upon her. She looked quickly
at Perior. He was white to the lips. This revelation fairly silenced
him. He put his horse to the trot, and the dog-cart, hastening its pace,
kept beside him.

Mary could hardly have spoken. Her mind was in a whirl of broken,
distracted thoughts, that only grew to coherence when the wave-like
conviction of Camelia's mean robbery broke over her.

Perior's scorning rage meanwhile hurried forward to wreak itself on
Camelia; he was conscious only of its scorching.

They reached the park gates in silence; then Mary was able to say, "Are
you coming in?"

"Yes, I will come in for a moment."

"You--you won't say anything about--my silliness?"

"My dear Mary, I must speak to Camelia; but you have accused her of
nothing, nor shall she think you have. I will come for you to-morrow,"
he added as he helped her down from the dog-cart at the door; "we will
have our ride. Don't be persuaded out of it either. Let other people do
their own charities. It won't harm them."

Lady Paton was in the hall, a cool, gentle embodiment of the evening.
"Mary brought you back?--You are going to dine, Michael?" she asked.

"No; I only want to see Camelia for a moment."

"I have just come from her. She is with Mr. Rodrigg, talking politics,"
and Lady Paton's smile implied the softest pride in Camelia's prowess in
that pursuit. "She says you have had an old-time afternoon, reading
together. You must take up your reading again, Michael--for the time
that she is left to us."

Mary, going slowly up the stairs, bent her head as she heard, "Yes: he
had stayed with Camelia all the afternoon." He did not care to ride with
her--no, for all his kindness, the pleasure of the rides was poisoned
forever. That was the thought that, at the sight of him, had cut her to
the quick, bringing the tears to her eyes. More than Camelia's lie,
Camelia's cruelty in dealing her that humiliation, burned. When she
thought of it the blackness of her own heart terrified her. She felt
that she hated Camelia, and when she reached her room, she bolted the
door and fell on her bed in an agony of weeping.

Camelia perhaps counted a little too confidently upon Mary's "adoration"
for her. To Mary, Camelia had always seemed the bright personification
of beauty, cleverness, joy. She had wondered at her, rather than admired
her. Her attitude of mind had been as that of a child staring at the
unattainable moon, shining silvery-gold, and sailing far above in a wide
clear sky.

She had seldom been conscious in the past of any slight or injury. Her
most constant feeling was one of quiet duty. Camelia's little kindnesses
surprised her; her unkindnesses she took as a matter of course. But now,
in this dreadful clash of ill-matched interests, her life against
Camelia's game, all the sense of duty, of gratitude, of admiration,
went down in black shipwreck. She found that they had been flimsy
things, after all, that under their peaceful surface there had been for
many weeks a lava-like heaving of resentment. And the worst terror was
to see her life bereft of all supports--to see it unblessed, all hatred
and despair. For even at the moment she could judge herself, measure how
much she had lost in losing her blind humility--that at least gave calm
and a certain self-respect--could accuse herself of injustice. Camelia
had lied; but then Camelia could never have divined the rash folly of
Mary's secret--must never divine it; and the cruel humiliation of that
one blighting intimation of Perior's charity hurt more than the lie; and
Camelia's ignorance of the hurt she had inflicted only made it ache the
more.



CHAPTER XIV


Meanwhile Perior marched off to the garden. He passed through the
morning-room where Mrs. Fox-Darriel was writing.

"So you didn't get your ride either?" said Mrs. Fox-Darriel, who had her
own reasons--and not at all complex ones--for disliking Mr. Perior. "It
_was_ rather hot."

Perior in his indifference did not even divine the suspicion that saw in
his arrival, and Camelia's defection and amusing headache, a
portentousness threatening to the object she had set her heart upon.

Perior replied shortly, and it was with very little love that she
watched him walk over the lawn. Camelia really was a fool, and who knew
how far her folly might not go.

Camelia was still under the copper-beech, and still talking to Mr.
Rodrigg. Perior perforce acknowledged her innocence of flirtatious
methods. Her earnest pose--elbows on the arm of her chair, hands
clasped, head gravely intent--denoted the seriousness with which she
took her rôle.

Mr. Rodrigg's smile might have warned her. He balanced a teaspoon neatly
on his cup, and looked from it to her, vastly unimpressed as to the real
purport of the conversation.

Perior's mood was too miserable, too savage, to allow him more than a
mere dart of cynical amusement at her folly. Camelia turned her head,
surprised at seeing him. Smiling a complacent little smile she patted
the chair beside her.

"So you came back after all."

"Yes." The nipped monosyllable, like a sudden _douche_ of icy water,
told her that since he had left her their relations had changed, and
changed very much for the worse. Her conjectures sprang immediately to
Mary. Bother Mary! what had she said? But at the thought of what she
might have said Camelia knew that her heart was shaking. Her look, on a
first impulse, would have been entreating, but in the presence of a
third person it grew cold in answer to his, and she turned again to Mr.
Rodrigg.

"Go, on, please; I want your answer. I have still that one fallacy to
demolish, you know."

Mr. Rodrigg observed Perior affably; he was a really important opponent.
"Miss Paton wishes, I believe, to institute a sort of eighteenth century
rôle for women in politics," he said, "the rôle that obtained in France
during that ominous century. She expects to rule England through her
_causeries_."

"Indeed, I fancy that England would be very prettily ruled!" said
Camelia, laughing.

Perior switched the dust on his boots and made no reply.

"You have been reading, I hear," Mr. Rodrigg continued, seizing
gratefully the chance of escaping from the bill, "a very interesting
number of the _Revue des Deux Mondes_. I looked at it a day or two
since: the serial romance is quite a new departure in style. There is
certainly new leaven working in French literature. The revolt from
naturalism is very significant, very interesting, though some of the
extremes of opposition, such as symbolism, tend to become as unhealthy."

"Symbolism, mysticism, in the modern naturalistic French writer, is
merely the final form of decadence," Camelia observed with some
sententiousness, feeling Perior's silent presence as an impulsion
towards artificiality in tone and manner, "the irridescent stage of
decay--pardon me for being nasty--but they are so nasty! I have had
quite enough of the _Revue des Deux Mondes_--so to business, Mr.
Rodrigg." But though Camelia was quite willing to ignore the new-comer,
Mr. Rodrigg insisted on dragging him into the running, until at last,
perceiving a most unencouraging unwillingness, he rose and left him to
the _tête-à-tête_ for which he had evidently returned, going off to the
house very good-humoredly. Perior's position was altogether unique, and
not one of Camelia's lovers gave his intimacy a thought.

As Mr. Rodrigg's wide back disappeared through the morning-room windows
Camelia turned her head to Perior.

"Well," she said, leaning back in her chair and putting her finger-tips
together with a pleasantly judicial air, "what have you to say? You look
very glum."

"I met Mary, Camelia."

"Ah! Did she have a good afternoon?"

"No; I fancy it was as dull to her as it would have been to you."

"Impossible. Mary loves such things; besides, I do not find them dull."

Perior looked at her.

"What a liar you are," he said. If hate and scorn could wither, Camelia
felt they would then have withered her; she quite recognized them in his
tone.

But she was able to say with apparent calm--not crediting the endurance
of those unkind sentiments towards her, "indeed; you have called me that
before."

"Will you deny," said Perior, looking at her with his most icy
steadiness--Camelia keeping her eyes on his, and feeling that for the
moment the best thing she could do was to hold firmly to their calm and
luminous directness of expression--"will you deny that you went up to
ask Mary to take your place? that you found her ready to go with me?
that you pretended not to know that I had come for her?--she let that
out in excusing you from my disgust!--didn't suspect you!--that to me
you pretended she had gone to Mrs. Grier's of her own accord?"

The withering had begun to operate. Camelia felt his outward and her
inner press of feeling vanquishing the mild inquiry of her look. She
dropped her eyes. "Will you tell me why you take the trouble to debase
yourself--for such a trifle?"

Camelia gazed at the grass. She had cried when he accused her unjustly;
but now that her own hurrying, searching thoughts could find no
loop-hole for denial she felt no wish to cry. She was not touched, but
silenced, quelled. The enormity of her misdeeds made her thoughtful, now
that they were put so plainly before her. She felt herself contemplating
the sum of lies with an almost impersonal curiosity.

"Camelia!" The odd pitch of his voice, sharp with a sudden,
uncontrollable emotion, made her look up.

He rose, paused, looking back at her. "You are breaking my heart," he
said. He had not intended to say it, nor known the truth that now came
imperatively to his lips. How she had hurt him, after all! He felt that
he was almost appealing to her, that indignation, scorn, hatred of her
baseness, were as nothing compared with that appeal--not to hurt him;
and he grew very white. An answering pang shot through Camelia's
heart--whether pain, pity, or triumph she could not have told; but she
said quickly, her eyes rounded in unfamiliar solemnity, still on his--

"Breaking your heart?"

"I care for you," said Perior; "I only ask for a mere cranny, where a
friendly tenderness might find foothold--one ray of sincerity, of
honor--to make me feel that my fondness for you is not a--a
contemptible, a weakening folly. It's as if you dashed me down on the
rocks--just as I fancy I've found something to hold on by!" he spoke
brokenly, clutching and unclutching his hands on his riding cane. "And I
have to watch you dragging yourself through the dustiest meannesses;
would I care if it was another woman!--no--let her be contemptible,
ugly, puny, I could give it a laugh--one can only laugh; but you! to be
fond of you! to watch you growing more and more greedy, soulless; a
liar, a flatterer! Oh, it makes me sick!"

Camelia had again lowered her eyelids, but her eyes stared, startled at
the grass. A creeping coldness went through the roots of her hair; she
knew that her face was pale. For quite a long time there was perfect
silence.

"To rob that poor child of her little pleasure," Perior said at last,
"to lie to her--to me; and for what? What use had you for me? Were you
so anxious to read me the _Revue des Deux Mondes_? _Why_ did you lie?"

"I don't know," said Camelia feebly.

"_You don't know?_" he repeated.

"No--I thought Mary would not mind. I thought she would like to go."

"And you left me intending to ask her?"

"Yes."

"Telling me you were going to hurry her?"

"Yes."

"Pretending to her that you did not know I had come for her?"

"Yes." There was an impulse struggling in Camelia's heart--frightening
her--but worse than fright, the thought of not freeing it. "One ray of
sincerity." Mary had been noble enough not to tell him--she must be
noble enough to tell.

"More than that--" she added, feeling her very breath leave her.

"More!"

"Yes; I let Mary think you would rather stay with me;--that you didn't
care to ride with her----"

"_Camelia!_" They were in full view of the house, but his hand fell
heavily upon her shoulder; and so he stood for a long moment, too much
stupefied by the confession to find another word.

But Camelia took a long breath of recovery; sighed with it, and felt the
blood come back gratefully to her heart.

"But why?--why?--why?" Perior said at last, in a voice from which anger
seemed to have ebbed despairingly away, leaving only an immense and
wondering sadness, "_Why_, Camelia?"

A faint, appealing little sparkle lit her face as she glanced up at him;
that weight gone, all the buoyancy of her nature rose, ready to win
smiles and rewarding looks of caressing encouragement.

"I wanted to read you the _Revue des Deux Mondes_."

He stared at her, baffled and miserable.

"And though I was a viper--it was true, wasn't it? You _would_ rather
stay with me."

"Yes, no doubt I would," said Perior with a gloom half dazed.

"And you see I did want you so much! Mary could not have wanted you
nearly so much! Why, I gave up my ride to stay with you! I had no
headache!" she announced the fact quite joyously; "I simply thought
suddenly how nice it would be to spend the afternoon with you--like old
days--when we were young together! I really thought Mary would prefer
Mrs. Grier--really I did! And once embarked on a fib--for I did not want
her to think that I cared so much to have you--I had to go on--they all
came one after the other," said Camelia, dismally now, "and even when I
saw how disappointed she was I hardened my heart in its selfishness--a
perfect devil, of course; yes, I see quite well that I was a devil. So
there is the truth for you. Really the truth. More than _one ray of
sincerity_, is it not? And I need not have told you, since good old Mary
was such a trump. There! I have lain down under your feet--and you may
scrub your boots on me if you want to!"

"Alas, Camelia!" said Perior. He sat down again. Her confession had
indeed forced upon him a certain resignation. For some moments he did
not speak. "I believe I am the only person in the world to whom you
would humble yourself like this," he said at last. "I am a convenient
father-confessor for you. You find yourself more comfortable after
dumping your load of sins on me. It's a corner in your psychology I've
never quite understood--another little twist of egotism my mind is too
blunt to penetrate. I am not worth while deceiving--is that it?" and as
her eyes rested on his in mute, but unmistakable pain, he added, the
note of resignation deepened, "You do not repent, that is evident. You
confess; but it is very much as if I particularly hated dirty
finger-nails, and to please my fastidiousness you washed yours."

"I might have hidden them," Camelia murmured, glancing down at the
translucent pink and white of those _objets d'art_.

"Yes, you might; that is your advantage. The speck of dirt worried you,
knowing my taste. The matter to you is just about on that level of
seriousness. You are not sorry for Mary; you are merely preening
yourself for me. It is that; your heartlessness, your selfishness, your
hard indifference to other people's feelings that makes me despair of
you. For I do despair of you."

"Am I so heartless, so selfish, so hard?"

"I am afraid you are."

"And it breaks your heart?"

Perior laughed shortly.

"Ah; you find compensation in that! I shall survive, Camelia. I have
managed to survive a great many disagreeable experiences."

"And I am one. Don't you feel a little more kindly towards me? Are you
not a little flattered by the realization that my misdeeds arose
entirely from my affection for you?" Camelia smiled sadly, adding, "It's
quite true."

"You want to monopolize me, as you monopolize everything, Camelia. If
there was a cat that did not devote itself exclusively to you, you would
woo the cat. In this case I am the cat."

"Dear cat!" she stretched out her hand and put it on his arm. "May I
stroke you, cat?"

"No, thanks. You shall not enthral me." He rose as he spoke. "Good-bye."

"Good-bye? Will you not stay to dine?"

"No; I am in no dining humor."

"Haven't you forgiven me--absolved me--one little bit?"

"Not one little bit, Camelia."

His farewell look she felt to be steeled against her in its
resoluteness, though weak in its long dwelling. She knew that when he
was gone the resoluteness would remain with him; the weakness would
leave him with his departure from her presence. She enthralled him by
the mere fact of being before him, baffling and exquisite; therefore he
was leaving her. There was an air of finality in his very way of turning
from her in silence. She watched him walk away over the lawn, and sat on
in the dusk. She was a little dazed, and an evening dreaminess veiled
from her the poignancy of her own fear. She evaded it, too, by the
thought: he cares so much, so much. Then, too, what difference did it
make? She could always wrap herself, in case of a shivering emergency,
in that cloak of carelessness; but the fact of his caring so very much
kept her now from shivering. When she went into the house at last she
found Mrs. Fox-Darriel still alone in the morning-room.

"My dear Camelia," she said, looking round at her young friend, "when
next you submit to being shaken by Mr. Perior, I really would choose a
more secluded spot. The whole house might have been staring at you; and
I can assure you that the spectacle you offered was highly ludicrous. A
rabbit in an eagle's claws."

"And, really, if I choose to be whipped up and down the drive by Mr.
Perior, I shall do it, Frances, notwithstanding your disapproval."
Camelia was in no temper for smarting advice.

"The man is insufferable," said Mrs. Fox-Darriel, "_il porte sa tête
comme un saint sacrement_; provincial apostolics. Your flattering wish
to please him is not at all in character."

"Your knowledge of my character, Frances, is very restricted," Camelia
replied, walking away to her room.



CHAPTER XV


Camelia during the next few days was conscious of an expectant pause.
There was a page to be turned. She kept her own hand from it; for a day
or two, at least, she would not stir a finger; and if Perior chose to
turn it, the turning bound her to nothing--would probably reveal mere
blankness, whereon he might inscribe an affectionate dedication for her
new life. In that case the new chapter would be hymeneal; indeed, it
seemed inevitable that she should marry Arthur Henge; the waiting volume
seemed inevitably that of her married life.

But her thoughts were not with Arthur. They fixed themselves
persistently on Perior. Let him come--write the friendly dedication,
certify, by his blessing, to the sincerity and wisdom of her choice; or
else, was it not possible that he might dash the volume out of her
hands? No doubt she would pick it up again. Still, to see him dash it
down would be eventful. Therefore, she waited, more breathlessly than
she quite realized.

The last act of the drama had left her with no spite at all against
Mary--its chief but insignificant factor. She was not resentful on the
score of Mary's revelations; on the other hand, Mary's charitable
reticence did not move her to gratitude. After all, it was a very
explicable reticence; her own confession to Perior had lent it the
kindest glamour. For Mary to have told Perior all would have been a
humiliating plea for his negative; and the negative he could not have
given with sincerity. Mary had felt that. No; Camelia's analysis
disowned any obligation; but neither was she conscious of the least
anger. A mean revengefulness was not in her nature, she was as easy
towards Mary as towards herself; she quite saw that to Mary she must
have seemed horrid, and that perfectly atoned for the whines in which
poor Mary had probably indulged. She was sure the whines had not been
spiteful. She could imagine Mary injured, but not at all spiteful; and
on their first meeting after the portentous dressing-room scene, her
eyes rested in blankest serenity upon her cousin's flushed and miserable
face.

She felt serenity and blankness to be tactful kindnesses, and they were
very easy. The thought of Mary hardly stirred her deep, still absorption
in the purely dual problem, for, after Mary's ride--and Camelia missed
him then--Perior did not come again.

The trial of strength in silence, they the two opponents facing one
another for the test, filled her days with an excited sense of contest.
It was not made more complex by outer jars. Mr. Rodrigg was unavoidably
called away for a fortnight, and Sir Arthur might still be evaded,
though Lady Henge's brow had grown gloomy. Camelia rather enjoyed the
grave inquiry in the looks bent upon her by her future mamma (oh yes,
almost without doubt, future mamma); but she did not intend to brighten
them by the announcement of that fact until her own good time. Lady
Henge's gloom and Arthur's patience touched only the outer rings of her
consciousness. For Perior did not come. At the end of the first week her
patience was out-worn; the detachment of mere contemplation became
impossible. She essayed a flag of truce. Let it be peace, or, at all
events, more close, more keenly realized warfare.

"Are you never coming to see me again?" she wrote. "Please do; I will be
good."

Perior laughed over the document. It was merely the case of the cat
again dignified by its persistent absence. His reply was even more
laconic. "Can't come. Try to be good without me." The priggishness of
this pleased him, and would probably amuse her. He did not want to hurt
her. Neither did he intend that she should hurt him. She probably
guessed that.

The note gave her a mingled thrill, anger and pleasure. That he should
not come showed more than the priggish intent to punish; that pedagogic
mask did not hide his fear; and that he should fear meant much. He
wanted to punish her, yes; and that he could succeed was very
intolerable; but that was his only strength, held to amidst a weakness
he would give her no chance to exploit. His cowardice was complimentary,
but since she was helpless against it Camelia was angry with her cat.
Strength, after all, is largely a matter of situation, and to stand in
the street vainly cajoling one's pet on the house-top gives one all the
emotions of acknowledged inferiority. To turn her back and walk away
was the natural impulse of Camelia's exasperated helplessness; she hoped
that the cat would watch her, and feel badly as she turned the corner,
for she determined to delay no longer decisions of far more importance,
as she assured herself, than the ridiculous dwelling on such a trifling
matter as a recalcitrant cat. The acceptance of Arthur Henge could be no
longer evaded after this fortnight of evasions, each turn and twist
leading her more inevitably to the centre of the labyrinth. Sir Arthur
could hardly have a doubt of the final answer, though its postponement
and her son's attitude of smiling patience might bring the gloom to Lady
Henge's forehead.

"I do not like to see you played with, Arthur," she confessed; and her
look said as much to Camelia, who, in her absolute security, only
frolicked the more in her leafy circles.

"I enjoy it, mother," Sir Arthur assured her, "it's a pretty game; she
enjoys it and so do I. She is cutting up a surprise cake, and I am sure
of her giving me the slice with the ring in it."

"A rather undignified game, Arthur," said Lady Henge in a deep tone of
aggrievement, and Sir Arthur was sorry that Camelia, for the moment, had
effaced that first good impression; but he would not see that he was
aggrieved. He knew that he sat in the heart of the dear labyrinth, and
Camelia's peeps at him through the hedges, her slow advances and swift
retreats, were all charming, and not too bewildering when one was
trained to them.

Mrs. Fox-Darriel, however, was both aggrieved and impatient. Her long
visit bored her badly, and Camelia's smiling impenetrability irritated
her. Her impatience almost descended to grossness.

"What a hostess you will make, Camelia, at Laversley Castle. I see you
on that background of Grinling Gibbons and Titian. To be almost the
richest, probably the cleverest, certainly the prettiest woman in
England. What a future! An unending golden vista--widening. And for a
base of operations, Laversley. Such tapestries, my dear, such
porcelains, such a library and park. All in the hollow of your hand."

Camelia stretched it out. "Yes," she said, surveying its capabilities,
"I have only to close it."

"You will close it, of course."

"No doubt," said Camelia blandly, a blandness that snubbed and did not
satisfy her friend's grossness.

But under the blandness something struggled. Must she close the hand?
Would no power outside her hold open and unstained by greed that pretty
palm? The absurdity of the accusation gave her the melancholy comfort of
an only half reassuring smile. Sir Arthur's excellence, not his
millions, had turned the scale; yet the accusation, for all its folly,
cut. And Perior did not come. He too joined forces with fate, made the
closing of the hand inevitable. She defied him with the sustaining
thought, "Sir Arthur is best, best in all. I close my hand on his heart
because no better heart could be offered me."



CHAPTER XVI


A week had passed since Perior had received the first pleading note from
Enthorpe, and one afternoon, when he was busy in his laboratory, another
arrived, more a command than a supplication.

"Come at once. I must see you. I am very unhappy."

Camelia indeed was very unhappy. She could hardly recognize or define
the unusualness of the unfamiliar sensation, and her ignorance helped to
hurt her, make her more bewildered under it. She had accepted Sir Arthur
that morning, hurried by no impulse, but conscious as she walked with
him in the garden of an ill-tempered recklessness, of a fate more easily
accepted than evaded uselessly. If he would have it--if every one would
have it, including herself, of course, let it be so. She said yes with
almost a sigh of exhausted energy, smiled with lifted brows over Sir
Arthur's ensuing rapture, and then wondered that under the lightness
with which she braved the decisive moment a sudden sickness of fear, of
sorrow, should seize her. Reality this, then. No more choice. No more
playing. The game ended. She was not being led into the Garden of Eden,
but out of it, and a new world, a world bleak, leaden, a sunless
immensity of dreariness stretched before her. She was frightened, and
the lesser feelings of the next hour were dazed by her effort to dismiss
this fear. She knew that her mother's tearful, speechless joy, Lady
Henge's elevated approbation, Mary's gasping efforts after fitting
phrases, Frances' cool, close-lipped little smile of satisfaction, and
the background of congratulatory faces were all very irritating, and
that she herself was unreasonably angry with them all.

She was glad to find herself alone in the library with Sir Arthur, even
though strangely helpless before his joyous possessorship. His arm was
about her, and she could hear Lady Henge thundering on the piano in the
drawing-room.

"The dear mater is improvising an epithalamium," said Arthur, with a
laugh. To Camelia it seemed cynically in keeping with her jarred and
jangled mood that her marriage should be interpreted by this pretentious
music. It symbolized so much. Her own flimsiness and falseness, the
immense distance from anything like perfect union. She turned her
thought to the attainable pleasures of the future, tried to shut her
soul on the lamenting ideal that Lady Henge's music mocked, and her mind
rested for a moment on the reassuring certainty of her own appreciation
of Sir Arthur's excellence. Strangely enough, though his possessorship
frightened, his arm about her waist consoled her; a warm sense of his
kindness and stability held her from inner terrors; she was glad to have
him there; she foresaw in solitude an on-coming and chilly stupor. She
felt it well to sit beside him, protected from her own fear by his
devoted nearness. "There now, you are smiling," said Sir Arthur; "you
seemed sad, as though you were conscious of responsibility--and didn't
like it." When he spoke of responsibility Camelia felt more keenly that
she had received an injury from fate. The "Yes" that had been spoken
only a few hours before had belonged to the game, was it quite fair that
this solemnity should result? Yet why not take it gaily? Force it into a
dancing ring of happy lightness?

"Responsibility? Oh no, you can't saddle me with that!" she said,
returning his look, and smiling still more easily as she felt how much
his handsome face pleased her; its very expression, an unaccented,
humorous gaiety, worn for her sake, was a homage, a warrant of most
chivalrous comprehension. "You alone are responsible"--and following her
mental picture of the game of hide-and-seek in a Watteau landscape--"You
caught me--that was all!"

"That was all!" he repeated; "and you were difficult to catch. Now that
you are caught I shall keep you."

"No, I am not sad," Camelia pursued, "I only feel as if I had grown up
suddenly."

"No, don't grow up. I must keep you always my laughing child."

"Lady Henge wouldn't approve of that!" said Camelia, yielding to a
closer enfolding, but facilitating it by no gracious droopings.

"Ah, mother loves you," said Sir Arthur, with a touch of added pride in
his capture.

"Does she?" Camelia's brows lifted a little; the enfolding continuing
she was conscious enough of a dart of irritation to wish to add, "I
don't love her!" but after a kiss he released her and she checked the
naughty impulse, merely adding, with some perversity, keeping him now at
arm's length though she abandoned her hand for the purpose, "Would you
have dared to love me had she not?"

"Camelia, you know that I did." The perversity had grieved him a little.
His clear brown eyes, that always reminded her of a dog's in their
widely opened sincerity, dwelt on her, questioning her intention. "She
did not know you, that was all."

"Nor did you, quite." Camelia laughed at him gently, and put her hand on
his shoulder, half as a reward for the pang, half to still keep him
away.

"No, not quite," Sir Arthur confessed, "though even my ignorance loved
you. But you let me know you at last."

"But what _do_ you know?" Camelia persisted.

"I know my laughing child."

"Her faults the faults of a child?"

"Has she faults?"

"Oh, blinded man!"

"The faults of a child, then," he assented.

When he had left her, for he was to spend the day in London, there was a
lull after the stress of change. Camelia found herself in a solitude
wherein she might sit and meditate. Every one seemed to fall away from
her, and when she was left alone she was sorry for it, though it was she
who had withdrawn, not they. Lady Henge had talked to her for
half-an-hour, her arm affectionately, but heavily lying about her
shoulders, seeming in the massive embrace to claim her with a kindness
that knew itself as wiser than mere maternal emotionalism. The low
tones of her voice were impressive, and Camelia would have submitted to
the newly assumed manner of guardianship, of confidential admonition,
with a very ill grace, had not Lady Henge been now so truly indifferent
to her.

Mary had been very tiresome, following her at a distance, wanting to
kiss her and cry. Mrs. Fox-Darriel's silent complacency was unendurable.
Camelia knew that in the new epoch her friend saw only a tightly-closed
fist, and this symbol affected her own imagination until she could have
shaken Mrs. Fox-Darriel for having suggested it.

Then her mother had fallen upon her breast and wept. Camelia was ashamed
of herself for seeing in the great lovingness a Scriptural exaggeration;
and being ashamed of herself she was only the more anxious to get rid of
the maternal clinging. She ended by locking herself in her own room,
only to find that she had locked herself in with a melancholy that had
been stepping silently beside her since the morning. She would not look
this companion in the face, however. She was alone with it at last; but
she feverishly avoided its fixed eyes, and eagerly busied herself with
trivialities, a dramatic sense of courage animating all her actions. She
emptied and rearranged her wardrobes and boxes, folded ribbons with
intensest exactitude, introduced a new plan in the bestowal of her
gloves and handkerchiefs, and even found herself unpicking a summer hat
with a fictitious eagerness that implied an imperative want of that
particular hat in a new trimming. When the hat was quite demolished she
put it away, and polished her finger-nails, and, lastly, spent a
fatiguing half-hour before the looking-glass in essays at new ways of
hair-dressing. None were satisfactory, and with arms aching from their
long uplifting, she at last swept the shining tresses into their
accustomed lines, unlocked the door, and emerged deliberately, but with
a sense of flight.

Every one had gone. The guests to golf at the Havershams; Mary, Lady
Paton, and Lady Henge for a long drive. They had all respected the
sensitive requirements of her new position. She was to be left alone,
and as Camelia walked from room to room, the big house was desolate.

She nourished a sense of resentment, of injury, for it seemed to thrust
away the chilly stupor of fear, fear of that new presence walking with
her, waiting for her recognition. The loneliness, the melancholy, to
which she could only feign blindness, were almost unendurable. The tears
rose to her eyes more than once, and her thoughts circled nearer and
nearer to Perior's great unkindness. It was when the melancholy seemed
suddenly to lay an imperative hand upon her that she flew to the
writing-table and wrote the note. She looked at the clock as she heard
the groom departing on horseback. Perior might easily arrive at six, and
at the thought her spirits rose with a great soaring bound, and laughed
down at the cold enemy. When he arrived she would see what would happen.
She reined back her imagination from any plan.

According to his manner, she would tell immediately, or delay telling
until a favorable moment. Perhaps when he knew he would say that his
heart was completely broken, but the thought of his unhappiness only
seemed to send her spirits into a higher ecstasy of joyousness. She felt
them bubble-like, floating in illusion, but the relief of the unthinking
hour--she seemed to live in it only, to breathe only its
expectancy--buoyed her above the clouds. In the long drawing-room, where
the firelight made the autumnal landscape outside, its distant hills
purpling with chilly evening, a mere picture, framed for the contrast in
her rosy mood, she danced, trying over new steps. She had always loved
her dancing, loved to feel herself so lovely, her loveliness set to such
musical motion, the words of the song. She hummed the sad, dead beauty
of a pavane, pacing it with stately pleasure; the gracious pathos of an
old gavotte; and, feeling herself a brook, her steps slid into the
flowing ripple of the courante. Perior had always loved these exquisite
old dances. She would dance for him, of course. That thought had been
growing, and the gavotte, the courante, the pavane becoming rehearsals.
Yes, she would dance for him--at first. Flushed, panting a little from
the long preparation, she ran upstairs to put on a white dress, a new
one made for dancing, with sleeves looped over bare arms, flowing sash,
and skirt like a flower-bell. She lingered on each detail. She must be
beautiful for Alceste; dear Alceste, poor, poor Alceste; how unhappy he
would be--when he knew. And suppose he should not come. The thought went
through her like a dagger as she held a row of pearls against her
throat. Over them she looked with terror-stricken eyes at the whiteness
of her beauty--useless beauty? Ah, she could not believe it, and she
clasped the pearls on a breast that heaved with the great sigh of her
negation. She could not believe it. He must come. And when she reentered
the drawing-room the sound of a horse's hoofs outside set the time to
the full throb of an ecstasied affirmation.

A delicious flood of contentment went through her. She stood smiling in
the dark yet luminous room, where only the firelight shone along the
polished oak of floor and wainscoting, half unconsciously emphasizing
her sense of the moment's drama by pressing her hands on her heart. Of
course he had come. How could he not come if she really wanted him? Dear
Alceste. In a moment he had entered. The firelight, as she stood before
him, seemed to shine through her pearly glimmering. She looked
sprite-like, a transparent fairy. Her dress, her attitude, her eyes, the
hovering expectancy. Perior, too, was immediately conscious of drama,
and felt as immediately an impulse to flight; but he came forward, a
quick look of calm arming his sturdy opposition to the atmosphere of
exaggerated meanings.

"Well, here I am," he said, in a manner intended by its commonplace to
rebuff the significance, whatever it might be, of eyes, dress, and
attitude. Camelia took his hand, joyously entering once more into the
dear, enchanted fairy-land--the old sense of a game, only a more
delightful, a more exciting game than ever. She could almost have
whirled him into the circle--a mad dancing whirl round and round the
room. How astonished he would have been! Solemn, staid old Alceste!

"Yes, here you are. At last," she said. "How shamefully you have
punished me this time!"

She laughed, but Perior sighed.

"I haven't been punishing you," he said, walking away to the fireplace.
Camelia followed him and watched him hold out his hand to the warmth.

"Is it so cold?" she asked.

"Very chilly; the wind catches one on that mile along the common. My
hands are half-numbed." Prettily, as she leaned in her illumined
whiteness beside him, she took his hands between her own and rubbed them
briskly.

"You wrote that you were unhappy," said Perior, looking down at the
daintily imprisoned hands; "what is the matter?"

"The telling will keep. I am happier now."

"Did you get me here on false pretences?" He smiled as he now looked at
her, and the smile forgave her in advance.

"No, no. I needed you very much; really I did. I am growing melancholy;
and I was all alone. I hate being alone."

"There, that will do. They are quite warm now; thanks very much. Where
are the others?"

"The others? They are away," said Camelia vaguely.

"Rodrigg?"

"He comes back to-night, I think."

"And Henge?" Perior asked it with a little hesitation. Of late he had
wondered much about Arthur and Camelia. There was an effort in the
unconscious aloofness of his voice.

"In London too." Camelia looked clearly at him. No, she would not tell
him now. The happy half-hour she must guard for them both. Her oblivion,
his ignorance, would make a fairy-land. Let him think even that she had
sent Arthur away finally. Arthur had no place in fairy-land.

"All the others are out," she repeated, "golfing, calling, driving. But
are you not glad to see me, even if I seem happier than strict
consistency requires?"

"Yes, I am glad to see you." Perior's eyes showed the half-yielding,
half-defiance of his perplexity. "But tell me, what is the matter? Don't
be so mysterious."

"But tell me," she returned, stepping backward, her skirt held out for
displayal, "is not my dress pretty?"

"Very pretty." Perior leaned back against the mantelpiece with an air of
resignation. "Very exquisite."

"Shall I dance for you?"

"By all means; since the dress was put on for that, I summoned for that.
Isn't it so?"

She made no reply, her smile lingering as she turned from him, and
showing in its fixedness a certain gravity. He was satisfied that
conjecture as to her meaning, her plan in all this, only wearied him,
yet sorry that he had come. Under the weariness he was resentfully aware
of excitement. And what of Arthur? Camelia's whole manner subtly
suggested that Arthur no longer counted. The note might be explained as
an after-throb of doubt, or at least of dreariness, in a world
momentarily without big issues. If she had refused Arthur definitely?
The thought, as his eyes followed Camelia's exquisite steps and slides,
shook some careful balancing of self-control. He felt stripped of a
shield, unpleasantly exposed to a dangerous moment. Camelia was dancing
quite silently, yet the air, to Perior's musical brain, seemed full of
melody, and she the soundless embodiment of music made visible--so
lovely, so dear to him; so dear in spite of everything. She was like a
white flower, tilting, bending in the wind. She skimmed like a swallow,
ran with rippled steps like a brook, flitted with light, languid
balancings, a butterfly hovering on extended wings. Her slender body,
like a fountain, rose and fell in a continuity of changing loveliness.
Her golden head shone in the dusk.

Perior watched her, half-dreaming, half-dazzled. The long moments of
acute, delicious contemplation drifted by as peacefully, as stilly as
falling rose-petals, muffling all outer jars and murmurs, blurring the
past, the future, making the present enchanted.

When she was far off his heart beat for her return, and when the
swaying, hovering whiteness came near he shrank from the nearness. The
unexpected sweeping turn that caught her away suddenly into the
half-visionary distance stabbed him through with a pang of relief and
disappointment.

He was entranced, half-mesmerized, conscious only of his delight in her,
when her circling at last grew slower, the musical beat of the
recovering tilt faltered. She came on a sliding, wavering step, and sank
like the softest sigh before him, folded together in her wing-like
whiteness.

"You enchanting creature," Perior murmured. He bent over her--he would
have lifted her--taking her hands, but Camelia herself rose between his
arms, and inevitably they closed about her. It was so natural, so
fitting in all its strangeness, that to Camelia the slow circling of the
dance seemed still to carry her round and round, unbroken by the crash
of a great revelation. She closed her eyes, hardly wondering at her
perfect happiness, and from the last revolving mists the reality dawned
sweetly upon her--the only reality. She had danced out of the game; it
lay far behind her. Through it she had blundered on a mistake, but her
mind put that swiftly aside. The mistake mattered nothing, the last act
merely of the game--a reckless, angered act. She thought now that the
game would hardly have been begun if only Perior had put his arms around
her, claimed and reclaimed her foolishness, long ago. Of course she
loved him. It needed but that to let her know.

But to Perior the moment, after its irresistible impulse, was merely one
of shame and self-disgust. He held her, for she was enchanting, and she
had enchanted him. Disloyalty to his friend did not forbid that
satisfaction. That she meant to marry Arthur was now impossible. She had
tossed him aside, dissatisfied; he could not pity Arthur for his escape,
nor credit Camelia with disinterestedness. She was bored, disappointed,
reckless in a wish for excitement. He analyzed her present mood
brutally--the mood of a vain child, made audacious by childhood
intimacy, her appetite for conquest whetted by his apparent
indifference; he had not known that she would pay such a price for
conquest. It was an ugly revelation of Camelia, but the revelation of
himself was uglier. He at least pretended to self-respect. The folly of
her coquetry hardly surprised him; his own yielding to it did; yet in
the very midst of his self-disgust he fulfilled it to the uttermost by
stooping his head to her upturned face, blind to its intrinsic
innocence, and kissing her lips. As he kissed her he knew that for angry
weeks and months he had longed to kiss her, the unrecognized longing
wrestling with his pride, with his finer fondness for her--the firm,
grave fondness of years, with even his loyalty to Henge. That barrier
gone, the longing rushed over the others. Among the wrecks his
humiliation overwhelmed him:--a girl he loved, but a girl he would not
woo, had wooing been of avail!--in it he was able to be generous.

The moment had not been long. He released her. Feeling most ungentle, he
yet put her away gently by the whole thrust of his arm. Leaning on the
mantel-shelf, his face averted from hers, he said: "Too enchanting,
Camelia. I have forgotten myself," and he added, "Forgive me."

"But _I_ did it!" Camelia's tone was one of most dauntless joyousness.
She was necessarily as sure of his love as of her own, surer of its
long-enduring priority. But his love feared--that was natural: dared not
hope for hers--too natural. She could not bear to have him put her away
in even a momentary doubt of her sincerity. Clasping both arms about his
neck she said quite childishly, in her great unconsciousness of his
thoughts about her--

"Why would you never say you were fond of me? Why would you never say
you loved me? Say it now--say that you love me."

His bewilderment at her audacity stung him to anger, and in
self-defence, for her sake too as well as for his own, almost to
brutality. "Ah, I love you enough to kiss you, Camelia," he said; "you
are only fit for that. There," he unlocked the clasping arms, "go away."
The unmistakable sternness of his face struck her with pained
perplexity. He would not meet her eyes; he turned from her, looking
wretched. A flashing thought revealed the possibility of tempted
loyalty. Did he think her bound? Divine the engagement? He could not
have heard of it already. She saw, her heart throbbing at the
half-truth, half-falseness of the unbecoming vision, how she must appear
to him in that distorting illumination. Free in her own eyes, she
hesitated on a lie that would release him from his doubts. But as she
stood looking at him, smiling, a little sternly too, at the test, the
door burst open with unpleasant suddenness, and Mr. Rodrigg, bull-like
in his vehemence, charged into the room.



CHAPTER XVII


Camelia felt, in the glaring pause Mr. Rodrigg made before Perior's
baffling presence, that she herself was the red scarf he sought. Her
mind, alert in self-defence, even in this stress of joy and terror,
divined some unknown danger. Mr. Rodrigg had faded into complete
insignificance, put away with the other toys; she looked coldly at him,
as at a dusty jack-in-the-box, protruding its fatuousness in a grown-up
world. Yet she felt the necessity for self-command and quick
intelligence. Something ominous shone in Mr. Rodrigg's eye. The lid must
be pressed down firmly, fastened securely; she was sure of her complete
control over the silly plaything, but an extinguishing dexterity might
be requisite.

"Well, Mr. Rodrigg," she said; and her tone fully implied the
undesirability of his presence.

"Can I see you alone, Miss Paton?"

Mr. Rodrigg's voice was offensively strident. Camelia looked at Perior,
who, from under lowering brows, bent ungracious eyes on Mr. Rodrigg's
flushed insistency.

"No, I don't think you can--at present." She did not want to vex Mr.
Rodrigg--she spoke not unkindly; but Mr. Rodrigg was dense, coarsely
dense, or else coarsely angry. Angry with her; Camelia had time by now
to wonder at that, and to feel less amicable with the greater need for
feigning amiability.

He closed the door with decision. "Then I will speak before Mr. Perior.
As a family friend, Mr. Perior will not be amiss between us. He is a
witness of the whole affair. I appeal to Mr. Perior. Miss Paton, I have
just met Lady Henge. She tells me that you accepted her son this
morning."

Camelia grew white. Though Perior spoke no word, his stillness equalling
hers, she felt a fixed stare turned upon her. Unforeseen catastrophe!
She had hoped to glide noiselessly from the cardboard stage, to pack up
and send away the useless, even though misused puppets; and now the
whole scenery, heavy too, fell crushingly upon her, pinning her in the
very centre of the stage. There she was held--the mimic properties were
stone-like--there she was held in the full glare of the footlights; and
he was staring at her.

She drew herself together and clasped her hands behind her back. Her
little head, with the intent resoluteness of its look, had never been
more beautiful. Even Perior, in the frozen fury of his stupefaction, was
aware of that. The mute, white cameo on the dim, rosy background gazing
with not a tremor at its own perfidy, stamped itself ineffaceably on his
memory as a Medusa type of splendid, pernicious courage. For one brief
moment she wondered swiftly--and her thoughts flew like sharp flames--if
a round, clear lie would save her, save her in Perior's eyes, for she
saw herself as he saw her, was conscious only of him, and cared not a
button for Mr. Rodrigg, the ugly raven merely who had croaked out the
truth. The uselessness, the hopelessness of a lie, and too--in justice
to her struggling better self be it added--shame for its smirch between
her and him on the very threshold of true life--this hopelessness, this
shame nerved her to the perilous truth-telling. Better his scorn for the
moment, than a scorn delayed, but sure to find her out. Could she not
explain--confess--on his breast, with tears? She did not look at Perior.
Keeping fixed eyes on Mr. Rodrigg, an unpleasant but necessary medium
for the communication, "Yes, Mr. Rodrigg, I did," she said.

Perior at her side gave a short laugh, a cruel laugh. The moment was
horrid; let it be hurried on, and Mr. Rodrigg, tool of the avenging
gods, hurried out.

"Have you anything to say, Mr. Rodrigg?" she asked, conscious of hating
Mr. Rodrigg, and, even at that moment, of a shoot of emphasized
irritation with his nose, which caught the firelight bluntly.

"May I ask you, Miss Paton, if during these past weeks, you have always
had that intention?" he inquired, speaking with some thickness of
utterance.

"No, Mr. Rodrigg, you may not ask me that," she returned.

The revelation of the man's hopes was no longer to be evaded; she drank
down the bitter draught perforce, her eyes on that squarely luminous
nose-tip.

During the pause that followed Mr. Rodrigg's eyes travelled up and down
her with mingled scorn, wrath, and humiliation.

"Allow me to congratulate you," he said at last, most venomously, "and
to take my leave of you, Miss Paton. I have not understood, I perceive,
the part I was supposed to play here."

And Camelia was left alone with Perior. With an impression as of strong
boxings on the ears she could only cry out "Odious vulgarian!" She
tingled all over with a sense of insult.

"I, too, will bid you good-evening, Camelia," said Perior. He could have
taken her by the throat, but in the necessary restraint of that desire
his glance, only, seized her as if it would throttle her.

"No! no!" she caught his arm, all thought of Mr. Rodrigg and his slaps
burnt from her. "Listen to me--you don't understand! Wait! I can explain
everything! everything--so that you must forgive me!"

"I do understand," said Perior, who stood still, scorning, as she felt,
to touch and cast her off. "You are engaged to Arthur. You are
disgraced--and I am disgraced."

"Through me, then! You were ignorant! But wait--only listen--I am
engaged to him; but I love you--don't be too angry--for really I love
you--only you--Oh! you must believe me!"

He retreated before her clasped imploring hands, she almost crying,
following, indifferent to the indignity of her protesting supplication.
"Indeed, I love you!" she reiterated, her chin quivering a little as the
cruelty of his withdrawal brought the tears to her eyes.

Perior took the clasped hands by the wrists and held her off. "You love
me?--and you love him too?"--she shook her head helplessly. "No; you
have accepted him, not loving him, and you dared,"--the cruelty was now
physical, as his clench tightened on her wrists--"you _dared_ turn to
me, to debase me with yourself, you false, you miserable creature!"

Under the double hurt she closed her eyes. "But why--but why did I
turn?" she almost sobbed.

"You ask me why? Can I tell what folly, what vanity prompted you? Those
are mild words."

"Oh!--how you hurt me!" she breathed; the feminine sensitiveness was a
refuge--a reproach. He released her wrists. "Because I love you," she
said, and standing still before him she looked at him through tears.
"You may be angry, despise me, but I only want to tell you everything.
You are so brutal. It was a mistake--I did not know--not till this evening.
I accepted him because you would not prevent me--because you didn't
come--nor seem to care, and--yes, because I was bad--ambitious--vain--like
other women--and I did like him--respect him. But now!"--the appealing
monotone, broken by little gasps, wailed up at the inflexibility of his
face--"it isn't folly, it isn't vanity--or why should I sacrifice
everything for you, as I do--Oh! as I do!"

"Sacrifice everything for me? Go away!"

"Oh!--how can you!" She broke into sobs--"how can you be so cruel to
me--when you love me!"

"Love you!"

"You cannot deny it! You know that you love me--dearest Alceste!"--her
arms encircled his neck.

Perior plucked them off. "Love you?" he repeated, looking her in the
face. "By Heaven I don't!"

And with the negative he cast her away and left her.



CHAPTER XVIII


But he did love her. That was the worst of it, as he told himself
through the night that followed. His love and his disgrace pursued him.
Disgraced, though cruel enough to clearly see her as the temptress,
disgraced by the weakness of his yielding to a moment of enchantment,
disgraced by having given her the right to reproach him--the woman he
loved, but the woman only fit to kiss. He was innocent of real
disloyalty, and her perfidy might well exonerate his ignorance; but even
Camelia's perfidy could not excuse that kiss. He met the morning jaded,
from torturing hours. When the first passion of his rage against her had
died away the thought of her astounding declaration, her reiterated
devotion, chilled him with the new fear of final yielding. Camelia,
imagining herself in love with him, became an ominously alluring figure.
She could claim him only through his weakness, but his dishonor gave her
power. He accepted the morbid accusation, scourged himself with it, and
the thought of her power urged him to escape. She was only fit to kiss,
that was the final verdict. To marry such a woman meant a permanent
disablement of all that was best in life. The kiss could not bind him to
that atonement. It was she, rather, who owed him an infinity of
reparation. He determined to treat himself to a trip through Italy, and,
alone with the beauty of the past, to shake his soul free from the
choking entanglement of the present. He felt sick, battered, bereft of
all security; and through everything throbbed the worst hurt of
all--that Camelia should have proved herself worthless so utterly.

Early in the afternoon of a day spent in hurried preparations for
departure, he heard a horse's hoofs outside, and looking from the
library window he saw Arthur Henge dismounting.

Perior felt the blood rush to his head. The first impulse of his thought
was to see in Arthur the righteously angered friend come to heap upon
him the shame of his discovered betrayal. He would of course bear the
responsibility as the chiefly false and traitorous. The woman would
shield herself; it was the right of her weakness, and his deep,
unreasonable loyalty to Camelia, a loyalty paternal in its force and
helplessness, accepted the vicarious position, rushed over and confused
every self-asserting instinct. It was with almost the illusion of guilt
that he stood upright, waiting. Then, this last straw he snatched at,
despising it, as he heard Arthur's step in the hall; was it possible
that he had discovered nothing?--possible that he had come to announce
his engagement?--possible that Camelia, in the bewilderment of her
rejection, had returned to a doubly false, a dastardly allegiance? The
irony of such a supposition did not make it by any means impossible. But
one look at Arthur's face dismissed the tragic-comic surmise.

It was a face of stiffened gloom, a face difficult for the moment to
interpret. Camelia had told the truth, then. Told more than the truth?
Buttressed her falseness with his act of folly?

Perior expected nothing less than this craven insincerity. To shield her
he must bare his breast for Arthur's shafts. Arthur might as well know
that he loved her, but Camelia should never know it, so Perior grimly
promised himself as he met his friend's look with some of the sternness
necessitated by his pitch of unpleasant resolution.

But Henge's first words proved that Camelia, at all events, had not been
cowardly.

"Perior--she has broken our engagement! She accepted me yesterday--and
to-day she has broken our engagement!" and the quick change of
expression on Perior's face moving him too much, he dropped into a
chair, and leaning his arms on the table, bowed his head upon his hands.

Perior's first feeling was a crumbling sense of baseness. The lie
between him and his unfortunate friend scorched him, and his recognition
of Camelia's courage was swept away by the realization of her cruelty,
by the avenging consciousness that owing to her he feared to meet his
friend's eyes.

He kept silent, studying the surrendered reticence of the bent head.

"She accepted me yesterday, Perior." Henge repeated it helplessly.

Perior put his hand on his shoulder. "My dear Henge," he said.

Arthur looked up. "I don't know why I should come to you with it. I am
broken. I could cry like a baby. I love that child, Perior! You saw her
yesterday; yes, that is why I came. She accepted me yesterday, you know.
Did she say anything to you about it?--when you saw her? You see"--he
smiled miserably--"I want you to turn the knife in my wound."

"I heard it," said Perior, feeling that a rigid adherence to perhaps
deceptive truth was all that was left to him.

"But she gave you no reason to think that she had changed her mind?"

"What has Camelia said to you, Arthur? One may interpret it
differently," said Perior, detesting himself.

Sir Arthur's face resumed the blankness of its helpless wonder.

"I got back this morning and she sent for me. I found her white, woeful,
resolute. She said, 'I made a mistake. I can't marry you. I am unworthy
of you.' That to me, Perior! to me! and only yesterday! Oh!--I could
have sworn she cared for me! I don't blame her; don't think it. It was
all pity--a fancied tenderness; the shock of realization showed her the
difference. She can't love me. She unworthy! The courage--the cruelty
even, were worthy; but she repeated that again and again."

"Was that all she said?" Perior asked presently.

"All? Oh no, that was only the beginning. I tortured her for an hour
with pleadings and protestations. With her it was mere repetition. She
did not love me; she felt it as soon as she had accepted me. She told me
that she sent for you--not for counsel, but to see if her misery was
not mere morbid fancy; she said that Rodrigg--the brute!--rushed in upon
her with implied accusations; to me she confessed--dearest
creature--that she had been foolishly hopeful, foolishly confident in
her eagerness for my cause. She heaped blame upon herself. She called
herself mean, and weak, and shallow--Ah! as if I did not understand the
added nobility! I have not one hard thought of her, not a touch of the
jilted lover's bitterness. It is my misfortune to see too well the
worthiness of the woman I have lost."

"It is the best thing that could happen to you, Arthur." Perior,
standing silently beside his friend, absorbed in the contemplation of
this pitifully noble idealization, could now defy his own pain, shake
from himself the clogging sense of shame, and speak from the fulness of
his deep conviction.

"You mean better than marrying an unloving woman," said Sir Arthur; but
he had flushed with the effort to misunderstand. Some lack in Perior's
feeling for Camelia he had always felt. He shrank now from confronting
it.

"Yes, I mean that and more," Perior went on, feeling it good to
speak--good for him and good for Arthur--good to shape the hard truth in
hard words, yet with an inconsistency in his resolution, since he wished
Arthur to recognize her unworthiness, yet would have given his life to
keep from him the one supremely blasting instance which he and Camelia
alone knew.

"She is not worthy of you. I hope that in saying it she felt its truth,
for truth it is."

"Don't, Perior--" Sir Arthur had risen. "You pain me."

"But you must listen, my dear boy--and it has pained me. I have been
fond of Camelia--I am fond of her, but I am never with her that she does
not pain me. She pains every one who is unlucky enough to care about
her; that is her destiny--and theirs."

Sir Arthur's face through a dawning bewilderment now caught a flashing
supposition that whitened it, and kept him silent.

"From the first, Arthur, I regretted your depth of feeling for her,"
said Perior, after the slight involuntary pause with which he recognized
in his friend's face his own unconscious revelation. They now stood on
as truthful a ground as he could ever hope for. Arthur had guessed what
Camelia should never know. He could speak from a certain equality of
misfortune--for had not Camelia hurt them both? "In accepting you she
did you one wrong, she would have done you a greater had she married
you. She is not fit to be your wife. You wouldn't have held her up. Most
men don't mind ethical shortcomings in their wives--lying, and
meannesses, and the exploiting of other people--they forgive very ugly
faults in a pretty woman; but you would mind. It isn't as a pretty woman
that you love Camelia, nor even as a clever one, so you would
mind--badly. Don't look white; there is nothing gross, vulgar, in
Camelia's wrongness. As your wife she would have been faithful, useful,
kind, no doubt; there would be no stupidities to complain of. She is a
charming creature--don't I know it! But, Arthur, she is false,
voraciously selfish, hard as a stone."

Sir Arthur had the look of a man who sees a nightmare, long forgotten as
darkest delusion, assuming before his eyes the shape and hue of reality;
he retreated before the obsession. "Don't, Perior--I cannot listen. I
love her. You are embittered--harsh. Your rigorous conscience is
distorting. You misjudge her."

"No, no, Arthur. I judge her."

"Ah!--not before me, then! I love her," Sir Arthur repeated. "Good-bye,
Perior. I came to say good-bye. We are going, you know."

"Yes--So am I."

Sir Arthur's eyes dwelt upon him for a compassionate, a magnanimous
moment. "You are? Ah! I understand."

"More or less?" said Perior, with a spiritless smile.

"Oh, more--more than you can say."

Perior let him go on that supposition. Arthur understood that Camelia
had hurt him. That, after all, was sufficient; left his friend's mind
without rancor for his galling truth-telling. And, as Perior walked back
into the library, he heaved a long sigh of relief. The Rubicon was
crossed. In so speaking to Arthur he had fortified himself. The truth,
so spoken, was an eternal barrier between him and Camelia. The barrier
was a plain necessity; for Perior was conscious that a possible thrill
lurked for him in the contemplation of Camelia's last move. Its reckless
disregard of consequences proclaimed a sincerity to which he had done
injustice yesterday. She believed she loved him; she gave up all for his
subjection. Yes, the thrill required suppression. He must abide in the
firm reality of the words spoken to Arthur--"hard, false, voraciously
selfish;" yes, she might love him, but her love could be no more than a
perplexing combination of these ineradicable qualities.

The short autumn day drew to a close. From the library window the
evening grayness dimmed the nearest group of larches, golden through all
their erect delicacy. The sad sunset made a mere whiteness in the west.
Perior had been at his writing-table for over an hour, diligently
strangling harassing thoughts, a pipe between his teeth, a consolatory
cat at his elbow, when, in a tone of commonplace that rang oddly in his
ears, "Miss Paton, sir," was announced by the solemn old retainer.

Perior wheeled round, and stumbled to his feet; the papers he held fell
in a sprawling heap upon the floor, and the dozing cat jumped down and
took nervous refuge under a chair.

Camelia, following old Lane with dexterous determination, saw the
astonished commotion and found it encouraging. She was determined but
not desperate. Even without encouragement she fancied that she could
have held her own, sustained as she was by her inner conviction, and
while Lane went out and closed the door, she was even able to cast a
reassuring smile at the cat, whose widened eyes shone at her from under
the chair edge.

The door safely shut, she turned a steady look upon Perior's rough head,
silhouetted in monotone on the pale landscape outside. She herself faced
the light. She had walked, and her face showed an exquisite freshness,
an imperative youth and energy. In the austere room the sudden rose and
white of cheeks and lips and brow, the lustre of her eyes, the pale gold
of her hair, dazzled.

Fixing Perior with this steady look, she said: "He has been here."

"Henge? yes," said Perior. Even in the shock of his dismayed confusion
he felt with thankfulness a strong throb of an unswerving energy quite
fit to match hers. He could look at her, dazzled, but not wavering, and,
stooping from the successful encounter of eyes, he picked up the fallen
papers, pushed them into shape, and laid them on the table coolly
enough.

"You have heard what has happened, then?" Camelia was in nowise
disconcerted by these superficialities.

"Yes."

"Did you tell him why I broke my engagement?"

Perior looked again, and very firmly, at the rose and white and gold.

"He gave me the reason you had given him. That was sufficient, wasn't
it?"

"Sufficient for him, yes. I gave him only half the truth--I should not
have minded, you know, had you given him the whole."

"I should have minded."

"You? Why should you mind? It was my fault--the whole truth could tell
him nothing less than that," said Camelia quickly.

"I appreciate your generosity"--Perior laughed a little--"that really is
generous." It really was. He put another mark against himself; but a
perception of his own past injustice did not weaken him.

"You know why," she said, and her eyes were now solemn; "you know that I
don't care about myself any longer--so long as you care. That is all
that makes any difference--now. So you might have told him had you
wished."

"I didn't want to;" Perior leaned back against the writing-table,
feeling a certain shrinking. Camelia's power took on new attributes. He
could but recognize a baleful nobility in her self-immolation. After
all, the falseness of yesterday had held a great sincerity--though the
sincerity might only be a morbid folly. He had hardly the excuse of
blindness. With a renewed pang of self-disgust he saw that his more
subtle falseness to her was a weapon in her hand. She had not turned it
against him. Perhaps she did not realize her need. He was glad, by
lowering himself, to lift her.

She had come forward into the fuller light, and her face, more clearly
revealed, showed the stress that Arthur had seen as a resolute woe. In a
pause at a little distance from him, in the very tension of her face,
Perior saw that she stooped to no weak appeal; it was an intelligent
demand, rather, that he should recognize and do her justice.

"I know how angry you are with me," she said, after the slight pause in
which they studied one another. "You believe that I have acted badly;
and so I have. I see it too. I entrapped you, made you feel false to
him, made you feel that you betrayed him. But if you _understood_. You
have never really understood. You have taken the shell of me--the
merely external silliness--so seriously."

Perior could wonder at his own firmness before her. He was filled with
compunction for the pitiful certainty of success--once his stubborn
disbelief were convinced--that spoke through her gravity. He loved her,
and knew that he loved her, against his reason, against his will,
against his heart even, yet heard himself saying, sure of the kindness
of his cruelty--for any prolongation of her security was cruel--

"I hope never to take a merely external silliness seriously, Camelia.
Let me think of this as one. You should not have come, it can only hurt
you, and me. We had best not see each other again until you have
outgrown, shall we say, your present shell?" Yes, he could rely on the
decisive clear-sightedness that had made him speak the truth, once for
all, to Arthur and to himself. He felt secure in his moral antagonism;
the ascetic admonishment of his voice gratified even a sense of humor,
quite at his own expense, which he perceived in the rigor of his
righteousness. But Camelia made no retreat before that rigor, though the
color left her face, as if he had struck her; her eyes betrayed no
confusion, but a keenness, a steadiness, almost scornful.

"You think it _that_?" Perior was not sorry to tell her and himself what
he did think.

"I think it just that. A phase of your varied existence; a curious
experience to sound. You have set your heart on being in love with
me--since that was an experience most amusingly improbable. I am
another toy to grasp since the last disappointed."

"You are dull," said Camelia. She looked down, clasping her hands behind
her. "You are not sincere. It pleases you to blind yourself with your
preconceived idea of me. Your self-righteousness would not like to own
itself mistaken in believing anything but the worst of me."

"Ah! hasn't it for years been struggling to see only the best of you!"
cried Perior; "I don't deserve that, Camelia."

"You see the best now; why won't you believe in it?"

"I don't say I see the worst--by no means; even there is something that
surprises me, that makes me confess, gladly, that I have misjudged you;
but I can only believe that yesterday, in the impulsive reaction against
your false position--you did not love Arthur--the fact frightened you; I
am glad of that, too; but in the melting illusion you thought of me as
something solid to cling to, and now you are determined to keep on
clinging, deceiving yourself with an impossible mirage of fidelity,
devotion, and self-forgetting, which you'll never reach, Camelia
--never, never." Camelia contemplated him.

"Yes, you believed that, or something even less pathetic; that accounts
for your cruelty--the cruelty of your last words yesterday--so false as
I knew them; but I understood them, saw all you thought, though your
wrath, your injury, your impatience to punish--how fond you are of
punishing!--wouldn't let me explain. You did not believe that I loved
you--_loved_ you. You do not believe it now. You can't believe that I,
who could have anybody, should choose you. It looks to you like an
aberration. You are afraid of being hurt by believing, afraid I'll treat
you as I treated him, afraid that you will be another toy--that was what
cut yesterday. You were being played with--I saw you thought it. But I
do love you; you will have to believe it. I do--choose you." Her head
raised, she was looking at him with the clear command of this inflexible
choice. The sublimity of confidence was touching. Perior, grimly
conscious of its illusory foothold over chasms, could afford a certain
chivalry, could at least restrain the brutality of a push into the void.
He didn't like the idea of Camelia, his smiling Camelia, really scared,
tumbling from her pinnacles into the abyss where rocky facts awaited
her.

"I am sensible to the compliment"--the mild irony of his tone was a
warning of insecurity--"though you will own that it is, in some senses,
a dubious one; but it's very kind in you, who could have anybody, to
stoop to a nobody. My obscurity is gilded by the preference; it will
console, illuminate my solitude." She flushed, interrupting him with a
quick, sharp--

"I didn't intend that! You know it! You are cruel, yes, and mean; for
only my sincerity gives you the power to wound me. You _are_ a somebody;
though the whole world were blind, I can see; that is why I love you. Do
you believe me when I tell you that I love you?" Camelia did not come
closer as she asked it, but her poised expectancy of look seemed to
claim him. Perior folded his arms and stared at her. "I would rather
not," he said.

"Why?"--her voice at last showed a tremor. "You debase me by your
incredulity. If I do not love you--what did yesterday mean?--what does
_this_ mean? It is my only excuse."

"Excuse?"--in this nearing antagonism his voice flamed up at the sudden
outlet--"Excuse? There was no excuse--for yesterday." Saved from the
direct brutality of refusing her love, the memory of Arthur's betrayed
trust rose hot within him. Arthur's sincerity shone in its noble
unconsciousness of the falseness of friend and sweetheart, one falseness
forced, one willing and frivolous; his grief was mocked by her
indifference.

"Nothing can excuse that," he said. "What right had you to accept him?
What right had you to keep me in ignorance? Why did you not break with
him before turning to me? By Heaven, Camelia! even knowing you as I do I
cannot understand how you did it! I could hardly look him in the face
when he was here, the thought of it sickened me so."

"Yes, that was horrible," said Camelia.

"Horrible?" Perior repeated. Her judicial tone exasperated him. He
walked away to the window repeating, "Horrible!" as though exclaiming at
inadequacy.

"But have I not atoned?" Camelia asked.

"Atoned?" he stared round at her.

"I have set him free. I have owned myself unworthy. I did not know you
cared for me when I accepted him, or, at least, I did not know I cared
for you--so much."

Perior continued to look at her for a silent moment, contemplating the
monstrousness, yet strangely intuitive truth of her amendment. He let it
pass, feeling rather helpless before it.

"So that is the way you pave the way to penitence? You atone to the
broken toys by walking over them? No, Camelia, no, nothing atones,
either to him or to me, for that unspoken lie." He came back to her,
feeling the need to face her for the solemn moment of the contest.

Camelia was speaking hurriedly at last, losing a little her sustaining
calm--"And had I told you?--Had I said at once that I was engaged to
him?--Would that have helped us?--Could you have said, then, that you
loved me? You would have been too angry--for his sake--to say it, when I
had told you that in one day I had accepted and meant to reject
him"--the questions came eagerly.

He looked at her face, strong with its still unshaken certainty, white,
delicate, insistent. Loving it and her, his eyes held hers intently, and
he asked, "Did I say I loved you?"

A serene dignity rose to meet his look. "You did not _say_ it, perhaps.
You said you did _not_ love me," she added, with a little smile.

"I was base--and I spoke basely. I said that I loved you enough to kiss
you. You may scorn me for it."

"Ah!" she said quickly, "that was because you did not believe that I
loved you! You are exonerated."

"Not even then. But if you do love me--choose me, as you say; if I do
love you--which I have not said--and will not say, will not say even to
exculpate my folly of last night--even then, Camelia! I would not marry
a woman whom I despise."

"Despise?" she repeated. Her voice was a toneless echo of his. She
weighed the word, and found it heavy, as he saw. Her eyes dwelt on his
mutely, and there dawned slowly in them the terror of the eternal
negative that rose between her and him.

"You are not good enough for me, Camelia," said Perior.

"Because of yesterday!" she gasped. "You can't forgive that!"

"Not only that, Camelia--I do not love you."

She stood silent, gazing. His heart bled for her. To tell the saving
lie, he had faced a jibing self-scorn; yet he continued to face it
inflexibly.

"I could not live with you. I think you would kill me. I said to poor
Arthur this afternoon what I believe of you--that you are selfish, and
false, and hard as a stone. I could not love a woman of whom I could
think--of whom I had been forced to say--that."

Compunctions rained upon him--sharp arrows. Her mute, white face
appealed--if only to the long devotion, the long tenderness of years.

The crucial moment was past, and the upwelling tenderness, devotion,
called to him to hurry her away from it, and support her under his own
most necessary cruelty.

His voice broke in a stammer as he said, taking her hands--"How can I
tell you how I hate myself for saying this?--it is hideous--it is mean
to say."

And Camelia said nothing, seemed merely to await, in a frozen stupor,
another blow. He could not see in her now the lying jilt of yesterday.

"Don't think of me again as I've been this afternoon. Forget it, won't
you?" he urged; "I am going away to-morrow--and--you will get over it,
be able to see me again--some day, as the good old friend who never
wanted to be cruel--no, I swear it, Camelia. You must go now; you will
let me order the trap? You will let me drive you home?"

She had drawn her hands away; in the dim room her eyes met his--bereft,
astonished.

"You will let me drive you?" Perior repeated with some confusion.

"No, I will walk," she said, hardly audibly.

"The five miles back? It is too far--too late." He looked away from her,
too much touched by those astonished eyes.

"No--I will walk." Then, as he stood still, rather at a loss--

"You are going to-morrow?"

"Yes."

"Because of me?"

"Ah--that pleases you!" he said, with a smile a little forced.

"Pleases me!" The sharpness of her voice cut him, made him feel gross in
his unkindness.

"It does not please me, but it is the best thing under the
circumstances. Now, Camelia, you must go. I will walk with you. We won't
speak of this at all--will pretend it never happened. You must forgive
my folly of last night, and get over this touching folly of yours. Come,
we won't talk of it any more," he repeated, drawing her hand through
his arm, holding it with a clasp consolatory and entreating.

She did not follow him. "No! no!" she said, half-choked, drawing away
the hand. Then, suddenly, with a great sob, turning to him, she flung
herself upon his breast, clung to him, her hands clutching his
shoulders--

"Oh! don't leave me! Don't leave me! I can't bear it!" she cried,
shuddering. "I will be good! Oh, I _will_ be good! Give me time, just
wait--and see--" The words were half lost, as with hidden face she wept.
"You are so cruel, so unjust--give me time and see how I will please
you--how you will love me. You must love me--you must--you must."

"Camelia! Camelia!" Perior was shocked, shaken as well. The deep note of
his own voice warned him in its pity, and amazement, and distress, of
the dangerous emotion that seized him. To yield again to an emotion,
even though a higher one than last night's--to yield with those thoughts
of hers--those spoken thoughts--never, never.

He tried to hold her off; her sobs made her helpless, but with arms
outstretched--blindly, as he remembered to have seen a crying, stumbling
child, she turned to him--it was too pitiful--as she might have turned
to her mother. How repulse the broken creature? He could but take the
outstretched hands, let her come to him again; she did not put her arms
around him; there was no claim; only a clinging, her face hidden, as she
sobbed, "Don't leave me! Don't! I love you! I adore you!"

"My poor child!"

"Yes, yes, your poor child! Be sorry for me, be kind--only a child. I
did not mean to deserve that--torture, you--despising! I never _meant_
anything--so wrong. Only a silly, a selfish, a frivolous child--won't
you see it?--never caring for the toys I played with--never caring for
anything but you, _really_. Can't you see it now, as I do? I have grown
up, I have put away those things. Can't you forgive me?"

"Yes, yes. Great heavens! I am not such a prig, such a fool! I have
always hoped----"

"That you could allow yourself to love me! Ah, say it! say it!" She
looked up, lifting her face to his.

"To be fond of you, Camelia," said Perior. "I can't say more than that!"

"Because you won't believe in me! Can't believe in me! And I can't live
without you to help me! Haven't you seen, all along, that you were the
only one I cared about? Half my little naughtinesses were only to
provoke you, to make you angry, to see that you cared enough to be
angry. All the rest--the worldliness--the using of people--yes, yes, I
own to it!--but no one was better than I! Why should I have been good
when no one else is? When all are playing the same game, and most people
only fit to play with? Why should I have been better than they?"

"I don't know, Camelia, but--my wife would have to be."

"She _will_ be."

"Don't make me hurt you--don't be so cruel to yourself."

"She will be," Camelia repeated.

"I beg of you--I implore you, Camelia." He hardened his face to meet her
look, searching, eager, pitiful.

"How could I say this unless I believed you loved me--had always loved
me? Don't speak; don't say no; don't send me away. You are angry. You
have the right to be; but, ah! if you only knew what I feel for you."

"Don't tell me, Camelia."

"But I must. I love everything about you--I always have. When you were
near me I saw every gesture you made, heard every word you spoke, knew
every thought you had about me. I love your little ways--I know them
all; that wag of your foot when you are angry, the look of your teeth
when you smile, your hands, your face, your dear rough hair----"

Perior had turned from red to white, and still looking at him, shaking
her head a little, she finished very simply on a long sigh--

"I can't live without you. I _can't_."

"Camelia, I can't marry you," he said; and then, taking breath in the
ensuing silence, "You are mistaken. I don't love you. I have your
welfare at my heart; I wish you all happiness, all good. I am sorry,
terribly sorry for you; but I do not love you. You must believe me. I do
not love you. I will not marry you.--God forgive me for the lie," he
said to himself; "but no, no, no, I can_not_ marry her, poor impulsive,
wilful, half noble, half pitiful child, a thousand times no." The strong
rebellion of his very soul steadied him. He could yield without a
tremor to his pity, could take her hands and hold them in a clasp
convincingly paternal and pitying.

Camelia closed her eyes, drawing in a long breath, too sharp in its
accepted bitterness for the break of a sob. Her face, with this tragedy
of still woe upon it, was almost unrecognizable. Until now it had been a
face of triumph. Defeat--and that at last she recognized defeat he
saw--changed its very lines; the iron entered her soul, and something
left her face for ever. For a long time she did not speak, and her voice
seemed dimmed, as though spoken from a great distance, when she said,
her eyes still closed, "Then you never loved me!"

"Never," said Perior, who, encompassed by the saving lie, could freely
breathe in the tonic atmosphere of his resolute pain.

"But--you are fond of me?" said Camelia; and as she spoke, from under
the solemn pressure of her eyelids, pressed down as on a dead hope,
great tears came slowly.

"Great Heaven! Fond of you? _Fond_ of you? Yes--yes, my dear Camelia."
He leaned forward and kissed her forehead above the closed eyes.

"Ah!" she murmured, "I was so sure you loved me!" More than its rigid
misery, the humble bewilderment on her face, as of a creature stricken
helpless, and not comprehending its pain, hurt him, warned him that
every moment made it more difficult to keep down the fluttering of a
longing he would not, must never satisfy. He seemed to crush a harsh
hand on its delicate wings as he said--

"And now you will go. You will let me walk home with you?"

She shook her head. "No, no."

She went towards the door, her hand still in his.

"You should not go alone. I beg of you, dear, to let me come."

"I would rather go alone."

They were in the hall, and she had not looked at him again. She put her
hand out to the door and then she paused. Perior had also paused.

"Will you kiss me good-bye?" she said.

"Will I? O Camelia!" At that moment he felt himself to be more false
than he had been during all the scene with her, for as he kissed her the
fluttering wings beat upward with the exultant throb of a released
desire. And she did not know. She believed him. All her hope was
stricken in the dust. And yet they clung together--lovers; he ashamed of
his knowledge; she pathetic, tragic, in her chastened, her humiliated,
trust and ignorance.



CHAPTER XIX


Mrs. Fox-Darriel was walking across the hall on her way to the staircase
when Camelia entered. She had not seen Camelia since the morning's
catastrophe, a catastrophe as yet unannounced, but plainly discernible
in the departure of the Henges, in Lady Paton's retirement, Camelia's
disappearance, and Mary's heavy silence. Mary herself hardly knew as
yet, could only suspect, with a sickening droop of disappointment
following a hope, unreasonable perhaps, but delicious while it so
briefly lasted.

Mrs. Fox-Darriel plied her with profitless questions during tea-time;
she only knew that Sir Arthur had ridden away, that Lady Henge had
followed with the boxes, that Aunt Angelica was in her room, and that
Camelia had gone out. Mrs. Fox-Darriel was not disposed to let Camelia
off easily; and now, undeterred by the almost vacant stare her young
hostess bent upon her, she rushed at her imperatively.

"You look quite half mad, Camelia! What is the matter? The Henges are
gone, she as gloomy as a hearse. I have not seen your mother since
breakfast. Has a thunderbolt struck the house? You accepted Arthur Henge
yesterday, and to-day you give him his _congé_. Is it possible?"

Camelia's hand waved her aside. What did this chattering, rattling
creature want of her? She belonged to a dim primeval age, the age of
yesterday, before the cataclysm had changed everything.

"No; you are not going to get rid of me like that!" Mrs. Fox-Darriel
followed her swiftly up the stairs. "That would be a little too bad, to
leave me, all curiosity, frying in my own ignorance. Now, Camelia, let
me have the whole truth of it. What has happened?" She confronted her in
her room.

"Yes, I have broken my engagement."

"Why? great heavens, why?"

"I don't love him. Please go, Frances."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel crossed her arms and surveyed her friend in an
exasperated silence.

"Was that so necessary?" she asked presently, while Camelia, sitting in
a low chair half turned from her, unbuttoned her muddy boots and
gaiters.

"Yes, it was. I wish you would go away."

"You know what every one will think--you know what _I_ think!--that you
accepted him to prove you could throw him over. You try him on to show
that you can fit him, and then kick him away, precisely as you kick away
that muddy boot. It is an unheard-of thing. It is distinctly nasty."

Camelia leaned back with closed eyes, hardly hearing, certainly not
caring for the words, though their sound was an importunate jangling at
her ears, wearisome, irritating.

"As for the egregious folly of it! well, my dear, you may have plans
into which I am not initiated, but the day will come, I think, in which
you will own that you have behaved like a horrid little fool." Mrs.
Fox-Darriel moved towards the door, not caring to outstay her climax,
yet urged to an addenda by the exasperating, almost slumbering
indifference of Camelia's face. "I will go. You want to finish your cry.
Have you been walking about the lanes crying? I am off to the Dormers
to-morrow; I only stayed on here because of you; my occupation now is
decidedly gone."

"Good-bye," said Camelia.

When she was alone she rose and bolted the door. Her ten miles had tired
her physically, and she sank back into her chair, her stockinged feet
stretched out, her muddy skirts clinging damply about her ankles.

Yes, let the whole truth surge over her, and find her unresisting.

He did not love her; had never loved her. He despised her. The
remembrance of his scorn crept over her like a gnawing flame. The shame
of last night's dancing, of his reluctant embrace, that she had courted,
came upon her in an awful revelation; and the wilful, desperate passion
of to-day, sure of the hidden treasure he withheld from her in
punishment only--a child pounding at a locked door. And the room was
empty; there had been no treasure. She had forced him to open to her the
dreadful vacancy. His sad friendship, smarting still from its momentary
debasement, had sheltered her from the keenest pang; it was as if he had
held her hand as, together, they went into that vacant room; now, alone,
the realization of her own abasement stunned her. But she loved him. It
had not been for her love that he had scorned her, though
misinterpreting it so cruelly. She had made it impossible that she
should ever retrieve herself, or that he should ever see the truth; her
falseness had blinded him to her only worth, yet even now the
consciousness of that worth held her from utter loss of self-respect,
the consciousness of the intrinsic nobility of her devotion, rejected
alas! seen with darkest disfigurements, but standing upright and
unashamed at the centre of her life. This great love was like an
over-soul, a nobler self looking with sad eyes at the prostrate, the
utterly confounded Camelia.

Then came throbs of loneliness and terror. He was going away! She sprang
up under the knife-like thrust of the thought. Oh! if at least he had
believed her! If at least he had seen tragedy, not a poor, silly farce,
the only noble thing in her life distorted to a wretched folly. Only
outwardly had she been a child screaming for an unattainable toy. She
walked up and down the room, her hands wrung together, until a quivering
weakness of fatigue came over her, and she flung herself face downwards
on the bed.

Sobs came with the despairing posture. Her whole body shook with them.

A tiny, timid knock at the door broke in on the miserable satisfaction
of woe expressed.

Camelia held back her weeping and listened silently.

"Camelia," said her mother's voice, a voice tremulous with tears, "may I
not see you, my darling?"

In her agonizing self-absorption Camelia heard the words with a
resentment made fierce by sympathy crushed down.

"No," she said, steadying her voice, for her mother must not think her
weeping in regret over her act of repudiation, "you can't."

"Please, my child "--Lady Paton evidently began to sob, and Camelia,
wrapping herself in a sense of necessary and therefore justified
brutality, again buried her head in the pillow. Yes, she was a brute, of
course, but--how silly of her mother to stand there crying! How
tactless, at least; for Camelia at once hated herself for the other
word. What did she expect? She seemed nearly as remote as Frances--not
quite, for she could see Frances and repulse her with complete
indifference, and she could not meet her mother indifferently. There
would be the pain, the irritation of feigning.

"Don't be cruel, dear." The words reached her dimly through the pillow.
Cruel! Camelia smiled bitterly. _She_ did not know. The apparent cause
for grief was slight indeed; the real one was locked forever in her
heart, so let them think her cruel.

The hopeless little click of the door-knob showed that her mother's hand
had been appealingly laid upon it. Her slow footstep passed along the
hall. Camelia lay in her damp, hot pillow, her eyes closed. "Yes I am a
brute," she said to herself; and then, thinking of Perior, her tears
flowed again.



CHAPTER XX


Mrs. JEDSLEY'S visit of curiosity and condolence was of a surprisingly
consolatory nature. As an old friend, Mrs. Jedsley permitted herself the
curiosity; but even from an old friend Lady Paton had not expected a
true-ringing generosity of judgment.

"I came, my dear--yes, because I wanted to know. My ears are buzzing
with the talk of it--true or false, who can tell? Not even you, I fancy;
but I have my own opinion," said Mrs. Jedsley. "I understand Camelia
pretty well; but vulgarly, schemingly cruel--rubbish! rubbish!--so I
say!"

That the saying had been at all necessary made poor Lady Paton more
white, yet Mrs. Jedsley's denunciation was so sincere that she took her
hands, saying, "How can they! It was a mistake. She found she did not
love him. _He_ understands." Sir Arthur's parting words had haloed her
daughter for her during these difficult days.

"Yes, yes, he is a very fine fellow, and idealizes her tremendously,"
said Mrs. Jedsley, with strict justice. "It was, of course, a great
shame for her not to have made up her mind long ago--a great shame to
have accepted him"--Mrs. Jedsley shore off Camelia's beams
relentlessly--"and a great pity, my dear, that the engagement should
have been announced, since a few hours of silence might have shifted
the matter, and no one the wiser. But of course we were all as ready as
dry kindling for the match--it spread like wildfire--a fine crackling!
and then, in a day, a fine cackling! Lady Haversham came running down to
me post-haste to say it was off--to wonder, to exult. Of course she is
an adherent of the Duchess's, and Lady Elizabeth has her chance again.
But yes, yes, I know the child--a vain child, a selfish child; ah! it
pains you; one must face that truth to see beyond it--to others; but not
vulgarly cruel. She would not play with the man for months to give
herself the feline fun of crunching him at the end of it all. She was
playing with herself rather, only half in earnest. The engagement
brought her to her senses--held her still; she couldn't dance, so she
thought. Indeed, it's the first time I've respected Camelia. I do
respect a person who has the courage to retrieve a false step. It is
quite a good enough match to turn a girl into a schemer. At least she
has proved she's not that."

"No! no! My daughter!"

"Quite true; your daughter; that does count, after all. No, she can't be
accused of husband-hunting." Mrs. Jedsley laughed dryly. "Now, the
question of course remains, who _is_ she in love with?" and she fixed on
her friend a gaze so keenly interrogative that it certainly suggested
tinder ready to flash alight of itself. "Not our Parliamentary big-wig,
Mr. Rodrigg? Oh no!"

"No, indeed." Lady Paton's head-shake might have damped the most arduous
conjecture. "He went away, you know--very angrily, it seems, and most
discourteously, for I did not even see him. He behaved very badly,
Michael told me. Michael himself is gone; you knew that too? He just
stopped to see me on his way to the station."

"Mr. Perior--yes." Mrs. Jedsley looked ruminative; even to her quickly
jumping mind that long leap of inference did not suggest itself except
in one connection.

Poor Mr. Perior! Had Camelia been giving the mitten right and left?
Buffeting back into hopelessness each suitor who advanced, encouraged by
another's failure? Had Mr. Perior really been foolish enough to run his
head into that trap?

"Now that the comedy is over, the chief confidant packs up--he quite
filled that rôle, didn't he?" she said. "And our fine jingling lady,
Mrs. Fox-Darriel? Has she, too, folded her tents and stolen away?--not
silently, I'll be bound. She had staked something on the match."

"She is gone. She spoke unkindly to me of Camelia. I do not like her. I
could say nothing, it was so----"

"So neatly done. She implied, merely; you would have accepted inferences
by recognizing them. I can hear her!"

"She felt for me. Camelia had gone too far--it didn't look well; a girl
must not overstep certain limits; one could make too much of a
reputation for audacity; Camelia's charm had been to be audacious,
without seeming so. And the sad affair of Mr. Rodrigg--Camelia should
not have stooped, and to no purpose; people turned on one so horridly.
Poor Sir Arthur would lose his bill as well as his sweetheart, now that
Camelia had meddled so disastrously. Oh! she was most unkind." Lady
Paton evidently remembered the unkindness--her voice was a curious echo.

Mrs. Jedsley ruminated energetically all the way back to the village,
as, her skirts raised in either hand, she marched with heavy-booted
splashes through the mud. Near the village she overtook Mary, bending as
she walked, an umbrella uncomfortably wedged under one arm, several
parcels encumbering her.

"My dear, why walk in this weather?" Mrs. Jedsley herself walked in all
weathers, but for Mary, with a pleasant equine background, the necessity
was not obvious; she joined her with the ejaculation.

"Oh! I like walking, Mrs. Jedsley," said Mary. "Aunt Angelica always
tells me to have the pony-cart, but it seems hardly worth while for this
little distance."

"A good mile. Where are you bound for?"

"I want to see Mrs. Brown; Kitty was rather troublesome in Sunday-school
last Sunday."

"And how nicely you manage that class. It is a credit to you. Camelia
now laughs at it." Mary said nothing to this, and Mrs. Jedsley added,
"Not that she has much heart for laughing at anything just now from what
I hear. That is the very encouraging feature of the whole case. It is
ridiculous to speak of her as setting feathers in her cap with a light
heart. She really feels this sad affair."

"Yes," said Mary, looking ahead with a rather rigid settling of her
features.

"One might perhaps say affairs," Mrs. Jedsley added, for she could not
keep those restless conjectures to herself; out they galloped. "It has
been a general _débâcle_. Mr. Rodrigg gone in a fury--breathing flame;
Sir Arthur flung from his triumph--and, poor Mr. Perior. Now I really
did not expect it of Mr. Perior; I thought he knew her so well--yet, for
eyes that can see it's very evident, isn't it?"

Mary looked down, making no reply.

"Evidently she has a charm the most metallic male heart can't withstand;
a case of molten iron with Mr. Perior--in that condition I can imagine
him irresistible to some women. But such a reasonable man;
well-seasoned, and her friend for years. Oh! it's a great pity that he
let her melt him; no one knows now what shape his despair will cool to?"

Mary, her head bent persistently downward, stared at the muddy road.

"That she was very fond of him there is no denying," Mrs. Jedsley
pursued, "but I should have seen that as the most hopeless part of the
matter. A girl like Camelia doesn't marry the middle-aged mentor of her
youth. But fond of him she is. I have watched her. Her eyes were always
sliding round to him. He made a standard to her; she might jibe at it,
but she liked to see it standing there--and to hang a wreath on it now
and then. Upon my word, Mary!" and Mrs. Jedsley, stopping short in a
mud-puddle, turned triumphant eyes on Mary's impassive face, "I
shouldn't be surprised if _that_ were the real matter with her. She is
really fond of him; his tumble hurts her more than the other's. She
misses her sign-post pointing steadily at friendship. She is sorry to
lose her friend."

Mary after a little pause said, "Yes."

"Yes! You think so too!" cried Mrs. Jedsley delightedly. "You have
opportunities, of course----"

"Oh no! No, indeed, Mrs. Jedsley--I only think, only imagine----"

"You have thought and imagined what I have. And that we are right I
don't doubt. The double catastrophe accounts very fully for her low
spirits--and I really respect her for them, though that the catastrophe
should have occurred makes it only just that she should suffer. But Mr.
Perior was foolish. Ah yes! in her defence I must say that!"

Mary was saying nothing, standing mutely at the parting of the roads
until her companion should have done. She was well prepared for Mrs.
Jedsley's unconscious darts.

Mrs. Fox-Darriel's parting look and parting words still rankled in her
heavy heart; the look, one of pity; the words: "She has refused the
other too! And him she would have liked to keep dangling! She enjoys an
interminable sense of drama when he is by; her life is bereft without
it. But the man was mad to think that she would take him," and the look
had added that the man was a fool not to see and be contented with the
minor fact Mary would have been so willing to supply. Mary had felt
withered; her nerves scorched to apathy, since that look.

"You must come in and have tea with me, my dear," said Mrs. Jedsley, "it
will put strength into you for your talk with Mrs. Brown. Come and have
a cup with me--and you know my hot scones; we will talk this over. Your
aunt doesn't suspect it, poor dear!"

"No, Mrs. Jedsley, thanks--I can't come, and no, aunt does not
know--must not know; it would make her feel very unhappy! she is so fond
of Mr. Perior; she doesn't suspect it," Mary spoke with sudden
insistence--"and then, it may be pure imagination on my part," she
added, flushing before Mrs. Jedsley's smiling and complacent head-shake.
"It would be unfair to _them_--would it not?--to Camelia I
mean--and----"

"And Mr. Perior; quite true, my dear. We must be as quiet as mice about
it. Unfair, as you say. We must not hang out his heart for the daws to
peck at. Poor man! You won't come in to tea?"

"Thanks, no. I must be home early." Mary hurried away. She bit her lips
hard, staring before her at the wet browns and grays of the lane, dingy,
drab, like her life; narrow, dull, chill with on-coming winter, and
leading--the lane led to the churchyard. Mary's thoughts followed it to
that destination, and suddenly the hot tears rolled down her cheeks, and
hard sobs shook her as she walked.



CHAPTER XXI


These days were very lonely for Lady Paton. The house was empty, and one
could not call companionship Camelia's mute, white presence.

Camelia read all day in the library, where only Siegfried was made
welcome, or rode for hours about the wintry country. To all timid
questions, as to future plans, she only answered by a coldly decisive,
"I don't know." When her mother put her arms around her, Camelia stood
impassive in their circling love, locked in her own frozen mood of
despairing humiliation.

One day when in her room she had broken down her outward endurance by an
impulsive cry of woe, and stood sobbing, her face in her hands, her
mother came in, made courageous by pity.

"My dearest child, tell me--what is it? You are breaking your heart and
mine. Do you love him? Tell me, darling. Is it some hidden scruple? some
fancy? Let me send for him," poor Lady Paton's thoughts dwelt longingly
on amorous remedies.

"Love him? Sir Arthur? Are you mad, mother?" Camelia lifted a stern
face. "He doesn't enter my mind. He is nothing to me--simply nothing."

"But, Camelia--you are miserable----"

"Ah! I have a right to that dreary liberty."

"And--Oh don't be angry, dearest--is there no one else?"

"No one else?" Camelia repeated it angrily indeed;--that her mother
should give this stupid wrench to her heart was intolerable. "Of course
there is no one else! How can you be so tiresome, mother. There--don't
cry. I am simply sick of everything--myself included, that is all that
is the matter with me. Please don't cry!" for sympathetic tears were
coming into her own eyes, and above all things, she dreaded a breaking
down of reserves, a weakened dignity that might bring her to a sobbing,
maudlin confession, that would burn her afterwards, and follow her
everywhere in the larger pity of her mother's eyes.

Lady Paton, her handkerchief at her lips, pressed back her grief, saying
in a broken entreaty, "But, Camelia--why? How long will it last? You
were always such a happy creature."

"How can I tell?" Camelia gave a little laugh that carried her over the
vanquished sob to a certain calmness; leaning back against the
mantelpiece she added, smiling drearily, "Don't worry, mother; don't
_you_ be miserable."

Lady Paton looked at her with eyes in which Camelia felt the unconscious
dignity of an inarticulate reproof.

"Oh, my child!" she said, "my child! Am I not your mother? Is not your
happiness my only happiness?--your sorrow my last and greatest sorrow?
You forget me, dear, in your own grief. You shut me out--because you
don't love me--as I love you;--it is that that hurts the most."

Camelia stood looking at her. Her artistic sensibility was decidedly
impressed by this unexpected revelation of character. How well her
mother's white hair and cap looked on the pale greens of the room; the
exquisite face, and the more exquisite soul looking from it. How well
she had spoken; how truly too. Yes, her own worthlessness clung to her;
she, so far inferior in moral worth, made this sweet, fragile creature
unhappy; she was everything to her mother, the light that shone through
and sustained the white petals of her flower-like being; and her mother
was to her only a pretty detail. Camelia analyzed it all very
completely, and resting on an achieved self-disgust she said, gravely
contemplating her, "It is a great shame, mother. That is the way of this
wretched world. The good people are always making beauty for the bad
ones. You shouldn't let that lovely, but most irrational maternal
instinct dominate you; see me as I am, a horrid creature." She paused,
and all thoughts of artistic effects, all poetical and scientific
appreciations, were blotted out in a flame-like leap of memory--"false,
selfish, hard as a stone," she said.

"Don't say it, dear--you could not say it if it were so."

"Oh, yes!--one can, if one has a devilish clearness of perception about
everything. I am horrid--and I know that I am horrid. And you are very
lovely. There." And kissing her, Camelia pushed her gently to the door.

Perhaps, however, more than artistic sensibilities had been touched.
Camelia shrank as quickly as before from any demonstration that seemed
to look too closely at her heart, but she herself would make advances.
She was only gentle, now, towards her mother; she never failed to kiss
or caress her when they met. A cheerful coldness seemed at once her
surest refuge and most becoming medium for an affection that could allow
itself no warmer and more dangerous avowals. It was a colorless, still
affection, held, as it were, from development, only felt by Lady Paton
as a more careful kindness, and by Camelia as a new necessity for
incurring no further self-reproach.

Poor Lady Paton, devouring her heart in sorrowful conjecture and
helpless sympathy, had no thought but of her child; but by her side,
Mary, the silent witness of her grief and anxiety, might have claimed,
from disengaged eyes, a foreboding attention. Since the day of her
stolen ride Mary had effaced herself in a shadowy taciturnity. She
watched Camelia, and avoided her. Her absorption in every household duty
became minutely forced. She slipped early to bed after a day of
self-imposed labor. Work and its ensuing weariness, were the only
sedatives for intolerable pain; she deadened herself with the drug. The
weather was bad, and Lady Paton too depressed to rouse herself to her
usual benignant activity. Mary took upon herself her Aunt's abandoned
occupations. She went every day to read to the paralyzed girl at the
Manor Farm. She made the weekly round of visits through the wet village
streets; consulted with the well-worked rector; kept an eye upon the
school and almshouses. Mary was not particularly popular in the village.
Her kindness was rather flat and flavorless; Jane Hicks at the farm
complained to her mother that Miss Fairleigh's reading was "so dull
like; one didn't seem to get anything from it."

Jane never forgot the one visit Miss Paton made her, nor how Camelia had
sat beside her and kept her laughing the whole hour. Camelia, seeing the
effect she made, had promised to return some day, but events had
interfered, she now was in no mood for laughing, and Jane was always
eager to question Mary about Camelia's doings, and to sigh with the
pleasant reminiscence of her "pretty ways." Mary's virtues were all
peculiarly unremunerative, they sought, and obtained, no reward.

Towards the beginning of December Camelia's despair threw itself into
action. The rankling sense of Perior's scorn at first stupefied, and at
last roused her. Before him she had felt her powerlessness. His rocky
negative had broken her. He would not change--not a thought of his
changing stirred her deep hopelessness; but she herself might
change--merit at least a friendship unflawed--cast off crueller
accusations.

She must be good, she must struggle from the shell; she must realize,
however feebly, his ideal. He would never love her--that delusion of her
vanity he had killed forever; but he might be fond of her without a
compunction.

Towards this comparatively humble attainment Camelia strove. How to be
good was the question. Of course she would never tell lies any
more--unless necessary lies of self-defence, in protection of her dear,
her dreadful secret--Camelia could address it by both names; the love
that sustained and must lift her life, even he should never see again.
After all, it was easy enough to tell the truth when one cared no more
for any of the things gained by falseness. That was hardly a step
upward. Some other mode of development must be found; Camelia pondered
this necessity, and one day during a walk past Perior's model cottages
the thought came. She, too, would build cottages, beautiful cottages,
more beautiful than his! She almost laughed at the delicious, teasing,
old friendliness of that addenda.

The Patons' estate boasted only very commonplace residences for its
laborers, and delightful visions of co-operative farming, of idealized
laboring conditions flashed joyously through Camelia's mind. Vast fields
of study opened alluringly, and, immediately in the foreground, these
idyllic cottages. They bloomed with trellised flowers on the gray
December landscape as she walked. The wall-papers were chosen by the
time she reached home. She burst upon her mother in the firelit
drawing-room at tea-time with an enthusiasm that made Lady Paton's heart
jump.

"Mother! Such an idea! I am going to build."

Mary, who was toasting a muffin to hotter crispness before the fire,
turned a thin, flushed face at the announcement.

"Build what, dear?" asked Lady Paton; while Mary, certain in one moment
of what Camelia was going to build, and why, silently put the
ameliorated muffin on the little plate by her aunt's side.

"Cottages. Model cottages. Beautiful cottages--really beautiful, you
know--Elizabethan; beams, white plaster, latticed windows, deep
window-seats, and the latest modernity in drains and bath-tubs."

"Like Michael's, you mean," said Lady Paton, a little bewildered; "his
are not Elizabethan, but the drains and bath-tubs are very good, I
believe."

Camelia's face changed when her mother spoke of "Michael;" and Mary,
watching as usual, compressed her lips tightly. The cottages were to be
built for him--with him! Ah! he would come back. Camelia would keep
him--for building cottages, for adoring her; while she, Mary, would be
thrust further and further away.

"Yes, like his, only better than his. My tenants shall be the best
housed of the county." Camelia threw herself into an easy-chair, and
fixed her eyes thoughtfully upon the fire.

"It will be very expensive, dear."

"Never mind; we'll economize."

Camelia had not so looked or spoken for weeks, and Lady Paton smiled a
happy acquiescence.

Camelia took the cup of tea her cousin offered her without looking away
from the fire, where she saw the cottages charmingly pictured, and she
and Perior looking at them--friends.

"Your boots are wet, dear, are they not?" asked Lady Paton; "it has been
raining."

"They are wet, I think. Mary, just ring, will you? Grant must take them
off down here. I am too tired, too comfortable, to go upstairs."

Camelia sighed as though the fundamental heaviness of her mood rose
through the seeming light-heartedness of tone; sighed, and yet the
relief of getting outside herself was filling her with an exhilarating
energy.

As she drank her tea, ate a muffin, Mary browning it nicely for
her--"How cosy to have tea by ourselves," said Camelia, "and toast our
own muffins!"--she talked as she had not talked for a long time. Her
mind ran quickly, escaping its miserable thraldom, from point to point
of the project.

She pushed aside the tea-things to make with spoons and saucers a plan
of the new scheme.

"That high bit of land, you know, with the beech woods behind it; I'll
have six of the cottages, with big gardens; and what a view from the
front windows. I will furnish them, too. I must see an architect at
once: I'll go up to town for that, and talk it over with Lady Tramley.
Where is her last letter, I wonder? I remember her asking me for some
date; but that doesn't matter. She wanted me to go out, and of course I
won't." Camelia sprang up to rumple over the leaves of the blotter, the
drawers of the writing-desk. "Where is the letter? In the library, I
wonder?"

"There is a whole pile, dear, in the small cabinet. You did not care to
look at them. I think they had better be gone over."

"No; here is hers. I don't care about the others. I don't want to hear
anything about any one," Camelia added with some bitterness, as she
dropped into her chair again and held out her foot to Grant, who had
come in with the shoes. "Yes; she asks me for next week."

"If you won't go out, dear, it may be rather annoying for her."

"Oh! she can get out of things herself while I am with her," said
Camelia easily, as her eyes skimmed over the letter.

The new impulse was too strong to be thwarted by the slightest delay.
That evening Camelia sent off a bulky letter to Lady Tramley, much
astonishing that good friend by her absolute ignoring of important facts
in recent history. Sir Arthur was not so much as hinted at. The whole
letter bristled with cottages, and Camelia's earnestness panted on every
page.

"She is going in for philanthropy, I suppose," Lady Tramley conjectured,
shaking her head with a patient smile over the small, flowing
handwriting--Camelia hated untidy scrawls. "Let us help her. Camelia is
sure to do something interesting in the way of cottages. She'll carry
them through like a London season."

Lady Tramley, as may be gathered from these remarks, was one of
Camelia's admirers, though not a blind or bigoted one. She shook her
head on many occasions, but Camelia's defects were not serious matters
to her gay philosophy, and Camelia's qualities in this frivolous world,
where nothing should be peered at too closely, were attractively
sparkling. As a successful hostess Lady Tramley prized the charming Miss
Paton.

"Now mind," Camelia said on arriving at her friend's house, "I am not
going to be shown to any one. I am in a monastic frame of mind, and must
be kept unspotted from the world. No dances or dinners, if you please,"
and she fixed her with eyes really grave.

"Very well." Lady Tramley acquiesced as to a humorous and pretty whim.
"My doors are closed while you are here--as on a retreat. But when will
the season of penance be over? We are all expiating with you, remember."

"Do I imply penance? Is that the habit my retirement wears?"

"People give you credit for all sorts of niceties of feeling." Lady
Tramley smiled her significant little smile, a smile not lavished on the
nothings of intercourse, and Camelia, taking her by the shoulders, shook
her softly.

"No; sly as you are you get nothing out of me, and give me credit for
nothing, please, not even for curiosity as to what people _do_ say of
me."

"You know, dear, he is to meet, I fear, a second disaster as
unmerited----"

Camelia had sat down to the tea-tray brought to refresh her after her
journey. She looked up from the filling of her cup to meet in a glance
the delicate directness of Lady Tramley's look.

"Jack knows the ropes, of course, and I thought you ought to know
too--and be sorry." In her heart Lady Tramley hoped for an expansion of
sorrow that would carry Camelia past her moment of inexplicable folly.

"I am sorry. The bill, you mean." Camelia folded a slice of bread and
butter, adding "Idiots."

"Idiots indeed. It won't be carried, I am afraid. There is a split in
the Government, and Mr. Rodrigg has developed a really spiteful
acrimony. I always hated that man."

"Ah! I loathe him!" said Camelia. She thought with a pang of
self-reproach of an unopened letter among the rejected pile--a letter
for Mr. Rodrigg. She had not cared to read his shuffling excuses. His
vanity, bulwarked by the strangely apt events succeeding his
discomfiture, might well renew hope. He might imagine these events the
result of remorse, and that, brought to a timely realization of her
folly, his fair one would consent to bury the hatchet and allow his firm
hand to tame her finally. All this Camelia had conjectured very rightly
on looking at the fat envelope. She had restrained the direct rebuff of
returning the unopened letter, but she had neither answered nor cared to
read it, and could well imagine that Mr. Rodrigg's cumulative
humiliation would urge him to his only possible vengeance. The "I loathe
him" was spoken with a most feeling intensity of tone.

"Yes." Lady Tramley's affirmative was meaning, and Camelia looked up
alertly. "Lady Henge told me."

"You know everything, I believe," cried Camelia. "Well, I am in good
hands."

"I understand--your idea in it. But how unwise. How you mistook the
man."

"Rather! Ass that I am!"

"You looked for superlative chivalry, if you come to think of it."

"No, for sincerity; common honesty. I thought I could convince him. I
didn't want chivalry without conviction. What did Lady Henge say of me?"
Camelia added bluntly.

Lady Tramley replied very frankly, "She said you were a shallow jilt. I
quite agreed with her inwardly--though I shamelessly defended you."

"If I say that I agree with you both it will only savor of ostentatious
humility--so I refrain. But, Lady Tramley, it was not the breaking of
our engagement that was shallow--that I will say. And so the bill is
doomed. Can we do nothing? Shear no Samson in the lobbies? Mr. Rodrigg,
of course, offers no hirsute possibilities."

"Not a hair. Your Mr. Perior will be disappointed. He came back from the
Continent, you know, and put his shoulder to the wheel."

Camelia stirred her tea evenly. Her nerves, as she felt with pride, were
very reliable.

"_Our_ Mr. Perior then, is he not?" she asked, while her thoughts flew
past Sir Arthur to nestle pityingly to Perior. His useless valiancy
embittered her against the world of unconvinced opponents. Idiots
indeed! But she could not see him yet; even her nerves were not yet
tempered to a meeting. She had no comfortable background against which
to present herself; when she did, the background must be so unfamiliar
that for neither of them could there be the confusion of a hinted
memory.

"Ours, by all means," said Lady Tramley. "I only effaced myself before
the paramount claim.--Not quite doomed. There is still the final fight,
and it is to be heralded by a thunderous article in the _Friday_. Mr.
Perior only goes down sword in hand."



CHAPTER XXII


So he was in London. Camelia, sitting at home in the library, could
think of the nearness with a new calm. She was preparing herself to meet
its closer approach. She was not leaving herself defenceless. She
plunged into her reading--architecture, agriculture, decoration, and
sociology. The books came down from London in heavy boxes, and she sat
encompassed by the encouraging perfume of freshly-cut leaves.

"Are you happy, dear?" her mother asked her. She would come in with her
usual air of deprecatory gentleness, and bend over the absorbed golden
head that did not turn at her entrance. On this day the absorption wore
a look of eager interest that seemed to justify the question.

Camelia finished her sentence, smiling, however, as she put her hand on
her mother's without looking up. Her mind, indeed, was soothed,
comparatively comfortable.

"No rude questions, Mamma!"

"You understand all these solemn books?" Over her daughter's shoulder,
where she leaned, Lady Paton looked respectfully at the heavy volume.

"I am beginning to understand that whatever one does in philanthropy is
wrong from the point of view of some authority!" Camelia said,
stretching herself on a long yawn, and then gently pinching her mother's
chin, while the smile dwelt upon her appreciatively, "As usual I find
that the only thing to do in this world is to do just as one likes."

"If one can," said Lady Paton, with a half sad playfulness.

"If one can;" the words woke in Camelia a painfully personal
affirmative, and with the wave of self-pity that swept through her
mingled a sense of her mother's unconscious pathos. Still holding her
chin she looked up at her, "It has often been _can't_ with you, hasn't
it?"

Lady Paton's glance fluttered to a shy alarm and surprise at this
application.

"With me, dear?"

"Yes--you have had to give up lots of things, haven't you? to put up
with any amount of disagreeable inevitables."

"I have had many blessings."

"Oh! of course! You would say that over your last crust! But it has been
can't with you, decidedly. I wonder if it was because you weren't strong
enough to have your own way!"

"That would be a bad way, surely."

"Ah!--not yours!"

"And perhaps I have no way at all," Lady Paton added, and Camelia was
obliged to laugh at the subtle simplicity.

"That is being too submissive. Yet--it is comfortable, no doubt.
Absolute non-resistance isn't a bad idea. And yet, why shouldn't one
make one's struggle?--survive if one is fittest? Why is not having
one's own way as good as submitting to somebody else's? Oh dear!" she
cried.

"What is it?"

"Nothing, nothing; I am unfittest, that is all!" Camelia stared out of
the window.

"What do you mean, dear?"

"I mean that I can't have my own way--I, too, can't. And it wasn't a bad
way either. There is the cruelty of it, the irony, the jeer! All the bad
ways are given to me, and when I turn from them, don't want them, and
try for the _best_--I don't get it! Isn't it intolerable?"

To Lady Paton this was wild, bewildering, pitiful, yet she grasped
enough to say, "That would be the punishment, would it not, dear, for
the bad ways?"

"Yes, the punishment. Like damnation. One has made one's self too
ugly--the best can't recognize one at all."

That evening the last number of the _Friday Review_ lay on the
drawing-room table. Perior had not written in it for some time, but with
the quiver of the heart any association with him now gave her, Camelia
picked up the paper and carried it to the fireside. Mary, sewing in the
lamp's soft circle of light, looked up quickly, and her hand paused with
an outstretched thread as she saw Camelia's literary fare.

Camelia turned the pages in a half fretful search for what she felt sure
of not finding; then, abruptly, the rustling leaves came to a
standstill. There was the article, at last! a long one, on the Factory
Bill. Impossible to question the concise, laconic style; no one else
wrote with such absolute directness, such exquisite choice, free from
all hint of phrasing.

Camelia's gray eyes kindled as she read, and her lips parted
involuntarily; she drew quick, shallow little breaths. Oh! through it
all went that fervor, that cold, bracing fervor she knew and loved.

Perior's strong feeling was at times like a clear, indignant wind,
sweeping before it cowering littlenesses. Her mind half forgot him as
she read, conscious as was her heart. For the first time the intrinsic
right of the bill was borne in upon her. She had glibly dressed its
merits, laughing at her own theatrical dexterity. She had never really
cared for any bill. Now it became the greatest, the only bill in the
world. Her ardor rushed past the unfortunate initiator, to fall at the
propagator's feet. Ah! if she could but help now, and for his sake! Poor
Sir Arthur!

Mary, who from her seat could just see, beyond the sharply held review,
the lovely line of Camelia's cheek, the little ear, set in its delicate
closeness against the shining hair, Mary, intent on the rising color in
this bit of cheek, had quite stopped sewing. Her pale eyes widened in a
devouring significance, her lips set tightly on repressed pain. Mary,
too, had read the article.

Coming to the end of it, Camelia slanted the paper downwards, and
vaguely, over the top of it, looked at the fire. Then suddenly her eyes
met Mary's. A violent shock of self-consciousness shook her through and
through. She felt herself snatch back her secret from a precipice edge
of revelation--revelation to dull Mary, of all people. Mary, against
whom, in regard to Perior, she had long felt--not knowing that she felt
it--a strong, reasonless antagonism. She could not shake and slap her
secret, as a frightened mother slaps and shakes her rescued child; but
she could turn the terrified anger on its cause, and, in a strangely
pitched voice, she said, "What are you staring at? You look like a spy!"

Mary gave a great start. If indeed she had been slapped outright her
guilty amazement could not have been more cruel.

She stammered at a repetition of "staring"; but no words came. Her face
was scarlet. Camelia was immediately sorry, but not one whit less angry,
more so, perhaps, since pity is often an irritating ingredient; and,
too, she felt that to any one less stupid her very outburst might have
betrayed her. She was angry with herself as well as with Mary. Mary's
very helplessness was repulsive, and she hated to see her light blue
eyes set in that scarlet confusion.

"Yes, staring;" she helped the stammering. "Is there anything you want
to find out? Do ask, then. Don't let your eyes skulk about in that
sneaking fashion. It makes me quite sick to see you."

Mary stood up, looking from side to side in a half-dazed way that
Camelia observed with a pitying disgust that indeed sickened her. It
reminded her of the gestures of an ugly animal wounded by a stone flung
by some cruel boy. The simile came in a flash that it did not at the
moment give her time to complete it and see herself as stone-thrower.
She felt relief, as well as an added dismay, when Mary broke suddenly
into sobs, and stumbled out of the room, her sewing, caught in her
skirt, following her with ungainly leaps. Only then Camelia realized
that it was her own cruelty that sickened her; her irrational terror,
breaking in upon a tender, thrilling absorption, had urged her to it,
almost irresistibly; but now, the terror past, its foundationless folly
apparent, she really felt quite sick as she still sat looking at the
fire.

The _Friday Review_ sliding suddenly from her knees gave her a nervous
pang that tingled to her finger-tips, and when she stooped to pick it up
Perior's personality seemed to confront her. She cowered before it. The
hot blood beat in her head. Only by degrees, as her mind faltered over
extenuations, did she quiet herself. Her hidden unhappiness--her love,
it had been like a blundering hand thrust among her heart-strings; how
could she have helped the sharp anger in which her naked anguish clothed
itself? Lastly, but with a kind of shame, Mary's displeasing personality
made a subtle condonation; her inarticulate stupidity was almost
infuriating. Not for one moment did her secret suspect Mary's. Her own
pain seemed already an expiation, and, in analyzing it, she could put
Mary aside, promising herself that she would atone by a "Forgive me,
Mary, I did not mean it," the next time they met. She would even add, "I
was a devil." Her sigh of decision left her only half comforted.



CHAPTER XXIII


She did not see Mary again until the next morning, and then Camelia gave
herself the satisfaction of fulfilling an uncompulsory duty. Mary's
mask-like look of endurance met her apology with a dumb confusion that
Camelia must assume as accepting it, since she could not imagine Mary as
unforgiving.

Holding Mary's hand she repeated with some insistence, "I was devilish,
indeed I was. I don't know what evil spirit entered me."

Mary was acute enough to see the apology as a mere poultice on Camelia's
bruised conscience, but she did not divine the stir of real pity that
had prompted it, nor the embarrassment that concealed itself, half
ashamed, under Camelia's bright smile, a smile like the flourishing
finality at the end of a conventional letter.

Mary only shrank more coweringly from the circling advance of pain. In
her solitude Camelia's whip-like words and Camelia's smile blended to
the same scorching; words, Mary thought, so true, that no apology, no
smile, could efface them. That Camelia had felt them true was a
nightmare suspicion; the instinct for the truth had at least been there,
and, like the wounded animal, Mary quaked in her warren, conscious of
insecurity. Camelia soon forgot both cruelty and apology.

The news of the defeat of the bill brought her no shock, when it came
late in January. She had regretted keenly her own interference for a
long time, and found herself prepared to meet the blow with the quiet of
exhausted feeling. Camelia was not given in these days to finding
excuses for her faults, but she could see that this one had been venial,
and escape an unjust self-reproach. It was certainly irritating to have
Mrs. Jedsley rub in the undeserved sting.

Coming from the library one afternoon Camelia found this lady ensconced
before the drawing-room fire, her muddy boots outstretched to the
blaze--Mrs. Jedsley's boots were chronically muddy--a muffin in one
hand, a cup of tea in the other, her expression divided among the triple
pleasure of warmth, tea, and interesting news.

"Well, my dear, you've all had your brushes cut off, it seems," was her
consolatory greeting.

Camelia sank into a chair, languidly detesting Mrs. Jedsley's bad taste.

"You did so much for the cause, too, didn't you?" said Mrs. Jedsley,
deterred by no delicate scruples. "Come, Camelia, confess that it has
been a tumble for you all!"

"Too evident a tumble I think to require confession."

"And Mr. Rodrigg here for such a time! You are less clever than I
thought you--don't be offended--I mean it in a complimentary sense.
Then, after all, it isn't a brush you need mind losing. I never thought
much of the bill myself."

Camelia sat coldly unresponsive, and Lady Paton tried to smile at Mrs.
Jedsley's remarks and to believe them purely humorous.

"I am sorry for poor Michael," she said, "I fear he has taken it to
heart." This unconscious opening was only too gratefully seized upon by
Mrs. Jedsley, who, after a meaning glance at Mary, fixed, over her
tea-cup, sharp eyes on Camelia.

"Ah!" she said, "he is a man cut out for misfortunes--they all fit him.
He is bound to fail in everything he undertakes."

"I can't agree with you there," Camelia spoke acidly. "I think he
succeeds at a great many things."

"Things he doesn't care about, then, you may be sure of that. Fortune
follows such men like a stray dog they have no use for, while they are
looking for their own lost pet."

Camelia drank her tea in silence, priding herself somewhat on her
forbearance, pondering, too, on the pathos of Mrs. Jedsley's simile in
which she could only see a purely personal applicability. It was not him
the stray dog followed, but any number followed her--and it was she who
had lost her all.

But would he not come back? Might she not see him again? To be with
him--brave, self-controlled, and reticent, how well worth the fuller
pain! Pain was so far preferable to these dragging mists where she
waited. She might be--she must be--developing, but she must measure
herself beside him to know just how much she had grown. It pleased her
to see herself smiling sadly upon his unwitting kindness--for since he
had thought it a folly he should think it now a folly outgrown. It
pleased her to think that now exterior things mattered less to her than
to him; he, for all his self-defence of calm, still winced under the
whips of material circumstance; no doubt he was now tearing his heart
out over the defeat of the bill, and trying to persuade himself that he
had always expected it! She saw all material circumstance with
Buddhistic indifference. This thought dwelt pleasantly while she drank
her tea. Looking from the window she saw the winter afternoon not yet
gray, and her contemplative mood impatient of the chiming sharp and mild
which her mother and Mrs. Jedsley made, she left them to go out. First,
though, she bent over her mother and kissed her. It gave her content to
find tender demonstration becoming more and more an unforced habit.

"Nice, pretty little mamma," she whispered.

In her long coat, Siegfried trotting in front of her, Camelia breasted
the tonic January wind. There was just a crispness of snow on the
ground; in the lanes thin patches of ice made walking wary. She emerged
from the shelter of the hedges on to the fine billowy stretch of common,
where the wind sang, and the sunset in the west made a wide red bar.
Siegfried's adventurous spirit soon warmed him to an energetic gallop
through the dead fern and heather, and Camelia followed his lead,
intending to cut across to the highroad, and by its long curve return
home. It was in lifting her eyes to this road that she saw suddenly a
distant figure walking along it at a quick pace that would bring them
together at the very point she aimed for. It needed only the very first
brush of a glance to tell her that it was Perior. For a moment joy and
fear, courage and cowardice, pride and shame, struggled within her. Her
step faltered, stopped even, and Siegfried stopping too, looked round at
her, interrogation in the prick of his ears.

Camelia walked on slowly. Perior had seen and recognized her--that was
evident. Whatever might be his own press of feeling he did not hesitate.
He took off his cap and hailed her gaily, and Camelia felt that her
answering hand-wave helped to prepare the way for a meeting most
creditable to them both.

He did not fear the meeting, or would not show he did, for he advanced
over the heather at a pace resolutely unembarrassed. In another moment
they were face to face, and then she could see that his repressed a
tremor, and was conscious that her own was, with the same attempt, a
little rigid in its smile. Partly to recover from this shock of seeing
her again, partly to give her time to recover from her own emotion,
Perior raised her outstretched hand to his lips. He was so determined in
his entrenched resistance to the lover he knew himself to be (the lover
whose complaints had brought him rebelliously back again, his coming a
sop angrily thrown at the uncontrollable gentleman on condition, that
satisfied so far, he would keep still), so sure was Perior, the friend,
of the bargain, that the kiss was most successfully friendly. It sealed
delicately the bond he insisted on recognizing between himself and
Camelia. His relief was great, in looking at her again, to see that she,
too, fully recognized it, and that perhaps her courage was helped by
the fact that the mood--the astonishing mood--had passed. It would much
simplify matters if it had. He longed to be with her again, a longing
her tacit acquiescence in the old friendship could alone justify him in
satisfying. That his coming had not been indelicately ill-judged the
directness of her eyes seemed to assure him; but however much the friend
might rejoice in believing that he alone had anything to conceal, the
repressed lover, most inconsistently, felt a pang. Perior only consented
to recognize his own contentment with the safe footing upon which he
found himself.

Camelia smiled at him, and he smiled at her, smiles that might have been
children kissing and "making up"; frank, and bravely light.

"I thought you were in London," said Camelia. "No; come back, Siegfried,
we are going no farther; for you were coming to us, I suppose, Alceste?"
She could look at him quite directly. She was not ashamed, no,
mercifully she was not ashamed, that was her jubilant thought. After the
pang of the first moment she felt the strong conviction, borne in upon
her by her own calmness, that her love for him could never shame her,
nor her confession of it. The warm power of his friendship kept her from
petty terrors. She felt, in a moment, that on her courage depended their
future relationship. To ignore the past, to make him ignore it, would be
to regain, to keep her friend.

"Yes, I was going to you--of course," said Perior, smiling, as they went
towards the road together.

"I have been to Italy, you know, but I came back some time ago. I
thought I might be of use."

"Ah! I should have liked to have been of use! but I had been too badly
bitten to dare put out a finger!"

"I wouldn't put out fingers, if I were you; it isn't safe--when, they
are so pretty." The intimacy was almost caressing; she leaned against it
thankfully. Proud to show him that of the crying child there was not a
trace, she determined on a swift glance at the past that would put him
quite at ease.

"And you are coming back? Since this dreary business of the worsted
right is over you won't exile yourself any longer--and rob us? All your
friends will be glad to have you again!"

"Will they indeed?" his eyes sought hers for a moment, seemed to see in
them the past's triumphant mausoleum, presented for inspection quite
magnificently.

"Thanks, Camelia." The boldness delighted him, delighted all of him
except that grumbling prisoner who, in his dungeon, felt foolishly
aggrieved. "Yes, I am coming back--since I am welcome," he said, adding
while they went along the road, "As for the worsted right, the right
usually is worsted, in the first place. One must try to keep one's faith
in eventual winning."

"Tell me," said Camelia, feeling foundations quite secure, since each
had helped the other, "Mr. Rodrigg's opposition, that last speech of
his--the satanic eloquence of it!--you don't think--ah! say you don't
think me altogether responsible?"

"Would it please you--a little--to think you were?" The old rallying
smile pained her.

"Ah, don't! That has been knocked out of me--really! Don't imply such a
monstrous perversion of vanity."

"I retract. No, Camelia, I don't think you _altogether_ responsible. The
eloquence would always have been against us, its satanic quality was, I
fear, your doing."

"Yet, I meant for the best--indeed I did. Say you believe that."

"Indeed, I do believe it, Camelia."

They were nearing home when he said, "You were in London--I heard from
Lady Tramley."

"Yes, I went up on business."

"Did you? How are Lady Paton and Mary?"

"Very well. You don't ask about my business,"--Camelia smiled round at
him.

"Very blunt in me. What was the business, Camelia?" His answering smile
made amends.

Camelia placed herself against her background.

"I am building model cottages! You should see how economical we have
become! _Your_ glory is diminished!"

"With all my heart!" cried Perior, with a laugh of real surprise and
pleasure. "Lady Tramley did not tell me. Good for you, Célimène!"

It was delightful to bring him into the drawing-room that she had left
only an hour before. Camelia almost fancied herself perfectly happy as
she flung open the door with the announcement--

"Here is Alceste, Mamma!" No nervousness was possible before her mother
and Mary; it required no effort to act for them since she had so
successfully performed her part to him. Mrs. Jedsley was gone, but Mary
and Lady Paton sat before the fire, Mary reading aloud. She dropped the
book; Camelia's voice, in her ears, sounded with a brazen clang of
victory, and Perior seemed to her conquered, brought captive in an old
bondage. She could hardly speak, hardly welcome him; his return crushed
every hope of his liberation, the joy of seeing him was a mere
desolation. With a settled dulness she listened to them--all three
talking and exclaiming.

Perior had taken her hand, had shaken it warmly, looking at her with
kindest eyes; but now he listened to Lady Paton, and Lady Paton, of
course, after the first flood of rejoicing, condolences, and
questionings, was talking of Camelia.

The resentment that had smouldered in Mary for many months seemed now to
leap, and lick her heart with little flames of hatred. How she hated
Camelia; she turned the black thought quite calmly in her mind--it was
not unfamiliar.

Lady Paton was telling Perior about the cottages; she was rather proud
of Camelia's beneficent schemes, though gently teasing her about some of
their phases: "And, Michael, she is going to make them into veritable
palaces of art. Specially designed furniture--and Japanese prints on the
walls! Now they won't care about prints, will they?"

"They ought to, Camelia thinks," laughed Perior, looking at Camelia,
who, hat and coat thrown aside, leaned forward in the lamplight, smiling
and radiant, the pathos that her thinner face had gained emphasizing
its enchanting loveliness.

Mary looked at her too, at the curves of the figure in the perfect black
dress, at the narrow white hands, one lying on her knee, like a flower,
with the almost exaggerated length and delicacy of the fingers; at the
profile, the frank upraised eyes, the smiling mouth, the flashing white
and gold that rose from the nun-like white and black of the dress, and
the wide cambric collar falling about her shoulders and clasping her
throat. Beautiful! Mary felt the beauty with a sort of sickening. Of
course he looked at her, had no eyes but for her. Of course he had come
back.

"They must like them," said Camelia, "I don't see why such people should
not grow into good taste; and taste is often such a negative thing--a
mere leaving out of all ugliness. I have a lot of these prints; I picked
them up in Paris--the arcade of the Odion, Alceste--cheap things, but
excellent in their way; then a few good photographs. The rooms are to be
very bare. I should ask for all decoration a vase of flowers on the
table--I think I shall offer prizes to my cottagers for the best
arrangement of flowers."

"A very civilizing system!" Perior still laughed, for he found the
prints and the flower-arrangements highly amusing, and he still looked
at Camelia.

So that first meeting was over. It had passed so easily, with an
inevitable ease, based on long years that would not be disowned. Yet
when he had gone, Camelia was conscious of a sinking of the heart. The
exhilarating moment could not last. Her friend had come back, fond,
gently mocking, tender, yet unimpressed, blind to the change in herself
she passionately clung to as consummated. As her love was noble, she
thought that she had grown to match it. Her self-complacency, though on
a higher plane, circled her more completely, and as the days went on,
his blindness gave her a new sense of defeat. The ease remained, a tacit
agreement to shut their eyes on a certain incident; it was done most
successfully; they were quite prepared to meet _tête-à-tête_, and the
inner wonder of each as to the other's unconsciousness betrayed itself
only in a certain gentle formality that grew between them. That he
should come--and so often--fulfilled the only hope left her, and yet her
heart was darkened at moments by the thought that in these visits there
was an effort. She missed something of the old intimacy; it was not
quite the same--how could it be? that, after all, would have been too
big a feat of forgetfulness. He did not laugh at her, nor grow angry and
rage at her, as he had used to do, yet she could not feel that he
approved of her the more. He was fond of her--that was evident, even
though he might find this rebuilding difficult, and undertake it from a
sense of duty; but the fondness was graver than before, at least, it
made no pretence of hiding its gravity.



CHAPTER XXIV


Mary came for Camelia one morning while Perior was with her, to tell her
that Jane Hicks was dying and asking for her. Mary saw that Camelia's
promptitude, where compunction blushed, gratified Perior, as did Jane's
devotion; she knew that he supposed the devotion based upon some new
blossoming of thoughtful kindness in Camelia, and the ironic bitterness
of this reflection was in no way made easier to Mary as she heard
Camelia, while they all three walked to the farm, confess dejectedly to
the one visit.

"I should have gone again!" Camelia repeated with sincerest
self-reproach, and Mary could see that though he assented to the
reproach her contrition lifted her in his estimation. Perior waited
below while Camelia and Mary went up together. Camelia came down
weeping; Mary's face was quite impassive.

The poor girl had died with her hand in Camelia's, her eyes fixed on the
lovely Madonna head that bent over her with a beautiful piteousness,
like a vision at the gates of heaven. Jane closed her eyes on that
vision. She had not had one look for Mary, though her perfunctory
thanks--the winding up of the trifling duties remaining to her on
earth--had been feebly breathed out to her some hours before. Mary saw
that she had been very unnecessary to Jane, and that the unknown
Camelia, Camelia's one smile, the one golden hour Camelia's beauty had
given her, made the brightness, the poetry, the symbolized radiance of
things unseen and hoped for that had remained with the dying girl during
the last months of her life. Mary was very still in walking back with
the others. Camelia sobbed, and stumbled in the heavy road, so that
Perior gave her his arm and held her, looking pityingly, more than
pityingly, at the bent head and shaking shoulders. Mary felt her own
lack of emotion to be unbecoming, but, indeed, she had none, was
conscious instead of a dislike for poor, dead Jane.

For Mary was a most unhappy creature. Outside the inner circle, where
Perior and Camelia wondered about, and evaded, one another, the very
closeness of constant intercourse making blindness easy, Mary saw the
truth, that Camelia did not see, very clearly. With her preconceived and
half-mistaken ideas as to that truth, it remained one-sided. Perior
loved Camelia; loved, and had weakly crawled back to her, craving at
least the crumbs of friendship,--and that she was lavish with her crumbs
who could deny?--since all else had been refused to him. Mary spent her
days in a quivering contemplation of this fact. The bitter, sweet
consolation of the whole truth never entered her mind. Camelia loving,
and Camelia repulsed, was an imagining too monstrous for vaguest
embodiment. Camelia's own naïve vanity would not have surpassed in
stupefaction Mary's sensations, had such a possibility been suggested to
her. Camelia, who could have anybody, love Mr. Perior? She would have
voiced her astonishment even more baldly. Not that Mary thought Mr.
Perior nobody. To her he was everybody; but that knowledge was her
painful joy, a perception lifting her above Camelia. Camelia judged by
the world's gross standards, and, by those standards, she must stoop in
loving Perior.

That Camelia should stoop in the world's eyes, that Camelia should do
anything but soar, were unimaginable things. So her ignorance made her
knowledge more bitter. The man she loved, adored,--her bleached, starved
nature spreading every flower, stretching every tendril, her ideal and
her rapture towards him,--that man did not see her, even. She was no
one; a dusty little moth beating dying wings near the ground, and his
eyes were fixed on the exquisite butterfly tilting its white loveliness
in the sunshine. Under her stolid silence Mary was burning, panting. His
misery, her doom, and Camelia's indifference,--at the thought of all
these a madness of helpless rebellion swam about her; and with a growing
sense of weakness came a growing terror of self-betrayal. For she was
dying, that was Mary's second secret; there was even a savage pleasure
in the thought of absolute and consummated wretchedness hidden so
carefully. Hysterical sobs rose in her throat when she thought of it,
and of their blindness. The sobs were nearly choking her one day as she
sat alone in the morning-room casting up accounts.

Perior had been with Camelia in the library for two hours, and he had
not come into the morning-room, though over two hours ago poor Mary had
stationed herself there in the sorry hope of seeing him. The little
touch of abandonment stabbed more deeply than ever on this morning, when
her head was so heavy, her chest so hollow, breathing so difficult, all
her sick self so in need of pitying gentleness and sympathy; and though
no tears fell, that rising, strangling sob was in her throat. There was
shame, too; her very rectitude was crumbling in her weakness and
wretchedness; the wretchedness had seemed to exonerate her when,
exasperated by envy and long waiting, she had gone to the library door
and put her ear to the key-hole, like a base thing, to listen.

Since everything had abandoned her she might as well abandon herself, so
she told herself recklessly; but she had only heard Camelia's clear,
sweet voice; and Camelia was reading Greek! Mary could only feel the
irony as cruel, and on regaining her place at the writing-table she
found herself shaking, and overwhelmed with self-disgust and a sort of
desperation.

When Perior came in very shortly afterwards she could almost have risen
to meet him with a scream of reproach. The mere imagining of such a
strange revelation made her dizzy as he approached her.

"I had not seen you. I am just off. How are you, Mary?" he asked. In
spite of the mad imaginings Mary's mask was on in one moment, the white,
stolid mask, as she turned her face to him.

"Very well, thanks."

"You don't look very well."

"Oh, I am, thanks." Mary averted her eyes.

Perior's brow had an added look of gloom this morning. His eyes followed
hers. The drizzling rain half blotted out the first faint purpling of
the trees. "What a dreary day!" he ejaculated, with a long, involuntary
sigh. He was not thinking of Mary; she saw that very plainly, though her
eyes were fixed on the blurred tree-tops.

"Very dreary," she echoed. He looked down at her again, this time with a
certain pain and interest that Mary did not see. On his own thoughts,
the perplexing juggling of "If she still loves me as I love her, why
resist?" the ensuing fear of yielding, and yielding for no better reason
than that he could not resist, broke the thought of Mary. It could not
be a very big thought. Mary was a quiet, uneventful little person,
spending a contented existence under her aunt's wings, useful often as a
whip wherewith to lash Camelia, but pitiful mainly from his sense of the
contrast of which he really believed Mary quite unconscious. Something,
now, in her still face, in the lax weariness of her thin hand, lying on
the account book, roused in him a groping instinct. He looked at the
hand with a certain surprise. Its thinness was remarkable.

"You do look badly, Mary," he said. "Tell me, are you dreary, too? Can I
do anything for you? We must have some rides when it grows finer." His
thoughts, as usual, gave Camelia an accusing blow.

"You are bored, tired, unhappy like the rest of us, Mary. Is that any
consolation?" He smiled at her. She felt the smile in his voice, but did
not dare to meet it, bending her head over the account books.

"Don't do those stupid sums!"

"Oh, I like them!" Indeed, the scrupulous duties were her one frail
barrier against the black sea of engulfing thought. And then, her heart
just rising in the false but delicious joy of his kind presence, came a
call, a call not dreary like the day, but fatally sweet and clear, the
sound of it as if a flower had suddenly flung open rosy petals on the
grayness.

"Alceste, come here! I want you."

"Our imperious Camelia," said Perior with a slight laugh. "Well,
good-bye, Mary. Don't do any more sums, and don't look at the rain. Get
a nice, cheerful book and sit down at the fire. Amuse yourself, won't
you?" He clasped her hand and was gone.

Mary sat quite still, moving her pen in slow curves, waves, meaningless
figures over the paper. The arrested sob seemed frozen, and no tears
came. She looked dully at the black zigzags on the paper while she
listened to the distant sound of voices in the hall, Camelia's laugh, a
lower tone from Perior, Camelia's cheerful good-bye.

A sudden fit of coughing seized her, and while she shook with it Camelia
came in. Mary's coughing irritated Camelia, but she did not want to hurt
her feelings by departing before it after getting the newspaper she had
come for, so, walking to the table, she said, taking up and opening the
_Times_ with a large rustling--

"All alone, Mary?"

"Yes," Mary replied. The coughing left her, and she clenched her
handkerchief in her hand. The madness rose again, lit by a keener sense
of horror.

"But Mr. Perior came in, did he not?" Camelia scanned the columns, her
back to the light.

"Yes," Mary repeated.

"Well, what did he have to say?" Camelia felt her tone to be
satisfactorily detached. She wanted to know. That sense of something
lacking, something even awkward, had become almost acute this morning;
only her quiet gaiety had bridged it over. Mary was again looking out of
the window. An inner impulsion made her say in a tone as dull as her
look--

"He said he was dreary."

The _Times_ rustled with a somewhat aggressive effect of absorption, and
then Camelia laid it down. Something in Mary's voice angered her; it
implied a sympathy from which she was to be shut out; he had not said to
_her_ that he was dreary. But she still kept her tone very light as she
walked to the fire.

"Well, he is always that--is he not?" she commented, holding out a foot
to the blaze; "a very glum person indeed is my good Alceste."

Mary did not reply, and Camelia, with a quick turn of conjecture that
seemed to cut her, wondered if there had been further confidences. She
paused for a moment, swallowed on a rising tremor of apprehension,
before saying, as she turned her back to the fire and faced the figure
at the table--the figure's heavy uncouthness of attitude making her a
little angrier--"What further moans did my melancholy friend pour into
your sympathetic bosom, Mary?" Mary, looking steadily out of the window,
felt the flame rising.

"He said that he was bored, tired, unhappy."

After a morning spent with _her!_ Camelia clasped her hands behind her
back, and tried to still her quick breathing. She eyed Mary, but she did
not think much of Mary.

"Really!" she said.

"Yes. Really." Suddenly Mary rose from her chair; she clutched the
chair-back. "Oh, you cruel creature! you bad creature!" she cried
hoarsely.

Camelia stared, open-mouthed.

"Oh, you bad creature," Mary repeated. Camelia never forgot the look of
her--the ghastly white, stricken out of sharp shadows, the splash of
garish color on either cheek, the pale intensity of her eyes. She
noticed, too, the sharp prominence of Mary's knuckles as she clutched
the chair-back, and in her amazement stirred a certain, quite different
discomfort. She could find no words, and stared speechlessly at the
apparition.

"You are cruel to every one," said Mary. "You don't care about any one.
You don't care about your mother--or about _him_, though you like to
have him there--loving you; you don't care about me--you never did--nor
thought of me. Well, listen, Camelia. I am dying; in a month I will be
dead; and _I_ love him. There! Now do you see what you have done?"

A fierce joy filled her as she spoke the words out. To tear the bleeding
tragedy from its hiding-place, and make Camelia shudder, scream at
it--it brought relief, lightness; she breathed deeply, with a sense of
bodily dissolution; and Camelia's look was better than screams or
shudders. Let the truths go like knives to the heart that deserved them.
As she spoke Mary felt her wrongs gather around her like an army. She
had no fear. She straightened herself to send to her cousin a solemn
look of power.

"You did not know I was dying; of course you would not know it--for you
think of nothing but yourself. There, do you see that handkerchief? I
have been coughing blood for a long time. Nothing can be done for me.
You know how my father died. And when I am dead, Camelia, you may say to
yourself, 'I helped to make the last year of her life black and
terrible--quite hideous and awful.' Yes; say it. Perhaps it will make
you feel a little badly." With the words all the anguish of those
baffled, suffering months came upon her. The sobs rose, panting; the
tears gushed forth. Staggering, she came round the chair and dropped
into it, and her sobs filled the silence.

Camelia stood rooted in terror. She expected to see the sudden horror
fulfil itself, to see Mary die before her eyes, Mary's curse upon her,
and all her misdeeds one vague, menacing blackness. To clutch at any
doubt was impossible. From the first moment of her uprising Mary's body
had been like a shattered casket from which streamed a relentless light.
Camelia's eyes were unsealed; she saw that the casket was shattered--the
light convicted her.

"What have I done?" she gasped. "Tell me, Mary, what is it?"

She found a difficulty in speaking. She did not dare approach her
cousin.

"I will tell you what you have done," said Mary, raising her head, and
again Camelia felt the hoarse intentness of her voice, like a steady
aiming of daggers. "You have taken from me the one thing--the only
thing--I had. I love him! He is nothing to you; and you took him from
me."

"Oh, Mary! Took him from you!"

"Yes, yes; you did not know. He did not know. _I_ saw it all. He might
have loved me had you not come back. He must have loved me, when I loved
him so much! oh, so much!" and, sobbing again, she pressed to her eyes
the blood-stained handkerchief, careless now of its revelations.

"Oh, Mary!" cried Camelia, shuddering.

"I was so happy last winter. He would come and read, and ride. He was so
kind. Auntie, and he, and I--it was the happiest time of my life. But
you came, and he never looked at me again! Oh, how horrible! how unjust!
Why should you have everything?--I nothing! nothing! I suppose you
thought me contented, since I was ugly, and poor, and stupid. And you,
because you are beautiful, and rich, and clever, you have everything!
That is all that counts! I am not selfish and cruel; at least, I used
not to be. I have thought about other people always! I have tried to do
right, and what have I got for it? My life has been a cheat! and I hate
it! And I am glad to die, because I see that you, who are bad, get all
the love, and that I will never have anything! And I see that I am
bad--that I have been made bad through having had nothing!"

"Oh, Mary! forgive me! oh, forgive me!" Camelia found her knees failing
beneath her. She stretched her clasped hands towards her cousin.

"I did not know; indeed, I did not! Indeed, I love you, Mary!--oh, I do
love you! We all love you!" She felt herself struggling, with weak,
desperate hands, against Mary's awful fate and her own guilt. "How can
you say that, when we all love you? know how good you are!--how sweet
and good--love you for it!" She buried her face in her hands, sobbing.
Mary, who herself no longer sobbed, observed her.

"Oh, you are a little sorry now," she said, in a voice of cold
impassiveness that froze Camelia's sobs to instant silence. "I make you
uncomfortable--a little more uncomfortable than when I cough. It is
strange that when I never did you any harm--always tried to please
you--you should have found pleasure in hurting me. Do you remember all
the little jeers at me before him? You mocked my dulness, my ugliness.
He did not laugh. It made him sad, because he did not like to see you
unbeautiful in anything; but he must have seen me more stupid, more ugly
than before. And when he was with me for one moment you would take him
away. And you lied to keep him to yourself, like that day we were to
have ridden together; and if you had known that I loved him you would
have been all the more anxious to have him--to hurt me."

"No, no, Mary!" Camelia's helpless sobs burst out again.

"Yes; why can I speak to you like this? because I am dying, you see that
I am dying--that gives me my only advantage; I can tell you what I think
of you, and you don't dare reply. You would not dare say to me now that
I am a spy--that I have sneaking eyes. I hate you, Camelia! I hate you!
Oh! oh!" She rose to her feet suddenly, and at the change of tone--the
wail--Camelia uncovered her eyes.

"I am going to die! I am going to die! And I love him, and he does not
care." Mary groped blindly to a sofa, fell upon it, buried her head in
the cushions.

Camelia rose to her feet, for she had been kneeling, and stood listening
to the dreadful sobs.

Her life had never known a comparable terror. The blackness of Mary's
point of view encompassed her. She felt like a murderer in the night.
She crept towards the sofa. "Oh, forgive me, say a word to me."

"Leave me; go away. I hate you."

"Won't you forgive me?" The tears streamed down Camelia's cheeks.

"Go away. I hate you," Mary repeated. There was a compulsion in the
voice Camelia could not disobey. Trembling and weeping she went out of
the room.

Mary lay there sobbing. She had never so realized to the full the extent
and depth of her woe, yet there was relief in the realization, relief in
the flinging off of secrecy and shame. That Camelia should suffer,
however slightly, restored a little the balance of justice, satisfied a
little the outraged sense of solitary suffering, atoned a very little
for fate's shameful unfairness. To poor Mary, sobbing over her one
triumph, the morality of the universe seemed a little vindicated now
that she had taken into her own hand the long-delayed lash of
vengeance.

Her weakened religious formalities and conventionalities withered under
this devouring, pagan flame. It was good to hate, and to revenge one's
self, good to see the smooth and smiling favorite of the cruel gods,
weeping and helpless. She was tired of rightness--tired of swallowing
her tears.

The best thing in her life had been turned against her; everything was
at war with her. Well, she would crouch no longer, she would die
fighting, giving blow for blow. She threw her hands up wildly in
thinking of it all--beat them down into the cushions. To have had
nothing, nothing, and Camelia to have everything! Oh, monstrous
iniquity! Camelia, who had done no good, happy; she, who had done no
wrong, unutterably miserable.

For a long time she lay sobbing, still beating her hands into the
cushion, a mechanical symbolizing of her rebellion and wretchedness. So
lying, all the blackness of the past and future surging over her,
engulfing her, she heard outside the sound of a horse's hoofs on the wet
gravel. A moment afterwards running footsteps came down the stairs and
crossed the hall. Mary pulled herself up from the sofa, and, with the
outer curiosity of utter indifference, walked to the window. Camelia's
horse stood before the door, a groom at his head. The drizzling mist
shut out all but the nearest trees, flat, pale silhouettes on the white
background, against which the horse's coat gleamed, a warm, beautiful
chestnut. Mary's indifference grew wondering. Her sobs ceased as she
gazed. The gaze became a stare, hard, fixed, as Camelia, in a flash,
sprang to the saddle. Mary saw her profile, bent impatiently, the
underlip caught between her teeth, the brows frowning, while the groom
adjusted her skirt. In a moment she was off at a quick trot, and soon a
sound of galloping died down the avenue.

Mary stood rigidly looking after the sound. A supposition, too horrible,
too hideous, had come to her, too hideous, too horrible not to be true.
Its truth knocked, fiercely insistent, at her heart. Her knowledge of
Camelia, acute yet narrow, and confused by this latter suffering, sprang
at a bound to the logical deduction.

Camelia could not bear suffering, revolted against it, snatched at any
shield. She had gone now to Perior, that he might lift from her this
dreadful load of responsibility, cast upon her so cruelly by Mary. He
must tell her that he had never thought of Mary, and that the idea of
robbery was a wild figment of Mary's sick brain. Mary's brain, though
sick, was clear, clear with the feverish lucidity that sees all with a
distinctness glaring and magnified. She saw all now. The meanness, the
cowardice of Camelia's proceeding only gave a deepened certainty.

Then indeed shame came upon Mary. She saw herself gibbeted between them,
knew too well what he would think. He would himself hang her up, since
truth demanded it, and since Camelia must be comforted. The glaring
lucidity dazzled Mary a little at times, and now the awful justice of
Perior's character assumed in her eyes a Jove-like cruelty, that more
than matched Camelia's dastardliness. The past hour seemed painless in
comparison with the present moment; its blackness, in looking back at
it, was gray. To be debased, utterly debased, in his eyes--that was to
drink the very dregs of her cup of agony. Her hatred of Camelia was her
only guide in the night. She went into the hall and took down her hat
and cloak. She could not wait for Camelia's return. She must herself see
the actuality of her betrayal. Camelia might lie unless she could hold
the truth before her face; might say that she had not ridden to
Perior's. Mary would see for herself, and then--oh then! confronting
Camelia, she would find words, if she died in speaking them.

She ran down the avenue and turned off into the woods by a short cut
that led more directly than the curving high road to the Grange. Her
weakness was braced by the fierceness of her purpose. She felt herself a
flame, hastening relentlessly through the smoke-like mist.

The woods were cold and wet. She pushed past dripping branches, splashed
through muddy pools; the inner fire ignored its panting frame. When she
arrived at the foot of the hill on which stood the Grange, she knew that
Camelia must have been with him there for an hour or more. She could not
see the house through the heavy atmosphere, but, hidden by the trees and
fog, she could see the road and be herself unseen. On the edge of the
wood was a little stile; she shuddered with wet and cold as she sat down
on it to wait. She would wait for Camelia to pass, and then, by the same
hidden path, she could go home and confront her. Beyond that crash Mary
did not look. It seemed final.



CHAPTER XXV


But Mary was quite mistaken--as absolute logic is apt to be when dealing
with human beings. Camelia, indeed, had gone to Perior, but on a very
different errand from the one Mary's imagination painted for her.
Camelia was not thinking of herself, nor of throwing off the iron chains
of that responsibility with which she felt herself manacled for life.
Mary's story had crushed every thought of self, beyond that
consciousness of riveted guilt. It was of Mary alone she thought as she
galloped through the mist. With terror and pity infinite she looked upon
Mary's love and the approaching death that was to end it; their tragedy
filled everything, and at the feet of the majestic presences her own
personality only felt itself as a cowering criminal. It was as though
the ocean of another's suffering had flooded the complacent rivers of
her life. They overflowed their narrow channels; they were engulfed,
effaced in the mighty desolation; never again could they find their
flowering banks, their sunny horizons.

This moan of a suffering universe, heard before only in vaguest
whispers, the minor key of the happy melody that she had known, making
the melody all the sweeter for its half-realized web of sadness--this
moan was now like the tumult of great waters above her head, and a loud
outcrying of her awakened soul answered it. She was guilty--yes, as
guilty as Mary knew her to be, for all the mistaken deductions of Mary's
ignorance. She loved Perior, and he did _not_ love her; but those facts
in no way touched the other unalterable facts--a cruelty, a selfishness,
a blindness, hideous beyond words.

Yet now she did not think of this guilt, irrevocable as it was.

Mary--Mary--Mary. The horse's hoofs seemed to beat out the cry! Mary and
her fate. Camelia stood with Mary against that fate; but her attitude of
rebellion was even fiercer, more determined than poor Mary's flickering
light could have sustained. Mary good--with nothing. Virtue _not_ its
own reward. Suffering, crushing, unmerited suffering, eating away the
poor empty life. She herself bad, and the world at her feet. Camelia
felt herself capable of taking the immoral universe by the throat and
shaking it to death--herself along with it.

She was galloping for help, yes, to Perior. He must help her, he alone
could help her, to clutch the malignant cruelty, tear it off Mary, and
then give her some gleam of happiness before she died. Camelia
straightened herself in the saddle at the thought. "She shall not die,"
clenched her teeth on the determination. She might be saved. Who could
tell? One heard of wonderful cures. And at least, at least, she should
not die unhappy. Camelia would wrench happiness for her out of despair
itself. She would fight the injustice of the gods until her last breath
left her.

All the pitiful humanity in Camelia clung to the human hope of
retribution and reward. Her mind fixed in this desperate hope, she could
take no thought of the coming interview; that would have implied a
retrospective glance at her last visit to the Grange, and Camelia could
not think of herself, nor even of Perior.

The Grange was desolate on its background of leafless trees. Camelia, as
she dismounted at the door, looked down at the whiteness which brimmed
the valley; the tree-tops emerged from it as from a flood; but where she
stood there was no mist--a clear, sad air, and a few faint patches of
blue in a colorless sky above. She rang, holding the horse's reins over
her arm. Her habit was heavy with the wet, and her loosened hair clung
damply about her throat and forehead. Old Lane, when he appeared, showed
some alarm. She could infer from his expression what her own must be.

"Mr. Perior? Yes, Miss; in the laboratory with Job Masters. Just go up,
Miss, and I'll take the horse round to the stables."

The laboratory was at the top of the house. Camelia found herself
panting from the swiftness of her ascension when she reached the door.
Entering, she faced the white light from the wide expanse of window,
which overlooked on bright days miles of wooded, rolling country, to-day
the sea of mist. Perior's back was to her, and he was bending with an
intent interest over a microscope; a collection of glass jars was on the
table, and Job Masters, his elementary features lit by the intelligent
gravity of close attention, was standing beside him. Perior was
saying--

"Now, Job, take a look at it." His gray head did not turn.

"It's Miss Paton, sir," Job volunteered. At that Perior rose hastily,
and Camelia advancing, looked vaguely at Job, at the microscope, at the
jars of infusoria.

A thought of the last visit had shot painfully through Perior on hearing
her name, but, after one stare at her white face, his fear, freed from
any selfish terror, took on a sympathetic acuteness.

"I must speak to you," she said.

"Very well. You may go, Job," and as Job's heavy footsteps passed beyond
the door, "What is it, Camelia?" he asked, holding her hands, his
anxiety questioning her eyes.

For a moment, the press of all that must be said crowding upon her, of
all that must be said with a self-control that must not waver or
misinterpret through weakness, Camelia could not speak. She looked at
him with a certain helplessness.

"Sit down, you are faint," said Perior, greatly alarmed, but, shaking
her head, she only put her hand on the back of a chair he brought
forward.

"I have something terrible to tell you, Michael." That she should use
his name impressed him even more than her announcement, emphasized the
gravity of the situation in which he was to find himself with her. In
the ensuing pause their eyes met with a preparatory solemnity.

"Michael, Mary is dying." He saw then that her eyes seized him with a
deep severity of demand. The shock, though not unexpected, found him
unprepared.

"She knows it?" he asked.

"Yes, she knows it. Listen. She told me everything. It was more horrible
than you can imagine. She told me how cruel I had been to her--how I had
neglected her--how I had cut again and again into her very soul. She
hates me, she hates her life, but she is afraid of death. She is not
going to die happily, hopefully, as one would have thought Mary would
die. She is dying desperately and miserably, for she sees that being
good means merely being trodden on by the bad. She has had nothing, and
she regrets everything." Perior dropped again into the chair by the
table. He covered his eyes with his hands.

"Poor child! Unhappy child!" he said.

The shuddering horror of the morning came over Camelia. She clasped her
hands, pressing them against her lips. It seemed to her suddenly that
she must scream.

"What does it mean? What does a life like that mean?" Her eyes, in all
their helpless guilt and terror, met his look of non-absolving pity.

"It means that if one is good one is often trodden upon. We must accept
the responsibility for Mary's unhappiness. My poor Camelia," Perior
added, in tones of saddest comprehension, and he stretched out his hand
to her. But Camelia stood still.

"Accept it!" she cried, and her voice was sharp with the repressed
scream. "Do you think I am trying to shirk it? Do you think that I do
not see that it is I--_I_, who trod upon her? Don't say 'We'; say 'You,'
as you think it. You need have no compunctions. I could have made her
happy--happier, at least, and I have made her miserable. I have
done--said--looked the cruellest things--confiding in her stupid
insensibility. I have crushed her year after year. I am worse than a
murderer. Don't talk of me--even to accuse me; don't think of me, but
think of _her_. Oh, Michael! let us think of her! Help me to mend--a
little--the end of it all!"

"Mend it?" He looked at her, taken aback by her words, the strange
insistence of her eyes. "One can't, Camelia--one can't atone for those
things."

"Then you mean to say that life _is_ the horror she sees it to be? She
sees it! There is the pity--the awful pity of it! Not even a merciful
blindness, not even the indifference of weakness! Morality is a gibe
then? Goodness goes for nothing--is trampled in the mud by the herd of
apes snatching for themselves! That is the world, then!" The fierce
scorn of her voice claimed him as umpire. Perior put his hand to his
head with a gesture of discouragement.

"That is the world--as far as we can see it."

"And there is no hope? no redemption?"

"Not unless we make it ourselves--not unless the ape loses his
characteristics." He paused, and a deepened pity entered his voice as he
added, "You have lost them, Camelia."

"Yes; I can hear the canting moralist now, with his noisome explanation
of vice and misery. Mary has been sacrificed to save _my_ soul,
forsooth! _My_ soul!"

"Yes." Perior's monosyllable held neither assent nor repudiation.

"Yes? And what does my miserable soul count for against her starved and
broken life?"

"I don't know. That is for you to say."

"I say that if virtue is to give a reward to vice, life is a nightmare."
Perior again put his hands over his eyes. The thought of poor Mary,
conscious of injustice, the sight of Camelia writhing in retributory
flames, made him feel shattered.

"But I didn't come to talk about my problematic soul," said Camelia in
an altered voice; "I came to tell you about Mary." She approached him,
and stood over him as she spoke, so that he looked up quickly.

"She will probably be dead in a month. She knows it; and, Michael, she
loves you." Perior flushed a deep red, but Camelia whitened to the lips.
He would have risen; she put her hand on his shoulder.

"Impossible!" he said.

"No, listen. She told me. She lashed me with it this morning--that
hopeless love--for she thinks that you love me--thinks that I am playing
with you. She loves you. She has loved you for years."

"Don't say it, Camelia!" Perior cried brokenly. "Mary's disease explains
hysteria--melancholia--a pitiful fancy--that will pass--that should
never have been told to me."

"Ah, don't shirk it!" her hand pressed heavily on his shoulder. "Her
disease made her tell me, I grant you, but you could not have doubted
had you heard her!--as I did! You understand that she must never
know--that I have told you."

"I understand that, necessarily, and I must ask you from what motive
you think your revelation justified; it must be a strong one, for I
confess that the revelation seems to me unjustifiable--cruelly so."

"I have a strong motive."

"You did not come to pour out to me the full extent of poor Mary's
misfortune for the selfish sake of relieving, by confession, your
self-reproach? And, indeed, in this matter I cannot see that you are
responsible. It is a cruelty of fate, not yours."

Camelia looked away from him for a moment, looked at the microscope. A
swift flicker of shame went through her, one thought of self, then,
resolutely raising her eyes, she said, "Am I not at all responsible? Are
you sure of that?"

"Responsible for Mary loving me?" Perior stared, losing for a moment, in
amazement, his deep and painful confusion.

"No; that is fate, if you will. But had I not come back last summer, had
I not claimed you, monopolized you, absorbed you. Ah! you are flushing;
don't be ashamed for me! I swear to you, Michael, that I am not giving
myself a thought, had I not set myself to work to make love to
you--there is the fact;--don't look away, I can bear it--can you tell me
that Mary might not have had the chance she so deserved, of slipping
sweetly and naturally into your heart--becoming your wife?"

"Camelia!" Perior turned white. "I never loved Mary, never could have
loved her. Does that relieve you?" He keenly eyed her.

"Don't accuse me of seeking relief! That is a cruelty I don't deserve.
If you never could have loved Mary, it is even more dreadful for me--for
it is still crueller for Mary. That she should love you. That you
should not care! could never have cared!"

At this Perior rose and walked up and down the room. "Don't!" he
repeated several times. His wonder at Camelia interfused intolerably his
sorrow for Mary.

Camelia followed him with steady eyes. The eagerness of decisive appeal
seemed to burn her lips as she said slowly--

"Ah, had you seen her! Had you heard her crying out that she was
dying--that she loved you--that you did not care!"

"You must not say that." Perior stopped and looked at her sternly, "I am
not near enough. It is a desecration."

"Ah! but how can I help her if I don't? How can _you_ help her? For it
is you, Michael, _you_. Can't you see it? You are noble enough.
Michael--you will marry Mary! Oh!"--at his start, his white look of
stupefaction, she flew to him, grasped his hands--"Oh, you must--you
_must_. You can make her happy--you only! And you will--say you will.
You cannot let her die in this misery! Say you cannot, Michael--oh, say
it!" And, suddenly breathless, panting, her look flashed out the full
significance of her demand. In all its stupefaction Perior's face still
retained something of its sternness, but he drew her hands to his
breast. "Camelia, you are mad," he said.

"Mad?" she repeated. Her eyes scorned him; then, rapidly resuming their
appealing dignity, "You can't hesitate before such a chance for making
your whole life worth while."

"Quite _mad_, Camelia," he repeated with emphasis. "I could not act such
a lie," he added.

"A lie! To love, cherish that dying child! A better lie than most
truths, then! You are not a coward--surely. You will not let her die
so."

"Indeed I must. Any pretence would be an insult. As it is, if Mary could
see you here, she would want to kill us both."

"Not if she understood," said Camelia, curbing the vehemence of her
terrified supplication, the very terror warning her to calm. "And what
more would there be in it to hurt her?"

"That _I_ should know--and should refuse. Good God!"

"Where is the disgrace?" Camelia's eyes gazed at him fixedly. "Then we
are both disgraced--Mary and I." Her smile, bitterly impersonal, offered
itself to no interpretations, yet before it he steadied his face with an
effort. He could not silence her by the truth--that he loved her, her
alone; loved now her high, frowning look, her passionate espousal of
another's cause. Mary's tragic presence sealed his lips. He said
nothing, and Camelia's eyes, as they searched this chilling silence,
incredulous of its cruel resolve, filled suddenly and piteously with
tears.

"Oh, Michael," she faltered. Scorn and defiance dropped from her face;
he saw only the human soul trembling with pity and hope. He did not dare
trust himself to speak--he could not answer her. Holding her hands
against his breast, he looked at her very sorrowfully.

"Listen to me, Michael. I mustn't expect you to feel it yet as I
do--must I? That would be impossible. I only ask you to _think_. You see
the pathos, the beauty of Mary's love for you! for years--growing in her
narrow life. Think how a smile from you must have warmed her heart--a
look, a little kindness. She adores you. And this consciousness of
death, this nearing parting from you--you who do not care--leaving even
the dear sight of you. Think of her going out alone, unloved, into the
darkness--the everlasting darkness and silence--with never one word, one
touch, one smile, to hold in her heart as hers, meant for her, with
love. Oh, I see it hurts you!--you are sorry; oh, blessed tears! You
cannot bear it, can you? Michael, you will not let her go uncomforted?
She is not strong, or brave, or confident. She is sick, weak,
terrified--a screaming, shuddering child carried away in the night.
Michael!"--it was a cry; she clasped his hands in hers--"you will walk
beside her. You will kiss her, love her, and she will die happy--with
her hand in yours!" Her eyes sought his wildly. He had never loved her
as he loved her now, and though his tears were for Mary, the power, the
freedom of his love for Camelia was a joy to him even in the midst of a
great sadness. He could not have kissed her or put his arms around her;
the dignity of her abasement was part of the new, the sacred loveliness,
and it was more in pity than in love that he took the poor, distraught,
beautiful face between his hands and looked at her a negation, pitiful
and inarticulate. She closed her eyes. He saw that she would not accept
the bitterness.

"I will do all I can," he then said; "but, dear Camelia, dearest
Camelia, I cannot marry her."

It was a strange echo. Camelia drew away from him.

"What can you _do_? She knows you are her friend; that only hurts."

"Does it?" He saw now, through the unconscious revelation, the greatness
of her love for him, and saw that in the past he had not understood. She
loved him so much that there was left her not a thought of self. Her
whole nature was merged in the passionate wish that he should fulfil her
highest ideal of him. He saw that she would have laid down her life for
him--or for Mary, as she stood there, and, for Mary, she expected an
equal willingness on his side.

"It would only be an agony to her," Camelia said; "she would fear every
moment that she would betray herself to you, as she betrayed herself to
me. Can't you see that? Understand that?" Desperately she reiterated:
"You must pretend! You must lie! You must tell her that you love her!
You must marry her, take her away to some beautiful country--there are
places where they live for years; make a paradise about her. You
_must_." She looked sternly at him.

"No, Camelia, no."

"You mean that basest no?" She was trembling, holding herself erect as
she confronted him; her white face, narrowly framed by the curves of
loosened hair, tragic with its look of reprobation.

"I mean it. I will not. You will see that I am right. It would be a
cruel folly, a dastardly kindness, a final insult from fate. And I do
not think only of Mary--I think of myself; I could not lie like that."

Her silent woe and scorn, frozen now to a bleak despair, dwelt on him
for a long moment, then, without another word, she turned from him and
left him, making, by the majesty of her defeated wrong, his victorious
right look ugly.



CHAPTER XXVI


Camelia galloped home furiously. The tragedy was then to be consummated.
He would not put out a finger to avert it. Mary would go down into the
pit of nothingness, and her love, her agony, her strivings after good,
would be as though they had never been.

"And _I_ live," thought Camelia, as she galloped, and her thoughts
seemed to gallop beside her; they were like phantom shapes pressing on
her from without, for she did not want to think. "_I_, thick-skinned,
dull-souled I. Yes, materialism wins the day. Morality is a lie, evolved
for the carpeting of lives like mine, for the preservation of the
fittest!--_I_ being fittest! To those that have shall be given, and from
those who have not shall be taken away--the law of evolution. Oh!
hideous, hideous! Oh, horror!--not even the ethical straw of development
to grasp at; Mary's suffering has warped her, lowered her. She has been
tortured into rebellion against her own sweet rectitude; she, who only
asked to love--hates; she, who lived in a peaceful renunciation, now
struggles, thinks only of herself."

It was this last thought that seemed to lean beside her, look into her
eyes with the most intolerable look. Mary--inevitably lowered. The
blackness shuddered through her. Camelia on that ride tasted the very
dregs of doubt and despair, and knew the helplessness of man before
them. She could have killed herself, had not a sullen spark, the last
smouldering from the fire of resolution that had burned in her as she
rode to Perior, still lit one path through the darkness. She must throw
herself at Mary's feet, seek and give comfort through her own extreme
abasement. She must cling to Mary, supplicating her to believe in her
infinite love and pity. Could not that love, when all errors were
explained, reach and hold her? Camelia felt her defiance of eternity
clasp Mary forever. But when she reached home Mary was not there.
Camelia panted as she ran from room to room; her desire, thrown back,
rose stiflingly. She was afraid of seeing her mother, for at a look, a
question, she felt that her suspense of hard self-control would break
down; she might scream and rave. She sent a few words to Lady Paton by a
servant; she was tired and was going to rest--must not be
disturbed--then she locked herself into her own room.

Some hours passed before she heard Mary's voice outside demanding
entrance, hours that Camelia was to look back on as the blackest of her
life, so black that all in them, every thought and impulse, made an
indistinguishable chaos, where only her suffering, a trembling leaf
tossing on deepest waters, knew itself. In looking back, she remembered
that she had not once moved until the knock came, and that, on going to
open the door, her hand had so shaken that it fumbled for some moments
with the key.

Mary stood on the threshold. She was splashed with mud. Beside the
whiteness of her face, Camelia's was passive in its pain. Mary closed
the door, and, as Camelia retreated a little before her, leaned back
against it. Her eyes went at once over Camelia's wet habit and
dishevelled hair; she had expected a careful effacement of all signs of
the guilty errand; Camelia could not now deny the ride. The thought of a
brazen avowal made Mary close her eyes for a moment. She had to struggle
with a sick faintness, as she leaned against the door, before she could
put that monstrous thought aside and say, returning to her first
impulse, and opening her eyes as she spoke--

"I know where you have been."

Camelia stood still. This unexpected blow confused the direct vision of
appeal and abasement that upheld her. She must face an unlooked-for
contingency, and her mind seemed to reel a little as she faced it.

"You followed me, Mary?" she asked, with a gentleness bewildered.

"Yes, I followed you."

Camelia was now becoming conscious of the definiteness of Mary's heavy
stare. It was like a stone, and under the weight of it she groped,
staggering, in a wilderness of formless conjectures. Mary could not know
why she had gone. A pang of terror shot through her. Mary's next words
riveted the terror.

"I saw you. I know why you went. I know everything," said Mary.
Camelia's horror kept silence, though the room seemed to whirl round
with her. Had Mary by some unknown means reached the Grange before she
did? Had she been hidden near the laboratory? Had she heard? Were all
merciful lies impossible? She felt her very lips freeze in a rigid
powerlessness.

"You went to tell him that I loved him?" Mary's eyes opened widely as
she spoke, and she walked up to her cousin, close to her.

"You told him that I loved him," she repeated, and Camelia in her
nightmare horror felt the hatred of the pale eyes.

"You don't dare deny that you told him." No, Camelia did not dare deny.
She looked down spellbound at Mary. She was afraid of her, horribly
afraid of her. It was like the approach of a nightmare animal, its
familiar seeming making its strangeness the more awful. She did not dare
deny. She could not move away from her; she was paralyzed in her dread.
Mary looked at her as though conscious of her own power.

"You told him, so that he might comfort you, tell you he had never loved
me, never could have loved me. You betrayed me to save yourself from
that reproach of robbing me." It was like awakening with a gasp that
Camelia now cried--

"No, no, Mary! Oh no."

She could speak. She could clasp her hands. "No, no, no," she repeated
almost with joy.

"You lie. You are lying. What is the good of lying to me now? It is easy
for you to lie. You went to ask him the truth, and he gave it to you.
For he would never have loved me, whatever I may have hoped--even
believed at moments."

"No, Mary; no, no!" Mary's dreadful supposition made Camelia feel the
reality as a peace, a refuge. That world of black cruelty where Mary
wandered, that at least was untrue, an illusion. Not hatred, not deceit
surrounded her, but love, and pity, and tenderness.

"I did not go for that, Mary," she cried. "Listen, Mary, you are wrong;
thank God, you are wrong. I did not go because I was sorry for myself; I
did not go basely. I was so sorry for you," said Camelia, sobbing and
speaking brokenly, while Mary looked at her in a stern tearless silence,
"I knew he would be sorry. I knew we both loved you, and I wanted him to
marry you, Mary."

"_What!_" Mary's voice was terrible; yet Camelia clung to the courage of
her love, confident that the truth alone could now reveal it--all the
truth.

"Yes, dearest Mary, yes. There was no hatred, only a longing to make you
happy--to help atone; only love, not hatred."

"You are telling me the truth?"

They were standing still before each other. Camelia could not interpret
the pale eyes.

"Mary, I swear it before God."

"And he will not marry me!"

"He loves you, as I do."

"He will not marry me!"

"Let me only tell you--everything; it is not you only----"

"You tossed me to him--and he refused me! How dare you! How dare you!
How dare you!" And Mary, a revelation of rage and detestation flaming up
in her eyes, distorting her face, struck her cousin violently on the
cheek.

Camelia stood dazed. The blow interpreted, too well, Mary's attitude.
She could not resent, nor even wonder, could only accept the retribution
of cruel misunderstanding and bow her head. She covered her face with
her hands and wept. Except for this sound of weeping the room was still.
In the darkness of her humiliation--shut in behind her hands--Camelia
felt, at last, the silence. She looked up. Mary was once more leaning
against the door. Her eyes were closed. Camelia went to her, took her
hand, and Mary made no motion. Raising the hand to her lips Camelia
kissed it; its coldness chilled the smarting of the blow. Mastering her
terror Camelia put her arms around her, and, Mary sinking forward into
them, she gathered up the piteously light figure and carried it to the
bed.

"Mary--Mary--Mary," she murmured, staring at the head which lay so
still, so solemnly. Was she dead? Camelia struck aside the thought of a
so cruel finality. Strengthened by her rebellion she sprang to open the
door, and the house resounded with her cries for help.



CHAPTER XXVII


The servant, as he showed Perior into the drawing-room, told him that
Miss Fairleigh was dying, and the imminence of the tragedy was
sorrowfully emphasized by Lady Paton's woe-stricken face, as she came in
to him.

"Yes, Michael, dying," she said before he spoke; his look had asked the
question. He took her hands, and they sat down, finding a comfort in
being together, and Perior was in as much need of it as she, felt not
one whit stronger before the approaching end.

"Tell me about it. It has been so sudden."

Lady Paton sobbed out the sad facts. Her own blindness; poor Mary's long
concealment--too successful; the doctor's fatal verdict.

"I was blind, too," said Perior, "though I always feared it."

"Ah! that is the cruellest part of it! And her indifference--she does
not seem to care; she does not speak to any of us."

"Not to Camelia? Is Camelia with her?"

Perior's heart must spare some of its aching to his unhappy Camelia.

"She has not once left her. She is so brave; I can only cry; but it has
made Camelia already different; a strength, a gentleness, yet a despair.
She feels it terribly, Michael, and the first shock was hers. Mary was
out all yesterday afternoon--in the wet and cold, and when she came in
she fainted in Camelia's room."

Perior looked at her, pondering this sinister announcement.

"I should like to see Mary--when she is able," he said.

"Yes. She must have her friends about her, my poor, poor child. Ah
Michael! I can never forgive myself."

"Why do you say that? You gave Mary all her sunshine."

"Not enough! not enough! She must have seen that it was Camelia, only
Camelia, in whom my heart was bound up. She must have felt it."

Perior sighed heavily. He, too, had regrets. Had he but known, guessed
what he had been to Mary! But he said, "Don't exaggerate that; Mary must
have understood; it was inevitable, quite, and pardonable. Camelia was
your daughter."

"Ah! Camelia had so much, Mary so little!" and to this Perior must
perforce assent.

Meanwhile Camelia sat by Mary's side. She divided the vigils with the
nurse who came down from London. She found that her eternal
self-reproach had strengthened her. She could bear its steady
contemplation and soothe her mother's more helpless grief.

Mary was sinking fast. During the next three days she hardly spoke,
though her eyes followed the ministering figures that moved about her
bed. Conscious that she was dying, but wrapped in an emotionless
sadness, she watched them all indifferently, and slept quietly from time
to time. It was going to be much easier than she had thought. Hardly a
thread bound her to life; even her passionate hatred of Camelia was
dimmed by the creeping mists; even her love for Perior wailed, it
seemed, at a long distance from her; she listened to it as she lay
there; only at moments came a throb of pain for all the happiness she
had never had. Camelia meeting the calm eyes would smile tremulously,
but Mary gave no answering smile, and her eyes kept all their calm.

Camelia had to hold firmly to the self-abnegation of perfect
self-control to keep down the cry of confession that would give her
relief, that would perhaps admit her to Mary's heart; it was not until
the third night, as she sat beside her, that the yearning allowed itself
to grow to hope. Mary's eyes, on this night, turned more than once from
their vacant gaze and dwelt upon her with a fixity almost insistent.

Camelia dared, at last, to take in both her own the tragic hand that lay
on Mary's chest, and, after a timid pause, she raised it to her lips. It
lay resistless; she held it against her cheek; through the dimness, Mary
felt the tears wetting it.

The merciful hardness about her heart seemed to melt. She knew a keener
pang, a longer aching, that did not end and give her peace again. It was
not calm, after all, not good to die with that unloving frost holding
one. She lay in silence, looking, in the faint light, at her cousin's
bent head, the ruffled outline of the golden hair. The thought of
Camelia's beauty bowed in this desolation touched her sharply,
intolerably. She felt her heart beating heavily, and suddenly,
"Camelia, I am sorry," she said.

Camelia clasped the imprisoned hand to her breast, and leaned forward.

"Sorry! Oh, Mary--what have you to be sorry for?"

"I was wicked--I hated you--I struck you."

"I deserved hatred, dear Mary."

"I should not hate you. It hurts me."

"Oh my darling!" sobbed her cousin, rising, and bending over her.

"It hurts me," Mary repeated, but in a voice unmoved.

"Do you still hate me, Mary?"

There was a pause before she answered--and then with a certain
faltering, "I--don't know."

"Will you--can you listen, while I tell you something?" said Camelia
almost in a whisper--for Mary's voice was hardly more, "I must tell you,
Mary, I deserve everything you said, and yet--you misjudged me. Will you
hear the truth?" Camelia clasped the hand more tightly to her breast. "I
am not going to defend myself--I only want you to know the truth;
perhaps--you will be a little sorry for me then--and be able to love
me--a little."

Mary looked up at her silently, and, when she paused, said nothing; yet
her intent look seemed to assent.

"It will not give you pain," Camelia said tremblingly, "the pain is all
mine here. Mary--I love him too." The words came with a sob. She sank
into the chair, and dropping Mary's hand she leaned her elbows on the
bed and hid her face.

"I loved him, Mary, and--I imagined that he must love me. My vanity was
so great that I thought I could choose or reject him. I accepted Sir
Arthur--from spite--partly, and then I was dreadfully frightened. On the
very day I accepted Sir Arthur I sent for Mr. Perior. Mary, I made love
to him. I did not tell him I was engaged; I wanted to escape from that
blunder unscathed. I could not believe in his embarrassment, nor in the
reality of his scorn when he found me out. I broke my engagement--as you
know. I went to Mr. Perior's house. I entreated him to love me--I hung
about his neck, cried, implored. He did not love me; he rejected me. He
scorns me--he is sorry for me; he is my friend, but he scorns me. I was
not playing with him--you see that now. I adore him--and he does not
love me at all."

Uncovering her face, Camelia found Mary's eyes fixed upon her.

"Do you understand now, Mary, why I went to him? I loved you so--was so
sorry for you--so infinitely sorry--for had I not felt it all? I never
told him that you thought he might have loved you; but I thought it
myself, I thought that he might love you, indeed, when he _knew_
you--knew the sweetness, the sadness of your hidden love. If he refused,
Mary, it was because he respected you too highly and himself--to act any
falsity towards you. It was not like my rejection; there was no shame,
no abasement for you. You have his reverent pity, his deep, loving
devotion. Don't regret, dear Mary, that through my well-meant folly he
really knows you now." She paused, and Mary still lay silent, slowly
closing and unclosing her hand on the sheet.

"Believe me, Mary," said Camelia, the monotony of her recitative
yielding to an appealing tremor, "I have told you the truth--the very
truth. I have not hidden a thought from you."

"You love him?" Mary asked, almost musingly.

"Yes, dear, yes. We are together there."

"I never saw it; never guessed it."

"Like you, Mary, I can act."

"And you wanted him to marry me," Mary added presently, pondering it
seemed.

"Oh, Mary!" said Camelia, weeping, "I did. I longed for it, prayed for
it--I would have given my life to have him marry you. Mary, believe me,
when I tell you that to atone in however a little measure for your
dreary life, I would die--oh gladly, gladly."

"Would it not have been worse than dying?" Mary asked in a voice that
seemed suddenly to subtly smile, though she herself lay unsmiling in the
shadowed whiteness of the bed.

"What--worse?"

"To see him marry me." Camelia gazed at her.

"I think, Mary," she said presently, "I could have seen it without one
pang for myself; I would have been too glad for you to think of that.
And then--he does not love me. The iron entered my soul long ago. I have
long since lost even the bitterness of hope."

"And he does not love you," Mary repeated quietly, raising her eyes and
looking away a little.

"He does not, indeed."

Camelia's quivering breaths quieted to a waiting depth. But Mary for a
long time said nothing more. Her hand lay across her breast, and above
it her face now surely smiled.

At last she turned her eyes on her cousin. Looking at her very gently,
she said, "But I love you, Camelia."



CHAPTER XXVIII


Camelia was sitting again by Mary's bed when Perior was announced the
next morning.

"You must go and see him to-day," said Mary.

"Why--must I?"

"I should like to see him," Mary's voice had now a thread only of
breath; to speak at all she had to speak very slowly, "and you must tell
him first, that I know."

"Mary--dear----"

"I do not mind."

"No, one does not, with him. I will see him, tell him.

"Talk--be nice to him; do not be angry with him because he will not
marry me." Her smile hurt Camelia, who bent over her, saying--

"If I had not gone!--you would not be here now; we might have kept you
well much longer."

"That would have been a pity--wouldn't it?" said Mary, quite without
bitterness.

"Oh, Mary! Could we not have made you happy?"

"Perhaps it is knowing that I can never be well that keeps me now from
being sad," Mary answered; "don't cry, Camelia--I am not sad."

But Camelia cried as she went down the stairs.

A pale spring sunshine filled the morning-room, where she found Perior.
She had hardly noticed the outside world for the last few days, and it
gave her now a sweetly poignant shock to see that the trees were all
blurred with green, a web of life embroidering the network of black
branches; beyond them a high, pale, spring sky. She saw the green really
before seeing Perior, for he was looking at it, his back turned to her
as she came in. Then, as he faced her, his aging struck her more
forcibly than the world's renewal of youth. As she looked at him, and
despite the memory of their last words together, despite the tears upon
her cheeks, she smiled. She had forgiven him. He had been right, she
wrong; and then--his sad face, surely his hair had whitened? The love
for Mary that overflowed her heart seemed to clasp him in its pity and
penitence, but she could only feel it as the overflow.

"She wants to see you," she said, giving him her hand, and she added,
for the joy of last night must find expression, "She knows everything.
She followed me that day--and half guessed the truth--only half; I had
to tell her all. And she has forgiven me--for everything." Camelia bent
her forehead against his shoulder and sobbed--"She is dying!--and she
loves me!"

"My darling Camelia," said Perior, putting his hand on her hair.

To Camelia the words could only mean that he forgave--and loved--as Mary
did; but she felt the deep peace of truest union.

"Then she is dying in the sunshine, isn't she?" he added, "not in that
horrible darkness."

"Yes--but such a cold, white sunshine. It is because she feels no
longer. It is peace--not happiness; just 'peace out of pain.'"

"And cannot we two doubters add, 'With God be the rest'?"

"We must add it. To hope so strongly--is almost to believe, isn't it?
Come to her now."

She left him at Mary's door.

The nurse, with her face of hardened patience, rose as he entered.

"I will leave you with Miss Fairleigh, sir. Call me if I am needed."

Her look was significant.

Perior felt his heart shake a little as he went round the white curtain.
He was afraid. If he should blunder--stab the ebbing life with some
stupidity! Something of this tender fear showed in his look at the dying
girl, and the fear deepened for a moment to acutest pain at sight of
her. Was that the Mary he had last seen sitting over the account
books?--the Mary he had fatuously told to keep cheerful? Remorse wrung
his heart. But as for the fear of hurting her, Mary was very far beyond
all little mundane tremors, and they faded away, ashamed for having
been, as he clasped her hand, and met her eyes; their still smile
quieted even his pain, and wrapped him in its awe and beauty.

He sat down beside her, keeping her hand in his.

"Dear Mary," he said.

For a long time she did not speak; indeed Perior thought that she might
not wish to employ the coarser medium of communication, could not,
perhaps; her eyes, as they rested upon him, seemed amply significant;
but he could not fathom, quite, their ultimate meaning. Perhaps a great
sadness underlay their calm. But at last, very faintly and very slowly
she said--

"You saw Camelia."

"Yes."

"You know--that I was--cruel to Camelia?"

"No, I did not know."

"I was."

"I cannot believe that, Mary."

"I was, I misjudged her. I struck her. She did not tell you that?"

"No," said Perior, after the little pause his surprise allowed itself.

"I did, I struck her," Mary repeated, with a certain placidity. "You
understand?" she added.

Perior was putting two and two together; the result was clearly
comprehensible.

"Yes, I understand," he said.

"Camelia understood too."

"Yes," Perior repeated his assent, adding, "You have saved Camelia,
Mary; I don't think she can ever again be blind--or stupid."

"Camelia--stupid?" Mary's little smile was almost arch.

"That is the kindest word, isn't it?" Perior smiled back at her, "Let us
be kind, for we are all of us stupid--more or less; you very much less,
dear Mary."

Mary's look was grave again, though it thanked him. "You are kind.
Camelia has been very unhappy," the words were spoken suddenly, and
almost with energy.

"I don't doubt that." Mary closed her eyes, as if all effort, even the
passive effort of sight, must be concentrated in her words.

"And I am afraid--she will be very unhappy about me."

"That is unavoidable."

"But--unjust. She is nothing--that I thought. Nothing is her fault. It
is no one's fault.--I was born--not rich, not pretty, not clever, not
even contented; it is no one's fault. I have been cruel. You must
comfort her," and Mary suddenly opening her eyes looked at him fixedly.
"You must comfort her," she repeated, adding, "I know that you love
Camelia."

Perior, with some shame, felt the red go over his face. Mary observed
his confusion calmly.

"You need not mind telling me," she said.

"Dear Mary, I am abased before you."

"That isn't kind to me," Mary smiled. "You do love her--do you not?"

"Yes, I love her."

"And she loves you."

"I have thought it--sometimes," said Perior, looking away.

"She has always loved you. You too have misjudged Camelia. She told
me--last night--she told me that you had rejected her."

"Did she, Mary?" Perior looked down at the hand in his.

"Yes--through love of me. You understand?"

"Perfectly."

"It brought us together," said Mary, closing her eyes again.

She lay so long without speaking that Perior thought she must, in her
weakness, have fallen asleep, but at last she said, the words wavering,
for her breath was very shallow, "That is what Camelia needed. Some
one--to love--a great deal----" And with an intentness, like the last
leap of a dying flame, she added, looking at him, "You will marry
Camelia."

"If Camelia will have me," said Perior, bending over her hand and
kissing it.

A gleam of gaiety, of pure joyousness, shone on Mary's face. Humorously,
without a shadow of bitterness, she said, "I win--where Camelia failed!"

The tears rushed to Perior's eyes. He could not speak. He rose, and
stooping over her, he took her in his arms and kissed her.

"Ah!" she said quickly, "it is much better to die. I love you." She
looked up at him from the circle of his arms. "How could I have lived?"

At the great change in her face he wondered if he had done well in
yielding to the impulse of pure tenderness; but still supporting her
fragile shoulders he said, stammering--

"Dear child--in dying--you have let us know you--and adore you."

The light ebbed softly from her eyes as she still looked up at him.
"Perhaps--I told you--hoping it----" she murmured. These words of
victorious humility were Mary's last. When Camelia came in a little
while afterwards she saw that Mary's smile knew, and drew her near; but
standing beside her, holding her hand, she felt that Mary would not
speak to her again. Through her tears she looked across the bed at
Perior; his head was bowed on the hand he held; his shoulders shook
with weeping. At the unaccustomed sight a half dull wonder filled her.

For a long time Mary smiled before her, as they held her hands; and
Camelia only felt clearly that the smile was white and beautiful. She
waited for it to turn to her again. Only on meeting Perior's solemn look
the sense of final awe smote upon her.

"She is dead," he said.

To Camelia the smile seemed still to live.

"Dead!" she repeated. Perior gently put the hand he held on Mary's
breast.

"Not dead!" said Camelia, "she had not said good-bye to me!"

Perior came to her; his silence, that could not comfort, answered her.
She fell upon her knees beside the bed, and her desperate sobs wailed
uselessly against the irretrievable.



CHAPTER XXIX


It was many weeks afterwards that he told her what Mary had said. Her
woe, not selfish, but inconsolable, made it impossible that during the
first days of bereavement he should do more than help and sustain her by
the fullness of a friendship now recognized as deep and unrestrained.

It was she herself who asked him one day if Mary had said anything that
he could tell her, had spoken of her with a continuation of the
forgiveness, her trust in which made life possible. Camelia, in her new
devotion to her mother, its vehemence almost alarming Lady Paton,
controlled for her sake all tears and lamentations, but lying on a sofa
this afternoon, alone in the twilight, the tears had risen, and they
were falling fast when Perior came in and sat down beside her. It was
then that she asked him about Mary.

"She told me what you said to her the night before she died," Perior
answered, and Camelia let him take her hand. She lay reflecting for some
moments before saying--

"She wanted you to think as well of me as possible."

"She wanted to make me happy. She knew that you were mistaken."

"How mistaken?" Camelia asked from her pillow.

His voice had been unemphatic, but in the slight pause that followed
her question she felt that his eyes dwelt upon her, and she looked up at
him.

"You told her--that I did not love you." Camelia lay silent, her hand in
his, her eyes on his eyes.

"You believed that, didn't you?" he asked.

"How could I help believing it?"

"Ah! that shows a trust in me! Well, Mary did not believe it. Mary told
me that I loved you."

"And do you?" cried Camelia. She took her hand away, sat upright, and
faced him. Perior was forced to smile a little at the baldness of his
answering, "I do, Camelia."

"You did not know till----"

"Oh, I knew all along," Perior confessed, interrupting her. Camelia's
eyes widened immensely as she took in the astounding revelation. He
replied to their silent interrogations with "I have been a wretched
hypocrite. How I convinced you of the lie I don't know."

"And you told that to Mary." He saw now that her gaze passed him,
ignored him and his revelation in its personal bearing.

"I told her the truth. It did not hurt her. She was far above such
hurts. You had showed her that you were worthy of any love. To share her
secret made her happy."

"Happy! Oh, Mary! Mary!" Camelia murmured, looking away from him. "It
must have hurt," she added. "Ah, it must have hurt."

"She was as capable of nobility as you--that was all."

"As I!" It was a cry of bitterness.

"As you, indeed. I feel between you both what a poor creature I am. I
suppose I did for a test. You proved yourselves on me."

There was silence for a little while. Camelia looked out of the window
at the spring evening. It was here they had sat together on that day of
their first meeting after her return. Her mind went back to it in all
the sorrow of hopeless regret. What had Mary been to her then?

"What more did she say?" she asked at last in a voice of utter sadness.
She still looked out of the window, but when he answered, "She said that
you loved me," she looked at him.

"Is that still true, Camelia?" he asked, smiling gravely and with a
certain timidity.

"So you know, at last, how much."

"My darling." His tone brought the tears to her eyes; they rolled down
her cheeks while she said brokenly, "And I told her; I gave her the
weapon--and she smiled at us. Oh, that smile!"

"There was triumph in it. She asked me to marry you, Camelia, and I said
I would--if you would have me. But, I must not ask you now--must I?" He
sat down beside her on the sofa, and kissed her hand.

"Ah, no; don't think of that. It would kill me, I think, if for one
moment I forgot."

"You need not forget--yet you may be happy, and make me happy."

"Oh, you don't know," said Camelia, clasping her hands and looking down
at them, "you don't know. Even you don't know how wicked I have been."

"We all have such dark closets in our hearts. Don't shut yourself in
yours."

"I don't shut myself. I am locked in. That is my punishment. Michael,"
and she looked round at him without turning her head, "I think of
nothing else; that I made her miserable--that I made her glad to die. I
must tell you. You don't know how I treated her. I remember it all
now--years and years--so plainly. I robbed her of everything. If a
sunbeam fell on her path I stood between her and it."

Perior was silent, but putting his hand over hers he held it faithfully.

"Listen. Let me tell you a few--only a few--of the things I remember. I
don't know why you love me!--how you can love me! It hurts me to be
loved!" she sobbed suddenly.

"If it will help you, tell me everything. And I must love you, even if
it hurts you."

And, her hand in that faithful hand, her eyes on his, demanding
inflexible judgment, Camelia began the long confession--a piteous tale,
indeed. All the blots and failings gathered in a huge blackness; she
spoke from it. He felt as she spoke that the clasp of his hand was her
one link with revival. It was a piteous tale: for the robbery of Mary's
ride, the brutal taunts flung at her on that winter night--these were
but the bigger drops in the sea of selfish thoughtlessness. After each
incident, rounded with a succinct psychology that showed her pitiless
clearness of vision, she paused, as if waiting for him to speak. His
silence seemed to acquiesce, and she wanted no soothing denial. And even
now his hand held hers, and did not cast her off. When she had done, and
after the silence had grown long, he said--

"And so I might lay bare my heart to you."

"I would not be afraid of its dark corner. You have never been meanly
selfish, never trodden on people."

"But I might affirm other things. I will open the door if it will help
you to sit down with me in the doubled darkness."

"No, dear Michael, no. Mine is enough."

"I have heard you; and may I now tell you again that I love you?"

"Not again. Not now. But I am glad that you love me. I feel it. I should
like to sit like this forever, just feeling it, with my hand in yours."

This very debatable love-scene must be Perior's only amorous consolation
for many months. Of her quiet content in his presence there could be no
doubt. No barrier, no pain, was now between them. Their union was
achieved, as if by a mere wave-wash, effacing one misunderstanding--it
hardly seemed more now, nor their change of relation apparent; but under
all Camelia's courage was the fixed determination to allow herself no
happiness. Superficially there was almost gaiety at times; her regret
would never become conventional or priggish; but even Lady Paton did not
guess that Camelia and Michael were lovers, although a secret hope--very
wonderful, and carefully hidden--painted for her future rosy
possibilities. With all the sadness, with all the regret, these days
were the happiest Lady Paton had known; and as Camelia's devotion was
exclusively for her, she could not guess that the secret hope was
already realized.

Yet Camelia did not leave her silent lover utterly bereft. After the
deep gravity of the first avowal her little demonstrations were of a
light, an almost mocking order. In this new phase she returned to the
teasing fondness of the old one; and sometimes the central tenderness
would pierce the lightness.

Perior could afford patience. Reading one afternoon in the library (his
daily presence at Enthorpe was a matter of course), he heard steps
behind him, then felt her hand clasp over his eyes.

"You are keeping on--loving me?" she demanded.

"Yes, I am keeping on," said Perior, turning his page with a masterly
calm. He knew that the little outburst conceded nothing, and that even
when Camelia dropped a swift kiss on his hair he was by no means
expected to retaliate.

For the lighter mood the cottages made endless subjects for conversation
and discussion. In talking--squabbling amicably--over their interior
civilization, Camelia felt that she and Perior had much the playful
gravity of children making sand pies at the seaside.

Camelia insisted on her prints and photographs, and on hanging them
herself. She had fixed theories on the decoration of wall-spaces.

Perior held the ladder and criticised. "They are quite out of place, you
know. That exotic art is most incongruous. It jars." Camelia was hanging
up a modern print after Hiroshighé.

"It wouldn't jar on us, would it?" she asked, driving in a nail.

"We are exotic mentally."

"Let us train them to a more cosmopolitan out-look, then."

"They would far prefer the colored prints from Christmas numbers."

"Well, they shan't have them!" Camelia declared, and he laughed at her
determined tyranny. But when her tenants were duly installed Camelia was
forced to own that the honest forces of the soil were difficult to
manage. She came in to tea one afternoon with the announcement, that the
Dawkins had taken down all their prints and put up flower-entwined texts
and horrible colored advertisements. Mrs. Dawkins had said that her
husband objected to "those outlandish women"; they made him feel "quite
creepy like."

Later on she had to confess that the Coles by no means appreciated their
photographs of the Sistine Sibyls, so charmingly placed along the walls,
and that from among them glared a well-fed maiden with upturned,
prayerful, and heavily-lashed eyes; testifying to the Coles' religious
instincts and to their only timid opposition.

"How can they be so stupid!" cried Camelia. "And how can I!"

"You can't grow roses on cabbages, Camelia," said Perior, "to say
nothing of orchids. You are demanding orchids of your cabbages."

"Desire precedes function," Camelia replied sententiously, "if the
cabbages want to, very much, they may grow orchids. I shall still
hope."



CHAPTER XXX


On a beautiful October afternoon a visitor came to Enthorpe.

Camelia was summoned to find Mrs. Fox-Darriel in the drawing-room. Mrs.
Fox-Darriel, with a pastoral hat--rather Gallic in its conscious
innocence--tipped over her emphasized eyes, her gown of muslin and lace
very fluffy on very rigid foundations, looked with her triumphant
artificiality of outline quite oppressively smart. Camelia, after her
year's seclusion, felt her to be oppressive.

It was rather difficult to smile on meeting her, their parting had such
painful associations--the dark turmoil of those days drifted over
Camelia's memory as she gave her friend her hand.

"You are surprised to see me, aren't you, Camelia?" said Mrs.
Fox-Darriel.

"Yes. Rather surprised."

"No wonder, you faithless young woman. You haven't troubled to toss me a
thought for this twelvemonth. Well, I bear you no grudge; it is a
psychological phase that will, I hope, wear itself away. Yes, I am
stopping down in these parts again, twenty miles away, with the
Lambournes. You have not seen them yet, I hear. New importations. Mr.
Lambourne is a bloated capitalist, and as my poor Charlie is Labor
personified, I hope that my display of four new gowns daily in the
Lambourne ancestral halls--they will be ancestral some day--will result
in a beneficial return of favors. Charlie is going in very much for
companies; Mr. Lambourne's companies are extremely advantageous. Oh, I
uphold the uses of Lambournes in our modern world; they make us poor
penniless aristocrats so very comfortable; they are good, grateful
people."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel, while she talked, was looking Camelia up and down in a
slowly cogitating manner.

"No, I can't stop to tea; I must be going back directly, it is a long
drive. I only came to have a look at you, and, if possible, to solve the
mystery. What's up, Camelia? That is what I want to know. Is this all
the result of last year's little _esclandre_?"

Camelia evaded the question.

"We have had trouble. You heard that my cousin was dead."

Mrs. Fox-Darriel's eye travelled again over Camelia's black dress.
"Yes--I heard. Poor little thing. And she would never appreciate how
charming was the mourning being worn for her; that gown is really--well,
there is a great deal in it, a great deal. I don't know how you manage
to make your clothes so significant. You've got all Chopin's Funeral
March into those lines. Well, it makes you feel badly, of course."

"Yes. Very badly." From the very patience of Camelia's voice Mrs.
Fox-Darriel was keenly aware of barriers. How Camelia had disappointed
her! A certain baffled, angry affection rose within her.

"You certainly treated her horribly, my dear. I understand regrets."
Camelia made no reply, and looked at her with a steady sadness.

"And--she was in love with the vial of wrath. You knew that, I suppose."

"I knew that I was in love with him, Frances."

At that Mrs. Fox-Darriel gasped. Her eyes took on an unblinking fixity.
"So you own to it?"

"Yes, I certainly own to it."

"Camelia! You are not going to--" The conjecture made her really white.

"To what?" and Camelia smiled irrepressibly.

"Camelia, I am fond of you. I did wish best things for you. I did hope
to see you _somebody_. You would have been. You _can_ be. Sir Arthur
will be on his knees before you if you lift a finger."

"Oh! I hope not," cried Camelia.

"You know it. You know it. Lady Elizabeth hasn't a chance. She has
become literary--is writing the life of her great-grandfather, deep in
archives--that means hopelessness.--Camelia!" and Mrs. Fox-Darriel's cry
gathered from Camelia's impassive smile a frenzied energy. "You are
not--tell me you are not--going to marry that man--relapse into a
country matron! He will swamp you. You have nothing in common. It is
calf-love, pure and simple. I felt it all along; hoped he would see the
incongruity of it--take your poor little cousin, who was cut out for
submission and nurseries."

"Oh, I don't think a superfluity of either will be expected of me," said
Camelia, with a laugh really unkind.

"Oh, heavens! You are going to marry him?"

"Yes, immediately," said Camelia, somewhat to her own surprise. She had
not expected her rather indefinite views on this subject to crystallize
so suddenly and so irrevocably. "Console yourself, Frances," she added,
really feeling some compunction before Mrs. Fox-Darriel's tragic
contemplation, "it won't be my funeral. He dug me out, and I am going to
dig him out. You may hear of me yet--as his wife."

"Ah!" Mrs. Fox-Darriel had found the calm of her despair. "It is the
same old story. His indifference has done it all. It may be brutal, but
I must say it, you threw yourself at his head. The flattery at last
penetrated his priggishness; Endymion stooped to Selena."

Camelia's serenity held good.

"You can't make me angry. I like your disinterestedness, Frances. Let me
thank you for Endymion; I am sure the simile would flatter his
forty-five years."

"And I came hoping----"

"Hoping what my kind Frances?"

"That I was to be a link; that I would find you sane again--willing to
pay me a visit, and meet _him_."

"But, as you see, I am on Latmos, and like it."

"Yes, I see. I am disillusionized, Camelia; I confess it. I didn't
expect that sort of floppiness from you. And there is a
self-righteousness about your whole manner that is insufferable, quite;
I tell you so frankly." Mrs. Fox-Darriel, as she spoke, shouldered her
closed parasol, and clasped her hands over it in a militant antagonism
of attitude. "The sheep looking suavely from its fold at the goat. We
are all goats to you now."

"Come, let us kiss through the bars, then."

"Oh, you are miles away--æons away!"

Mrs. Fox-Darriel submitted drearily. "You are lost! done for! And the
name, the power, the future you might have had! You were clever."

"I rather doubt that."

"Ah! of course you doubt it; you must doubt it. As the wife of a crusty
country squire it would be a corroding cleverness merely. You turn your
back on it."

"We won't be hopelessly provincial. You will see us in London. He may
get into Parliament."

"Us! He! Alas! he will swamp you," she repeated. "He will turn you into
a pillar of salt--looking back, and being sorry. _You_ to be wasted!"
was the last Camelia heard.

When she had gone Camelia went slowly across the lawn; Perior, she knew,
was lurking about the garden waiting for her. Some of Mrs. Fox-Darriel's
remarks had cut--so far less deeply, though, than her own thoughts
during past months. It was the strong revival of these thoughts that
pained her more than the mode of revival.

It was dusk, a pensive dusk, the evening sky faintly barred with pink.
Perior was walking up and down the garden between rows of tally growing
flowers. Was the thought of his patience and loneliness, of her
selfishness in prolonging them, a mere sophistry meant to hide her own
longing for happiness? As she walked down the path towards him her mind
juggled with this thought; it was very confusing.

"Who do you think it was?" she asked, putting her hand in his, a little
_douceur_ Perior had never presumed upon.

"Mrs. Jedsley? Mrs. Grier? Lady Haversham?" he asked affably, but
scanning, as she felt, the sadness of her face.

"No--the past has been having a flick at me--Mrs. Fox-Darriel the whip."

"Ah yes. I never liked her."

"There is not much harm in her."

"No, perhaps not," Perior acquiesced.

"I told her," said Camelia, after a little pause in which they turned a
corner of the garden, and walked down it again by an outward path.

"Well, what did you tell her? She has hurt you. I can see that."

"No, not she. She asked me if I had never seen that Mary loved you, so,
in reply, I said that I had only seen that _I_ loved you."

"Did that excellent piece of truth-telling pain you?"

"No; it was a delicious mouthful. But, she said too, that the flattery
of my love had pierced your indifference--or your priggishness, she
called it"--and Camelia gave him a rather arch glance, "and I didn't
really wonder, not _really_; but you were so much more indifferent than
I was, weren't you?" and she paused in the path to look at him, not
archly, but very seriously. Her candor was so charming, with its little
touch of fear, that Perior's answer could not resist an emphasis.

"Dearest," he said, and Camelia's wonder was not unpleasant, and his
daring went unrebuked, as he put his arm around her.

"That means you were not?"

"It means a great deal more. I was in love with you when I was nothing
to you. I've always been in love with you--horribly in love with you.
Indifference! Great heavens! that was what I prayed for, that was what I
tried to feign, for I thought you such an abominable little siren. All
the time that you were picking me up, and putting me down, and whisking
past me, and torturing and teasing me, all the time I was adoring you, I
couldn't help myself! adoring you with all your crimes upon you!
thinking myself a fool for it, I grant."

"Putting you down? No, I never did that," Camelia demurred.

"Well, I thought so. And at all events you know that you were most
comfortably indifferent until you found out that you couldn't get me for
the asking."

"No, no!" cried Camelia. "From the first, if you had really let me think
you loved me, told me so, nicely, and begged a little, I should have
fallen straight into your arms, and perhaps never have found out how bad
I was!"

"And that would have been a pity, eh? No," he added, with an
argumentative gravity that touched and made her smile sadly. "You were
never _bad_. It was always half my fault. I misjudged you, and you
danced to my lugubrious piping."

"This is the very madness of devotion! Oh, dear Alceste, with you,
perhaps, with you I have not dealt so badly; but, _but_----" She walked
on again, turning away her head.

"Don't," said Perior gently.

"Ah, I must, I must remember."

For a long time they were silent during the rounding of the whole
garden, where the high walls grew dark against the sky, and the flowers,
in the faint light, were ghostly.

"Michael," she said at last, "I rebel sometimes against my own
unhappiness. I want to crush it--I am afraid of it; but I am more afraid
of being happy."

"Why can't they go together?" he asked.

"Ah! but can they?"

"They must, sooner or later. Then you won't be afraid of either. Doesn't
this all mean," he added, "that _now_ I may tell you how much I love
you?" and he stopped to look at her. Her face was like a white flower in
the dusk. Far away, over long sweeps of thin purpling cloud, shone one
star, faint and steady. He saw together her face, the sky, and the star.

"Oh!" said Camelia, "_do_ you know me? Even now, do you know me? I'm not
one bit good! I am still the horrid child who clamored for your love; my
love for you the only good thing in me! You love me, all the same? You
don't mind? don't expect anything? I want so much, but I will have
nothing, not a kiss, not your hand holding mine,--there, let it go,--on
false pretences."

"I can only retaliate. _I_ am not one bit good. Dear, horrid child, will
you put up with me?"

"Oh, I never minded!" she cried. "I loved you, good or bad."

"And I you; only I minded. That is all the difference. There isn't a
falsity between us, Camelia," he added.

"No, there isn't."

"Then, may I kiss you, and hold your hand?"

"Yes; only--first--first--" she held him off, smiling, yet still
doubting, still tremulously grave, "I am not good enough; no, I am not
good enough."

"Quite good enough for me," said Perior. "I am getting tired of your
conscience, Camelia."

THE END.


Typographical errorscorrected by the etext transcriber:

befere=> before {pg 274}





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