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Title: A Young Man's Year
Author: Hope, Anthony, 1863-1933
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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                           A YOUNG MAN'S YEAR



                           BY THE SAME AUTHOR

                    THE GOD IN THE CAR
                    A CHANGE OF AIR
                    A MAN OF MARK
                    THE CHRONICLES OF COUNT ANTONIO
                    PHROSO
                    SIMON DALE
                    THE KING'S MIRROR
                    QUISANTÉ
                    THE DOLLY DIALOGUES
                    A SERVANT OF THE PUBLIC
                    TALES OF TWO PEOPLE
                    THE GREAT MISS DRIVER
                    MRS. MAXON PROTESTS



                             A YOUNG MAN'S
                                  YEAR

                                   BY
                              ANTHONY HOPE


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



                       _First Published in 1915_



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                       PAGE

       I. OF THE MIDDLE TEMPLE, ESQUIRE                            1

      II. MISS SARRADET'S CIRCLE                                  11

     III. IN TOUCH WITH THE LAW                                   19

      IV. A GRATEFUL FRIEND                                       28

       V. THE TENDER DIPLOMATIST                                  37

      VI. A TIMELY DISCOVERY                                      46

     VII. ALL OF A FLUTTER                                        54

    VIII. NOTHING VENTURE, NOTHING HAVE!                          62

      IX. A COMPLICATION                                          71

       X. THE HERO OF THE EVENING                                 80

      XI. HOUSEHOLD POLITICS                                      89

     XII. LUNCH AT THE LANCASTER                                  98

    XIII. SETTLED                                                108

     XIV. THE BATTLE WITH MR. TIDDES                             118

      XV. THE MAN FOR A CRISIS                                   127

     XVI. A SHADOW ON THE HOUSE                                  136

    XVII. FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON!                              146

   XVIII. GOING TO RAIN!                                         156

     XIX. THE LAST ENTRENCHMENT                                  166

      XX. A PRUDENT COUNSELLOR                                   175

     XXI. IDOL AND DEVOTEE                                       185

    XXII. PRESSING BUSINESS                                      194

   XXIII. FACING THE SITUATION                                   204

    XXIV. "DID YOU SAY MRS.?"                                    213

     XXV. THE OLD DAYS END                                       224

    XXVI. RATHER ROMANTIC!                                       233

   XXVII. IN THE HANDS OF THE GODS                               244

  XXVIII. TAKING MEDICINE                                        254

    XXIX. TEARS AND A SMILE                                      264

     XXX. A VARIETY SHOW                                         274

    XXXI. START AND FINISH                                       284

   XXXII. WISDOM CONFOUNDED                                      294

  XXXIII. A NEW VISION                                           304

   XXXIV. THE LINES OF LIFE                                      314

    XXXV. HILSEY AND ITS FUGITIVE                                324

   XXXVI. IN THE SPRING                                          335



A YOUNG MAN'S YEAR



A YOUNG MAN'S YEAR



CHAPTER I

OF THE MIDDLE TEMPLE, ESQUIRE


It was a dark, dank, drizzly morning in March. A dull mist filled all
the air, and the rain drifted in a thin sheet across the garden of the
Middle Temple. Everything looked a dull drab. Certainly it was a beastly
morning. Moreover--to add to its offences--it was Monday morning. Arthur
Lisle had always hated Monday mornings; through childhood, school, and
university they had been his inveterate enemies--with their narrow
rigorous insistence on a return to work, with the end they put to
freedom, to leisure, to excursions in the body or in the spirit. And
they were worse now, since the work was worse, in that it was not real
work at all; it was only waiting for work, or at best a tedious and
weary preparation for work which did not come and (for all that he could
see) never would come. There was no reason why it ever should. Even
genius might starve unnoticed at the Bar, and he was no genius. Even
interest might fail to help a man, and interest he had none. Standing
with his hands in the pockets, listlessly staring out of the window of
his cell of a room, unable to make up his mind how to employ himself, he
actually cursed his means of subsistence--the hundred and fifty pounds a
year which had led him into the fatal ambition of being called to the
Bar. "But for that it would have been impossible for me to be such an
ass," he reflected gloomily, as he pushed back his thick reddish-brown
hair from his forehead and puckered the thin sensitive lines of his
mouth into a childish pout.

Henry the clerk (of whom Mr. Arthur Lisle owned an undivided fourth
share) came into the room, carrying a bundle of papers tied with red
tape. Turning round on the opening of the door, Arthur suddenly fell
prey to an emotion of extraordinary strength and complexity; amazement,
joy, excitement, fear, all in their highest expression, struggled for
mastery over him. Had he got a Brief?

"Mr. Norton Ward says, will you be kind enough to protect him in Court
III, in case he's on in the Court of Appeal? It's a very simple matter,
he says; it's the Divisional Court, sir, third in the list." Henry put
the papers on the table and went out, quite disregardful of the storm of
emotion which he had aroused. Though keenly interested in the fortunes
of his employers, he did not study their temperaments.

It had happened, the thing that Arthur knew he ought always to hope for,
the thing that in fact he had always dreaded. He had not got a brief; he
had to "hold" one--to hold one for somebody else, and that at short
notice--"unhouseled, disappointed, unanealed!" That is to say, with no
time to make ready for the fearful ordeal. It was nearly ten o'clock, at
half-past he must be in court; at any moment after that the case might
come on, its two predecessors having crumpled up, as cases constantly
did in the Divisional Court. The fell terrors of nervousness beset him,
so that he was almost sick. He dashed at the brief fiercely, but his
fingers trembled so that he could hardly untie the tape. Still, he
managed a hurried run through the papers and got the point into his
head.

Lance and Pretyman, JJ. took their seats punctually at ten-thirty.
Arthur Lisle, who felt much interest in judges as human beings and would
often spend his time in court studying them rather than the law they
administered, was glad to see Lance there, but feared Pretyman to the
bottom of his heart. Lance was a gentle man, of courtly manners and a
tired urbanity, but Pretyman was gruff, abrupt, terribly anxious about
saving public time, and therefore always cutting into a man's argument
with the Stand-and-deliver of a question to which, in Pretyman's
opinion, there was no answer. It would be an awful thing if Pretyman set
on him like that! Because then he might be incapable of speech, although
he knew that he was in the right. And he believed that his case was
good. "All the worse then, if you lose it!" said a mocking voice within
him.

Henry had taken him over to the court and had done everything possible
for him--had told the solicitor who had briefed Norton Ward how the
matter stood and how very safe he would be in Mr. Lisle's hands if it
came to that, had given his name to the usher so that the usher could,
if necessary, give it to the Bench, and had even introduced him to Mr.
O'Sullivan, who was on the other side, a tall and burly Irishman, famous
for defending criminals, but not credited with knowing much law.

As the first two cases proceeded, Arthur read his brief again and again,
and, when he was not doing that, he read the reported case which (in the
opinion of the pupil who had got up Norton Ward's brief and had made a
note of it for him) was decisive in his favour. All the while he was
praying that the first two cases might last a long time. They did not.
Pretyman, J., smashed the pair of them in three-quarters of an hour.
"Brown and Green" called the usher, and O'Sullivan was on his legs--and
there was no sign of Norton Ward. Henry nodded to Arthur and left the
court; he was going to see how matters stood in the Court of Appeal.

"This is an appeal from the West Hampstead County Court, my lords,"
began Mr. O'Sullivan, "which raises a question of some importance," and
he went on in such a fashion that Arthur hoped he was going to take a
long time; for Henry had come back, and, by a shake of his head, had
indicated that there was no present hope of Norton Ward's arrival. Mr.
O'Sullivan meant to take a decently long time; he wanted his client to
feel that he was getting his money's worth of argument; therefore he
avoided the main point and skirmished about a good deal. Above all he
avoided that case which Norton Ward's pupil had considered decisive. Mr.
O'Sullivan knew all about the case too, and had it with him, but he was
in no hurry to get to it yet.

Lance, J., was leaning back, the picture of polite acquiescence in a lot
assigned to him by Providence, a position wherein dignity was tempered
by _ennui_. But Pretyman, J., was getting restive; he was fingering his
beard--he committed the solecism of wearing a beard on the Bench; then
he picked out a book from the shelf by him, and turned over the leaves
quickly. Mr. O'Sullivan came, by a series of flourishes, a little nearer
the point. And Norton Ward did not come; and Arthur Lisle felt no
better.

"What about Watkins and Chichester?" demanded Pretyman, J., with a
sudden violence that made Arthur jump.

"I have that case here, my lord, and----"

"You don't seem in a hurry to cite it, Mr. O'Sullivan. It seems to me
dead in your teeth."

"Let us hear the headnote, Mr. O'Sullivan," said Lance, J., suavely.

Then they got to it, and Pretyman, J., and Mr. O'Sullivan had a fine
wrangle over it, worrying it up and down, one saying that this was that
case, the other that this case was not that case, because in that case
that happened and in this case this happened, and so forth. Mr.
O'Sullivan "distinguished" valiantly, and Pretyman knocked his
distinctions into a cocked hat. Lance, J., sat on smiling in silence,
till at last he asked blandly:

"If we think the cases indistinguishable, Watkins and Chichester binds
us, I take it, Mr. O'Sullivan?"

That Mr. O'Sullivan had to admit, and on that admission down he sat.

The moment had come--and Norton Ward had not. With an actual physical
effort Arthur rose to his feet; a strange voice, which did not seem to
belong to him, and sounded quite unfamiliar, said, "My lords----" He saw
Lance and Pretyman, JJ., in the shape of a grotesque, monstrous,
two-headed giant; for the latter was leaning over to the former, who sat
listening and twice nodded his head.

A slip of paper was handed up to Lance, J. He glanced at it and from it
to Arthur. Again that strange voice said, "My lords----" But Lance, J.,
interposed suavely, "I don't think we need trouble you, Mr. Lisle," and
he proceeded to say that not even Mr. O'Sullivan's ingenious arguments
could enable his brother or himself to distinguish Brown and Green from
Watkins and Chichester, and therefore the appeal must be dismissed with
costs.

"I concur," said Pretyman, J., with contemptuous curtness; in fact he
did not say "I" at all; he merely grunted out "Concur."

Of course such a thing happened often, and was quite likely to happen;
very probably Norton Ward, after glancing over his pupil's note and at
_Watkins v. Chichester_, had seen that it might happen here and had the
less scruple about entrusting his case to hands so inexperienced. None
the less, Arthur Lisle felt that the gods had played a cruel game with
him. All that agony of apprehension, all that tension of desperate
coward's courage, endured for nothing and gone for nothing! All to be
endured and achieved again--how soon? He got out of court he hardly knew
how, and made his way hurriedly across the Strand. He would have that
wig and gown off, or somebody else would be tapping him on the shoulder,
arresting him with the stern command to hold another brief!

Now, back in chambers, with the strain over, he was furious with
himself, savage and furious; that mood follows hard on the paroxysms of
the malady. He began to attribute to it all the failures of his past
life--quite unjustly, for in most cases, though it had tortured him, he
had overcome the outward manifestation of it. He could not see his life
as liveable if it were to meet him at every turn. What made him a prey
to it? Self-consciousness, silly self-consciousness, his wise elders had
always told him. But what made people self-conscious? Self-conceit, the
same wise mentors had added. His soul rose in a plain and sincere
protest, certain of its truth: "But I'm not conceited." "Yes, but" (he
imagined the mentors' argument now) "you really are; you think
everybody's looking at you and thinking of you." "Well, but so they are
when I'm on my legs speaking; and beforehand I know they're going to
be." The mentors did not seem to have anything to say to that.

In the afternoon Norton Ward came into his room to thank him for holding
the brief; he was a man of punctilious courtesy, as indeed he was master
of most of the arts and gifts that make for success in life. At little
more than thirty he had already a fine practice; he was on the edge of
"taking silk"; he had married well--the daughter of a peer, with a
substantial portion; he was a "prospective" candidate for Parliament. A
favourite of nature and of fortune indeed! Moreover he was a kindly man,
although a ruthlessly ambitious one. He and Arthur had become acquainted
merely through the accident of Arthur's renting the spare room in his
chambers, when he had been called to the Bar a twelve-month before; but
the landlord had taken to his tenant and would gladly have done him a
turn.

"I thought the case quite plain," he said; "but I'm sorry you were done
out of your argument."

"I wasn't sorry," Arthur confessed, with a frankness habitual to him.

"You weren't? Oh, I see! Nervous!" He laughed gently.

"Beyond belief. Did you used to be?"

"Just at first. I soon got over it. But they say one oughtn't to get
over it. Oh, you've heard the stories about big men, haven't you? Anyhow
some men never do. Why, I've sat behind Huntley and seen his hand
tremble like our old friend the aspen leaf--and that when he was
Attorney-General!"

"Lord!" was Arthur's despairing comment; because a malady which did not
spare an Attorney-General must surely be unconquerable by lesser folk.

"But I expect it's not quite the same sort," Norton Ward went on,
smiling. "It's rather like falling in love, I expect. A man's excited
every time he falls in love, but I don't think it's the same sort of
excitement as he suffers when he falls in love for the first time--I
mean badly."

Now the last word of this observation so struck Arthur that he forgot
all the earlier part of it--nay, he forgot his malady itself, together
with the truth or falsity of the parallel Norton Ward suggested.

"Badly? What do you mean by falling in love badly?"

"I'm not speaking with regard to morals, Lisle. I mean severely, or
utterly, or passionately, or, if you prefer, idiotically."

Arthur's lips puckered about his pipe-stem; it was a trick he had.

"I think I should call that falling in love well, not badly," he
observed gravely.

It was the gravity of the speaker, not the import of the thing spoken,
which made Norton Ward laugh again and heartily. His was one of those
temperaments--sane, practical, concrete, equable--which regard the
affairs of love as a very subsidiary matter in real life, in the real
life of any individual, that is, for of course they possess a national
and racial importance when reduced to statistics. He did not quarrel
with the literary convention which exalted love to the highest
place--the convention made good reading and produced exciting plays--but
it did not answer to real life as he knew it, to the stern yet
delightful fight which filled his days, and really filled his wife's
too, since she was a partner wherever she could be, and an eager
encourager in all things. But what of the great amorists who were also
great men and women? Well, how much of that too was play-acting--to the
public and to themselves? That was the question his mind instinctively
put about such cases.

As he looked at Arthur Lisle's slight figure and sensitive face, he felt
a compassion for him, a pitying doubt whether so frail a vessel could
live in the rough sea on which it had embarked. Characteristically this
friendly impulse expressed itself in an invitation to dinner, which was
received by Arthur with surprise, delight, and gratitude.

"Of course I will, and it really is most awfully kind of you," he said.

Norton Ward went off to a consultation with a smile of mingled pity and
amusement still on his lips.

His invitation to dinner really pleased Arthur very much, not only as a
sign of friendship, but for its own sake. He had found his early days in
London lonely--in depressing contrast with the full social life of
school and Oxford. The glowing anticipations with which imagination had
invested his coming to the metropolis had not stood the test of
experience. For some young men family connections, or notable
achievements and high reputation, provide a ready-made place in London.
Others possessed of ample means can make a pretty good one for
themselves speedily. But Arthur's university career, though creditable
and to him delightful in the highest degree from its teeming fulness of
interests, had not been conspicuous; he had no powerful friends, and he
was very poor. After his chambers were paid for, and his share in Henry,
and his lodgings in Bloomsbury Street, there was left not much margin
beyond the necessities of life--food, raiment, and tobacco. The theatre,
even the pit, could not be indulged in often. He had many solitary
evenings. When it was fine, he often walked the streets; when it was wet
he read--and often stopped reading to wish that something would happen.
His vague and restless longings took no form more definite than
that--wanting something to happen. He was in London, he was young, he
was ready--and nothing happened! Consequently an invitation to dinner
was a prize in the daily lottery of life.

When he got back to his 'diggings' in the evening, he found a letter
from home. His mother and sister had continued to live on in the old
house at Malvern Wells after the death of his father, who had enjoyed a
fairly good practice as a doctor there, but dying comparatively early
had left a slender provision for his family. Mrs. Lisle preferred to be
poor, since poor she had to be, in a place where she was already known
and respected. The school too was a great attraction; there Arthur had
been educated as a day boy, and thence had proceeded to Oxford with an
exhibition, to which he added a second from his college, thus much
easing the family finances, and indeed rendering Oxford possible. There
had been talk of his people's migrating to London and making a home for
him there, but in fact none of the three had been zealous for the
change. Mrs. Lisle was frail and clung to her accustomed hills and
breezes; Anna had her friends, her circle, her church work, her local
importance; and Arthur was at that time too full of those glowing
anticipations of London life to press the project of a family villa
somewhere in the suburbs and a season-ticket to take him out of town at
the precise hour of the evening when town began to be amusing.

For all that, he was an affectionate son and brother, and he smiled
sympathetically over Anna's home gossip. Only the postscript made him
frown rather peevishly. It ran: "Mother wants to know whether you have
called on the Godfrey Lisles _yet_!"

Mother wanted to know that in pretty nearly every one of her own and
Anna's letters; hence the italics which distinguished Anna's "yet." And
the answer still had to be in the negative. Why should he call on the
Godfrey Lisles? He knew his mother's answer; a thoroughly maternal
answer it was. Godfrey Lisle, though only a distant cousin, was the head
of the house, squire of Hilsey Manor, the old family place, and a man of
considerable wealth--altogether, in fact, the Personage of the family.
Most families have a Personage, to them very important, though varying
infinitely in significance or insignificance to the world outside. On
the whole the Lisle Personage was above the average from the outside
point of view, and Mrs. Lisle's anxiety that her son should pay him
proper attention, and reap therefrom such advantage as might accrue, was
no more than natural.

But to Arthur all the reasons why he ought to call on his cousin were
reasons why he could not do it. Just as, while Mr. O'Sullivan was
arguing, his imagination was picturing what a young fool Pretyman, J.,
would soon be thinking him, so here, whenever the question of this call
arose, the same remorselessly active faculty rehearsed for him all the
aspects in which he would appear to the Godfrey Lisles--a poor relation,
a tiresome duty, a country cousin, a raw youth--Oh, in fine and in the
end, a Bore of purest quality and great magnitude! That, and nothing
else, the Godfrey Lisles would think him.

Still, if his mother persisted, the thing might have to happen. He had a
vision of himself watching the Godfrey Lisles out of their house, and
then diving across the road to deposit furtive cards with the butler. A
funny vision, but with him quite capable of turning into reality!

His brow cleared as he took up a second letter which awaited him. He
knew the hand:

    "DEAR MR. LISLE,

      "Do drop in to-morrow evening after dinner. We shall be having
    cards and perhaps a little music. About 9.30. Do as you like about
    dressing.

                                               "Yours sincerely,
                                                      "MARIE SARRADET."

The Sarradets lived in Regent's Park--rather far from any Underground
station. "I'll dress if it's fine, and not if it's wet," thought Arthur.
The balance of profit and loss as between paying a cab-fare on the one
hand and taking the shine out of his patent leathers on the other
presented a problem of constant difficulty in connection with his
evening gaieties.



CHAPTER II

MISS SARRADET'S CIRCLE


A hundred and fifty years ago or thereabouts a certain Jacques Sarradet
had migrated from his native Lyons and opened a perfumer's shop in
Cheapside. The shop was there still, and still a Sarradet kept it, and
still it was much esteemed and frequented by City men, who bought
presents or executed commissions for their wives and daughters there. To
folk of fashion the Bond Street branch was better known, but which was
the more profitable only the master knew. Together, at all events, they
were very profitable, and the present Mr. Clement Sarradet was a warm
man--warmer than he let the world know, or even his own family, so far
as he could keep the knowledge from them. He had preserved his French
frugality, and, although his house in Regent's Park was comfortably and
hospitably conducted, the style in which he lived was a good deal less
sumptuous than English notions would have considered his income to
warrant. He had preserved too, in spite of mixed marriages in the family
history, something of his French air, of the appearance of a prosperous
_bon bourgeois_, with his short thick-set figure, his round paunch, his
stiff upstanding white hair (he had married late in life and was now
over sixty), his black brows and moustache, and his cheeks where blue
and red seemed, after a tussle, to have blended harmoniously into a
subdued purple.

Something French, though differently French, survived also in his
cherished daughter Marie, writer of the note already set forth, and
mistress of the house in Regent's Park since her mother's death five
years ago. Here it was manner rather than looks (she was a brunette, but
not markedly); she had a vivacity, a provocativeness, a coquetry, which
in less favoured races often marks a frivolous or unstable character,
but in the French finds no difficulty in blending with and adorning
solid good sense, sturdy business-like qualities, and even sometimes a
certain toughness of tissue more certainly valuable than attractive.

The evening party to which Arthur Lisle had been bidden was drawing to
its close. They had played cards; they had had some music; they had
ended up with a couple of "topping" comic songs from Joe Halliday, and
they were still laughing over these as they munched sandwiches and
sipped, according to sex, lemonade or whisky-and-soda. Mr. Sarradet
watched them benevolently, thinking them a very pleasant set of young
people, and admiring the way in which his daughter exercised a pretty
dominion over this little band of chosen friends. The two girls, Mildred
Quain and Amabel Osling, openly acknowledged her leadership; the men
deferred to her, not only as the hostess (a position which she generally
occupied), but as the centre of attraction and the deviser of pleasures,
the organiser of visits to theatres and concerts, and of their
lawn-tennis at the Acton ground in the spring and summer. But there was
a touch of shrewd anxiety in his watching. Young men were wont to aspire
to more than friendship where they found metal attractive to their eyes.
Mr. Sarradet was ambitious for his daughter.

"Next Monday, then, we'll all meet at His Majesty's," Marie
announced--or commanded. She turned to Joe Halliday. "You get the
tickets. And anybody who likes can come back here to supper afterwards."

"Splendid, dear!" said Amabel Osling, a dark girl with large eyes and a
rather intense manner; she wore what might be described as an art-frock.

"An evening out, an evening out!" chanted Joe Halliday, a big young
fellow with a shock of light brown hair and a manner of exuberant
good-nature and heartiness.

"I'm afraid I can't come," said Arthur Lisle apologetically.

"Why not, Mr. Lisle?" Marie's voice sounded certainly disappointed,
perhaps rather resentful.

"I'm dining out."

Sidney Barslow looked at him with a smile, in which Arthur detected an
ironical flavour. Between these two members of the circle there was, in
truth, no love lost. Barslow resented in Arthur a superiority of
breeding which all his own vanity could not enable him to ignore. Arthur
found this handsome fellow, with his carefully sleek hair, his bold
challenging eyes, his lady-killerish airs, in the end a 'bounder' with
only a veneer of elegance; all the same he wished he had half Barslow's
easy assurance and self-confidence.

"Oh, Learned Counsel is dining out?" In the Sarradet circle, being of
the Bar was felt to be enough of a distinction to warrant a little
chaff. "May one ask who with? The Lord Chancellor perhaps?"

They all laughed. "Presently, presently!" said Joe, patting Arthur's
head. "The lad will make his way in society."

"Don't be an ass, Joe." But Arthur liked Joe as much as he disliked
Barslow, and his protest was quite free from annoyance.

"Don't you want to tell us who it is, Mr. Lisle?" asked Amabel.

"Well, I don't suppose you'll be any the wiser; it's the man whose
chambers I share--Norton Ward."

Now, as it chanced, Mildred Quain's uncle lived in the suburban
constituency which Norton Ward was 'nursing' and was of the same
political colour as the prospective candidate. Mildred had heard the
candidate speak at the opening of a bazaar--and had seen the Honourable
Mrs. Norton Ward perform the ceremony.

"You are among the swells, Mr. Lisle!" said Mildred, and proceeded to
describe the extreme political and social eminence of the Norton Wards.
Arthur, who had gratefully accepted his invitation as a human kindness,
was amused at finding it regarded as a promotion, as a cause for
congratulation and envy; he grew afraid that his mention of it might be
taken for a boast.

"I think it was pure charity on Norton Ward's part," he laughed. "I
expect he thought I was lonely."

"I dare say. He couldn't be expected to know about the likes of us,"
said Barslow.

"Oh, shut up, Sidney!" cried Joe Halliday. "Can't Arthur go out to
dinner without your permission?"

A sudden flush spread over Barslow's face; he glared angrily at Joe. Mr.
Sarradet had taken up the evening paper, and noticed nothing; but all
the rest were conscious that a storm threatened the serenity of the
gathering. On a trivial occasion latent jealousies had leapt to light.

Marie looked round her company with a smile which included all and
betrayed no partisanship. "We'll choose another night for His
Majesty's," she said. "That's quite simple. Then we can all go. And now
shall we have one more song before we break up? One more from you, Joe!"
As they moved towards the piano, she contrived to touch the irate Mr.
Barslow lightly on the arm, to give him an arch glance, and to
murmur--very low--the word "Silly!" Mr. Barslow's brow cleared
wonderfully.

She wanted no quarrel and was confident of her ability to prevent one.
If one came, she would have to be arbiter; she would have to take sides,
and that must almost certainly mean the loss of one of her
friends--either Sidney Barslow or Arthur Lisle. She did not want to lose
either, for each had an attraction for her--an attraction not of mere
solid friendship such as bound her to Joe Halliday, but an appeal of man
to woman. Barslow's boldness, his challenge, his powerful virility drew
one side of her nature with a strong magnet; to what was 'second-class'
and tawdry in him she was not, by birth or breeding, very sensitive
herself. On the other hand she knew that Arthur Lisle was, and admired
him because he was. Nay, in a sense she was afraid of him because he
was; if she did or said anything in his eyes amiss--if she shewed too
much favour to Sidney Barslow, for instance--he might feel about her
much as he did about the man himself. She knew all about Barslow, and
all about what Barslow felt for and about herself; it was very familiar,
one might say inherited, ground. With regard to Arthur Lisle all this
was different; he was still, in spite of their apparent intimacy, _terra
incognita_. Though he constantly frequented the house, though from a
chance acquaintance of her brother's he had grown into a familiar
friend, though they were fast comrades, even though she knew that he
admired her, there was so much about him which she vaguely divined to be
there, but could not value or analyse--notions, instincts, spots of
sensitiveness, to which she remained really a stranger. How strong were
they, what was their verdict on her, what their influence on him? Would
a tide of admiration or passion sweep them all away? Or would they make
such a tide impossible, or, even if it came, dam its course with
impalpable insurmountable obstacles? In fine, would he, in spite of any
feeling for her that he might have, hold her "out of the question"?

He was the last to leave that night--as he often was, for the solitude
of his lodgings had no attraction for him--and she went with him to the
door. The stars shone now over Regent's Park, and they lingered a moment
in astronomical conversation. Then she gave him her hand, saying:

"I'm so sorry about Monday. But you must tell me all about your party
afterwards!"

"I don't suppose there'll be anything to tell. Well, Mildred Quain may
be interested, because of her uncle!"

"I shall be interested too--though not because of my uncle," she said
with a laugh and a fleet upward glance at him. "I consider I've
introduced you to London society, and I take a maternal interest in you,
Mr. Lisle."

"Why do you say 'Mr. Lisle' to me? You always say 'Joe' and 'Sidney' to
the others."

"So I do. I don't know!"

"Well, then, don't do it," laughed Arthur. "It makes me jealous, you
know."

She looked at him for a moment, not now in provocation, rather in
thought, perhaps in puzzle. "It needn't do that, anyhow," at last she
said.

"Is it then a mark of respect?" he asked banteringly, finding pleasure
in the perplexed little frown which persisted on her pretty face.

"Well, I speak of you as I feel about you, and I can't say any more,"
she answered, half laughing, but protesting too that this sort of
inquisition was unfair.

"You shall do as you like then! What you do is always right." He spoke
affectionately and held out his hand to her again.

She did not give him hers. She drew back a little, blushing. "Ah, if you
really thought that!" After a pause, she said rather sharply, "Why don't
you like Sidney Barslow?"

"I don't exactly dislike him, but sometimes he----" He waved his arm,
wanting a word.

"Grates?" she suggested briefly.

"Thank you," said Arthur with a laugh. "Just every now and then,
perhaps!"

She stood there a moment longer with an expression on her face which was
new to him there; she looked as if she wanted to say something or ask
him something, but did not dare. Though her lips smiled, there was
appeal, almost timidity, in her eyes. But she turned away with no more
than "Well, good-night."

Scores of times in the last year-and-a-half, since he had come to know
her, he had called her "a good sort" for all the kindness and friendship
she had shewn him; he had conceived for her, and her clever capable
ways, an amused admiration. After these feelings there had grown up in
him, by familiarity, a sort of mental friendship for her face and figure
too. He never reckoned her beautiful or even very pretty, but she had a
piquancy of face and a grace of figure which had gradually become very
pleasant to him. That she was physically attractive had been an
after-thought, but, when once it had come, it stayed. To-night he was
particularly conscious of it, perhaps because of the air of timidity or
self-distrust which softened her, and, softening her, flattered in him
the latent masculine pride.

Though not entirely, he had been to a large extent free from boyish
flirtations and philandering. The necessity of hard work, shyness and
fastidiousness, bodily temperament, had all combined to keep him out of
such things. One passion of a glorious Oxford summer term he had counted
the real thing and remembered even now with a tender exultation; for the
girl's heart had been touched, though not to the point of defying either
prudence or propriety--even had he ventured to urge such courses. Save
for this episode, now remote since such age quickly, he was in essence a
stranger in the field of love. He did not recognise nor analyse the
curious little stir which was in him as he walked home that night--the
feeling of a new gaiety, a new joyfulness, a sense of something
triumphant and as it were liberated and given wings. He did not even get
so far as to associate it explicitly and consciously with Marie
Sarradet, though he did know that never had she seemed a dearer friend
or a more winning girl than she had that night. He stood by the brink of
the spring of love, but had not yet drunk of it nor recognised the hand
that had led him there.

The girl had gone back to her father and mixed him his 'night-cap' of
hot toddy, as her custom was. While he sipped it, she stood beside him,
looking down into the fire, still and meditative. Presently she became
aware of his bright beady eyes set on her with a glance
half-apprehensive, half-amused; she interpreted it easily.

"A long time saying good-night, was I, Pops? And you think I've been
flirting? Well, I haven't, and I couldn't have if I'd wanted to. Mr.
Lisle never flirts. Joe pretends to sometimes, and Sidney--does. But Mr.
Lisle--never!"

"That needn't mean that a man has no serious intentions," Mr. Sarradet
opined.

She smiled. "With the English I think it does. We're not quite English,
even after all this time, are we? At least you and I aren't; Raymond is,
I think."

"Raymond's a goose, English or not," said the father impatiently. "He's
in debt again, and I have to pay! I won't leave my business to a
spendthrift."

"Oh, he'll get over it. He is silly but--only twenty-two. Pops!"

"And at twenty you've as shrewd a head as I know on your shoulders! Get
over it he must or----!" An indignant gulp of his 'night-cap' ended the
sentence.

"If you let him go in for something that he liked better than the
business----" she began.

"What business has he not to like the business! It's kept us in
comfort for a hundred and fifty years. Isn't it good enough for
him? It's been good enough for me and my forefathers. We've known
what we were; we've never pretended to be anything else. We're
honest merchants--shop-keepers. That's what we are."

"Have patience, dear, I'll talk to him," she promised gently, and
soothed the old fellow, whose bark was worse than his bite.

"Well, he'll come to me for a cheque once too often, that's all," he
grumbled, as he kissed his daughter and took himself off to bed.

"Honest merchants--shop-keepers. That's what we are." The words echoed
through Marie Sarradet's head. It was easy to smile at them, both at
their pride and at their humility, easy to call ideas of that kind quite
out of date. But what if they did represent a truth, irrelevant perhaps
nowadays for public or political purposes, but having its relevance and
importance in personal relations, in its influence on mind and feeling?
This was the direction her thoughts took, though she found no words, and
only dim ideas by which to grope. Presently the ideas grew concrete in
the word which she had herself suggested to Arthur Lisle and he had
accepted with alacrity. Sidney Barslow 'grated' on Arthur. It was not
impossible to see why, though even this she acknowledged grudgingly and
with a sense of treachery--she herself found so much to like in Sidney!
Exactly! There she seemed to lay her finger on the spot. If she liked
Sidney, and Sidney grated on Arthur Lisle so badly--the question which
she had not dared to ask at the door rose to her lips again--"Do I
grate?" And was that why Arthur Lisle never flirted? Never with her, at
least--for that was all she could really know on the subject.



CHAPTER III

IN TOUCH WITH THE LAW


Arthur Lisle arrived on the pavement in front of Norton Ward's house in
Manchester Square five minutes before the time for which he was invited,
and fifteen before that at which he would be expected to arrive.
Painfully conscious of this fact, he walked first down Duke Street, and
then back up Manchester Street, trying to look as if he were going
somewhere else. Nor did he venture to arrive at his real destination
until he had seen three vehicles deposit their occupants at the door.
Then he presented himself with the air of having hurried a little, lest
he should be late. None of this conduct struck him as at all unusual or
ridiculous; not only now but for long afterwards it was his habit--the
habit of a nervous imaginative man.

The party was not a large one--only twelve--and it was entirely legal in
character. Besides host and hostess there were three couples--two
barrister couples and one solicitor couple. One of the couples brought a
daughter, who fell to Arthur's lot. Arthur got on very well with his
girl, who was fortunately an enthusiast about lawn-tennis; she
interested without absorbing him; he was able to be polite without
ceasing to watch the two people who really arrested his attention, his
hostess and--most strangely, most wonderfully!--Mr. Justice Lance. For
at half-past eight the old Judge, by his arrival, completed the party.

A catalogue of Mrs. Norton Ward's personal attractions would sound
commonplace enough. She had small features, was fair, rather pretty,
rather pale, and rather short; there seemed no more to say. But she
possessed a gracious candour of manner, an extreme friendliness and
simplicity, a ready merriment, and together with these a complete
freedom from self-consciousness. Somehow she struck Arthur as a highly
refined, feminised, etherealised counterpart of Joe Halliday--they were
both such good human creatures, so superlatively free from 'nonsense' of
all sorts. He took to her immensely from the first moment and hoped very
much that she would talk to him a little after dinner. He felt sure that
he could get on with her; she did not alarm or puzzle him; he knew that
he had "got her right."

When Norton Ward moved, according to ritual, into his wife's vacant
place beside Mr. Justice Lance, he beckoned to Arthur to come and sit on
the Judge's other side and introduced him. "You just missed the pleasure
of hearing his maiden argument the other morning, Judge," he added,
laughing slyly at Arthur, who had not got over the surprise of
encountering Lance, J., as a private--and harmless--individual.

"Ah, I remember--a case of yours! But O'Sullivan wouldn't give Mr. Lisle
a chance!"

He spoke in the same soft, rather weary voice that he had used in court;
with his sparse white hair he looked older than when he was in his wig;
he was very carefully dressed, and his thin fine hands wore a couple of
rather ornate rings. He had keen blue eyes and a large well-shaped nose.

"I don't know that Lisle was altogether sorry! The first time! Even you
remember the feeling, I dare say?"

"Nervous? Was that it, Mr. Lisle?" He smiled faintly. "You must remember
that we're much inured to imperfection." He looked on the young man with
a pleasant indulgence, and, at the same time, a certain attention.

"You always remember our frailty, but there are others!" said the host.

"Ah, ah! I sat with my Brother Pretyman, so I did! Perhaps he does
forget sometimes that one side must be wrong. Hence the unpopularity of
litigation, by the way."

Arthur was gaining his ease; the friendliness of both his companions
helped him; towards the Judge he was particularly drawn; he felt that he
would be all right before Lance, J., in future--if only Pretyman, J.,
were elsewhere! But, alas, a question was enough to plunge him back into
trouble. Norton Ward had turned to talk to his other neighbour, but Sir
Christopher Lance spoke to him again.

"Are you any relation to Godfrey Lisle? Lisle of Hilsey, you know."

"Yes, Sir Christopher, I'm--I'm a distant cousin."

"Well, I thought you had something of the family look. I've not had the
pleasure of seeing you at his house--in town, I mean--I haven't been to
Hilsey lately."

"I--I've never been there," Arthur stammered. He was blushing very red.
Here he was, up against this terrible business of the Godfrey Lisles
again--and just as he had begun to get along so nicely!

His confusion, nay, his distress, could not escape the Judge. "I hope I
haven't made a _faux pas_, Mr. Lisle? No quarrel, or anything of that
sort, I hope?"

"No, sir, but I don't know them. I haven't called yet," Arthur blurted
out; he seemed to himself to be always having to blurt it out.

Sir Christopher's eyes twinkled, as, following the host's example, he
rose from the table.

"If I were you, I should. You don't know what you're missing."

Upstairs Mrs. Norton Ward was better than Arthur's hopes. She showed him
at once that she meant to talk to him and that she expected to like
doing it.

"I'm always friends with everybody in Frank's chambers," she said, as
she made him sit by her. "I consider them all part of the family, and
all the glory they win belongs to the family; so you must make haste and
win glory, if you can, for us!"

"I'm afraid I can't win glory," laughed Arthur. "At least it doesn't
look like it--at the Bar."

"Oh, win it anyhow--we're not particular how--law, politics, literature,
what you like! Why, Milton Longworth was Frank's pupil once--for a
month! He did no work and got tipsy, but he's a great poet now--well,
isn't he?--and we're just as proud as if he'd become Attorney-General."

"Or--well--at all events, a County Court Judge!" Arthur suggested.

"So just you do it somehow, Mr. Lisle, won't you?"

"I'll try," he promised, laughing. "The other day I heard of you in your
glory. You sounded very splendid," he added.

Then he had to tell her all about how he had heard, about Mildred Quain,
and so about the rest of the circle in Regent's Park. His shyness
vanished; he gave humorous little sketches of his friends. Of course she
knew Sarradet's shop, and was amused at this lifting of the veil which
had hidden the Sarradet private life. But being the entirely natural
creature she was, talking and thinking just as one of her class
naturally would, she could not help treating the Sarradets as something
out of her ordinary experience, as something rather funny--perhaps also
instructive--to hear about, as social phenomena to be observed and
studied. Without her own volition or consciousness her mind naturally
assumed this attitude and expressed it in her questions and comments;
neither were cruel, neither malicious, but both were absolutely from the
outside--comments and questions about a foreign country addressed to a
traveller who happened to have paid a visit there; for plainly she
assumed, again instinctively, that Arthur Lisle was no more a native of
that country than herself. Or he might almost have been an author
presenting to an alert and sympathetic reader a realistic and vivacious
picture of the life of a social class not his own, be it what is called
higher or lower, or just quite different.

Whatever the gulf, the difference, might be--broad or narrow, justly
felt or utterly exaggerated--Arthur Lisle would have been (at
twenty-four) more than human not to be pleased to find himself, for Mrs.
Norton Ward, on the same side of it as Mrs. Norton Ward. She was
evidently quite genuine in this, as she seemed to be in everything. She
was not flattering him or even putting him at his ease. She talked to
him as "one of ourselves" simply because that seemed to her what he
undoubtedly was--and what his friends undoubtedly, though of course
quite blamelessly, were not.

They were thus in the full swing of talk--Arthur doing most of it--when
the Judge came across the room and joined them. Arthur at once rose, to
make way, and the lady too seemed to treat his audience as finished,
although most graciously. But the Judge took hold of his arm and
detained him.

"Do you know, Esther," he said, "that this young man has, by right of
kinship, the _entrée_ to the Shrine? And he doesn't use it!"

"What?" she cried with an appearance of lively interest. "Oh, are you
related to the Godfreys, Mr. Lisle?"

Arthur blushed, but this time less acutely; he was getting, as the Judge
might have put it, much inured to this matter of the Godfrey Lisles.

"Don't ask him questions about it; for some reason or another he doesn't
like that."

"I don't really think my cousin Godfrey would care about----"

"Not the least the point, is it, Esther?" said the Judge with a twinkle.

"Not the least, Sir Christopher. But what's to be done if he won't go?"

"Oh, you must manage that." He squeezed Arthur's arm and then let it go.

Here, plainly, though no less graciously than from the hostess, was his
dismissal. Not knowing any of the other women, he drifted back to the
girl who was enthusiastic about lawn-tennis.

The Judge sat down and stretched out his shapely thin hands towards the
fire; his rings gleamed, and he loved the gleam of them. To wear them
had been, from his youth, one of his bits of daring; he had, as it were,
backed himself to wear them and not thereby seem himself, or let them
seem, vulgar. And he had succeeded; he had been called vain often, never
vulgar. By now his friends, old and young, would have missed them sadly.

"What do you make of that boy, Esther?" he asked.

"I like him--and I think he's being wasted," she answered promptly.

"At our honourable profession?"

"You and Frank are better judges of that."

"I don't know. Hardly tough enough, perhaps. But Huntley was just such a
man, and he got pretty well to the top. Died, though, not much past
fifty. The climb killed him, I think."

"Yes, Frank's told me about him. But I meant wasted in his own life, or
socially, or however you like to put it. He's told me about his friends,
and----"

"Well, if you like him enough, you can put that right, Esther."

"I like him, but I haven't much time for young men, Sir Christopher.
I've a husband, you may remember."

"Then turn him over where he belongs--to Bernadette."

She raised her brows a little, as she smiled at him.

"Oh, the young fellow's got to get his baptism of fire. It'll do him
good."

"How easily you Judges settle other people's fortunes!"

"In the end, his not going to his cousin's house is an absurdity."

"Well, yes, so it is, in the end, of course," she agreed. "It shall be
done, Sir Christopher."

While his fortunes were thus being settled for him--more or less, and as
the future might reveal--Arthur was walking home, well pleased with
himself. The lady's friendliness delighted him; if he did not prize the
old Judge's so highly, he had the sense to perceive that it was really a
more valuable testimonial and brought with it more substantial
encouragement. From merely being kind to him the Norton Wards had come
to like him, as it seemed, and their liking was backed by Sir
Christopher's endorsement. He did not regard these things from a worldly
point of view; he did not think of them as stepping-stones, or at any
rate only quite indirectly. They would no doubt help him to get rid of,
or at least to hold in subjection, his demon of self-distrust; but still
more would they comfort him and make him happy. The pleasure he derived
from Mrs. Norton Ward's liking, and the Judge's approval, was in quality
akin to the gratification which Marie Sarradet's bearing had given him a
few nights ago in Regent's Park; just as that had roused in him a keener
sense of Marie's attractiveness, so now he glowed with a warm
recognition of the merits of his new friends.

Walking home along Oxford Street, he had almost reached the corner of
Tottenham Court Road when his complacent musings were interrupted by the
sight of a knot of people outside the door of a public-house. It was the
sort of group not unusual at half-past eleven o'clock at night--a man, a
woman on his arm, a policeman, ten or a dozen interested spectators,
very ready with advice as Londoners are. As he drew near, he heard what
was passing, though the policeman's tall burly figure was between him
and the principal actor in the scene.

"Better do as she says and go 'ome, sir," said the policeman soothingly.

"'Ome, _Sweet_ 'Ome!" murmured somebody in tones of fond reminiscence.

"Yes, do now. You don't really want it, you know you don't," urged the
lady in her turn.

"Whether I want it or not----"

At the sound of this last voice Arthur started into quick attention and
came to a halt. He recognised the full tones, now somewhat thickened,
with their faint but unmistakable suggestion of the Cockney twang.

"Whether I want it or not----" The man spoke slowly, with an effort
after distinctness which was obvious but not unsuccessful--"I've a right
to have it. He's bound to serve the public. I'm--I'm member of the
public."

"'Ad enough for two members, _I_ should sye," came in comment from the
fringe of the group.

"That's it! Go 'ome now," the policeman suggested again, infinitely
patient and persuasive.

The man made a sudden move towards the door of the public-house where an
official, vulgarly known as the 'chucker out,' stood smiling on the
threshold.

"No, sir, you _don't_!" said the policeman, suave but immensely firm,
laying a hand on his arm.

"The officer's quite right. Do come along," again urged the lady.

But the movement towards the public-house door, which revealed to Arthur
the face of the obstinate lingerer, showed him to the lingerer
also--showed Arthur in his evening uniform of tall hat, white scarf, and
silk-faced coat to Sidney Barslow in his 'bowler' hat of rakish cut, and
his sporting fawn-coloured coat, with the big flower in his buttonhole
and his stick with a huge silver knob. The stick shot out--vaguely in
Arthur's direction.

"I'm a gentleman, and, what's more, I can prove it. Ask that
gentleman--my friend there----"

Arthur's face was a little flushed. His mind was full of those terrible
quick visions of his--a scuffle on the pavement, going bail for Sidney
Barslow, giving evidence at the Police Court. "A friend of the prisoner,
Mr. Arthur Lisle, Barrister, of Garden Court, Middle Temple"--visions
most terrible! But he stood his ground, saying nothing, not moving a
limb, and meeting Barslow's look full in the eyes. All the rest were
staring at him now. If he remained as he was they would take it as a
denial of Barslow's claim to acquaintance. Could he deny it if Barslow
challenged him? He answered--No.

But some change of mood came over Sidney Barslow's clouded mind. He let
his stick fall back to his side again, and with an angry jerk of his
head said:

"Oh, damn it, all right, I'm going! I--I was only pulling your leg."

"That's right now!" applauded the policeman. "You'd better take 'im in a
taxi, miss."

"And put a ticket on 'im, in case 'e falls out, miss," some friendly
adviser added.

Arthur did not wait to see the policeman's excellent suggestion carried
into effect. The moment that Sidney Barslow's eyes were off him, he
turned quickly up a by-street, and took a roundabout way home.

He had much to be thankful for. The terrible visions were dissipated.
And--he had not run away. Oh, how he had wanted to run away from the
danger of being mixed up in that dirty job. He thanked heaven that he
had stood his ground and looked Barslow in the face.

But what about the next time they had to look one another in the
face--at the Sarradets' in Regent's Park?



CHAPTER IV

A GRATEFUL FRIEND


Marie's remonstrance with her brother was not ill-received--Raymond was
too amiable for that--but it was quite unsuccessful. Just emerged from
an exhaustive business training on the latest lines at home and abroad,
able (as he pointed out in mingled pride and ruefulness) to correspond
about perfumes in French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and to talk
about them in three of those languages, he declared openly not for a
lifetime of leisure but for an hedonistic interval. Further, he favoured
a little scattering of money after so much amassing.

"If Pops," he observed, "would only go back to his Balzac, he would see
how much harm and sorrow this perpetual money-grubbing causes among the
business classes of our beloved France. In England a more liberal spirit
prevails, and after a hundred and fifty years we ought to be able to
catch it. In fact I have caught it, Marie."

"You have; and you'll catch something else--from Pops--if you don't look
out," said Marie, who could not help smiling at the trim, spry, gay
little fellow. Like herself, he was dark and lively, but of the two she
was the manager, the man of business.

"Besides it does the house good. 'Who's that?' they ask. 'Young
Sarradet.' 'What, the scent and soap people?' 'The same.' 'Dashed fine
business that!'" He enacted the dialogue with dramatic talent. "As an
advertisement I'm worth all my debts, dear sister."

Marie was too much amused to press her point further. "You rather remind
me of Bob Sawyer," she remarked. "But, anyhow, be here oftener in the
evenings, if you can. That'll go a long way towards pacifying Pops. When
you're away, he sits thinking of the money you're spending. Besides, he
does like to have you here, you know."

"You tell me when Amabel Osling is coming, and I'll be here."

"I'm glad you like Amabel. She's pretty, isn't she?"

"She's all right. Otherwise I didn't think it was very lively."

"N-no. It was hardly one of our best evenings," Marie admitted
reluctantly.

It hadn't been--that first meeting of her circle after Arthur Lisle's
dinner party. They had all been there, including Raymond, whose
exchanges of wit and chaff with Joe Halliday were generally of
themselves enough to make the evening a success. It had not been a
success--at least from the moment of Arthur's arrival. Mildred Quain had
started off about the party at once; her curiosity concerning the Norton
Wards was insatiable--she seemed to be working up a regular cult of
them. Marie herself had been benevolently inquisitive too, hoping to
hear that Arthur had had a grand time and made a great impression. But
the topic had seemed distasteful to Arthur, he tried to get away from it
directly; when the persevering Mildred dragged him back, his replies
grew short and his manner reserved; he seemed ill at ease. As for Sidney
Barslow, as soon as ever Arthur and his party came on the scene, he
turned sulky--indecently sulky. It was painful as well as absurd, and it
got worse when Joe Halliday, trying (in justice let it be said) to
lighten the atmosphere by jocularity, suggested, "And, after it all, I
suppose some beautiful lady took you to your humble home in her
six-cylinder car?" Arthur answered dryly, with a pointed ignoring of the
joke, "I walked home by Oxford Street." Joe, still persevering, asked,
"No romantic adventures on the way?" "Nothing out of the common," Arthur
replied in a cool hard voice which was very rare in his mouth, but
meant, Marie knew, serious displeasure. In fact she was just going to
make some laughing apology for the catechism through which he had been
put when Sidney Barslow, who had been glowering worse and worse every
minute, suddenly broke out:

"There's an end of the thing, at all events, at last!" And he looked at
Arthur, as it seemed to her, with a curious mixture of anger and fear, a
sort of snarling defiance.

"It was not I who introduced the subject or was responsible for its
continuance," said Arthur, in the iciest of all his cool voices. "That
you must do me the justice to admit, Barslow."

Then an awful pause--even Joe gravelled for a joke--and the most obvious
clumsy resort to "a little more music"! The strains failed of soothing
effect. On the one side a careful but disdainful courtesy, on the other
a surly defiance--they persisted all the evening, making everybody
uncomfortable and (as Marie shrewdly guessed) inquisitive. This was
something much worse, much more pronounced, than mere 'grating.' There
was, on Sidney's side at least, an actual enmity; and Arthur, noting it,
treated it with contemptuous indifference.

"Have you had a row with Sidney about anything?" she managed to whisper
to Arthur.

"No."

"Have you said anything to annoy him, do you think?"

He looked straight into her eyes. "I haven't spoken to him since we were
last here."

Sidney she did not venture to approach in confidence; he was altogether
too dangerous that night. She did not know the occasion which had fanned
a smouldering hostility into flame, which had changed a mere 'grating'
of the one on the other, an uncongeniality, into feelings much stronger
and more positive. Even had she known it, perhaps she was not well
enough versed in the standards and the moods of men to understand all
that it carried with it. Sidney Barslow was not particularly ashamed of
what had happened to him in itself: in suitable company he would have
found it a story he could tell and be sure of a humorous sympathy; there
was nothing to be remorseful or miserable about. As long as a man did
his work and earned his 'screw' (and Sidney held a good position in a
wholesale linen-merchant's business and was doing well) he was entitled
to his amusements--if you like, his dissipations--while he was young at
all events. If indiscretions marked them, if one sometimes tumbled over
the line, that was in the nature of the case. He would not have minded
an encounter with Joe Halliday outside that public-house in the
least--no, nor even with young Raymond Sarradet, Marie's brother though
he was. Nay, he would not much have minded being seen even by Arthur
Lisle himself; for if Arthur had been shocked, Sidney would, in all
sincerity, have dubbed him a milksop; the man who would be shocked at a
thing like that was certainly a milksop. He was not even afraid of
Arthur's betraying him to Marie--not because he thought his enemy above
that, but because he had an easy confidence that he could put the matter
right with Marie, and a strong doubt whether women objected to that sort
of thing so much as they were in the habit of pretending; in their
hearts they like a man to be a man, Sidney would have told himself for
comfort.

The poison lay elsewhere. Under the influence of his liquor and the
stress of his plight--wanting to prove to the policeman, to the
'chucker-out,' to the interested bystanders, that he was not a common
tap-room frequenter but a 'gentleman'--he had let himself appeal for his
warrant of gentility to the man whom he had derided for thinking himself
so much (if you please!) a gentleman. Arthur Lisle's acquaintance was to
prove to bystanders, policeman, and chucker-out, that he, Sidney
Barslow, though drunk and in queer company, was yet a gentleman! And how
had the appeal been received? He could not charge Arthur with cutting
him, or leaving him in the lurch. He hated far worse the look he had
seen in his enemy's eyes as they gazed steadfastly into his--the
fastidious repulsion and the high contempt. True, on the sight of them
he had withdrawn his appeal; he had preferred to accept defeat and
humiliation at the hands of chucker-out and constable; but the fact of
the appeal having been made remained with all its damning admission of
inferiority. And that look of contempt he had seen again when Arthur
Lisle, in answer to Joe Halliday's clumsy jokes, replied in his cool
proud voice that, as he walked home by Oxford Street, he had met with
"nothing out of the common." He had met a common fellow with a common
woman, and, as was common, the common fellow was drunk. With all the
sharpness wherewith humiliation pricks a man, with all the keenness
wherewith hatred can read the mind of an enemy, he pointed for himself
the meaning of Arthur's careless-sounding words.

He was in a rage, not only with Arthur Lisle, but with himself and his
luck--which had indeed been somewhat perverse. Lashing himself with
these various irritants, he soon produced another sore spot--Marie
Sarradet's behaviour. He was an older friend than Arthur; she had, he
declared, backed Arthur up in his airy insolence; he swore to himself
that he had seen her smile at it. At any rate she had not backed him up;
to a man in a rage, or several rages, it was enough--more than enough
for a man of his temper, to whom the desire for a woman was the desire
for a mastery over her. And in the end he could not believe that that
fragile whipper-snapper with his hoity-toity effeminate ways (the point
of view is Sidney's) could be weighed in the balance against his own
manly handsomeness, his dashing gallantry; why, he knew that he was a
conqueror with women--knew it by experience!

Marie and Raymond, Amabel Osling and himself had made up a four to play
lawn-tennis on the hard courts at Acton. They had enjoyed their game and
their tea. He and Marie had won after a close match, and were in a good
humour with themselves. He was forgetting his grievance against her. She
liked him playing games; he was a finely built fellow and looked really
splendid in his white flannels; if he ordered her about the court like a
master, it was a legitimate sway; he knew the game and played well.
When, after tea, the other two sauntered off--for an open and unashamed
flirtation--Marie had never felt more kindly towards him; she had really
forgiven the bearishness of his behaviour, and was prepared to tell him
so after a little lecture, which, by the way, she quite looked forward
to giving; for she too was fond of domination. She started leading up to
the lecture.

"You seem to have found something since we last met, Sidney. I'm glad of
it."

"What do you mean?" he asked carelessly, as he filled his pipe. He did
not see her drift.

"Hadn't you mislaid something the other night?" Her dark eyes were
dancing with mockery, and her lips twitched.

Now he looked at her suspiciously. "I don't understand."

"You might. I'm referring to your temper."

"I'm not aware that I said anything rude to you. If I did, I apologise."

"I'm not speaking of myself, but of my friends--my guests."

He leant his arm on the table which stood between them. "Meaning Mr.
Arthur Lisle?"

"The smoke of your pipe blows in my face when you lean forward like
that."

"Sorry!" He laid his pipe down beside him. "Well, the fact is, I'm about
fed up with Lisle."

And Arthur Lisle was much in the same case--allowing for the difference
of expression--as to Sidney! Marie smiled, but her brow wrinkled. "Sorry
you don't like him, but it costs nothing to be polite."

"Well, all I can say is that I shall be very much obliged if you'll ask
us on different evenings."

"That's assuming that I'm going to ask you on any evenings at all."

She thought this smart flick of her whip would bring him to reason.

"Oh, perhaps Lisle's going to be there every evening?"

"Any evening that he likes, Pops and I will be very pleased to see
him--with or without an invitation." She relented a little; he looked
angry and obstinate, but he looked handsome too. "You too, if you won't
be silly. Why do you dislike him so much?"

He could not give her the whole reason; he gave what he could. "I see
his game. He's always trying to come the swell over me and the rest of
us."

"I'm sure he doesn't mean to; it's just----"

"His naturally aristocratic manner?" he sneered.

Marie sat up straight and looked composedly at him. By now she was
angry--and she meant to hurt. "That's exactly it, Sidney," she said,
"and it's a pity everybody hasn't got it."

She did hurt sorely. He had no code to keep him from hitting back, and
his wrath was fierce. "Where did you learn so much about aristocratic
manners? Behind the counter?"

She flushed hotly; tears came in her eyes. He saw what he had done, and
was touched to a sudden remorse.

"Oh, I say, Marie, I didn't mean----!"

"I shan't forget that," she said. "Never!"

He shrugged his shoulders and stuck his pipe back in his mouth. He was
ashamed, but obstinate still. "You brought it on yourself," he grumbled.

"Yes, I forgot that I wasn't talking to a gentleman."

He made one more effort after reconciliation. "Look here, Marie, you
know what I think of you----"

"Yes, I do--you've just told me."

"Damnation!" he muttered, pulling at his pipe. Marie, looking carefully
past him, began to put on her gloves. Thus Amabel and Raymond found
them--with things obviously very wrong. Amabel diagnosed an offer and a
refusal, but Raymond thought there must be even more behind his sister's
stormy brow and clouded eyes. The journey back was not cheerful.

Marie was indeed cut to the quick. Even to herself it was strange how
deeply she was wounded. The Sarradets had never been ashamed of the
shop; rather they had taken an honourable pride in it and in the growth
of its fortunes from generation to generation. Yet Sidney Barslow's gibe
about the counter was to her now unforgivable. It brought into coarse
and vivid relief her secret doubts and fears. It made her ask whether
she, having made a friend of the man who had used a taunt like that,
must not have something about her to justify it. It set her on fire to
put an utter end to her friendship and association with Sidney
Barslow--and thereby to prove to herself that, whatever her manners
might be they were at least too good for such company as his.

Hitherto pretty equally balanced between the two young men, or at all
events wistfully anxious that friendship with Arthur should not make
impossible her old and pleasant comradeship with Sidney--in whom she
found so much that she liked--she became now Arthur's furious partisan.
With him and his cause she identified herself. She declared that it was
purely for his sake, and not at all in the interest of her own
domination and authority, that she had rebuked Sidney, and for his sake
solely that she had suffered insult. By a natural turn of feeling she
asked in her heart for a reward from him, a recognition of her
championship, gratitude to her for having preferred him to his would-be
rival; if he were not at least a little pleased and proud, she would
feel disappointment and humiliation.

But he would be. And why? Because that was the right thing for him to
be, and now in her eyes, at this moment, he could do no wrong. Sidney
was all wrong, therefore Arthur must be all right. She could not bring
herself to doubt it. And, being all right, he must do and feel all the
right things. So he would--when he knew what she had done and suffered
for him. Her heart cried out that somehow (as delicately as possible, of
course) he must be made to know, to know the full extent of her service
and her sacrifice; he must know the insult she had received; and he must
consider it as great and wanton an insult as she did.

So her feelings formulated their claim upon him, with an instinctive
cunning. It was a claim to which no chivalrous-minded man could be
insensible; it was one that would appeal with commanding force to Arthur
Lisle's impulsive generosity.

"For you I have quarrelled with my old friend--for you I have endured
insult." What could he answer save that in him she should find a better
friend, that his appreciation should efface the insult?

"Don't be afraid to come. There will be nobody here that you don't like
this time." With these words her next invitation to Arthur Lisle ended.

He read them with a quick grasp of her meaning--of the essential part of
it at least. She was on his side! He was glad. Neither for his own sake,
nor for the sake of the idea that he had of her, would he easily have
endured that she should be on Sidney Barslow's side and against him.
Although she did not know what he knew, and had not seen what he had
seen, her instincts and her taste were right! He looked forward eagerly
to letting her perceive, in some way or other, that he recognised this,
to congratulating her somehow on it, to sealing the pact of a natural
alliance between them. How he would do this, or how far he might seem to
go in the course of doing it, or what further implications might be
involved in such a bond between man and maid, his young blood and his
generous impulses did not pause to ask. It was the thing to do--and he
wanted to do it.



CHAPTER V

THE TENDER DIPLOMATIST


The coming of the Easter legal vacation set Arthur free for the time
from professional hopes and fears. He was due on a visit to his mother
and sister at Malvern, but excused himself at the last moment. It was
not in him to leave London. The Temple indeed he forsook, but he abode
in his lodgings and spent his spare time with the Sarradets. Amabel
Osling was staying with them, and Raymond was now in close attendance on
her. There were two young couples, then, ready for lawn-tennis, for
theatres, for concerts, or any other diversion. Yet pleasantest of all
were the walks in Regent's Park on the offdays, when nothing special had
been arranged, but Arthur would happen to stroll up to the Broad Walk,
and Marie would chance to be giving her dog a run. Then they would
saunter about together, or sit on a seat in the spring sunshine, talking
of all manner of things--well, except of the particular form which
Sidney Barslow's rudeness had taken. Somehow, in the end, Marie never
could bring herself to tell him that and ask him to be indignant about
it. She left the enormity vague and undefined; it was really none the
less effective left like that, just as provocative of reprobation for
the sinner and sympathy for the ill-used friend. And it was safer to
leave it like that; she could never rid herself of the fear that the
actual thing, if revealed, might appear to Arthur rude indeed--rough,
ill-mannered, as much of all this as one could conceive--but not so
overwhelmingly absurd and monstrous as it ought to seem, as the demands
of her uneasy heart required that he should find it.

For she could hardly believe in what looked now like coming to pass. She
had known him for a long time--more than a year--as a good friend but
rather a reserved one; cordial and kind, but keeping always a certain
distance, actually, if without intention, maintaining a barrier round
his inner self, refusing to abandon the protective aloofness of a proud
and sensitive nature. Was he changing from this to the opposite
extreme--to that most open, intimate, exposed, and unprotected creature,
a lover? Well as she had known him, she had not thought of him as that.
But her mind fastened on the idea eagerly; it appealed to more than one
side of her nature.

"As a rule I just can't talk about myself," he said once. "How is it
that I can to you?"

"It's because I love you, and in your heart you know it," she wanted to
say, but she answered, laughing, "I've always been rather a good
listener."

"If you tell most people a single thing about yourself, they bombard you
with a dozen silly questions. Now you never do that."

"That's because I'm afraid of you, if you only knew it," she wanted to
say, but she answered merrily, "I find out more by my way in the end,
don't I?"

For every step forward his feelings had taken, hers had taken ten. She
knew it and was not ashamed; she gloried in it. From the moment she had
come over to his side, making herself his champion and asking for his
gratitude in return, her heart had brooked no compromise. Hers was a
mind quick of decision, prompt in action. To romance she brought the
qualities of business. A swift rush of feeling had carried her to the
goal; she watched him now following in her steps, and was tremulously
careful not to anticipate by an iota the stages he had yet to pass. She
marvelled that she had not loved him from the beginning, and almost
convinced herself that she had. She could scarcely persuade herself to
accept even now the signs of his nascent love.

Thus in truth, though all unknown to him, she did the wooing. Her answer
was ready before his question. She watched and waited with a passivity
that was to a man of his disposition her best lure. Some of this fine
caution she learnt from her observation of him, and some of it from
Sidney Barslow's taunt. She subdued her natural coquetry lest, even in
eyes the most unfriendly and malicious, it should seem forwardness. She
gave always just a little, little less than his words and eyes asked.
Schooling herself after this fashion, modelling her behaviour to what
she conceived to be his ideals, she sought to win him. If she succeeded
she would achieve not only her heart's desire, but a great triumph over
those disturbing doubts. His approval would, she felt, set on her the
stamp that she longed to wear--the social diploma to which she aspired.
A fine slap in the face for Sidney Barslow it would be, for instance!

Arthur's generous impulse, the desire to show himself a warm and
grateful friend to his champion, was merged now in a great and absorbing
contentment. It prevented him from considering how an engagement and a
marriage would consort with his prospects and his career; it narrowed
his vision of his own life and mind to the present moment. He had got
what he had been pining for--that intimate and (so to say) ministering
sympathy which a man perhaps can get, and certainly can ask, from a
woman only. That had been a need so great that its satisfaction seemed
to satisfy all the needs of his being, and deluded him into thinking
that all his instincts and aspirations asked no more than this, that his
keen appetite for beauty could be fed on her vivacious prettiness, that
all his impulses, wayward, fanciful, sometimes extravagant, could be
lulled to sleep by the spell of her shrewd and pleasant common sense. It
made him forget that the prime function of a lover and his supreme
expression lie in giving, and that the woman truly makes the man in love
with her when she makes him give all he has and think that he is giving
brass for gold. But if this it is to be a lover, Arthur Lisle was no
lover now; if this it is to be a lover, Marie Sarradet had never seen
and scarce imagined one.

But the spring sunshine, the impulses of youth, the ministering sympathy
blinded his eyes. He seemed to have all because he liked so much that
which he had. Gaily and happily, with that fine gallantry which she so
admired, on he came, step by step. She grew secure.

By now father and brother were on the alert. They had canvassed the
matter in all its bearings. Raymond was Arthur's enthusiastic adherent.
Old Mr. Sarradet affected reserve and doubt; he complained that the
suitor was far from rich. But in his heart he was delighted at the
prospect. He admired Arthur, he believed in his abilities, he thought
the marriage would be a "step up" for his darling daughter--and perhaps
for her family. Above all he saw the time draw near when he should enjoy
the greatest pleasure that he had to look forward to in life--surprising
Marie by the handsome dimensions of her dowry. He hugged the thought of
it; he loved her, and he knew she was a good woman of business. It would
be a great moment when she saw in him, at one and the same moment, a
more munificent father and a cleverer man of business than ever she had
thought. Incidentally the disclosure might cause Master Raymond to
realise what very considerable things he stood to lose if he did not
mind what he was about. The old fellow had no real thought of
disinheriting his son, but he loved the power his money gave him, and
would now and again flourish the sword that he would have been most loth
to use.

So all things promised bravely--Marie, the tender diplomatist, held a
winning hand and was playing it well. Leave her to the skill that her
heart taught her, and the game was won!

Among the accidents of life are relatives appurtenant to but ordinarily
outside of the family circle. Mr. Sarradet owned one--an elder
sister--in his eyes, by early memory and tradition, exceptionally
endowed with the knowledge of the way to look after girls, and the
proper things to be done in the interest of their dignity and virtue.
She came up from Manchester, where she lived, to have her teeth seen
to--not that there were not excellent dentists in Manchester, but her
father had always gone to Mr. Mandells of Seymour Street and she had a
fancy to go to Mr. Mandells's son (of Seymour Street still)--and stayed
with her brother from Friday to Tuesday. Having seen what she saw, and
had her doubts, and come to her own conclusions, she sat up late on
Monday night, sat up till Arthur Lisle had departed and Marie was
between the sheets, and even Raymond had yawned himself on to bed; and
then she said abruptly to her brother Mr. Sarradet:

"It's a settled thing, I suppose, though it's not announced yet?"

Mr. Sarradet passed his hand over his hair-brush of a head, and pulled
his moustache perplexedly. "I suppose it is," he answered lamely, quite
conscious that Mrs. Veltheim possessed knowledge and commanded
deference, but conscious also that, up to now, matters had gone on very
well without her.

"You suppose!" said the lady. The two words carried home to a conscience
hitherto guiltily easy. But Mrs. Veltheim left nothing to chance; she
rammed the charge in. "If dear Marie had a mother!"

She alarmed the cautious old _bourgeois_--to the point of protesting
that he felt no alarm whatever.

"He's a gentleman." He took a sip at his toddy. "No girl in the world
has more self-respect." Another sip ended in "Perfect confidence!"
vaguely murmured.

"Young men are young men."

"Not at all! I don't believe it of him for a minute." His protest was
against the insinuation which even an identical proposition may carry.

"I rescued my Harriet just in time!"

"Damn your Harriet, and I wish you'd go back to Manchester!" It was not
what he said to his respected sister. "Cases differ," was the more
parliamentary form his answer took.

But the seed was sown before Mrs. Veltheim did go back to Manchester. It
germinated in the cautious suspicious soul of the old shopkeeper, so
trustful of a man's credit till the breath of a suspicion blew upon it,
then so acute to note every eddying current of the air. He grew minded
to confront Arthur Lisle with the attitude of Mrs. Veltheim--a lady for
whom Arthur, on the strength of one evening's acquaintance, had
conceived a most profound aversion.

She was a fat woman--broad, heavy, fair and florid, married to an
exceedingly prosperous German. To Mr. Sarradet her opinion was, like her
person, weighty; not always agreeable, but never unimportant. To Arthur
she was already--before ever he had conceived of her as having or being
entitled to have an opinion about him, his sentiments, or his
intentions--an appreciable drawback, though not a serious obstacle, to
the alliance which he was contemplating. He was, in fine, extremely glad
that she and her husband, whom he defined and incarnated with all his
imagination's power of vividness, lived in Manchester. If they too had
dwelt in Regent's Park, it would not have been the same place to him.
Collateral liabilities would have lurked round every corner.

By now, and notwithstanding a transitory disturbance created by the
revelation of Mrs. Veltheim, Arthur's mind had subconsciously chosen its
course; but emotionally he was not quite ready. His feelings waited for
a spark to set them in a blaze--such a spark as might come any moment
when he was with Marie, some special note of appeal sounded by her, some
quick intuition of him or his mood, raising his admiration and
gratitude, even some especially pretty aspect of her face suddenly
striking on his sense of beauty. Any one of these would serve, but one
of them was needed to change his present contentment into an impulse
towards something conceived as yet more perfect. The tender shrewd
diplomatist divined pretty well how things stood; she would not hurry or
strive, that way danger lay; she waited, securely now and serenely, for
the divine chance, the happy coincidence of opportunity and impulse. It
was bound to come, and to come now speedily. Alas, she did not know that
clumsy hands had been meddling with her delicate edifice!

Two days after Mrs. Veltheim had gone back to Manchester, old Sarradet
left his place of business early, travelled by omnibus from Cheapside to
the corner of Bloomsbury Street, and presented himself at the door of
Arthur's lodgings. Arthur was at home; Marie had told him that she would
not be able to meet him in Regent's Park that afternoon, as some
shopping business called her elsewhere, and he was lounging through the
hours, not (as it happened, and it does happen sometimes even when a man
is in love) thinking about her much, but rather about that problem of
his legal career which the waning of the vacation brought again to his
mind. The appearance of Mr. Sarradet--who had never before honoured him
with a visit--came as something of a surprise.

"As I was passing your corner, I thought I'd look in and see if you were
coming up to our place this afternoon," Mr. Sarradet explained.
"Because, if so, we might walk together."

Arthur said that he understood that Marie would be out, and therefore
had not proposed to pay his friends a visit that day.

"Out, is she? Ah, yes!" He smiled knowingly. "You know what she's doing
better than her father does!" He was walking about the little room,
looking at Arthur's pictures, photographs, and other small possessions.
"Well, you'll be coming again soon, I expect?"

"I expect so, if you'll have me," said Arthur, smiling.

Mr. Sarradet took up a photograph. "That's a nice face!"

"It's my mother, Mr. Sarradet."

"Your mother, is it? Ah, well now! And she lives at----? Let me see! You
did mention it."

"At Malvern--she and my sister."

"Your sister? Ah, yes! Unmarried, isn't she? Have you no other brothers
or sisters?"

Under these questions--and more followed, eliciting a good deal of
information about his family and its circumstances--Arthur's face
gradually assumed its distinctively patient expression. The patience was
very closely akin to endurance--in fact, to boredom. Why did the fussy
old fellow worry him like that? Instinctively he hardened himself
against Sarradet--against Sarradet's implied assertion of a right to ask
him all these questions. Perhaps he knew that this resentment was not
very reasonable. He felt it, none the less. To put him in any way to the
question, to a test or a trial, was so entirely contrary to what had
been Marie's way.

"And you're practising at the Bar, Mr. Lisle, eh?"

The infusion of obstinacy in the patience grew stronger. "I'm what is
commonly called a briefless barrister."

Now old Sarradet knew that--and did not mind it under the circumstances.
But the thought of that dowry was too much for him. He could not resist
a little flourish. "Briefless! Oh, come, don't say that!" He pursed up
his lips and shook his head humorously.

"It's unfortunately the case, Mr. Sarradet. I hope it won't always be
so, of course."

"We must hope that, we must all hope that!" said Sarradet, rubbing his
hands slowly together. "And in any case we none of us know what fortune
has in store for us, do we?" He smiled, looking at Arthur with an
interrogative air. He thought he had given the young man a lead, a good
cue on which to speak. Arthur said nothing, and Sarradet's smile
gradually vanished, being replaced by a look of some perplexity. He did
not know how to go on; Mrs. Veltheim had told him what to do but had not
told him how to do it. There was an awkward silence. Sarradet had taken
up his hat and stood in the middle of the room, fingering it and eyeing
Arthur with an air that seemed almost furtive. "Well, I must be going,"
he said at last.

Arthur moved towards the door of the room and opened it. Sarradet
stepped into the hall, saying, "Perhaps you'll be looking in on us
to-night?"

"Thanks awfully, but I've arranged to go to the theatre with a man
to-night."

"To-morrow then?" Sarradet's tone sounded persistent.

Arthur had meant to look in to-morrow. It had been a pleasant prospect.
Why was the old fellow making an obligation, a duty, of it?

"Yes, I'll come to-morrow," he said, rather curtly.

"Ah, that's right, that's right!" Arthur had opened the hall door by
now. Sarradet took his hand and pressed it hard. "That'll be good news
for Marie, won't it?" He had at last got a little nearer to what Mrs.
Veltheim wanted.

"I'm very much flattered by your putting it like that." Arthur was still
distant and defensive.

But Sarradet was desperate now--he must get out what he wanted to say
before the door was shut on him. "Oh, nonsense! Come, Mr. Lisle, as man
to man, we understand one another?"

The question was out at last. If he had put it a quarter of an hour
earlier, Arthur Lisle would have answered it to his satisfaction,
however little he relished its being put. But now it was not fated to
have an answer. For on the very moment of its being put, there came
interruption in a form which made the continuance of this momentous
conversation impossible.

A barouche with a pair of fine bay horses, a barouche on Cee-springs,
sumptuously appointed, clattered up the street and to the common
amazement of the two men stopped at the door. The footman sprang down
from the box and, touching his hat to a lady who occupied the carriage,
waited for her instructions. But she paid no heed to him. She leant over
the side of the carriage and looked at the two men for a moment.
Sarradet took off his hat. Arthur Lisle just stared at the vision, at
the entire vision, the lady, the carriage, the footman--the whole of it.

The lady's face broke into a bright smile of recognition.

"I came to call on Mr. Arthur Lisle. You must be Arthur, aren't you?"
she said.

No, there was no possibility of Mr. Sarradet's getting his question
answered now.



CHAPTER VI

A TIMELY DISCOVERY


When Arthur ran down the step and across the pavement, to take the hand
which his visitor held out to him over the carriage door, Mr. Sarradet
bowed politely, put his hat on, and turned on his heel. He was consumed
with curiosity, but he had no excuse for lingering. He walked up
Bloomsbury Street and along the east side of Bedford Square. But then,
instead of pursuing a north-westerly course towards his home, he turned
sharply to the right and, slackening his pace, strolled along Montague
Place in the direction of Russell Square. He went about twenty yards,
then turned, strolled back to the corner of Bedford Square and peered
round it. He repeated these movements three or four times, very slowly;
they consumed perhaps six or seven minutes. His last inspection showed
the carriage still at the door, though neither the lady nor Arthur was
visible. Evidently she was paying a call, as she had intimated; no
telling how long it might last! "Well, I must go home," thought Mr.
Sarradet, as he strolled slowly towards the east once more. He turned
and walked briskly back. Just as he reached again the corner from which
he had taken his observation, he made a sudden backward jump. He was
afraid that he was caught! For the barouche dashed by him at a rapid
trot, and in it sat the lady and Arthur Lisle. They did not see him;
their heads were turned towards one another; they appeared to be
engrossed in a lively conversation. The carriage turned westward, across
Bedford Square; Sarradet watched it till it disappeared round the corner
into Tottenham Court Road.

"That's quick work!" thought Mr. Sarradet; and in truth, if (as the
visitor's words implied) she had never seen Arthur Lisle before, the
acquaintance was going forward apace. Who could she be? He was vaguely
troubled that Arthur Lisle should have--or make--a friend like that. The
barouche somehow depressed him; perhaps it put him a little out of
conceit with the dimensions of that precious dowry; it looked so rich.
And then there had been the reserve, the distance, in Arthur's manner,
his refusal to follow up leads and to take cues, and the final fact that
the important question had (even though it were by accident) gone
unanswered. All these things worked together to dash Mr. Sarradet's
spirits.

He told Marie about his visit to Arthur. She was rather surprised at a
sudden fancy like that (for so he represented it) taking hold of him,
but her suspicions were not roused. When he went on to describe the
arrival of the other visitor she listened with natural and eager
interest. But the old fellow, full of his perplexities, made a false
step.

"She was in the house nearly ten minutes, and then--what do you think,
Marie?--they drove away together!"

"In the house ten minutes? Where were you all that time?"

"I was--er--strolling along."

"You must have strolled pretty slowly. Where did they overtake you,
Pops?"

He grew rather red. "I can't remember exactly----" he began lamely.

She knew him so well; his confused manner, telling that he had something
to conceal, could not escape her notice.

"I believe you waited round the corner to see what happened! Why did you
spy on him like that?"

"I don't see any particular harm in being a little curious about----"

But she interrupted him. His spying after the carriage threw suspicion
on his motives for his visit too. "Didn't you really go and see Mr.
Lisle about anything in particular?"

"Anything in particular, my dear? What do you mean? I asked him to drop
in to-morrow----"

"Did you talk about me?"

"Oh, well, you were mentioned, of course."

She leant her arm on the mantelpiece and looked down at him gravely. He
read a reproachful question in her glance, and fidgeted under it. "Have
you been meddling?" was what her gravely enquiring eyes asked. "Meddling
as well as spying, Pops?"

He was roused to defend himself. "You've got no mother, Marie, and----"

"Ah!" she murmured, as a quick flash of enlightenment came. That was
Aunt Louisa's phrase! She saw where it came from in a minute; it had
always supplied Mrs. Veltheim with a much desired excuse for
interfering. She went on in a hard voice--she was very angry--"Did you
ask Mr. Lisle his intentions?"

"Of course not. I--I only took the opportunity of finding out something
about his people, and--and so on. Really, I think you're very
unreasonable, Marie, to object----" and he wandered or maundered on
about his paternal rights and duties.

She let him go on. She had no more to say about it--no more that she
could say, without revealing her delicate diplomacy. She would do that
to nobody alive; she had never stated it explicitly even to herself.
There she left the affair, left the last word and a barren show of
victory to her father. How much mischief he had done she would find out
later--perhaps to-morrow, if Arthur Lisle came. But would he--now? It
was the effect of her father's meddling she feared, not that matter of
the lady's visit. She knew that he had other friends than themselves.
Why shouldn't one of them come and take him for a drive? It was Mrs.
Norton Ward, very likely. Her quarrel with her father about his meddling
even prevented her from asking what the visitor was like; whatever he
might do, she at least would show no vulgar curiosity.

Yet it was the coincidence of the visit with the meddling that did the
mischief. Without the first, the second would have resulted in nothing
worse than a temporary annoyance, a transitory shock to Arthur's
feelings, which a few days' time and Marie's own tact would have
smoothed over. As it was, his distaste for old Sarradet's inquisition,
an angry humiliation at having the pistol held to his head, a romantic
abhorrence of such a way of dealing with the tenderest and most delicate
matters, a hideous yet obstinate suspicion that Marie might be privy to
the proceeding--all these set his feelings just in time for the
unexpected visit.

The visit had been delightful, and delight is an unsettling thing. As
Mrs. Godfrey Lisle--or Bernadette, as she bade him call her--purred
about his room (so he put it to himself), still more when she declared
for sunshine and carried him off to drive with her--in Regent's Park
too!--he had felt a sudden lift of the spirit, an exaltation and
expansion of feeling. The world seemed wider, its possibilities more
various; it was as though walls had been torn down from around
him--walls of his own choice and making, no doubt, but walls all the
same. This sensation was very vague; it was little more than that the
whole atmosphere of his existence seemed fresher, more spacious and more
pungent. He owned ruefully that the barouche, the Cee-springs, the bay
horses and the liveries, might have had something to do with his
pleasure; he knew his susceptibility to the handsome things of material
life--the gauds and luxuries--and ever feared to catch himself in
snobbishness. But the essential matter did not lie there; his company
was responsible for that--Bernadette, and the way she had suddenly
appeared, and whisked him off as it were on a magic carpet for a brief
journey through the heavens; it seemed all too brief.

"I came as soon as ever I could," she told him. "I got Esther Norton
Ward's letter about you after we'd gone to Hilsey for Easter, and we got
back only yesterday. But I had terrible work to get leave to come. I had
to go down on my knees almost! Cousin Arthur, you're in disgrace, and
when you come to see us, you must abase yourself before Godfrey. The
Head of the House is hurt because you didn't call!"

"I know. It was awfully wrong of me, but----"

"I understand all about it. But Godfrey's a stickler for his rights.
However Sir Oliver and I managed to bring him round ("Who's Sir Oliver?"
asked Arthur inwardly), and when you've eaten humble pie, it will be all
right. Do you like humble pie, Arthur?"

"No, I don't."

"No more do I." But she was smiling still, and he thought it was little
of that stuff she would have to consume. "You see, you made quite an
impression on Esther. Oh, and Sir Christopher came down for a week-end,
and he was full of your praises too." She put on a sudden air of
gravity. "I drove up to your door in a state of considerable excitement,
and I had a momentary fear that the fat man with the black moustache was
you. However it wasn't--so that's all right." She did not ask who the
fat man really was; Arthur was glad--all that could come later.

In fact she asked him no questions about himself. She welcomed him with
the glee of a child who has found a new toy or a new playmate. There was
no hint of flirtation, no effort to make a conquest; a thing like that
seemed quite out of her way. There was no pose, either of languor or of
gush. The admiration of his eyes, which he could not altogether hide,
she either did not notice or took as a matter of course--something
universal and therefore, from a personal point of view, not important.
On the other hand he caught her looking at him with interest and
critically. She saw that she was caught and laughed merrily over it.
"Well, I do feel rather responsible for you, you know," she said in
self-defence.

Life does do funny things all of a sudden! He drove with her past the
Sarradets' house. He seemed, for the moment, a world away from it. They
drove together for an hour; they arranged that he should come to lunch
on a day to be fixed after consultation with Godfrey--it appeared that
Godfrey liked to be consulted--and then she set him down in the
Marylebone Road. When he tried, rather stammeringly, to thank her, she
shook her head with a smile that seemed a little wistful, saying "No, I
think it's I who ought to thank you; you've given me an afternoon's
holiday--all to myself!" She looked back over her shoulder and waved her
hand to him again as she turned down Harley Street and passed out of
sight. When she was gone, the vision of her remained with him, but
vaguely and rather elusively--a memory of grey eyes, a smooth rich
texture of skin, mobile changeable lips, fair wavy hair--these in a
setting of the richest apparel; an impression of something very bright
and very fragile, carefully bestowed in sumptuous wrappings.

He went to the Sarradets' the next evening, as he had been bidden, but
he went with laggard steps. He could not do what seemed to be expected
of him there--not merely because it was expected, though that went for
something considerable, thanks to his strain of fastidious obstinacy,
but because it had become impossible for him to--his feelings sought a
word and found only a very blunt and ungracious one--to tie himself up
like that. His great contentment was impaired and could no longer absorb
him. His sober scheme of happiness was crumbling. His spirit was for
adventure. Finality had become suddenly odious--and marriage presents
itself as finality to those who are not yet married. If he had not been
ready for the plunge before, now he was a thousand times less ready.

The evening belied the apprehensions he had of it. There was a merry
party--Mildred Quain, Amabel Osling, Joe Halliday, and half-a-dozen
other young folk. And Mr. Sarradet was out! Dining at his club with some
old cronies, Marie explained. There were games and music, plenty of
chaff and a little horseplay. There was neither the opportunity nor the
atmosphere for sentiment or sentimental problems. In gratitude to fate
for this, and in harmony with what was his true inward mood behind and
deeper than his perplexity, Arthur's spirits rose high; he chaffed and
sported with the merriest. Marie was easy, cordial, the best of friends
with him--not a hint of anything except just that special and pleasant
intimacy of friendship which made them something more to one another
than the rest of the company could be to either of them. She was just as
she had always been--and he dismissed his suspicion. She had known
nothing at all of Mr. Sarradet's inquisition; she was in no way to blame
for it. And if she were innocent, why, then, was not he innocent also?
His only fault could lie in having seemed to her to mean what he had not
meant. If he had not seemed to her to mean it, where was his fault,--and
where his obligation? But if he acquitted Marie, and was quite disposed
to acquit himself, he nursed his grudge against old Sarradet for his
bungling attempt to interfere between friends who understood one another
perfectly.

Marie watched him, without appearing to watch, and was well content. Her
present object was to set him completely at his ease again--to get back
to where they were before Mrs. Veltheim interfered and her father
blundered. If she could do that, all would be well; and she thought that
she was doing it. Had Mrs. Veltheim and Mr. Sarradet been the only
factors in the case, she would probably have proved herself right; for
she was skilful and tenacious, and no delicacy of scruple held her back
from trying to get what she wanted, even when what she wanted happened
to be a man to marry. There that toughness of hers served her ends well.

When he said good-night, he was so comfortable about the whole position,
so friendly to her and so conscious of the pleasure she had given him in
the last few weeks, that he said with genuine ruefulness, "Back to the
Temple to-morrow! I shan't be able to play about so much!"

"No, you must work," she agreed. "But try to come and see us now and
then, when you're not too busy."

"Oh, of course I shall--and I'm not at all likely to be busy. Only one
has to stop in that hole--just in case."

"I mean--just when you feel like it. Don't make a duty of it. Just when
you feel inclined for a riot like this, or perhaps for a quiet talk some
afternoon."

This was all just what he wanted to hear, exactly how he wanted the
thing to be put.

Yes, but Mr. Sarradet would not always be so obliging as to be out! The
thought of Mr. Sarradet, whom he had really forgotten, suddenly recurred
to him unpleasantly.

"That's what I like--our quiet talks," she went on. "But you've only to
say the word, and we'll have company for you."

Her tone was light, playful, chaffing. He answered in the same vein.
"I'll send my orders about that at least twelve hours beforehand."

"Thank you, my lord," and, laughing, she dropped him a curtsey.

He left them still at their frolic and went home rather early. He had
enjoyed himself, but, all the same, his dominant sense was one of
relief, and not merely from the obligation which officious hands had
sought to thrust on him, regardless of the fact that he was not ready to
accept it and might never be. It was relief from the sense of something
that he himself had been doing, or been in danger of doing, to his own
life--a thing which he vaguely defined as a premature and ignorant
disposal of that priceless asset. Together with the youthful vanity
which this feeling about his life embodied, there came to him also a
moment of clear-sightedness, in the light of which he perceived the
narrow limits of his knowledge of the world, of life, even of himself.
He saw--the word is too strong, rather he felt somehow--that he had
never really wanted Marie Sarradet to share, much less to be the
greatest factor in, that precious, still unexplored life; he had really
only wanted to talk to her about it, with her to speculate about it, to
hear from her how interesting it was and might become. He wanted that
still from her. Or at all events from somebody? From her or another? He
put that question behind him--it was too sceptical. He wanted still her
interest, her sympathy. But he wanted something else even more--freedom
to find, to explore, to fulfil his life.

So it was that Mr. Arthur Lisle, by a fortunate combination of
circumstances on which he certainly had no right to reckon, found out,
just in time, that after all he had never been in love--unless indeed
with his own comely image, flatteringly reflected in a girl's admiring
eyes.

Poor tender diplomatist! But possibly she too might make her own
discoveries.



CHAPTER VII

ALL OF A FLUTTER


"Bernadette's got a new toy, Esther."

"I know it," said Mrs. Norton Ward, handing her visitor a cup of tea.

"Do you mean that you know the fact or that you're acquainted with the
individual?"

"The latter, Judith. In fact I sent him to her."

"Well, it was she who went to him really, though Godfrey made some
trouble about it. He thought the young man ought to have called first.
However they got round him."

"They? Who?"

"Why, Bernadette and Oliver Wyse, of course. And he came to lunch. But
Godfrey was quite on his high horse at first--stroked his beard, and
dangled his eye-glass, and looked the other way when he was spoken
to--you know the poor old dear when he's like that? Luckily the young
man could tell Leeds from Wedgwood, and that went a long way towards
putting matters right. Godfrey quite warmed to him at last."

"We like him very much, and I hope you did--even if you won't admit it.
He's got a room in Frank's chambers, you know."

"I didn't speak more than six words to him--he was up at the other end
of the table by Bernadette. But I liked the look of him rather. Of
course he was all of a flutter."

"Oh, I daresay," smiled Esther. "But I thought we ought to risk
that--and Sir Christopher felt quite strongly about it."

Judith Arden appeared to reflect for a moment. "Well, I think he ought
to be," she said judicially. "I wouldn't give much for a man who didn't
get into a flutter over Bernadette, at first anyhow. She must seem to
them rather--well, irresistible."

"She's wonderfully"--Esther Norton Ward sought for a word too--"radiant,
I mean, isn't she?"

"And there isn't a bit of affectation about her. She just really does
enjoy it all awfully."

"All what?"

"Why, being irresistible and radiant, of course."

"That's looking at it entirely from her point of view."

"What point of view do you suppose she looks at it from? That is, if she
ever looks at it at all. And why not? They ought to be able to look
after themselves--or keep away."

"I really think you're a very fair-minded girl," laughed Esther. "Very
impartial."

"You have to be--living with them as much as I do."

"Do you like it?"

Judith smiled. "The situation is saved just by my not having to do it.
If I had to do it for my bread-and-butter I should hate it like poison.
But, thank heaven, I've four hundred a year, and if I spend the summer
with them, it's because Godfrey and Margaret want me. The winter I keep
for myself--Switzerland part of the time, then Rome, or Florence. So I'm
quite independent, you see. I'm always a visitor. Besides, of course,
nobody could be more gracious than Bernadette; graciousness is part of
being irresistible."

"I really do think that being pretty improves people," said Esther.

"Well, as far as I can see, without it there wouldn't _be_ any
Bernadette," Judith remarked, and then laughed gently at her own
extravagance. "At any rate, she'd be bound to turn into something
absolutely different. Something like me even, perhaps!" She laughed
again, a low, pleasant, soft laugh, rather in contrast with the slightly
brusque tone and the satiric vein which marked her speech. The laugh
seemed to harmonise with and to belong to her eyes, which were dark,
steady, and reflective; the tone and manner to fall into line with the
pertness of her nose, with its little jut upwards, and with the scornful
turn of her upper lip. Her figure and movements perhaps helped the
latter impression too; she inclined to thinness, and her gestures were
quick and sometimes impatient.

"Come, you're not so bad," said Esther with her pleasant cordial
candour. "Now I'm quite insignificant."

"No, you're not. You've got the grand manner. I heard Godfrey say so."

Esther laughed both at the compliment and at the authority vouched in
support of it.

"Oliver Wyse was at lunch too on the occasion, was he? How is he getting
on?"

"Sir Oliver is still his usual agreeable, composed, competent, and, I'm
inclined to think, very wilful self."

"Patient, though?" The question came with a mischievous glance. Judith's
retort was ironic, both with eyes and tongue.

"I permit myself any amount of comment on character but no conjecture as
to facts. That's the distinction between studying human nature and
gossiping, Esther."

"Don't snub me! And the distinction's rather a fine one."

"No, gossip's all right for you, living outside the house. I live so
much inside it that I think it wouldn't be fair in me. And above all,
owing to the footing on which I'm there--as I've told you--I am
emphatically not a watch-dog."

"Where's the child?"

"She's down at Hilsey--with the old housekeeper Mrs. Gates--by doctor's
orders."

"Again! Have you any comment to make on the doctor's character?"

"I think you're being malicious. It's really better for the child to be
in the country. We're very busy, all of us, and very gay--a bustle all
the time. If she were here, she'd only be with a nurse in the Park or in
the nursery. And we're only just back from three weeks at Hilsey
ourselves."

"Yes, I think I was being malicious," Esther admitted. "I suppose we're
all jealous of Bernadette in our hearts, and talk like cats about her!
Well, you don't!"

"It would be ungrateful of me. She affords me a very great deal of
pleasure. Besides, she's my aunt."

"Well--by marriage."

"Oh yes, entirely by marriage," Miss Arden agreed with one of her
fleeting smiles. She implied that no other form of auntship would be, as
the advertisements say, "entertained" by Bernadette. "And even as to
that I have, by request, dropped the titles, both for her and Godfrey,"
she added.

Though Judith Arden was only just out of her teens, she was older in
mind and ways; she ranked herself, and was accepted, as contemporary
with women in the middle and later twenties, like Bernadette and Esther
Norton Ward. She had had to face the world practically by herself. An
epidemic of fever in an Italian town had carried off father and mother
when she was fifteen. She had got them buried, herself quarantined and
back to England, unaided, as she best could. That was a developing
experience. At home she came under the guardianship of her uncle,
Godfrey Lisle, which was much the same thing as coming under her own.
Godfrey was not practical; the care of a growing girl was hopelessly
beyond him. Judith put herself to school at Paris; that finished with,
she tried Cambridge for a term, and found it too like going back to
school. She kept house for a while with an old school-comrade, an
art-student, in Paris. The friend married, and she was by herself again.
A visit to Hilsey led to the sort of semi-attachment to the Godfrey
Lisle household which she described to Esther; from the position of a
"poor relation" she was saved by her four hundred pounds a year--her
mother's portion; the late Mr. Arden, author of books on art, and travel
in the interests of art, had left nothing but some personal debts
behind. To the maturity of her world-experience there was one exception;
she had never been in love; the transitory flirtations of ball-rooms and
studios had left her amused but heart-whole.

Her guardian had come by degrees to let himself be looked after by her a
good deal. The inheritor of an old family estate worth some ten thousand
pounds a year, Godfrey Lisle had been bred for a country squire, a local
man of affairs, or (given aptitude for the wider sphere) a politician;
such were the traditions of the Lisles of Hilsey. In him they found no
continuance. He was a shy quiet man, tall but rather awkward in person,
and near-sighted; his face was handsome and refined and, when he was not
embarrassed (he often was), his manner was pleasant, if too soft. But he
did not like society, and was shy with strangers; he would fumble with
the black ribbon from which his glasses hung, and look the other way, as
Judith had described. He was fond of beautiful things--pictures, china,
furniture--but had not the energy to make himself a real amateur of any
of them. His nature was affectionate--calmly affectionate, and the
affections were constant. Once, and once only, he had blazed into a
flame of feeling--when he courted Bernadette and in the early days of
his marriage with her. The beautiful penniless girl--she would have
stirred even a fish to romance; and it would not have been fair to call
Godfrey fish-like. But ardours were not really in his line; too soon the
rapturous lover subsided into the affectionate husband. Bernadette had
shown no signs of noticing the change; perhaps she did not wish to check
it. It may be that it coincided with a modification of her own feelings.
At any rate, thus acquiesced in, it had gone further. Little of
affection survived now, though they treated one another with the
considerate politeness of an extinct passion. He gave her everything
that she desired--even to the straining of his income; he was the only
person for whom she ever "put herself out." Here were reciprocal, if
tacit, apologies for a state of affairs which neither of them really
regretted.

She had loved him, though, once. She did not claim it as a merit; there
it was, a curious fact in her past life at which, in her rare moments of
introspection, she would smile. She had loved not only all that he
brought--ease, wealth, escape from sordidness; she had also loved him
for bringing them. Even now sometimes she would love the memory of him
as he had seemed in those days; then the considerate politeness would be
coloured by a pretty tenderness, a sort of compassionate affection as
for a man who had fallen from high estate, inevitably fallen but
blamelessly. However these recrudescences on the whole embarrassed
Godfrey Lisle, and Bernadette, laughing at herself, withdrew to a safe
distance and to her real interests. Godfrey was not one of the interests
of her life; he was only one of its conditions.

Into this household--though not, of course, below the surface of
it--Arthur Lisle now made joyful and tremulous entry. His eyes were in
no state to see clearly or to see far; they were glued to the central
light, and for him the light burned bright to dazzling. Behold the
vision that he saw--the vision of a Reigning Beauty!

It is a large party. There is no getting near her--at least no staying
near. The crush forces a man away, however politely. But perhaps a
far-off corner may afford a view, for a dexterous servant keeps clear a
space just in front of her, and the onlooker is tall. They all come and
speak to her, by ones and twos--ex-beauties, would-be beauties, rival
beauties; for the last she has a specially cordial greeting--sometimes,
if she knows them well, a word of praise for their gowns, always a quick
approving glance at them. The great ladies come; for them a touch of
deference, a pretty humility, a "Who am I that you should come to my
house?" air, which gracefully masks her triumphant sense of personal
power. The men come--all the young men who would adore if they might,
and are very grateful for their invitations; they pass quickly, each
with his reward of an indolent smile of welcome. The choice young men
come; them she greets with a touch of distance lest they should grow
proud in their hearts. No favour in them to come--far from it! Then an
old man, a friend. Mark now the change; she is daughter-like in her
affection and simplicity. Then perhaps a little stir runs through the
company, a whisper, a craning of necks. A great man is coming--for
beauty can draw greatness. There comes a massive white head--a ribbon
and star perhaps, or the plain black that gives, not wears, such
ornaments. He stays with her longer: there is no jostling now; the
dexterous servant delays the oncoming stream of guests. Royal
compliments are exchanged. It is a meeting between Potentates.

In some such dazzling colours may the ardent imagination of youth paint
the quite ordinary spectacle of a pretty woman's evening party, while an
old lady on one side of him complains that "everybody" is there, and an
old man on the other says that it is a beastly crush, or damns the
draught from a window behind him--lucky, perhaps, if he does not damn
the Potentates too, the one for keeping him from his bed, the other for
marching through rapine to dismemberment, or some such act of policy
plainly reprehensible.

Strange to think--it is Youth that holds the brush again--strange and
intoxicating--that this is the woman with whom he drives in the Park, of
whose family luncheon he partakes, with whom he had tea yesterday, who
makes a friend of him. She talked to him an hour yesterday, told him all
about that hard childhood and girlhood of hers, how she had scanty food
and coarse, had to make her own frocks and wash her own handkerchiefs;
she said that she feared the hard training had made her hard, yet hoped
with a sigh that it was not so, and seemed to leave the question to his
sovereign arbitrament. She had made the little narrow home she came from
real to him with cunning touches; she had made her leap of escape from
it so natural, so touching. Of what the leap had brought her she had
made light, had spoken with a gentle depreciation of the place her
beauty had won--"Such looks as I have helped, I suppose, besides
Godfrey's position"--and let him see how much more to her taste was a
quiet talk with a friend than all the functions of society. How much
better than the receiving of Beauties and Potentates was a quiet hour in
the twilight of her little den with Cousin Arthur!

Could it be the same woman? Yes, it was. There was the wonder and the
intoxication of it. He was quite unknown to all that throng. But to
himself he stood among them, eminent and superior. See, hadn't she
thrown him a glance--right across the room? Well, at any rate he could
almost swear she had!

Arthur Lisle--in the flesh at his cousin's evening party, in the spirit
anywhere you like--felt a hand laid on his arm. He turned to find Sir
Christopher Lance beside him.

"Ah, Mr. Lisle, aren't you glad you took my advice? I told you you were
missing something by not coming here. Don't you remember?"

"Yes, sir, but you see, I didn't know--I didn't quite understand what
you meant."

"You might have thought it worth while to find out," said the old man,
smiling. "As it was, I'm told you had to be fetched."

Arthur laughed shamefacedly but happily. That was already a standing
joke between him and Bernadette; hence the associations of it were
altogether pleasant.

Sir Christopher's way was not to spoil joy in the name of wisdom nor to
preach a safety that was to be won through cowardice. He saw the young
man's excitement and exaltation, and commended it.

"Take as much of this sort of thing as you can get," he counselled,
nodding his head towards the crowd and, incidentally, towards
Bernadette. "Take a good dose of the world. It'll do you good. Society's
an empty thing to people with empty heads, but not to the rest of us.
And the more you go about, and so on--well, the fewer terrors will my
Brother Pretyman possess for you."

Arthur Lisle caught at the notion eagerly. "Just what I've had in my own
mind, sir," he said gravely.

"I thought from the look of you that you had some such wise idea in your
head," said Sir Christopher with equal seriousness.

Arthur blushed, looked at him rather apprehensively, and then laughed.
The Judge remained grave, but his blue eyes twinkled distantly. _O mihi
praeteritos_--that old tag was running in his head.

"It's getting late; only bores stay late at large parties. Come and say
good-night to our hostess."

"Do you think we might?" asked Arthur.

Certainly he was all of a flutter, as Judith Arden said.



CHAPTER VIII

NOTHING VENTURE, NOTHING HAVE!


Arthur Lisle sat in his chambers with a copy of the current number of
the Law Reports (K.B.D.) before him and with utter discouragement in his
heart. This mood was apt to seize him in the mornings, after the nights
of gaiety which (obeying Mr. Justice Lance's advice) he eagerly sought.
To-day it was intensified by the fact that Bernadette had gone to Paris
for a fortnight. She bade him an affectionate, almost a tender,
farewell, but she went, and was obviously glad to go. Though he asked
nothing from her except to let herself be adored with a dog-like
adoration, a shamefaced wonder that she should be so glad to go hid in
his heart; mightn't she feel the loss of the adoration just a little
more? However there it was. And he had nothing to do. Also he was hard
up. The men he met at his parties had things to do and were doing
them--interesting things that they could talk to women about, things
they were actually doing, not mere hopes and dreams (such as had, not so
long ago, been good enough to talk to Marie Sarradet about). They were
making their marks, or, at least, some money. Talking of money, it was
annoying, indeed humiliating, not being able to ask Bernadette to lunch
at the resorts and in the style to which she was accustomed. He had done
this once, and the same afternoon had suddenly been confronted with an
appalling shininess in the back of his dress-coat; the price of the
lunch would pretty well have paid for a new coat. But there--if you gave
parties you could not have new coats; and what was the good of new coats
unless you could give parties? A vicious circle!

Stagnation! That was what his life was--absolute stagnation. No avenues
opened, there were no prospects. Stagnation and Vacancy--that's what it
was!

A strange contrast is this to the young man at the evening party? Nay,
no contrast at all, but just the other side of him, the complement of
the mood which had pictured Potentates and thrilled over the Reigning
Beauty. The more ardently youth gives one hand to hope, the more
fiercely despair clutches the other.

Suddenly--even as Martin Luther flung his inkpot at Satan--Arthur Lisle
with an oath seized the Law Reports (K.B.D.) and hurled them violently
from him--across the room, with all his force, at this Demon of
Stagnation and towards the door which happened to be opposite. They
struck--not the door--but the waistcoat of Henry who at that moment
opened it. Henry jumped in amazement.

"Beg your pardon, Henry. It slipped from my hand," said Arthur, grinning
in ill-tempered mirth.

"Well, I thought no other gentleman was with you," remarked Henry, whose
ideas of why one should throw books about were obviously limited. "A Mr.
Halliday is here, sir, and wants to know if you'll see him."

"Of course I will. Show him in directly." As Henry went out, Arthur
ejaculated the word "Good!"

Anybody would have been welcome--even Luther's Antagonist himself,
perhaps--to Arthur in that black mood of his. Joe Halliday was a
godsend. He carried cheerfulness with him--not of the order commended by
moralists and bred by patience out of trouble, but rather a spontaneous
hilarity of mind, thanks to which he derided the chances of life, and
paddled his canoe with a laugh through the rapids of fortune. Joe had no
settled means and he scorned any settled occupation. He preferred to
juggle with half a dozen projects, keeping all of them in the air at
once. He had something to sell and something to buy, something to find
or something to get rid of; something had just been invented, or was
just going to be; somebody needed money or somebody had it to invest.
And all the Somebodies and Somethings were supposed to pay a toll to Joe
for interesting himself in the matter. Generally they did; when they
failed to, he paddled gaily on to another venture--Cantabat vacuus. But
on the whole he was successful. The profits, the commissions, the
"turns" came rolling in--and were rolled out again with a festive and
joyous prodigality that took no thought for a morrow which, under the
guidance of an acute and sanguine intelligence, should not have the
smallest difficulty in providing for itself.

He bustled in and threw his hat on Arthur's table. "Morning, old chap.
Sorry to interrupt! I expect you're awfully busy? Yes, I see! I see!
Look at the briefs! Mr. Arthur Lisle--with you the Right Hon. Sir
Richard Finlayson, K.C., M.P.--300 guineas! Whew! Mr. Arthur Lisle--With
you----" He fingered the imaginary briefs, rolling his eyes at Arthur,
and scratching his big hooked nose with the other hand.

"Go to the devil, Joe," said Arthur, smiling, suddenly able to smile, at
the Demon of Stagnation as represented by his empty table. "Have a
cigarette?"

"The subject of my call demands a pipe," and he proceeded to light one.
"Have you got any money, Arthur?"

"I think you're roughly acquainted with the extent of my princely
income."

"Income isn't money. Capital is. Turn your income into capital, and
you've got money!"

"It sounds delightfully simple, and must work well--for a time, Joe."

"I've got a real good thing. No difficulty, no risk--well, none to speak
of. I thought you might like to consider it. I'm letting my friends have
the first chance."

"What is it? Gold, rubber, or a new fastener for umbrellas?" Arthur was
not a stranger to Joe's variegated ventures.

"It's a deal safer than any of those. Did you ever see _Help Me Out
Quickly_?"

"Yes. I saw it at Worcester once. Quite funny!"

"Well, a fellow who put five hundred into _Help Me Out Quickly_ drew
seventeen thousand in eighteen months and is living on it still. Arthur,
I've found a farce compared to which _Help Me Out Quickly_ is like the
Dead March in Saul played by the vicar's wife on a harmonium."

"And you want money to produce it?"

"That's the idea. Two thousand or, if possible, two thousand five
hundred. We could get the Burlington in the autumn--first-rate theatre.
Lots of fun, and mints of money! The thing only wants seeing, doesn't
it?"

"What's the use of talking to me, Joe? I haven't got----"

"We're all of us going in--quite a family affair! Raymond's in it, and
old Pa Sarradet has put a bit in for Marie. And Mildred's governor has
come in; and Amabel has begged a pony of her governor, and put it
in--just for a lark, you know. I'm in--shirt, and boots, and all. We're
all in--well, except Sidney. That chap's got no spunk."

The inference about Arthur, if he did not "come in," was sadly obvious
to himself, though Joe had not in the least meant to convey it. But that
did not much affect him. The idea itself filled him with a sudden, a
delicious, tingle of excitement. Lots of fun and mints of money! Could
there be a programme more attractive? Vacancy and Stagnation could not
live in the presence of that.

"Just for curiosity--how much more do you want, to make it up?" asked
Arthur.

"A thousand." Joe laughed. "Oh, I'm not asking you to put down all that.
Just what you like. Only the more that goes in, the more comes out." He
laughed again joyfully; his prophetic eyes were already beholding the
stream of gold; he seemed to dip that beak of his in it and to drink
deep.

Arthur knew what his income was only too well--also what was his present
balance at the bank. But, of course, his balance at the bank (twenty-six
pounds odd) had nothing to do with the matter. His mind ran back to
_Help Me Out Quickly_. How Mother, and Anna, and he had laughed over it
at Worcester! One or two of the "gags" in it were household words among
them at Malvern to this day. Now Joe's farce was much, much funnier than
_Help Me Out Quickly_.

"I know just the girl for it too," said Joe. "Quite young, awfully
pretty, and a discovery of my own."

"Who is she?"

Joe looked apologetic. "Awfully sorry, old fellow, but the fact is we're
keeping that to ourselves for the present. Of course, if you came in,
it'd be different."

The Law Reports still lay on the floor; Joe Halliday sat on the
table--Sacred Love and Profane, Stern Duty and Alluring Venture.

"I'm putting up five hundred. Be a sport, and cover it!" said Joe.

Something in Arthur Lisle leapt to a tremendous decision--a wild throw
with Fortune. "You can put me down for the thousand you want, Joe," he
said in quite a calm voice.

"Christopher!" Joe ejaculated in amazed admiration. Then a scruple, a
twinge of remorse, seized him for a moment. "That's pretty steep, old
chap--and nothing's an absolute cert!" Temperament triumphed. "Though if
there's one on God's earth we've got it!"

"In for a penny, in for a pound! Nothing venture, nothing have!" cried
Arthur, feeling wonderfully gleeful.

"But, I say, wouldn't you like to read it first?" Conscience's expiring
spark!

"I'd sooner trust your opinion than my own. I may read it later on, but
I'll put down my money first."

"Well, I call you a sport!" Joe was moved and put out his hand. "Well,
here's luck to us!"

Arthur had plunged into deep water, but it did not feel cold. He
suffered no reaction of fear or remorse. He was buoyant of spirit. Life
was alive again.

"Of course I shall have to sell out. I haven't the cash by me," he said,
smiling at the idea. The cash by him indeed! The cash that ought to keep
him, if need be, for six or seven years, pretty near a quarter of all he
had in the world, representing the like important fraction of his
already inadequate income. Why, now the income would be hopelessly
inadequate! His mind was moving quickly. What's the use of trying to
live on an inadequate income? While Joe was yet in the room, Arthur
formed another resolution--to realise and spend, besides Joe's thousand
(as his thoughts called it), another five hundred pounds of his money.
"By the time that's gone," said the rapidly moving mind, "either I shall
have made something or I shall have to chuck this--and thank heaven for
it!"

But all this while, notwithstanding his seething thoughts, he seemed
very calm, gently inhaling his cigarette smoke. Joe thought him the
finest variety of "sport"--the deadly cool plunger. But he also thought
that his friend must be at least a little better off than he had
hitherto supposed--not that he himself, having the same means as Arthur,
would not have risked as much and more without a qualm. But that was his
temper and way of living; he had never credited Arthur with any such
characteristics. However his admiration remained substantially
unchanged; many fellows with tons of money had no spunk.

"May I tell them in Regent's Park?" he asked. "It'll make 'em all sit
up."

"Tell them I'm in with you, but not for how much."

"I shall let 'em know you've done it handsome."

"If you like!" laughed Arthur. "How are they? I haven't seen them just
lately."

"They're all right. You have been a bit of an absentee, haven't you?"

"Yes, I must go one day soon. I say, Joe, who are your stockbrokers?"

Joe supplied him with the name of his firm, and then began to go. But
what with his admiration of Arthur, and his enthusiasm for the farce,
and the beauty and talent of the girl he had discovered, it was, or
seemed, quite a long time before he could be got out of the room. Arthur
wanted him to go, and listened to all his transports with superficial
attention; his real mind was elsewhere. At last Joe did go--triumphant
to the end, already fingering thousands just as, on his entrance, he had
so facetiously fingered Arthur's imaginary briefs. Arthur was left alone
with the Law Reports--still on the floor where they had fallen in
rebound from Henry's waistcoat. Let them lie! If they had not received
notice to quit, they had at least been put very much on their good
behaviour. "Prove you're of some use, or out you go!"--Arthur had
delivered to them his ultimatum.

So much, then, for his Stern Mistress the Law--for her who arrogated the
right to exact so much and in return gave nothing, who claimed all his
days only to consume them in weary waiting, who ate up so much of his
means with her inexorable expenses. She had tried to appease him by
dangling before his eyes the uncertain distant prospect that in the
space of years--some great, almost impossible, number of years--he would
be prosperous--that he would be even as Norton Ward was, with briefs
rolling in, "silk" in view, perhaps a candidature. It seemed all very
remote to Arthur's new impatience. He set his mistress a time-limit. If
within the time that it took him to spend that five hundred pounds--he
did not decide definitely how long it would be--she did something to
redeem her promises, well and good, he would be prepared to give her a
further trial. If not, he would be take himself, with his diminished
income, to fresh woods and pastures new, lying over the Back of Beyond
in some region unexplored and therefore presumed to be fertile and
attractive. He would indeed have no choice about the matter, since the
diminished income would no longer meet her exactions, and yet enable him
to live. A break with the Stern, and hitherto ungrateful, Mistress would
be a matter of compulsion. He was very glad of it.

What of that other--the Mistress of his Fancy, delicate sumptuous Cousin
Bernadette? Vaguely, yet with a true instinct, he felt that she was at
the back of this mood of his and the impulses it inspired. She was the
ultimate cause, Joe Halliday's sanguine suggestions but the occasion.
Had he not outbid Joe's daring with a greater of his own? She it was who
had stirred him to discontent, be it divine or a work of the Devil's;
she it was who braved him to his ventures. She showed him the kingdoms
of the world and the glory of them--or, at least, very tempting glimpses
thereof; would she not herself be his guide through them, conferring on
them thereby a greater glory? In return he was ready enough to fall down
and worship, asking for himself nothing but leave to kneel in the
precincts of the shrine, not touching so much as the hem of her garment.

In response to her beauty, her splendour, the treasure of her
comradeship, he offered a devotion as humble and unselfish as it was
ardent. But he burned to have an offering to lay at her feet--a venture
achieved, the guerdon of a tournament. The smaller vanities worked with
these high-flying sentiments. For her sake he would be comely and
well-equipped, point-de-vice in his accoutrements; not a poor relation,
client, or parasite, but a man of the world--a man of her world--on
equal terms with others in it, however immeasurably below herself. If
she thought him worthy of her favour, others must think him worthy too;
to which end he must cut a proper figure. And that speedily; for a
horrible little fiend, a little fiend clever at pricking young men's
vanity to the quick, had whispered in his ear that, if he went shabby
and betrayed a lack of ready cash, Cousin Bernadette might smile--or be
ashamed. Adoration must not have her soaring wings clipped by a vile
Economy.

All these things had been surging in him--confusedly but to the point of
despair--when he threw the Law Reports across the room and hit Henry in
the waistcoat; he had seemed caught hopelessly in his vicious circle,
victim beyond help to the Demon of Stagnation. Not so strange, then, his
leap for life and freedom, not so mad could seem the risks he took. Joe
Halliday had come at a moment divinely happy for his purpose, and had
found an audacity greater than his own, the audacity of desperation.
Arthur himself wondered not at all at what he had done. But he admired
himself for having done it, and was deliciously excited.

Before he left the Temple--and he left that day for good at one o'clock,
being by no means in the mood to resume the Law Reports--he wrote two
letters. One was to the firm whose name Joe had given him; it requested
them to dispose of so much of his patrimony as would produce the sum of
fifteen hundred pounds. The other was to his mother. Since it contained
some observations on his position and prospects, an extract from it may
usefully be quoted:--

"Since I last wrote, I have been considering what is the wisest thing to
do with regard to the Bar. No work has appeared yet. Of course it's
early days and I am not going to be discouraged too easily. The trouble
is that my necessary expenses are heavier than I anticipated; chambers,
clerk, circuit, etc., eat into my income sadly, and even with the
strictest economy it will, I'm afraid, be necessary to encroach on my
capital. I have always been prepared to do this to some extent,
regarding it as bread cast upon the waters, but it clearly would not be
wise to carry the process too far. I must not exhaust my present
resources unless my prospects clearly warrant it. Of course I shall come
to no hasty decision; we can talk it all over when I'm with you in the
summer. But unless some prospects do appear within a reasonable time, I
should be disposed to turn to something else while I still have enough
capital to secure an opening." ... "You were quite right, dear Mother,
about my calling on the Godfrey Lisles, and I was quite wrong--as usual!
I'm ever so glad I've made friends with them at last. They are both
delightful people, and they've got a charming house. I've been to
several parties there, and have met people who ask me to other houses,
so I'm getting quite gay. Cousin Godfrey is quiet and reserved, but very
kind. Cousin Bernadette is really awfully pretty and jolly, and always
seems glad to see me. She says she's going to launch me in society! I
don't object, only, again, it all costs money. Well, I think it's worth
a little, don't you?"

And there was a postscript: "Don't worry over what I've said about
money. I'm all right for the present, and--_between ourselves_--I've
already something in view--apart from the Bar--which is quite
promising."

"What a wise, prudent, thoughtful boy it is!" said the proud mother.



CHAPTER IX

A COMPLICATION


Bernadette Lisle's foray on the shops of Paris, undertaken in
preparation for the London season, was of so extensive an order as to
leave her hardly an hour of the day to herself; and in the evenings the
friends with whom she was staying--Mrs. and Miss Stacey Jenkinson,
Europeanised Americans and most popular people--insisted on her society.
So it was with the greatest difficulty that she had at last got away by
herself and was able to come to lunch.

"Though even now," she told Oliver Wyse, as they sat down together at
the Café de Paris, "it's a secret assignation. I'm supposed to be trying
on hats!"

"All the sweeter for secrecy, and I suppose we're not visible to more
than two hundred people."

He had a fine voice, not loud but full and resonant. There were many
things about him that Bernadette liked--his composure, his air of being
equal to all things, his face and hands browned by the sun in southern
climes, his keen eyes quickly taking in a character or apprehending a
mood. But most of all to her fancy was his voice. She told him so now
with her usual naturalness.

"It is pleasant to hear your voice again." She gave him a quick merry
glance. "Do you mind my saying that?"

"Yes, I hate compliments."

"I'm sorry." She was chaffing him, but she did it with a subtle little
touch of deference, quite unlike anything in her manner towards either
her husband or her new toy, Cousin Arthur. In this again she was, while
pretty, natural. Oliver Wyse was a dozen years her senior, and a
distinguished man. He had a career behind him in the Colonial Service, a
career of note, and was supposed to have another still in front of him
in the directorate of a great business with world-wide interests. To
take up this new work--very congenial and promising much wealth, which
had not hitherto come his way--he had bade farewell to employment under
Government. Some said his resignation had been hailed with relief since
he did not count among his many virtues that of being a very docile
subordinate. His representations were apt to be more energetic, his
interpretation of orders less literal, than official superiors at the
other end of the cable desired. So with many compliments and a Knight
Commandership of the appropriate Order he was gracefully suffered to
depart.

"But a jolly little lunch like this is worth a lot of meetings at
squashes and so on, isn't it? By the way, you didn't come to mine the
other day, Sir Oliver." (She referred to the party which Mr. Arthur
Lisle had attended.)

"I don't like squashes."

"Compliments and squashes! Anything else? I want to know what to avoid,
please." She rested her chin on her hand and looked at him with an air
of wondering how far she could safely go in her banter.

"I'm not sure I like handsome young cousins very much."

"I haven't any more--at least I'm afraid not! Even Arthur was quite a
surprise. I believe I should never have known of him but for Esther
Norton Ward."

"Meddling woman! For a fortnight after his appearance I was obviously
_de trop_."

"I was afraid he'd run away again; he's very timid. I had to tie him
tight at first."

"Suppose I had run away? You don't seem to have thought of that."

Her changeful lips pouted a little. "I might run after you, I shouldn't
after Arthur--and then I could bring you back. At least, could I, Sir
Oliver? Oh, dear, I've very nearly paid you another compliment!"

"I didn't mind that one so much. It was more subtle."

"I don't believe you mind them a bit, so long as they're--well,
ingenious enough. You've been spoilt by Begums, or Ranees, or whatever
they're called, I expect."

"That's true. You must find me very hard to please, of course."

"Well, there's a--a considering look in your eyes sometimes that I don't
quite like," said Bernadette. She laughed, sipped her wine, and turned
to her cutlet with good appetite.

She spoke lightly, jestingly, but she laid her finger shrewdly on the
spot. She charmed him, but she puzzled him too; and Oliver Wyse, when he
did not understand, was apt to be angry, or at least impatient. A man of
action and of ardour, of strong convictions and feelings, he could make
no terms with people who were indifferent to the things he believed in
and was moved by, and who ordered their lives--or let them drift--along
lines which seemed to him wrong or futile. He was a proselytiser, and
might have been, in other days, a persecutor. Not to share his views and
ideals was a blunder bordering on a crime. Even not to be the sort of
man that he was constituted an offence, since he was the sort of man of
whom the Empire and the World had need. Of this offence Godfrey Lisle
was guilty in the most heinous degree. He was quite indifferent to all
Oliver's causes--to the Empire, to the World, to a man's duty towards
these great entities; he drifted through life in a hazy æstheticism,
doing nothing, being profoundly futile. His amiability and faithful
affections availed nothing to save him from condemnation--old maids'
virtues, both of them! Where were his feelings? Had he no passion in
him? A poor, poor creature, but half a man, more like a pussy-cat, a
well-fed old pussy-cat that basks before the fire and lets itself be
stroked, too lazy to catch mice or mingle in affrays at midnight. An old
house-cat, truly and properly contemptible!

But inoffensive? No, not to Oliver's temper. Distinctly an offence on
public and general grounds, a person of evil example, anathema by
Oliver's gospel--and a more grievous offender in that, being what he
was, he was Bernadette's husband. What a fate for her! What a waste of
her! What emptiness for mind and heart must lie in existence with such a
creature--it was like living in a vacuum! Her nature must be starved,
her capacities in danger of being stunted. Surely she must be supremely
unhappy?

But to all appearances she was not at all unhappy. Here came the puzzle
which brought that "considering look" into his eyes and tinged it with
resentment, even while he watched with delight the manifold graces of
her gaiety.

If she were content, why not leave her alone? That would not do for
Oliver. She attracted him, she charmed his senses. Then she must be of
his mind, must see and feel things as he did. If he was bitterly
discontented for her, she must be bitterly discontented for herself. If
he refused to acquiesce in a stunted life for her, to her too the
stunted life must seem intolerable. Otherwise what conclusion was there
save that the fair body held a mean spirit? The fair body charmed him
too much to let him accept that conclusion.

"Enjoying your holiday from home cares?" he asked.

"I'm enjoying myself, but I haven't many home cares, Sir Oliver."

"Your husband must miss you very much."

She looked a little pettish. "Why do you say just the opposite of what
you mean? You've seen enough of us to know that Godfrey doesn't miss me
at all; he has his own interests. I couldn't keep that a secret from
you, even if I wanted to; and I don't particularly want. You're about my
greatest friend and----"

"About?"

"Well, my greatest then--and don't look as if somebody had stolen your
umbrella."

He broke into a laugh for an instant, but was soon grave again. She
smiled at him appealingly; she had been happier in the light banter with
which they had begun. That she thoroughly enjoyed; it told her of his
admiration, and flattered her with it; she was proud of the friendship
it implied. When he grew serious and looked at her ponderingly, she
always felt a little afraid; and he had been doing it more and more
every time they met lately. It was as though he were thinking of putting
some question to her--some grave question to which she must make answer.
She did not want that question put. Things were very well as they stood;
there were drawbacks, but she was not conscious of anything very
seriously wrong. She found a great deal of pleasure and happiness in
life; there were endless small gratifications in it, and only a few
rubs, to which she had become pretty well accustomed. Inside the fair
body there was a reasonable little mind, quite ready for reasonable
compromises.

They had finished their meal, which Bernadette at least had thoroughly
appreciated. She lit a tiny cigarette and watched her companion; he had
fallen into silence over his cigar. His lined bronzed face looked
thoughtful and worried.

"Oh, you think too much," she told him, touching his hand for an instant
lightly. "Why don't you just enjoy yourself? At any rate when you're
lunching with a friend you like!"

"It's just because I like the friend that I think so much."

"But what is there to think so much about?" she cried, really rather
impatiently.

"There's the fact that I'm in love with you to think about," he answered
quietly. It was not a question, but it was just as disconcerting as the
most searching interrogatory; perhaps indeed it differed only in form
from one.

"Oh, dear!" she murmured half under her breath, with a frown and a pout.
Then came a quick persuasive smile. "Oh, no, you're not! I daresay you
think me pretty and so on, but you're not in love." She ventured
further--so far as a laugh. "You haven't time for it, Sir Oliver!"

He laughed too. "I've managed to squeeze it in, I'm afraid, Bernadette."

"Can't you manage to squeeze it out again? Won't you try?"

"Why should I? It suits me very well where it is."

She made a little helpless gesture with her hands, as if to say, "What's
to be done about it?"

"You're not angry with me for mentioning the fact?"

"Angry? No. I like you, you see. But what's the use?"

He looked her full in the eyes for a moment. "We shall have to discuss
that later."

"What's the use of discussing? You can't discuss Godfrey out of
existence!"

"Not out of existence--practically speaking?"

"Oh, no! Nonsense! Of course not!" She was genuinely vexed and troubled
now.

"All right. Don't fret," he said, smiling. "It can wait."

She looked at him gravely, her lips just parted. "You do complicate
things!" she murmured.

"You'd rather I'd held my tongue about it?"

"Yes, I would--much."

"I couldn't, you see, any longer. I've been wanting to say it for six
months. Besides, I think I'm the sort of fellow who's bound to have a
thing like that out and see what comes of it--follow it to the end, you
know."

She thought that he probably was; there lay the trouble. The thing
itself was pleasant enough to her, but she did not want to follow it
out. If only he would have left it where it was--under the surface, a
pleasant sub-consciousness for them both, blending with their friendship
a delightful sentiment! Dragged into the open like this, it was very
hard to deal with.

"Can't you try and forget about it?" she whispered softly.

"Oh, my dear!" he muttered, laughing in a mixture of amusement and
exasperation.

She understood something of what his tone and his laugh meant. She gave
him a quick little nod of sympathy. "Is it as bad as that? Then my
question was stupid," she seemed to say. But though she understood, she
had no suggestion to offer. She sat with her brows furrowed and her lips
pursed up, thoroughly outfaced by the difficulty.

"You go back home to-morrow, don't you?" he asked.

"Yes. And you?"

"In a few days. I've not quite finished my business. Do you want me to
come to the house as usual?"

"Oh yes," she answered quickly, her brow clearing.

"In the hope that I shall get over it?"

"Yes."

"I shan't, you know."

"You can never tell. Godfrey was in love with me once. I was in love
with him too." Her expression plainly added what her lips refrained
from: "Isn't that funny?"

He shrugged his shoulders, in refusal to consider so distasteful a
subject. Her mind appeared to dwell on it a little, for she sat smiling
reflectively. She had recovered quickly from her alarmed discomfort; in
fact she seemed so at ease, so tranquil, that he was prompted to
say--saying it, however, with a smile--"I didn't introduce the topic
just to pass the time after lunch, you know." He paused and then added
gravely but simply, "I want you to look back on this as the greatest day
in your life."

Ever so slightly she shook her head. The room was nearly empty now; the
few who lingered were no less absorbed than themselves. He put his hand
on the top of her right hand on the table. "There's my pledge for life
and all I'm worth--if you will," he said.

At this she seemed moved by some feeling stronger than mere
embarrassment or discomfort. She gave a little shiver and raised her
eyes to his with a murmured "Don't!" It was as though she now, for the
first time, realised to some extent not only what he meant but what he
felt, and that the realisation caused her a deeper alarm. She sighed as
though under some weight and now, also for the first time, blushed
brightly. But when they were going to the door, she put her arm inside
his for a moment, and gave him a friendly little squeeze. When he looked
round into her face, she laughed rather nervously. "We're dear friends,
anyhow," she said. "You can walk with me to my hat shop, if you like."

"I won't come in," he protested, in a masculine horror that she liked.

"Nobody asked you. I expect to find Laura Jenkinson waiting for me
there. As it's your fault I'm so late, she'd be very cross with you."

They walked up the street together in silence for a little way. Then his
attention was caught by a wonderful gown in a shop-window and he turned
to her to point it out, with a laugh; he had determined to press her no
further that day. To his surprise he saw that her eyes were dim; a tear
trickled down her cheek.

"Why, Bernadette----!" he began in shocked remorse.

"Yes, I know," she interrupted petulantly. "Well, you frightened me.
I'm--I'm not used to things like that." Then she too saw the startling
frock. "Look at that, Sir Oliver! I don't believe I should ever dare to
wear it!"

"I fancy it's meant to appeal to ladies of another sort."

"Is it? Don't they wear just what we do? Well, just a little more so,
perhaps!" She stood eyeing the gown with a whimsical smile. "It is
rather naughty, isn't it?" She moved on again. He watched her face now.
She had wiped away the tear, no more came; she was smiling, not
brightly, but yet with a pensive amusement. Presently she asked him a
question.

"By what you said there--in the café, you know--did you mean that you
wanted me to run away with you?"

He was rather surprised at her returning to the subject. "I meant that I
wanted to take you away with me. There'd be no running about it."

"What, to do it,--openly?"

"Anything else wouldn't be at all according to my ideas. Still----" He
shrugged his shoulders again; he was not sure whether, under stress of
temptation, he would succeed in holding to his point.

She began to laugh, but stopped hastily when she saw that he looked
angry. "Oh, but you are absurd, you really are," she told him in a
gentle soothing fashion.

"I don't see that anybody could call it absurd," he remarked, frowning.
"Some good folk would no doubt call it very wicked."

"Well, I should, for one," said Bernadette, "if that's of any
importance."

She made him laugh again, as she generally could. "I believe I could
convince you, if that's the obstacle," he began.

"I don't suppose it is really--not the only one anyhow. Oh, here's the
shop!"

She stopped, but did not give him her hand directly. She was smiling,
but her eyes seemed large with alarm and apprehension.

"I do wish you'd promise me never to say another word about this." There
was no doubt of her almost pitiful sincerity. It made him very
remorseful.

"I wish to God I could, Bernadette," he answered.

"You're very strong. You can," she whispered, her face upturned to his.

He shook his head; now her eyes expressed a sort of wonder, as if at
something beyond her understanding. "I'm very sorry," he muttered in
compunction.

She sighed, but gave him her hand with a friendly smile. "No, don't be
unhappy about it--about having told me, I mean. I expect you couldn't
help it. _Au revoir_--in London!"

"Couldn't we dine, or go to the play, or something, to-night?" It was
hard to let her out of his sight.

"I'm engaged, and----" She clasped her hands for a moment as though in
supplication. "Please not, Oliver!" she pleaded.

He drew back a little, taking off his hat. Her cheeks were glowing again
as she turned away and went into the shop.



CHAPTER X

THE HERO OF THE EVENING


That same afternoon--the day before Bernadette was to return from
Paris--Marie Sarradet telephoned to Arthur asking him to drop in after
dinner, if he were free; besides old friends, a very important personage
was to be there, Mr. Claud Beverley, the author of the wonderfully funny
farce; Marie named him with a thrill in her voice which even the
telephone could not entirely smother. Arthur was thrilled too, though it
did cross his mind that Mr. Claud Beverley must have rechristened
himself; authors seldom succeed in achieving such suitable names as that
by the normal means. Though he was still afraid of Mr. Sarradet and
still a little embarrassed about Marie herself, he determined to go. He
put on one of his new evening shirts--with pleats down the front--and
one of his new white evening waistcoats, which was of extremely
fashionable cut, and sported buttons somewhat out of the ordinary; these
were the first products of the five hundred pounds venture. He looked,
and felt, very well turned-out.

Old Mr. Sarradet was there this time, and he was grumpy. Marie seized a
chance to whisper that her father was "put out" because Raymond had left
business early to go to a race-meeting and had not come back yet--though
obviously the races could not still be going on. Arthur doubted whether
this were the whole explanation; the old fellow seemed to treat him with
a distance and a politeness in which something ironical might be
detected; his glance at the white waistcoat did not look wholly like one
of honest admiration. Marie too, though as kind and cordial as possible,
was perhaps a shade less intimate, less at ease with him; any possible
sign of appropriating him to herself was carefully avoided; she shared
him, almost ostentatiously, with the other girls, Amabel and Mildred.
Any difference in Marie's demeanour touched his conscience on the raw;
the ingenious argument by which he had sought to acquit himself was not
quite proof against that.

Nothing, however, could seriously impair the interest and excitement of
the occasion. They clustered round Mr. Beverley; Joe Halliday saw to
that, exploiting his hero for all he was worth. The author was tall,
gaunt, and solemn-faced. Arthur's heart sank at the first sight of
him--could he really write anything funny? But he remembered that
humorists were said to be generally melancholy men, and took courage.
Mr. Beverley stood leaning against the mantelpiece, receiving admiration
and consuming a good deal of the champagne which had been produced in
his special honour. Joe Halliday presented Arthur to him with
considerable ceremony.

"Now we're all here!" said Joe. "For I don't mind telling you, Beverley,
that without Lisle's help we should be a long way from--from--well, from
standing where we do at present."

Arthur felt that some of the limelight--to use a metaphor appropriately
theatrical--was falling on him. "Oh, that's nothing! Anything I could
afford--awfully glad to have the chance," he murmured, rather
confusedly.

"And he did afford something pretty considerable," added Joe,
admiringly.

"Of course I can't guarantee success. You know what the theatre is,"
said Mr. Beverley.

They knew nothing about it--and even Mr. Beverley himself had not yet
made his bow to the public; but they all nodded their heads wisely.

"I do wish you would tell us something about it, Mr. Beverley," said
impulsive Amabel.

"Oh, but I should be afraid of letting it out!" cried Mildred.

"The fact is, you can't be too careful," said Joe. "There are fellows
who make a business of finding out about forthcoming plays and stealing
the ideas. Aren't there, Beverley?"

"More than you might think," said Mr. Beverley.

"I much prefer to be told nothing about it," Marie declared, smiling. "I
think that makes it ever so much more exciting."

"I recollect a friend of mine--in the furniture line--thirty years ago
it must be--taking me in with him to see a rehearsal once at the--Now,
let's see, what was the theatre? A rehearsal of--tut--Now, what was the
play?" Old Mr. Sarradet was trying to contribute to the occasion, but
the tide of conversation overwhelmed his halting reminiscences.

"But how do you get the idea, Mr. Beverley?"

"Oh, well, that may come just at any minute--anywhere, you know."

"Where did this one come?"

"Oh, I got this one, as it happens, walking on Hampstead Heath."

"Hampstead Heath! Fancy!" breathed Amabel Osling in an awed voice.

"And you went straight home and wrote it out?" asked Mildred Quain.

"Oh, I've got my office in the daytime. I can only write at nights."

"Bit of a strain!" murmured Joe.

"It is rather. Besides, one doesn't begin by writing it out, Miss
Quain." He smiled in condescending pity. "One has to construct, you
see."

"Yes, of course. How stupid of me!" said Mildred, rather crestfallen.

"Not a bit, Miss Quain. You naturally didn't realise"--Mr. Beverley
seemed genuinely sorry if he had appeared to snub her. "And I--I should
like to tell you all how much I--I feel what you're doing. Of course I
believe in the thing myself, but that's no reason why--Well, I tell you
I do feel it. I--I feel it really."

They had admired him before; they liked him the better for this little
speech. He came off his pedestal, and made himself one of them--a
co-adventurer. His hesitation and his blush revealed him as human. They
got a new and pleasantly flattering sense of what they were doing. They
were not only going to make money and have fun; they were helping
genius.

Joe raised his glass. "Here's luck to the Author and the Syndicate!"

"The what?" asked Amabel Osling. "I mean, what is a syndicate?"

"We are!" answered Joe with mock solemnity. "Fill your glasses--and no
heel-taps!"

They drank to Mr. Claud Beverley and their enterprising selves. Joe
clasped the author's hand. Mr. Beverley drained his glass.

"Here's luck!" he echoed. There was just a little shake in his voice;
the occasion was not without its emotions for Mr. Beverley. Never before
had he been the Hero of the Evening. His imagination darted forward to a
wider triumph.

Arthur was moved too. He felt a generous envy of Mr. Beverley, awkward
and melancholy as he was. Beverley was doing something--really off his
own bat. That was great. Well, the next best thing was to help--to be in
the venture; even that was making something of life. As he listened to
the talk and shared in the excitement, his embarrassment had worn away;
and old Sarradet himself had clinked glasses with him cordially.

Just on the heels of Mr. Beverley's "Here's luck!"--almost clashing with
it--came a loud ring at the front door.

"Why, who's that?" exclaimed Marie.

They heard the scurry of the maid's feet. Then came a murmur of voices
and the noise of the door closing. Then a full hearty voice--known to
them all except Mr. Beverley--said: "That's better, old chap! You're all
right now!"

The maid threw open the door of the room, and the festive and excited
group inside received a sudden shock that banished all thought of Author
and Syndicate alike. Very pale, very dishevelled, and seeming to totter
on his feet, Raymond Sarradet came in, supported by Sidney Barslow's
sturdy arm round his shoulders. Sidney was dishevelled too; his coat was
torn all down the front, his hat was smashed. He had a black eye, a cut
on the lip, and a swollen nose. They were a dismal battered pair.

"That's right, old chap! Here's a chair." Sidney gently deposited his
friend in a seat and looked round at the astonished company. "They gave
him a fair knock-out," he said, "but he's come round now." Then he spoke
to Marie directly. "Still I thought I'd better see him home--he's a bit
shaky."

"Oh, but you too!" she exclaimed. And to the maid she added: "Bring some
hot water and a sponge quickly--and towels, you know--Oh, and plaster!
Be quick!"

"What the devil is all this?" demanded old Sarradet, very red and very
bristly.

"They'd have had everything out of me, but for Sidney. Lucky if they
hadn't killed me!" said Raymond, resting his head on his hand. "Gad, how
my head aches!"

Amabel came and laid her hand on his forehead. "Poor boy! What can have
happened?"

"Give them some champagne, Joe. Oh, Sidney, you are hurt! Here's the hot
water! Now let me!"

Sidney gave himself up to Marie's ministrations. Amabel and Mildred
bathed Raymond's head with Eau-de-Cologne. Joe poured out champagne. The
other men stood about, looking as if they would like to do something,
but could not think of anything to do. In the course of the
ministrations the story gradually came out.

The two had gone to a suburban race-meeting together. Fortune favoured
Raymond, and he came away with considerably more money than he started
with. Three agreeable strangers got into their carriage, coming home.
Raymond joined them in a game of cards, Sidney sitting out. On arrival
at Waterloo the agreeable strangers proposed a "bite" together--and
perhaps another little game afterwards? Sidney tried to persuade Raymond
to refuse the invitation, but Raymond persisted in accepting it, and his
friend would not leave him. The story continued on familiar lines--so
familiar that Sidney's suspicions were very natural. There was the
"bite," the wine, the game--Sidney still not playing. There was the lure
of temporary success, the change of fortune, the discovery of the
swindling.

"Sidney was looking on, you know," said Raymond, "and he nudged me. I
had an idea myself by then, and I knew what he meant. So I watched, and
I saw him do it--the big one with the red hair--you saw him too, didn't
you, Sidney? Well, I was excited and--and so on, and I just threw my
cards in his face. The next minute they rushed us up into a corner and
went for us like blazes, the three of them. I did my best, but I'm only
a lightweight. The big chap gave me one here"--he touched the side of
his chin--"and down I went. I could call 'Murder!'--I wasn't
unconscious--but that's all I could do. And the three of them went for
Sidney. By Jove, you should have seen Sidney!"

"Rot!" came in a muffled tone from Sidney, whose lips were being bathed
and plastered.

"He kept them all going for the best part of five minutes, I should
think, and marked 'em too; gave 'em as good as he got! And I shouted
'Murder!' all the time. And that's what it would have been, if it had
gone on much longer. But the waiters came at last--we were in some kind
of a restaurant near Waterloo. I don't fancy the people were particular,
but I suppose they didn't want murder done there. And so they came, and
our friends made a bolt."

"But did nobody call the police?" asked Marie indignantly.

"Well," said Raymond, "they'd gone, you see, and----" He smiled weakly.

"It doesn't do any good to have that sort of thing in the papers,"
Sidney remarked.

"There you're quite right," said old Sarradet with emphasis. He came up
to Sidney and laid his hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, Barslow, for
looking after that young fool of mine," he added. "You showed great
courage."

"Oh, I don't mind a scrap, sir," said Sidney. "I like the exercise."

"Oh, Sidney!" murmured Marie, in a very low voice, not far from a sob.
The other girls clapped their hands; the men guffawed; Mr. Claud
Beverley made a mental note--Not a bad line that!

Amidst the clash of arms the laws are silent, and even the arts do not
go for much. Not Arthur's legal status nor yet his new elegance, no, nor
Mr. Claud Beverley's genius, had any more chance that evening. The girls
were aflame with primitive woman's admiration of fighting man--of
muscles, skill, and pluck. Joe was an amateur of the noble art and must
have every detail of the encounter. Old Sarradet fussed about, now
scolding his son, now surreptitiously patting him on the shoulder,
always coming back to Sidney with fresh praises and fresh proffers of
champagne. Marie took her seat permanently by the wounded warrior's
side, and delicately conveyed the foaming glass to his lacerated lips.
More than admiration was in her heart; she was a prey to severe remorse.
She had sent this man into banishment--a harsh sentence for a hasty
word. His response was to preserve her brother!

Marie would have been more or less than human if she had not, by now,
experienced a certain reaction of feeling in regard to Arthur Lisle. Her
resentment she kept for Mrs. Veltheim and her father, and their
bungling. Towards Arthur she remained very friendly, even affectionately
disposed. But a sense of failure was upon her, and there came with it a
diffidence which made her, always now, doubtful of pleasing him. Her old
distrust of herself grew stronger; the fear of "grating" on him was more
insistent. Thus her pleasure in his company was impaired, and she could
no longer believe, as she used, in his pleasure in being with her. She
thought she saw signs of uneasiness in him too sometimes--and she was
not always wrong about that. In the result, with all the mutual goodwill
in the world, there was a certain constraint. Save in such moments of
excitement as had arisen over Mr. Beverley and his farce, neither could
forget that there lay between them one of those uncomfortable things of
which both parties are well aware, but which neither can mention. It was
a consciousness which tended not indeed to hostility, but to separation.
Arthur's new preoccupations, resulting in his visits to Regent's Park
being much less frequent, intensified the feeling. Inevitably, as her
dreams day by day faded, some of the bright hues with which they had
decked Arthur Lisle faded from him also. He retained his own virtues and
attractions; but gradually again it became possible for there to be
other virtues and attractions in the world which were not his and which
might advance rival pretensions.

Her natural affinities with Sidney Barslow, checked and indeed wilfully,
if reluctantly, suppressed for the last few weeks, would have revived in
any event so soon as the counter-attraction lost its monopolising power.
The event of this evening--the dramatic and triumphant return of the
banished friend--brought them to a quick and vigorous life again. To
forgive was not enough. She burned to welcome and applaud--though still
with a wary uneasy eye on Arthur. Yet she was--perversely--glad that he
was there, that he should see what manner of man had suffered dismissal
for his sake. This desire to magnify in his eyes a sacrifice which had
proved useless was a subtle reproach to Arthur--the only one she
levelled against him.

He had been among the first to shake the warrior by the hand. "Splendid,
my dear fellow! Splendid!" he exclaimed with a genuine enthusiasm. "I
wish I'd been there too--though I should have been of jolly little use,
I'm afraid." His humility was genuine too; at that moment he would have
given a great deal to be as good a fighting man as Sidney Barslow.

Sidney gave his hand readily, but he looked apologetic amidst all his
glory. "Serves us right for taking up with those chaps and going to the
beastly place. But after the races sometimes, you know--." He was trying
to convey that such associates and such resorts were not habitual with
him. He was remembering that unhappy encounter in Oxford Street far more
painfully than Arthur.

"Why, that was all Raymond's fault, anyhow," Marie interposed
indignantly. "You couldn't desert him!"

But Arthur did remember the encounter and with some shame. If there were
occasions on which a man might not wish to know Sidney Barslow or to
vouch for his respectability, there were evidently others on which he
would be glad to have him by his side and to be recognised as entitled
to his friendly services. Very likely the latter were really the more
characteristic and important. At all events here he was to-night, a
gallant spirit, brave and gay in battle--no small part of what goes to
make a man. Arthur himself felt rather small when he remembered his
fastidious horror.

"We're all proud of you, Barslow," said old Sarradet in his most
impressive manner.

"We are, we are, we are!" cried Joe, and regardless of poor Raymond's
aching head, he sat down at the piano and thumped out "See the
Conquering Hero comes!"

Mr. Claud Beverley was robbed of the honours of the evening, but, to do
him justice, he took his deposition in good part. In fact, as he walked
home to those Northern Heights whence had come his wonderful
inspiration, he found and hailed yet another Hero of the Evening.
Neither Gifted Author nor Splendid Warrior!

"Put in as much as that, did he! Just made it possible! I should like to
do that chap a turn if I could!"

Joe Halliday--his heart opened by emotion and champagne--had told him
the Secret of the Thousand.



CHAPTER XI

HOUSEHOLD POLITICS


For the next three months--through the course of the London season, a
fine and prosperous one--Arthur Lisle played truant. The poison of
speculation was in his veins, the lust of pleasure in his heart;
romantic imaginings and posings filled his thoughts. The Temple saw
little of him. More than once Norton Ward would have offered him some
"devilling" to do, or some case to make a note on; but Henry reported
that Mr. Lisle was not at chambers. Norton Ward shrugged his shoulders
and let the thing drop; the first duty of an earnest aspirant in the
Temple is to be there--always waiting in the queue for employment. "You
can't help a man who won't help himself," Norton Ward observed to his
wife, who pursed up her lips and nodded significantly; she knew what she
knew about the young man's case. Informed of his missed chances by a
deferentially reproachful Henry, Arthur was impenitent. He did not want
to make notes on cases and to do devilling; not so much now because of
his terrors (though he still felt that Pretyman, J., was formidable) as
because his own interests were too enthralling; he had no time to spare
for the quarrels of John Doe and Richard Roe and the rest of the
litigious tribe. There were roads to fortune shorter, less arid and less
steep. Also there were green pastures and flowery dells, very pleasant
though they led nowhere in particular, peopled by charming companions,
enlivened by every diversion--and governed by a Fairy Queen.

In London an agreeable young man who has--or behaves as if he
had--nothing to do will soon find things to do in plenty. Arthur's days
were full; lunches, dinners, theatres, dances, tennis to play, cricket
and polo matches to watch, a race-meeting now and then, motor excursions
or a day on the river--time went like lightning in amusing himself and
other people. Everybody accepted so readily the view that he was a man
of leisure and wholly at their disposal that he himself almost came to
accept it as the truth. Only in the background lay the obstinate fact
that, in a life like this, even five hundred pounds will not last for
ever. Never mind! In the autumn there would come the farce. There was a
rare flavour in the moment when he wrote his cheque for a thousand
pounds, payable to the order of Joseph Halliday, Esquire. Joe had asked
for an instalment only, but Arthur was not going to fritter away the
sensation like that.

Of course Bernadette had first call on him, and she used her privilege
freely. At her house in Hill Street he was really at home; he was
expected to come without an invitation; he was expected to come in spite
of any other invitation, when he was wanted. He fetched and carried, an
abject delighted slave. She never flirted with him or tried to win his
devotion; but she accepted it and in return made a pet of him. Yet she
had no idea how immense, how romantic, how high-flying the devotion was.
She was not very good at understanding great emotions--as Oliver Wyse
might perhaps have agreed. So, if she had no designs, she had no caution
either; she was as free from conscience as from malice; or it might be
that any conscience she had was engaged upon another matter. Sir Oliver
had not yet returned to town, but soon he was coming.

Engrossed in Bernadette herself, at first Arthur paid little heed to the
other members of the household. Indeed he never became intimate with
Judith Arden during all this time in London. He liked her, and forgave a
satirical look which he sometimes caught directed at himself in
consideration of her amusing satirical remarks directed at other people;
and after all she could not be expected to appreciate the quality of his
devotion to Bernadette. But with Godfrey Lisle things gradually reached
a different footing. The shy awkward man began to put out feelers for
friendship. Amongst all who came and went he had few friends, and he
sought to make no more. Even Judith, as became her age and sex, was much
occupied in gaieties. He spent his days in his library and in walking.
But now he began to ask Arthur to join him. "If Bernadette can spare
you," he would say; or, to his wife, "If you don't want Arthur this
afternoon--" and so suggest a walk or a smoke together. He did not
succeed in conveying the impression that he would be greatly pleased by
the acceptance of his invitations. But he did give them, and that from
him was much.

"Do go," Bernadette would say, or "Do stay," as the case might be. "He
does like a talk so much." Strangely it appeared that this was the case,
provided he could get his talk quietly with a single person--and, it
must be added, though Arthur's eyes were not yet opened to this,
provided that the person was not his wife. From private conversation
with her he shrank, ever fearing that something might seem to be
demanded of him which he could not give. But he read and thought much,
and enjoyed an exchange of ideas. And he took to Arthur with the liking
a reserved man often has for one who is expansive and easy of access.
Arthur responded to his overtures, at first through a mixture of
obligation and good-nature, then with a real interest, to which
presently there was added a sympathy rather compassionate, a pity for a
man who seemed by nature unable to take the pleasures which lay so
plentiful around.

He fretted about money too--a thing pathetic to the eyes with which at
present Arthur looked on the world. But he did; he might be found
surrounded by account-books, rent-books, pass-books, puzzling over them
with a forlorn air and a wrinkled brow. It was not long before he took
Arthur into his confidence, in some degree at least, about this worry of
his.

"We spend a terrible lot of money; I can't think where it all goes," he
lamented.

"But isn't it pretty obvious?" laughed Arthur. "You do things in
style--and you're always doing them!"

"There's this house--heavy! And Hilsey always sitting there, swallowing
a lot!" Then he broke out in sudden peevishness: "Of course with
anything like common prudence----" He stopped abruptly. "I'm not blaming
anybody," he added lamely, after a pause. And then--"Do you keep within
your income?"

"I don't just now--by a long chalk. But yours is a trifle larger than
mine, you know."

"I can't do it. Well, I must raise some money, I suppose."

Arthur did not know what to say. The matter was intimate and delicate;
for there could be no doubt who was responsible, if too much money were
being spent.

"I'm sure if you--well, if you made it known how you feel----" he began.

"Yes, and be thought a miser!" His voice sank to a mutter just audible.
"Besides all the rest!"

So he had grievances! Arthur smiled within himself. All husbands, he
opined, had grievances, mostly unsubstantial ones. He could not believe
that Godfrey was being forced into outrunning his means to any serious
extent, or that he had any other grave cause for complaint. But, in
truth, Godfrey's trouble--money apart--was an awkward one. He was
aggrieved that he had not got what he did not want--his wife's
affection. And he was aggrieved that she did not want what he had no
desire to give her--namely, his. The state of things aggrieved him, yet
he had no wish--at least no effective impulse--to alter it. He felt
himself a failure in all ways save one--the provision of the fine things
and the pleasures that Bernadette loved. Was he now to be a failure
there too? He clung to the last rag of his tattered pride.

Yet often he was, in his shy awkward way, kindly, gracious, and anxious
to make his kinsman feel sure of a constant welcome.

"Coming too often?" he said, in reply to a laughing apology of Arthur's.
"You can't come too often, my dear boy! Besides you're a cousin of the
house; it's open to you of right, both here and at Hilsey. Bernadette
likes you to come too."

"Has she told you so?" Arthur asked eagerly.

"No, no, not in words, but anybody can see she does. We're too grave for
her--Judith and I--and so's Oliver Wyse, I think. She likes him, of
course, but with him she can't--er----"

"Play about?" Arthur suggested.

"Yes, yes, exactly--can't do that sort of thing, as she does with you.
He's got too much on his shoulders; and he's an older man, of course."
He was walking up and down his library as he talked. He stopped in
passing and laid his hand on Arthur's shoulder for a moment. "It's good
of you not to grudge me a talk either, sometimes."

"But I like talking to you. Why do you think I shouldn't?"

Godfrey was at the other end of the room by now, with his back turned,
looking into a book.

"You've never seen Hilsey, have you? Would it bore you to come down for
a bit later on? Very quiet there, of course, but not so bad. Not for
longer than you like, of course! You could cut it short if you got
bored, you know."

"Oh, you needn't be afraid of my being bored. I should love it of all
things." Indeed the invitation filled him with delight and gratitude.
"It's jolly good of you, Godfrey, jolly kind, I think."

Godfrey murmured something like, "See how you like it when you get
there," sat down with his back still turned, and obliterated himself
with a large book.

He was certainly difficult to know, to get to close quarters with. If he
approached you at one moment, he shrank back the next; he seemed to live
in equal fear of advances and of rebuffs. It was difficult to know how
to take him, what idea to form of him. Plenty of negations suggested
themselves readily in connection with him, but positive qualities were
much harder to assign; it was easier to say what he was not than what he
was, what he did not like than what he did, what he could not do than
what he could. At all events what positive qualities he had did not help
him much in his life, and were irrelevant to the problems it presented.
By nature he was best made for a student, immured in books, free from
the cares of position and property, and from the necessity of
understanding and working with other people. Fate had misplaced him as a
wealthy man, burdened with obligations, cumbered with responsibilities.
He had misplaced himself as the husband of a brilliant and
pleasure-loving wife. He ought to have been a bachelor--the liabilities
of bachelors are limited--or the mate of an unpretending housewife who
would have seen to his dinner and sewn on his buttons. In an unlucky
hour of impulse he had elected to play Prince Charming to a penniless
Beauty; Prince Charming appearing in a shower of gold. Of all the charms
only the gold was left now, and the supply even of that was not
inexhaustible, though the Beauty might behave as if it were. He had
failed to live up to the promise of his first appearance, to meet the
bill of exchange which he had accepted when he married Bernadette. He
lacked the qualifications; ardour of emotion, power to understand and
value a nature different from his own, an intelligent charity that could
recognise the need in another for things of which he felt no need--these
he had not, any more than he possessed the force of will and character
which might have moulded the other nature to his own.

He met his failure with a certain dignity of bearing which all his
awkwardness could not efface. He did not carp at his wife or quarrel
with her; he treated her with consistent politeness and with a
liberality even excessive. He showed no jealousy of her preferences;
that she would ever give him cause for serious jealousy, fears for his
honour, had never yet entered his head; such matters did not lie within
the ordinary ambit of his thoughts. But the sense of failure had bitten
deep into his heart; his pride chafed under it perpetually. His life was
soured.

Arthur saw little of all this, and of what he did see he made light. It
is always the easiest and most comfortable thing to assume that people
are doing as they like and liking what they are doing. If Godfrey lived
apart from the life of the house, doubtless it was by his own choice;
and, if he had a grievance, it must just be about money. The paymaster
always has a grievance about money; he is Ishmael, with every man's and
every woman's hand against him--stretched out for more. A legitimate
occasion for a grumble--but it would be absurd to make much of it.

Besides what serious trouble could there be when Bernadette was so
radiant and serene, so gay and merry with himself and with Judith, so
gentle and friendly with her husband? There seemed no question of two
parties in the house--as there sometimes are in houses--with the one or
the other of which it was necessary for him to range himself. His
adoration for Bernadette in no way clashed with his growing affection
for her husband; rather she encouraged and applauded every sign of
greater intimacy between the men. It was with the sense of a triumph in
which she would surely share that he carried to her the news that
Godfrey--Godfrey himself, of his own accord--had invited him to Hilsey.
Of her cordial endorsement of the invitation he had, of course, no
doubt. Perhaps, after all, she had inspired it.

"Now don't say you put him up to it! That wouldn't be half such a
score," he said, laughing.

She seemed surprised at the news; evidently she had not taken any part
in the matter. She looked a little thoughtful, possibly even doubtful.
Judith Arden, who was sitting by, smiled faintly.

"No, I had nothing to do with it," said Bernadette. "And it really is a
triumph for you, Arthur." She was smiling again now, but there was a
little pucker on her brow. "When's your best time to come?" she asked.

"In the early part of August, if I may. I shall have to run up and see
mother afterwards, and I've got to be back in town in the middle of
September--for our production, you know."

Bernadette by this time had been told all about the great farce and the
great venture which had made it possible.

She appeared to consider something for a moment longer, so that Arthur
added, "Of course if it's not convenient to have me then, if you're full
up or anything----"

"Goodness no! There are twenty rooms, and there'll be nobody but
ourselves--and Oliver Wyse perhaps."

"I thought Sir Oliver was coming earlier, directly we go down?" said
Judith.

"He's coming about the seventeenth or eighteenth; but he may stay on, of
course. On the other hand he may not come, or may come later, after
all." She smiled again, this time as it were to herself. Sir Oliver's
visit to Hilsey had been arranged before she lunched with him in Paris
and might, therefore, be subject to reconsideration--by the guest, or
the hostess, or both. She had neither seen him nor heard from him since
that occasion; things stood between them just where they had been left
when she turned away and went into the hat-shop with glowing cheeks.
There they remained even to her own mind, in a state of suspense not
unpleasurable but capable of becoming difficult. It was just that
possibility in them which made her brow pucker at the thought of Sir
Oliver and Arthur Lisle encountering one another as fellow-guests at
Hilsey.

Arthur laughed. "Well, if he doesn't mind me, I don't mind him. In fact
I like him very much--what I've seen of him; it isn't much."

It was not much. Before Oliver Wyse went to Paris, they had met at Hill
Street only three or four times, and then at large dinner parties where
they had been thrown very little in contact.

"Oh, of course you'll get on all right together," said Bernadette.

"You've a lot in common with him really, I believe," Judith remarked.

Bernadette's lips twisted in a smile and she gave Judith a glance of
merry reproof. They were both amused to see how entirely the point of
the observation was lost on Arthur.

"I daresay we shall find we have, when we come to know each other
better," he agreed in innocent sincerity.

Bernadette was stirred to one of the impulses of affectionate tenderness
which the absolute honesty and simplicity of his devotion now and then
roused in her. His faith in her was as absolute as his adoration was
unbounded. For him she was as far above frailty as she was beyond
rivalry or competition. Without realising the immensity of either the
faith or the adoration, she yet felt that, if temptation should come, it
might help her to have somebody by her who believed in her thoroughly
and as it were set her a standard to live up to. And she was unwillingly
conscious that a great temptation might come--or perhaps it was better
to say that she might be subjected to a severe pressure; for it was in
this light rather that the danger presented itself to her mind when she
was driven to think about it.

She looked at him now with no shadow on her face, with all her usual
radiant friendliness.

"At any rate I shall be delighted to have you there, Cousin Arthur," she
said. She had managed, somehow, from the first to make the formal
"Cousin" into just the opposite of a formality--to turn it into a term
of affection and appropriation. She used it now not habitually, but when
she wanted to tell him that she was liking him very much, and he quite
understood that it had that significance. He flushed in pleasure and
gratitude.

"That's enough for me. Never mind Sir Oliver!" he exclaimed with a
joyful laugh.

"If it isn't an anti-climax, may I observe that I too shall be very glad
to see you?" said Judith Arden with affected primness.

Arthur went away in triumph, surer still of Bernadette's perfection,
making lighter still of Godfrey's grievances, dismissing Oliver Wyse as
totally unimportant; blind to all the somewhat complicated politics of
the house. They rolled off his joyous spirit like water off a duck's
back.



CHAPTER XII

LUNCH AT THE LANCASTER


On a day in July, when this wonderful London season was drawing near an
end, and the five hundred pounds had reached about half-way towards
exhaustion, Arthur Lisle gave himself and his friends a treat. He
invited the Syndicate--as they laughingly styled themselves--to lunch at
the Lancaster Hotel. There were some disappointing refusals. Mr.
Sarradet would not come; he was sulky in these days, for Raymond was
neglecting his father's perfumery and spending his father's money; the
integrity of the dowry was threatened, and old Sarradet had a very cold
fit about the prospects of the theatrical speculation. Sidney
Barslow--he was invited thanks to his heroic re-entry--pleaded work. The
author himself wrote that he would be unavoidably detained at "the
office"--Mr. Beverley was never more definite than that about the
occupation which filled the day-time for him. But Marie and Amabel came,
escorted by Joe Halliday, and they made a merry party of four. The girls
were excited at being asked to the Lancaster. Such sumptuous places,
though not perhaps beyond the Sarradet means, were quite foreign to the
thrifty Sarradet habits. Amabel was of the suburbs and patronised
"popular price" restaurants on her visits to town. Joe lived in grill
rooms. The balcony of the Lancaster seemed magnificent, and Emile, the
_maître d'hôtel_, knew Arthur quite well, called him by his name, and
told him what brand of champagne he liked--marks of intimacy which could
not fail to make an impression on Arthur's guests, and which Emile had a
tactful way of bestowing even on quite occasional patrons.

Joe Halliday made his report. Everything was in trim, and going on
swimmingly. The theatre was taken, a producer engaged, the girl who was
Joe's own discovery secured and, besides her, a famous comic actor who
could carry anything--anything--on his back. Rehearsals were to begin in
a month.

"By this time next year lunch at the Lancaster will be an every-day
event. Just now it can't be--so I'll trouble you for a little more fizz,
Arthur," said Joe, with his great jolly laugh.

"Don't count your chickens----!" said cautious Marie.

"A coward's proverb!" cried Arthur gaily. "Why, you lose half the fun if
you don't!"

"Even if we do fail, we shall have had our fun," Joe remarked
philosophically.

The others could hardly follow him to these serene heights. Amabel had
persuaded gold out of her "governor." Marie felt decidedly responsible
to old Sarradet; and the pledge that Arthur had given to fortune was
very heavy.

"If it becomes necessary, we'll try to feel like that," said Arthur,
"but I hope we shan't have to try."

"Of course we shan't," Amabel insisted eagerly. "How can it fail? Of
course it mayn't be quite such an enormous success as _Help Me_----"

"It'll knock _Help Me Out Quickly_ into a cocked hat," Joe pronounced
decisively. "Just see if it don't!" He turned to Marie. "Then what sort
of a smile shall we see on old Sidney's face?" He could not quite
forgive Sidney Barslow (hero as he was!) for having refused to "come
in."

"Sidney's a wise man about business and--and money. Wiser than we are
perhaps!" Marie smiled as she ate her ice.

"Sidney's developing all the virtues at a great pace," laughed Amabel.
"Under somebody's influence!"

Joe laughed too; so did Marie, but she also blushed a little. Arthur was
suddenly conscious of a joke which was new to him--something which the
other three understood but he did not. He looked at Joe in involuntary
questioning. Joe winked. He saw Marie's blush; it caused him a vague
displeasure.

"Yes," Joe nodded. "He is. Works like a horse and goes to bed at eleven
o'clock! I shouldn't be surprised if he turned up one fine day with a
blue ribbon in his coat!"

"Oh, don't be so silly, Joe," laughed Marie; but the laugh sounded a
little vexed, and the blush was not quite gone yet.

"Why, what do you mean?" asked Arthur.

"Joking apart, he has put the brake on. Jolly good thing too! He's such
a good chap--really."

Arthur was not ungenerous, but he could not help feeling that the
apotheosis of Sidney Barslow might be carried too far. The vision of the
scene in Oxford Street was still vivid in his mind; it would need a lot
of heroism, a lot of reformation, altogether to obliterate that, however
much he might agree to a gentler judgment of it.

"No, don't make a joke of it, Joe, anyhow not to Sidney himself," said
Marie, looking a little embarrassed still, but speaking with her usual
courage. "Because it's for our sake--well, mostly so, I think--that
he's--he's doing what he is. I told him that in the beginning he had led
Raymond into mischief, and that he ought to set him a better example
now. And he's trying--without much success, I'm afraid, as far as
Raymond is concerned." Her voice grew very troubled.

"I'm awfully sorry, Marie," Arthur murmured.

"Oh, I've no intention of rotting Sidney about it. If only because he'd
probably hit me in the eye!"

"Yes, we know his fighting powers," laughed Amabel in admiring
reminiscence. Her tone changed to one of regretful exasperation.
"Raymond is a goose!"

"But we mustn't spoil Mr. Lisle's party with our troubles," said Marie,
smiling again.

"Oh, come, I say, I'm not altogether an outsider!" Arthur protested with
a sudden touch of vehemence.

"Oh, no, not that," Marie murmured, with a little shake of her head; her
tone did not sound very convinced. Amabel giggled feebly. Joe covered a
seeming embarrassment by gulping down his coffee and pretending to find
it too hot. A constraint fell upon the party. Arthur wanted to make
himself thoroughly one with them in anxiety and concern over Raymond's
misdeeds--nay, even in admiration for Sidney Barslow's reformation; he
wanted to, if he could. Yet somehow he found no words in which to convey
his desire. Every phrase that came into his head he rejected; they all
sounded cold and unreal, somehow aloof and even patronising. Silence,
however awkward, was better than speeches like that.

It was one of Joe Halliday's chosen missions in life, and one of his
greatest gifts, to relieve occasions of restraint and embarrassment by a
dexterous use of humour. This social operation he now, perceiving it
necessary, proceeded to perform. Clapping his hand to his forehead in a
melodramatic manner, he exclaimed in low but intense tones, "Ask me who
I want to be! Who I want to be in all the world! Ask me quickly!"

He won his smiles. "What's the matter now, Joe?" asked Arthur; his smile
was tolerant.

"No, I'll tell you! Don't speak!" He pointed with his finger, past
Arthur, towards the other end of the room. "There he sits! A murrain on
him! That's the man! And how dare he lunch with that Entrancing
Creature?"

"Which one, Joe? Which one?" asked Amabel, immediately full of interest.

"There--behind Arthur's back. He can't see her. Good thing too! He
doesn't deserve to."

"I suppose I can turn round, if I want to--and if she's worth it. Is
she, Marie?"

"Is it the one in blue, Joe? Yes, she is. Awfully pretty!"

"Never saw such a corker in my life!" Joe averred with solemnity.

"Then round--in a careless manner--goes my head!" said Arthur.

"He woos her, I swear he woos her, curses on his mother's grave!" Joe
rode his jokes rather hard.

"We'd better not all stare at her, had we?" asked Marie.

"She's not looking; she's listening to the man," Amabel assured her.

Arthur turned round again--after a long look. He gave a little laugh.
"It's my cousin, Bernadette Lisle. Joe, you are an ass."

It was Bernadette Lisle; she sat at a little table with Oliver Wyse.
They had finished eating. Bernadette was putting on her gloves. Her eyes
were fixed on Oliver's face, her lips were parted. The scene of the Café
de Paris reproduced itself--and perhaps the topic. She had not seen
Arthur when he came in, nor he her. She did not see him now. She
listened to Sir Oliver.

"Your cousin! That! Introduce me--there may yet be time!" said the
indomitable Joe.

"Oh, shut up!" groaned Arthur, half-flattered however, though
half-peevish.

"She's very beautiful." Marie's eyes could not leave Bernadette. "And
so--so--well, she looks like something very very precious in china."

Arthur looked round again; he could not help it. "Yes, that is rather
it, Marie."

"Look--look at her hat, Marie!" came from Amabel in awed accents. Indeed
the visit to the hat-shop in Paris had not been without its fruit.

"Now is it fair--is it reasonable--for a fellow to have a cousin like
that? He might have a Queen like that, or a Dream like that, and I
shouldn't care. But a cousin! He knows the Vision! He's talked to it!
Heavens, he's probably lunched with it himself! And he kept it all dark
from us--oh, so dark!"

"Is it Mr. Lisle with her?" asked Amabel, quite innocently.

Arthur smiled. "No, I don't think you'd find Godfrey lunching here.
That's a man named Wyse. I've met him at their house."

"He's good-looking too," Amabel decided after a further survey.

A waiter brought Oliver Wyse his bill. When he turned to pay it,
Bernadette rose. The spell which had held her attention so closely was
broken. She looked round the room. Suddenly a bright smile came on her
lips, she spoke a hurried word to her companion, and came straight
across the room towards Arthur's table. She had recognised the back of
his head.

"She's coming here!" whispered Amabel breathlessly.

Arthur turned round quickly, a bright gleam in his eyes. He rose from
his chair; the next moment she was beside him, looking so joyful, so
altogether happy.

"Oh, Arthur dear, I am glad!" She did not offer to shake hands; she laid
her little hand on his coat-sleeve as she greeted him. "Did you see
me--with Sir Oliver?" But she did not wait for an answer. "Do let me sit
down with you for a minute. And mayn't I know your friends?" A waiter
hurried up with a chair, and Bernadette sat down by Arthur. "Why, what
fun this is! Cousin Arthur, I must have another ice." The gloves began
to come off again, while Arthur made the necessary introductions.

"Oh, but I know you all quite well!" exclaimed Bernadette. "You're old
friends of mine, though you may not know it."

Oliver Wyse, his bill paid, followed her with a leisurely step. He
greeted Arthur cordially and included the rest of the table in a bow. "I
gather you intend to stay a bit," he said to Bernadette, smiling. "I've
got an appointment, so if you'll excuse me----?"

"Oh yes, Arthur will look after me." She gave him her hand. "Thanks for
your lunch, Sir Oliver."

"It was so good of you to come," he answered, with exactly the right
amount of courteous gratitude.

As he went off, she watched him for just a moment, then turned joyously
back to her new companions. A casual observer might well have concluded
that she was glad to be rid of Oliver Wyse.

Joe was--to use his own subsequent expression--"corpsed"; he had not a
joke to make! Perhaps that was as well. But he devoured her with his
eyes, manifesting an open admiration whose simple sincerity robbed it of
offence. Bernadette saw it, and laughed at it without disguise. Amabel's
eyes were even more for frock and hat than for the wearer; this it was
to be not merely clothed but dressed. Marie had paid her homage to
beauty; she was watching and wondering now. Arthur tasted a new delight
in showing off his wonderful cousin to his old friends, a new pride in
the gracious kindness of her bearing towards them. And Bernadette
herself was as charming as she could be for Arthur's sake, and in
gratitude for his appearance--for the casual observer would have been
quite right as to her present feeling about Oliver Wyse.

Marie Sarradet revised her notions. She forgave her father his meddling;
even against Mrs. Veltheim she pressed the indictment less harshly. Here
surely was the paramount cause of her defeat! Mrs. Lisle and what Mrs.
Lisle stood for against herself and what she represented--candid-minded
Marie could not for a moment doubt the issue. Her little, firmly
repressed grievance against Arthur faded away; she must have a grievance
against fate, if against anything. For it was fate or chance which had
brought Mrs. Lisle on to the scene just when the issue hung in the
balance. Yet with her quick woman's intuition, quickened again by her
jealous interest, she saw clearly in ten minutes, in a quarter of an
hour--while Bernadette chattered about the farce (valuable anyhow as a
topic in common!) and wistfully breathed the hope that she would be able
to come up from the country for the first night--that the brilliant
beautiful cousin had for Arthur Lisle no more than a simple honest
affection, flavoured pleasantly by his adoration, piquantly by amusement
at him. He was her friend and her plaything, her protégé and her pet.
There was not even a fancy for him, sentimental or romantic; at the idea
of a passion she would laugh. See how easy and unconstrained she was,
how open in her little familiar gestures of affection! This woman had
nothing here to conceal, nothing to struggle against. It was well, no
doubt. But it made Marie Sarradet angry, both for herself and for
Arthur's sake. To take so lightly what had so nearly been another's--to
think so lightly of all that she had taken!

The intuition, quick as it was, had its limits; maybe it worked better
on women than on men, or perhaps Marie's mind was somewhat
matter-of-fact and apt to abide within obvious alternatives--such as
"He's in love, or he's not--and there's an end of it!" Arthur loved his
cousin's wife, without doubt. But, so far at least, it was an adoration,
not a passion; an ardour, not a pursuit. He asked no more than he
received--leave to see her, to be with her, to enjoy her presence, and
in so doing to be welcome and pleasant to her. Above all--as a dim and
distant aspiration, to which circumstances hitherto had shown no
favour--to serve her, help her, be her champion. This exalted sentiment,
these rarefied emotions, escaped the analysis of Marie's intuition. What
she saw was an Arthur who squandered all the jewels of his heart and got
nothing for them; whereas in truth up to now he was content; he was paid
his price and counted himself beyond measure a gainer by the bargain.

Who was the other man--the man of quiet demeanour and resolute face, who
had so held her attention, who had so tactfully resigned the pleasure of
her company? Marie's mind, quick again to the obvious, fastened on this
question.

Bernadette, under friendly pressure, rose from a hope to an intention.
"I will come to the first night," she declared. "I will if I possibly
can."

"Now is that a promise, Mrs. Lisle?" asked Joe eagerly. After all, the
farce was his discovery, in a special sense his property. He had the
best right to a paternal pride in it.

"It's a promise, with a condition," said Arthur, laughing. "She will--if
she can. Now I don't think promises like that are worth much. Do you,
Marie?"

"It's the most prudent sort of promise to give."

"Yes, but it never contents a man," Bernadette complained. "Men are so
exacting and so--so tempestuous." She broke into a little laugh, rather
fretful.

"Now am I tempestuous?" Arthur asked, with a protesting gesture of his
hands.

"Oh, you're not all the world, Arthur," she told him, just a little
scornfully, but with a consoling pat on the arm. "You know what I mean,
Miss Sarradet? They want things so definite--all in black and white! And
if they can't have them like that, they tell you you're a
shillyshallying sort of person without a mind and, as I say, get
tempestuous about it."

Joe had regained some of his self-confidence. "If anybody bothers you
like that, just you send him to me, Mrs. Lisle. I'll settle him!" His
manner conveyed a jocose ferocity.

"I wish you would! I mean, I wonder if you could. They talk as if one's
mind only existed to be made up--like a prescription. One's mind isn't a
medicine! It's a--a--What is it, Arthur?"

"It's a faculty given us for the agreeable contemplation and
appreciation of the world."

"Quite right!" declared Bernadette in emphatic approval. "That's exactly
what I think."

"It would clearly promote your agreeable appreciation of the world to
come to our first night, Mrs. Lisle," urged Joe.

"Of course it would----"

"So you'll come?"

"Yes, I'll come--if I possibly can," said Bernadette.

They all began to laugh. Bernadette joined in. "Back to where we
began--just like a woman!" exclaimed Arthur.

"There--that's just what I mean, Miss Sarradet. He's begun to bully!"

"Well, I must. Because why shouldn't you be able to come, you see?"

She looked at him, pursing up her smiling lips. "Circumstances, Cousin
Arthur!" And she pushed back her chair from the table.

"Oh, rot! And, I say, don't go, Bernadette!"

"I must. I'm awfully sorry to. You're all so nice."

"And if you possibly can, Mrs. Lisle? D.V.? That kind of thing, you
know?"

"Unless circumstances absolutely prevent!" she playfully promised for
the last time, as she turned away, Arthur following to put her in her
carriage.

Joe Halliday drew a long breath. "Well now, girls, how's that for high?"

"Why, her hat alone must have----" Amabel began, with every appearance
of meaning to expatiate.

"I wonder what she's really like!" said Marie thoughtfully.

"She's really like an angel--down to the last feather!" Joe declared
with an emphasis which overbore contradiction.



CHAPTER XIII

SETTLED


_Le château qui parle et la femme qui écoute_--Bernadette Lisle had
begun to be conscious of the truth contained in the proverb, and to
recognise where she had made her great mistake. Though Oliver Wyse had
told her that he was in love with her, she had allowed him to go on
coming to the house as usual; and she had not even explicitly barred the
dangerous topic. Little use if she had! To keep him on the other side of
the hall-door was really the only way. But, though startled and
frightened, she had not been affronted; though rejecting his suit, she
had been curious and excited about it. It was a complication indeed; but
it cut across a home-life which had not complications of that kind
enough, in which nobody catered for her emotions; she had to look
somewhere outside for that. A lover makes a woman very interesting to
herself. He casts a new light on familiar things; he turns disagreeables
into tragedies, routine into slavery, placid affection into neglect. He
converts whims into aspirations, freaks into instincts, selfishness into
the realisation of self. All this with no willing hypocrisy, not at all
meaning to tell her lies. He is simply making her see herself as he sees
her, to behold with him her transfiguration.

Oliver Wyse was lucky in that he had more truth on his side than many a
lover can boast. Her life was starved of great things; she was in a
sense wasted; her youth and beauty, things that pass, were passing with
no worthy scope; where the sweetest intimacy should be, there was none;
her marriage was a misfit. It could not be denied that she had
contrived, in spite of these unpromising facts, to be fairly happy. But
that was before her eyes were open, he hinted, before she had looked on
the transfiguration, before she knew her true self. She supposed that
must be so, though with an obstinate feeling that she might manage to be
fairly happy again, if only he and his transfiguration would go away--or
if she might just look at it, and wonder, and admire, without being
committed to the drastic steps which lovers expect of the
transfigurations they have made. Is it absolutely necessary to throw
your cap over the mill just because somebody at last really understands
and appreciates you? That was a question Bernadette often asked
herself--quite fretfully. The action was threatened by so many
penalties, spiritual and worldly.

She had her shrewdness also, increased by the experience of a beauty,
who has seen many aspire in golden ardour, sigh in piteous failure, and
presently ride away on another chase with remarkably cheerful
countenances. If this after failure, what after success? Men were
tempestuous in wooing; what were they when the fight was won? She knew
about her husband, of course, but she meant real men--so her thoughts
perilously put a contrast.

"Have you often been in love, Sir Christopher?" she asked the old Judge
one day as he sat in her little den, sipping tea and smoking cigarettes.

He was a lifelong bachelor. "Often, Bernadette."

"Now, tell me," she said, leaning towards him with a knitted brow and a
mighty serious look. "Of all the women you've been in love with, is
there anyone you now wish you'd married?"

"Yes, certainly. Two."

"Out of how many?"

"I don't know. A matter of double figures, I'm afraid." Smiling, he put
an apologetic note into his voice. "They're not the two I was most
desperate about, Bernadette."

"Of course I should very much like to know who they were."

"But since, of course, that's impossible, let us continue the discussion
in the abstract."

"Why didn't you marry them--well, one of them, I mean, anyhow?"

"Is that the abstract? Well, one of them refused."

"To marry you?"

"She refused, Bernadette. Now please go back to the abstract."

"Without asking about the other?"

"I'm afraid so."

"All right. I don't think I care so much about desperation myself, you
know."

"Seen too much of it probably!" His old blue eyes twinkled.

"I could have fallen awfully in love with you, Judge. Do you often think
about those two?"

"Oftener about the others."

"That's very perverse of you."

"The whole thing's infernally perverse," said the Judge.

"However I suppose you've pretty well forgotten about the whole thing
now?"

"The deuce you do!"

"Did you soon get to be glad you hadn't married them--the other twenty
or so?"

"That varied. Besides, if I had married them, I might have become quite
content."

"They'd have got to look older, of course," Bernadette reflected. "But
people ought to be content with--well, with being content, oughtn't
they?"

"Well, you see, you're generally young when you're in
love--comparatively, at all events. You get content with being
content--as you neatly put it--rather later."

"That means you're not in love any more?"

"Life has its stages, Bernadette."

She gave a quick little shiver. "Horrid!"

"And children come, bringing all sorts of ties. That must make a
difference." The old man sighed lightly, clasping together his thin
hands with their gleaming rings.

"Oh, a tremendous difference, of course," Bernadette made orthodox
reply.

In effect just what she had said to Oliver Wyse himself when she lunched
with him at the Lancaster! "Among other things, you forget Margaret,"
she had said, reinforcing her resistance with every plea which came to
her hand. "I don't forget her, but I think first of all of you," had
been his reply. It was no doubt true that he thought of her before the
child; whether he thought of her first of all was much more open to
question. "She depends on me so much," she had urged, sounding even to
herself rather conventional. Did little Margaret really depend on her so
much--that demure prim child, self-centred, busy in a world of her own
with her fancies and her toys? She was shy and reserved, she neither
gave nor seemed to expect demonstrations of affection. She was her
father's daughter and promised to grow up like him in mind, as she
already showed a physical likeness. The natural bond existed between
mother and child and was felt. It was not strengthened by any
congeniality of disposition, nor by the tender appeal of frailty or
sickness--despite that doctor's advice, Margaret was robust and healthy.
They did not see much of one another really, not even at Hilsey. There
was so much to do. Bernadette was not a habit in her child's life and
doings; she was an interlude, and probably not seldom an interruption.
Still there they were--mother and child. And the child would grow up,
understand, and remember. No woman could make light of all that; if
Oliver thought she could, he did her gross injustice. No, he who loved
her would not do her wrong. Then he must understand that duty to the
child was a great thing with her. And yet he said there ought to be a
greater!

At the back of her mind, unacknowledged, was a thought which offered a
sop to conscience. She would not be leaving Margaret to strangers.
Besides the father, there would be Judith. The little girl was very fond
of Judith, and Judith of her. They seemed to understand one another;
Margaret's tranquil demureness fitted in with Judith's dry humour and
unemotional ways. The natural thing--under certain circumstances--would
be for Judith to take over the charge of her uncle's house. "Just as if
I were to die, you know," thought Bernadette.

Besides, all this assumed that she would go away. Of course Oliver
wanted that, but--well, lots of women didn't. Nice women too, some of
them, and good mothers. She could think of two or three at least among
her own acquaintance, and recognised now, with a sort of surprise and
relief, that she had never thought very particularly the worse of them
for their peccadillo; she had never shunned their society. Who
did--although everybody knew the facts? It was odd what a difference
there was between the official view (so to speak) and the way people
actually behaved about the matter; Oliver had been quite right on that
point--and even rather amusing.

She was seeing Oliver Wyse almost daily now, and their meeting was the
event of the day to her--anticipated, waited for, feared. Everything
else stood in relation to it--as a means or a hindrance, as a dull
contrast or a merciful relief. He found her eager and excited, he left
her often weary and fretful; but by the next day she was eager again.
She was like a man who drinks himself into a headache and sadly grows
sober, only to drink once more.

The eve of the household's departure to the country had come. They were
to go on the morrow; as matters were arranged, Oliver Wyse would join
them two days later. After another ten days, Arthur was due at Hilsey
for his visit, and two or three friends besides for a week-end. So stood
the programme--externally. But one point in it still hung in doubt, even
externally. Sir Oliver had a competing engagement--some important
business on the Continent; should he give up the business and come to
Hilsey? Or the other way? He put the question to her, when he came to
take leave of her--whether for three days, or for how much longer?

The time had passed when he could say, "It will wait." That had been
right when he said it; to hurry matters then would have been to fail.
But she had been brought to a point when a decision could be risked.
Risked it must be, not only because his feelings ardently demanded an
end to his suit, but lest he should become ridiculous in his own eyes.
Dangling and philandering were not to his taste. He had got a dangerous
notion into his head--that she would keep him hanging on and off to the
end of the chapter. He had often seen men cheated like that, and had
laughed at them. His passion was strong in him now, but his masculine
pride was equal to fighting it. He had himself on the curb. He could and
would leave her unless he could stay on his own terms. To tell her that
might involve cruelty to her; he did not stand on the scruple. There
were scruples enough and to spare, if a man began to reckon them, in an
affair of this kind. They were in the nature of the case. What animal
can live and thrive that does not add cunning to courage, trickery to
daring? He liked neither being cruel to her nor tricking those about
her; but for the moment these things had to be done. There should be an
end of them soon; he promised himself that and found comfort in the
promise.

But she fought him with a pertinacity that surprised him; he had not in
his heart expected so stout a resistance.

"It's not in the least for me to decide whether you come to Hilsey or
not," she told him roundly. "It's entirely for you. I ask you to pay me
a visit. Come or not as you like, Sir Oliver."

"But what does it mean if I do come?"

"I don't know. I'm not a prophet."

He put on no melodramatic airs. His manner was quiet and friendly still.
"You're a very provoking woman." He smiled. "I hate to be abrupt--well,
I don't think I have been--but this thing's got to be settled."

"Has it? Who says so? What is there to settle?"

"You're being tempestuous now." He threw her own word back at her, with
a laugh. "And you know quite well what there is to settle." He looked at
her stormy little face with love and tender amusement. But his answer he
meant to have.

"Settle, settle, settle! How many thousand times have you used that
word? I think I hate you, Sir Oliver."

"I begin to think myself that you don't love me. So I'd best be off on
my business."

"Yes, I really think you had. And when you come back, perhaps we can
consider----"

"Oh, dear me, no, we can't!"

She looked at him for an instant. Again he made her eyes dim. He hated
himself at the moment, but it seemed to him that there was nothing to do
but stick to his course. Else, whatever he felt now, he would feel
to-morrow that she had fooled him. She sat looking very forlorn, her
handkerchief clenched in her hand, ready to wipe away the tears. He went
and leant over her.

"Dearest, forgive me. You must think how I feel. Can't you love and
trust me?"

She thrust her hand confidingly into his: "I think I wish you'd just be
friends, Oliver."

An impulse of remorse struck him. "I think I wish I could," he said
ruefully.

"Then why not?"

"Oh, you don't understand--and I think you can't love me."

"Yes, I do. I'm sure I do."

He bent down and kissed her. She was thinking, and let the caress pass
as though unnoticed.

"I don't think I could manage life now without you."

"Well, doesn't that mean--? Come, it just needs a little courage."

"Oh, don't talk as if I were going to the dentist's!" But she gave the
hand she held an affectionate squeeze; her anger had passed. "I suppose
I've got to do it," she went on. "I suppose I have. It's rather an awful
thing, but I'm--I'm in a corner. Because I do love you--and, yes, I'm a
coward. It's such an awful plunge, and there's--oh, everything against
it! Except just you, of course. Oliver, I don't think I can come away."

He said nothing; he gently pressed her hand in encouragement.

She looked up at him and whispered, "Must I come away--now, directly?"

"Soon at all events."

"I must go down to Hilsey to--to see Margaret, you know, and----"

"Well, go. Make an excuse to come up from there, and I'll meet you."

"As if I should dare to do it without you to help me! You must come to
Hilsey too, Oliver, and we--we'll start from there."

It was a fluttering faltering consent, but a consent it was; though
still deferred, it was definite. It agreed not only to give him what he
wanted, but to give it in the way he liked--openly, before the world.
The short delay--to be spent largely in her company--weighed lightly
against all this. He caught her in his arms in gratitude and passion,
pouring out endearing words, beyond himself in exultation because "it
was settled."

Now at last she too was moved to the depths of her nature. She sat
clinging to him, with his strong arms about her, very quiet, smiling,
yet drawing her breath in long low pants, her dim eyes very tender and
never leaving his. So she heard his half-whispered protestations and
encouragement, smiling at them, just now and then murmuring a faint
"Yes." Her fears were silenced, her scruples scattered to the winds
while she sat thus.

It was strange when that same evening (on which, she thanked heaven, she
had no engagement) she sat--quite otherwise--at the head of her table
with her husband opposite, Judith Arden and Arthur Lisle on either
side--a little family party, a little domestic structure, so to say, of
which she was the keystone and which she was about to shatter. Yet it
seemed so firm, so habitual, the manner of its life so inveterate. Even
Arthur, the latest comer, was like a native part of it now. Its
permanence had looked so assured a few short weeks ago, when Oliver's
infatuation was a thing to smile over in amused secrecy. But it was not
permanent. She was going, by an arbitrary exercise of power, to end it.
Nay, she was going to end herself, the self she had been all these last
years--Godfrey's wife, Margaret's mother, Mrs. Lisle of Hilsey and of
Hill Street, W. This woman, with all her various functions and
relations, was going to disappear, like a bit of fluff blown into the
air. Enter--through a somewhat stormy passage--a new woman, utterly
different and conditioned absolutely otherwise, a person of whom Mrs.
Lisle really knew very little, though she reached out to the
comprehension of her and to the vision of her life with an ache of
curiosity.

The other three--that all unconscious trio--were in good spirits. Even
Godfrey was cheerful at the prospect of escaping from London and talked
quite gaily. Judith was looking forward to seeing Margaret and to the
country pursuits she loved; her talk was of riding, fishing, and tennis.
Arthur was gleeful; the short separation seemed but to flavour the
prospect of long and blissful days at Hilsey. Bernadette herself was the
most silent of the party, a thing quite contrary to her wont. She sat
there with a queer attractive sense of power--in kind perhaps like what
they say has sometimes tempted men to secret murder--as though she
dispensed fate to her companions and disposed of their lives, though
they knew nothing of it. About them, even as about the new woman who was
to come into being, her dominant feeling was not compunction but
curiosity. How would they take it? Imagine them at dinner at Hilsey--say
this day three weeks or this day month! Three, not four, at table, and
Mrs. Lisle of Hilsey not merely not there, but for all purposes
important for them non-existent! An exultation mingled now with her
eager curiosity. She marvelled that she had courage to wave the mystic
wand which was to destroy the structure. She looked on the three with an
ironical pity.

"Well, you all sound as if you were going to enjoy yourselves," she
said, at last breaking her silence. "Have you made any plans for me?"

"You always like the garden, don't you, Bernadette?" Godfrey's tone was
propitiatory.

"Oh, you must play tennis this year--and there'll be the new car!" said
Judith.

"Among other things, you're going to play golf with me. You promised!
The links are only about eight miles off. We can motor over and make a
jolly long day of it." Arthur's sentence would have gained significance
by the addition of one more word--"together."

"I see you've settled it all among you," she said. "But aren't you
forgetting our guest? While you and I are doing all this, what's to
become of Sir Oliver?"

Arthur looked round the table with brows raised and a gaily impudent
smile. He felt pretty safe of the sympathy of two of his audience; he
was confident that the third would pardon his presumption because of the
hint that lay beneath it--the hint that anything which interfered with
long days together would be unwelcome.

"For my part, I can't think what you want with your old Sir Oliver at
all," he said.

His speech came as a cap to the situation, a savoury titbit for her
ironical humour. She looked at him for a moment with eyes that sparkled
maliciously; then she broke into low long laughter. She seemed unable to
stop or control it. She sat and laughed at all of them--and most of all
at Cousin Arthur. He--they--it--all too absurd!

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she gasped at last, for their faces began to grow
astonished. "But it strikes me as very funny. If he could hear you!
Because he thinks a good deal of himself, you know--my old Sir Oliver!"



CHAPTER XIV

THE BATTLE WITH MR. TIDDES


The next day there occurred to Arthur Lisle--whose mind was a thousand
miles away from such things--a most unexpected event. The news of it
came by telephone from Henry, who ventured to bespeak Mr. Lisle's
immediate attention; he was not quite sure that he would get it, so
reprehensibly neglectful had Mr. Lisle's professional conduct been of
late. A brief had arrived, not somebody else's to be 'held,' but
actually for Arthur himself--a brief in the Westminster County Court.
The case would come on for trial in two days' time.

His first impulse was to send the brief back, to fly from it; not so
much now because it frightened him as because it clashed with the whole
present temper of his mind. But full as he was of fancies and vanities,
he had somewhere a residuum of sober sense. Did he really mean to turn
his back on work, to abandon his profession? Not merely to neglect
preparation and opportunities, as he had been doing, but to refuse work
actually there? That was a different thing--a decision too momentous. If
he refused this brief, he would scarcely dare to show himself at his
chambers, to face Henry again. He braced himself up, and in a mixture of
apprehension, annoyance, and surprise, took his way to the
Temple--instead of going down to Wimbledon to watch lawn-tennis.

Henry welcomed the Prodigal, quite forgetful apparently of that
unfortunate episode of the Law Reports. "It's from Wills and Mayne," he
said. "Mr. Mayne brought it himself, and said a clerk would be at the
court on Friday to look after you."

"But who are they? Do you know them, Henry?"

"No, sir, I never heard of them. They're not clients of Mr. Norton
Ward's. But Mr. Mayne seemed to know about you. A shortish gentleman,
grey and rather bald--one of his eyelids sort o' trembles, something
like as if he was winking."

"Hum!" He did not identify the stranger. "How the deuce did they ever
hear of me?" Because although Arthur might have been cutting a figure in
society, and certainly was a person to whom notable things of a romantic
order had been happening, he was, as a member of the Bar, very young and
monstrously insignificant. "Well, it beats me!" he confessed as he
untied the tape which fastened _Tiddes v. the Universal Omnibus Company,
Ltd._.

Mr. Tiddes, it appeared (for of course Arthur dashed at the brief and
read it without a moment's delay), had a grievance against the Universal
Omnibus Company, Ltd., in that they had restarted their 'bus while he
was still in process of alighting, thereby causing him to fall in the
roadway, to sprain his thumb, bark his knee, and tear his trousers, in
respect of which wrongs and lesions he claimed forty pounds in damages.
The Omnibus Company said--well, according to their solicitors, Messrs.
Wills and Mayne, they did not seem to have very much to say. They
observed that their clients were much exposed to actions of this sort
and made it their policy to defend them whenever possible. The incident,
or accident, occurred late on Saturday night; Mr. Tiddes had been in
company with a lady (whom he left in the 'bus), and had struck the
conductor as being very animated in his demeanour. Counsel would make
such use of these facts as his discretion dictated. In short, a
knowledge of our national habits made falling off a 'bus late on
Saturday night in itself a suspicious circumstance. Add the lady, and
you added suspicion also. Add an animated demeanour, and the line of
cross-examination was clearly indicated to counsel for the defendants.

Not a clerk but Mr. Mayne himself met Arthur at the court; he was
recognisable at once by the tremor of his eyelid--like a tiny wink, a
recurring decimal of a wink. He was, it seemed, rather pessimistic; he
said it was a class of case that the Company must fight--"Better lose
than not defend"--and Mr. Lisle must do his best. Of course the
jury--and plaintiff had naturally elected to have a jury--would find
against the Company if they could; however Mr. Lisle must do his best.
Arthur said he would. He longed to ask Mr. Mayne how the deuce the firm
had ever heard of him, but judiciously refrained from thus emphasising
his own obscurity. Also he strove not to look frightened.

He was frightened, but not so frightened as he would have been in the
High Court. Things were more homely, less august. There was no row of
counsel, idle and critical. His Honour had not the terrors of Pretyman,
J., and counsel for the plaintiff was also young at the job, though not
so raw as Arthur. But the really lucky thing was that Mr. Tiddes himself
made Arthur furiously angry. He was a young man, underbred but most
insufferably conceited; he gave his evidence-in-chief in a jaunty
facetious way, evidently wishing to be considered a great buck and very
much of a ladies' man. With this air he told how he had spent the
Saturday half-holiday--he was in the drapery line--at a cricket-match,
had met the young lady--Miss Silcock her name was--by appointment at a
tea-shop, had gone with her to a "Cinema," had entertained her to a
modest supper, and in her company mounted the 'bus. It was at her own
request that he got out, leaving her to go home unattended. His manner
conveyed that Miss Silcock's had been a stolen spree. Then came his
story of the accident, his physical sufferings, his doctor's bill, and
his tailor's account; finally the hard-hearted and uncompromising
attitude of the Company was duly exhibited.

Arthur rose to cross-examine--the moment of a thousand dreams and fears.

"Now, Mr. Tiddes----" he began.

"_At_ your service, sir," interposed Mr. Tiddes in jaunty and jocular
defiance.

"I want to follow you through this very pleasant evening which you seem
to have had. I'm sure we're all very sorry that it ended badly."

"Very unselfish of _you_ to look at it like that, Mr. Lisle," said His
Honour. (Laughter in Court.)

Follow Mr. Tiddes he did through every incident of the evening, with a
curiosity especially directed towards the refreshments of which Mr.
Tiddes had partaken. With subtle cunning he suggested that in such
company as he had been privileged to enjoy Mr. Tiddes would be
lavish--his hand would know no stint. As a matter of fact, Mr. Tiddes
appeared to have done things well. The "tea-shop" sold other
commodities, such as a glass of port. Next door to the "Cinema" was a
saloon buffet and Mr. Tiddes admitted a visit. At supper they naturally
took something--in fact bottled ale for Miss Silcock, and
whiskey-and-soda for Mr. Tiddes.

"One whiskey and soda?" asked counsel for the defence.

"Yes, one," said Mr. Tiddes. "At least I think so. Well--I believe I did
have a split, besides."

"Split whiskey or split soda?" (Laughter in Court.)

His Honour lolled back in his chair, smiling. Evidently he thought
somebody a fool, but Arthur could not be sure whether it was himself or
Mr. Tiddes. But he did not much care. He had warmed to his work, he had
forgotten his fears. He could not bear that Mr. Tiddes should defeat
him; it had become a battle between them. Once or twice Mr. Tiddes had
winced, as over that 'split'--an arrow in the joints of his harness! He
was less jaunty, less facetious.

At last they got to the accident. Here Mr. Tiddes was very firm. He made
no concessions; he walked (so he maintained) from his place in a
perfectly quiet, sober, and business-like manner, and in like manner was
about to descend from the 'bus when--on it moved and he was jerked
violently off! If the conductor said anything to the contrary--well, the
conductor was not looking at the critical moment; he was collecting
somebody's fare.

"You didn't even look back at the young lady over your shoulder?"

"I did not, sir." Mr. Tiddes too was, by now, rather angry.

"Didn't kiss your hand or anything of that sort?"

"Nothing of the kind, sir."

"In fact you were attending entirely to what you were doing?"

"I was."

"Don't you think, then, that it's rather odd that you should have been
jerked off?"

"The 'bus moved suddenly, and that jerked me off."

"But you were holding on, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was holding on all right."

So they went on wrangling, till His Honour ended it by remarking, "Well,
we've got his story, I think, Mr. Lisle. You will have your opportunity
of commenting on it, of course." Upon which Arthur sat down promptly.

But he was dissatisfied. It was no more than a drawn battle with Mr.
Tiddes. If Mr. Tiddes's refreshments had been shown to border on excess,
there was nothing to show that they had affected the clearness of his
mind or the stability of his legs. That was what Arthur was fishing
for--and pure fishing it was, for the conductor had in fact had his back
turned at the critical moment when Mr. Tiddes left the 'bus--somehow.
Also he was between Mr. Tiddes and the only other passenger (Miss
Silcock herself excepted). He had reached backwards to give the signal
to start--assuming that Mr. Tiddes was already safely off. Negligent,
perhaps--but why was Mr. Tiddes not safely off by then? That question
stuck in Arthur's mind; but he had got no answer to it out of Mr.
Tiddes. The plaintiff insisted that no human being could have got off in
the time allowed by that negligent conductor.

Miss Silcock confirmed her friend's story, but in rather a sulky way. It
was not pleasant to have the stolen spree dragged to light; she had "had
words" with her mother, to whom she had originally represented the
companion of her evening as belonging to the gentler sex; she was
secretly of opinion that a true gentleman would have forgone his action
in such circumstances. Arthur had hopes of Miss Silcock and treated her
very gently--no suggestion whatever that her conduct was other than
perfectly ladylike! Miss Silcock was quite in a good humour with him
when they got to the moment when Mr. Tiddes bade her good night.

"You were at the far end of the 'bus. He said good night, and walked
past the conductor?"

"Yes."

"When did the 'bus stop?"

"When he was about half-way to the door."

"What did he do?"

"Walked to the door."

"Had the 'bus started again by then?"

"No."

"You could see him all the time? Where was he when the 'bus started
again?"

"On the platform outside the door."

"Was he holding on to anything?"

Miss Silcock looked a little flustered. "I don't remember."

"Oh, but try, Miss Silcock," said His Honour soothingly, but sitting up
straight in his chair again.

"Well, no, I don't think he was. He'd turned round."

"Oh, he _had_ turned round!" said Arthur, with a quite artistic glance
at the jury.

"Well, he just turned and smiled at me--sort o' smiled good night."

"Of course! Very natural he should!"

"But he didn't seem to remember having done it," observed His Honour.

"Did he do anything besides smile at you?" asked Arthur.

"No, I don't think----" She smiled and hesitated a moment.

"Think again, Miss Silcock. You'd had a very pleasant evening together,
you know."

Miss Silcock blushed a little, but was by no means displeased. "Well, he
did cut a sort of caper--silly-like," she admitted.

"Oh, did he? Could you show us what it was like?"

"I couldn't _show_ you," answered Miss Silcock, with a slight giggle and
a little more blush. "He lifted up one leg and kind of wiggled it in the
air, and----"

"Just then the 'bus went on again, is that it?"

"Well, just about then, yes." Miss Silcock had caught a look--such a
look!--from her friend, and suddenly became reluctant.

"While he was on one leg?"

Miss Silcock, turned frightened and remorseful, was silent.

"Answer the question, please," said His Honour.

"Well, I suppose so. Yes."

"Thank you, Miss Silcock. No more questions."

Re-examination could not mend matters. The evidence for the defence came
to very little. Counsel's speeches call for no record, and His Honour
did little more than observe that, where Mr. Tiddes and Miss Silcock
differed, the jury might see some reason to think that Miss Silcock's
memory of the occurrence was likely to be the clearer and more
trustworthy of the two. The jury thought so.

"We find that the conductor started the 'bus too soon, but that the
plaintiff oughtn't to have been behaving like he was," said the foreman.

"That he wouldn't have tumbled off but for that, do you mean?" asked His
Honour.

After a moment's consultation, the foreman answered "Yes."

"I submit that's a verdict of contributory negligence, your Honour,"
said Arthur, jumping up.

"I don't think you can resist that, Mr. Cawley, can you?" His Honour
asked of counsel for the plaintiff. "Judgment for the defendants with
costs."

Poor Mr. Tiddes! He was purple and furious. It is sadly doubtful if he
ever again gave Miss Silcock a pleasant evening-out.

The case was won. Mr. Cawley was disconsolate. "Fancy the girl letting
me down like that!" he said, in mournful contemplation of the untoward
triumph of truth. Mr. Mayne, winking more quickly than usual, was mildly
congratulatory. "The result will be very satisfactory to the Company.
Just the sort of thing which shows their policy of fighting is right!
Good afternoon, Mr. Lisle, and thank you." And there was Henry, all over
smiles, waiting to applaud him and to carry home his blue bag. Arthur
had a suspicion that, if he had lost, Henry would have disappeared and
left him to carry the bag back to the Temple himself.

He was exultant, but he was not satisfied. As he strolled back to his
chambers, smoking cigarettes, a voice kept saying in his ear, "You ought
to have got it out of Tiddes! You ought to have got it out of Tiddes!"
Ought he? Could he? Had Tiddes been lying, or was his memory really
misty? Arthur did not know even now, though he favoured the former
alternative. But oughtn't he to know? Oughtn't he to have turned Mr.
Tiddes inside out? He had not done it. Tiddes would have beaten him, but
for Miss Silcock. True, he had persevered with Miss Silcock because his
mind had gone to the mysterious point in the case--why Mr. Tiddes was
just ten seconds or so too long in getting off the 'bus. But could
he--or couldn't he--have been expected to think of that capering
silly-like?

Between exultation and dissatisfaction his mind was tingling. He fought
the fight over and over again; he was absolutely engrossed in it. He was
back in the Temple before he knew it almost--sitting in his chair by the
fire, with a pipe, trying to see what he could have asked, how he could
have broken down Mr. Tiddes's evidence. A pure triumph might have left
him pleased but careless. This defeat in victory sharpened his feelings
to a keen interest and curiosity. What were the secrets of the art of
wresting the truth from unwilling witnesses? The great art of
cross-examination--what were its mysteries?

At any rate it was a wonderful art and a wonderful thing. Very different
from the dreary reading of Law Reports! There was a fascination in the
pitting of your brain against another man's--in wringing the truth
(well, if what you wanted to get happened to be the truth) from his
reluctant grasp. It was Battle--that's what it was.

"By Jove!" he cried within himself--indeed he could not tell whether he
uttered the words out loud or not--"There's something in this beastly
old business after all, if only I can stick to it!"

Oblivious for the moment of everything else, even of Hilsey, even of his
adoration, he vowed that he would.

All this was the doing of quiet old Mr. Mayne with his winking eyelid.
Why had he done it? That too Arthur now forgot to ask. He remembered
nothing save the battle with Mr. Tiddes. He had tasted blood.



CHAPTER XV

THE MAN FOR A CRISIS


Serious trouble threatened the Sarradet household also--not of the sort
which impended over the Lisles, but one not less common. There was
increasing strife between father and son. Raymond's taste for pleasure
showed no sign of being sated; he took no warning from the scrape out of
which Sidney Barslow's strong arm had rescued him; he spared neither
time nor money in seeking the delights to which his youth and his
temperament inclined him. Old Mr. Sarradet was ageing; he grew more
grumpy and crusty, fonder of his hoards, less patient when he saw money
wasted, more fearful of leaving the family business at the mercy of a
spendthrift. He grumbled and scolded; he made scenes. Raymond met them
with sullen hostility, or took to avoiding them by absenting himself
from the house. If home were made uncomfortable, there were plenty of
other places to go to! The more his father would bridle him, the more he
kicked.

Marie tried to hold them together, to patch up quarrels, to arrange
truces, to persuade each of them to meet the other half-way. Her task
was the more difficult since she herself was held as a threat over her
brother's head. She should have the hoards, she should have the
business, unless Raymond would mend his ways! The old man's menace
turned her brother's anger against her; almost openly he accused her of
bad faith and hypocrisy--of aiming at stepping into his shoes. The
charge was cruel, for she loved him. But he made a stranger and at last
nearly an enemy of her. Once she had hoped to work on him through Amabel
Osling, but Amabel, slighted in favour of more recent and more gaudy
attractions, stood now on her dignity and would make no approaches to
Raymond. She came to the house still, and was as friendly as ever to
father and daughter, but distant towards the son on the rare occasions
when she found him there. Joe Halliday was no use in serious straits
like these; he took everything as it came, for others as well as for
himself; his serenely confident, "Oh, he's a young fool, of course, but
it'll come all right, you'll see," did not seem to Marie to meet the
situation. And Arthur Lisle? Her old feeling forbade the idea of
troubling Mr. Lisle with such matters; they would certainly grate on
him. Besides, he was--somehow--a little bit of a stranger now.

It was Sidney Barslow's opportunity; he was well fitted to use the
chance that circumstances gave him. The strong will which enabled him to
put a curb on his own inclinations, so soon as he had an adequate
motive, made him a man to turn to in distress. His past indulgences, in
so far as they were known or conjectured, themselves gave him authority.
He spoke of what he knew, of what he had experienced and overcome.
Seeing him, the old father could not deny that young men might pass
through a season of folly, and yet be sound at heart and able to steady
themselves after a little while. Raymond could not call him a Puritan or
an ignoramus, nor accuse him of not understanding the temptations which
beset his own path.

Sidney was honest in his efforts. He felt a genuine remorse for having
set young Raymond's feet on the primrose path along which they now raced
at such dangerous speed. About his own little excursions along the same
track he felt no such pangs of conscience; fellows were different; some
could pull up when they liked; he could. It seemed that Raymond could
not; therefore he repented of having started Raymond at all, and
recognised a duty laid on himself of stopping him if possible. And the
same motives which had enabled him to forsake the dangerous path urged
him to turn Raymond also from it. Marie's approval had been his mark in
the one case; in the other it was her gratitude; in both her favour. The
pleasure he derived from seeing her trust him and lean on him was
something quite new in his life and appealed strongly to his courageous
and masculine temper. He would not fail her, any more than he had failed
her brother in his need.

And his reward? He knew very well what he wanted--if only he could get
it. He did not deal in doubts and hesitations. He had not sacrificed his
indulgences without being quite sure of what he wanted in exchange. His
mind, if primitive and unrefined, was direct and bold. His emotions were
of the same simple and powerful type. Courting a girl was to him no
matter of dreaming, romancing, idealising, fearing, palpitating. It was
just a man seeking the mate that pleased him.

Marie was in no mood to be courted yet; her dream was too recently
dispelled, and her steady nature could not leap to sudden change. But
her eyes were on his strong qualities again; she looked at him less
through Arthur Lisle's spectacles; that side of her which liked him
could now assert itself. She turned to his aid readily, and, with her
shrewd calculation seconding the impulse of friendship, made his company
seem as welcome for its own sake as for the services it promised.

"You always bring a breath of comfort with you, Sidney," she told him
gratefully.

Sidney was honest with her. "It's not much good. He won't listen to me
any more." He shook his head in puzzle. "I can't think where he gets the
money! You tell me the old man has cut off supplies, but I know he
races, and I know he plays baccarat--and you may be sure he doesn't win
on a balance. Besides he--well, he must get through a good bit in other
ways. He must be raising the wind somehow. But it can't last."

It could not. One day old Sarradet came home from business almost
collapsed. Men had come to his shop--his cherished City shop, hoary with
the respectability of a hundred-and-fifty years, parading the 'Royal
Warrant' of a third successive Sovereign--asking where his son was,
brandishing writs, truculently presuming that Mr. Sarradet would "set
the matter right." One more vicious than the rest, a jeweller, talked of
false pretences and illegal pawning--not of a writ or a settlement, but
of a summons or a warrant. He had been very savage, and the old man,
ashamed and terrified, had pushed him into his own private room and
there heard his ultimatum--the ring and the bangle, or their value, in
twenty-four hours, or an application to a magistrate. And where was
Raymond? He had not been home the night before. He was not at the West
End shop. The poor old fellow babbled lamentations and threats--he would
not pay, he had done with the scoundrel, here was a pretty end to an
honourable life! When Marie knelt by him and put her arms about him, he
fairly burst into tears.

The world of reckless living and dishonest shifts--both father and
daughter were strangers to it. At her wits' end Marie telephoned for
Sidney Barslow. By the time he came, she had got the old man to go to
bed, weeping for his son, for himself, for his money, utterly aghast at
doings so mad and disastrous. A pitiful sight! She met Sidney with tears
in her eyes, full of the dismal story. "What are we to do?" she wailed,
quite bereft of her usual composure and courage. The thing was too
difficult, too dreadful.

"The first thing is to find him," said Sidney in his quick decisive way.
He looked at his watch. "It's a bit too early now; in a couple of hours'
time I may be able to lay my hands on him."

"Can you really? How? Oh, I was sure you'd be able to help!"

"Well, you see, Marie, I--er--know the ropes. I think I can find him--or
somebody who'll put me on his track."

"Yes, that's where you're such a help." How she was pardoning those past
indulgences! In her heart she was thanking heaven for them, almost
admiring them! Wrong as they were, they taught a man things which made
him ever so useful to women in distress about prodigal sons and
brothers, "And what will you do when you do find him?"

"Frighten him pretty well to death, if I can," Sidney answered grimly.
"I fancy our friend the jeweller may turn out a blessing in disguise.
The news of criminal proceedings will be a bit of a soberer. The young
ass!" Because it was so easy to enjoy yourself without being involved in
criminal proceedings! "But, I say, you know," he went on, "the
governor'll have to pay up."

"You must persuade him. I don't believe I can, Sidney."

"Oh, you can do that right enough. After all, I don't suppose it'll
break him exactly. I daresay, though, the young 'un has run into a tidy
lot. Still we can square 'em, I expect. Don't look so awfully cut up,
Marie."

"I was just off my head till you came." She held out both her hands for
him to grasp. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sidney!"

"That's all right, Marie. And, look here, if I find him, I shan't bring
him here. I expect he and the old man get on one another's nerves.
There's a room at my place. I'll take him there. You put some things in
a bag for him, and I'll take it."

"Will you? It would be better they shouldn't meet--with father as he
is."

"And you may be sure that when I've got him, I won't let him go. And
we'll see about the money to-morrow."

She was infinitely comforted, immensely grateful. If he had sown wild
oats, what wisdom he had gleaned from the crop! A meeting between father
and son just now might be the end of all things, finally fatal! She
packed the bag and gave it to her trusted emissary. "What should we have
done without you!" was her cry again.

"Just leave it to me," he told her, his strong thick lips set
resolutely.

With the knowledge acquired in folly but tamed now to the service of
wisdom, morality, and the interests of the Sarradet business, he found
young Raymond without much difficulty--and found him just in time. More
than money was giving out, more than strict attention to financial
ethics was in jeopardy. The little excitable fellow was pretty well at
the end of his tether physically also. His nerves were at breaking
strain. Pleasure had become a narcotic against thought; if that alone
would not serve, drink was called in as an ally. On the verge of a
collapse, he was desperately postponing it by the surest way to make it
in the end complete.

Sidney, robust of body and mind, beheld him with mingled pity and
contempt. He himself could have lived the life for years with faculties
and powers unimpaired, really not the worse for it, save in his pocket
and his morals; only prudential considerations and newly awakened hopes
had, on a cool calculation, turned him from it. But Raymond, if he did
not land in jail first, would land in hospital speedily. Amidst the
jeers and sneers of the hardier denizens of those regions, Sidney
carried him to his own flat and put him to bed like a naughty worn-out
child.

In the morning came the lecture. "No end of a jawing! I pitched it in
hot and strong, I can tell you," Sidney subsequently reported to Marie.
Poor Raymond lay in bed with a racking headache and trembling hands, and
heard his sins rehearsed and (worse still) his feebleness exhibited.

"You're not the chap for this kind of thing," Sidney told him. "Chuck
it, my boy! Seek milder delights. Oh, I know it's a bit my fault in the
beginning. But I thought you'd a head on your shoulders and some sense
in it. I'm not against a bust now and then; but this sort of rot----!
And what's this fool's business about a ring and a bangle? You're in a
pretty tight place there, young fellow."

Almost amid sobs the story of these unfortunate articles of
jewellery--bought on credit and pawned, by and with the advice and
consent of the donee, a few days later--came out. Sidney brandished the
terrors of the law; the figure of the justly irate tradesman took on
terrifying proportions. If only that dread apparition, with its
suggestion of policemen, of locked doors and bolts shot home, of Black
Maria and picking oakum--if only that apparition could be exorcised,
there was nothing Raymond would not do, promise, and abjure. Sidney
jeered while he threatened and grinned while he preached, but he did
both to good purpose, with all the convincing knowledge and experience
of a reformed criminal at a revivalist meeting, with all the zeal of a
doctor whose reputation is staked upon a cure.

Then the thorough-going long-headed man went off to his own employers
and arranged to begin his approaching summer holiday immediately. That
done, he tackled the writ-bearers and the fearful apparition with the
aid of a sharp lawyer of his acquaintance. With threats of giving as
much trouble as possible in one hand, and promises of a composition in
"spot cash" in the other, the lawyer and he succeeded in reducing the
claims to manageable proportions; the pawnbroker, himself a little
uneasy under the lawyer's searching questions, accepted a compromise.
Things could be arranged--at a price.

But the pain of that price to old Sarradet's thrifty soul! To have to
subtract from his hoards instead of adding to them, sell stock instead
of buying, to count himself so much the poorer instead of so much the
richer--the old merchant hated it. It was Marie's task to wring the
money out of him. And even when he had been brought to the point of
ransoming his son, he ceased not to bewail the prospects of his beloved
business.

"I won't leave it to him, I won't," he declared querulously. "I'll leave
it to you, Marie."

"Oh, but I couldn't possibly manage the business, Pops," she protested,
half in dismay, half laughing at the idea.

"Then you must get a husband who can."

"Never mind my husband just now. There are more pressing things than
that."

An idea struck the old fellow. "I'll make it into a company. I'll clip
Master Raymond's wings for him!" He pondered over this way of salvation,
and, in light of its possibilities, gradually grew a little calmer.

At last the wrench was over, the money paid. It was judged to be safe
for father and son to meet. Sidney brought the rescued sinner to
Regent's Park. Compunction seized them at the sight of one another; the
boy was so pale, shaken, and contrite; the old man was thinner, aged,
and feeble. The old tenderness between them revived; each tried to
console the other. Quite resolved to protect his business, Mr. Sarradet
consented to forgive his son. Humbled to his soul, Raymond asked no more
than to be received back into favour on any terms. Marie and Sidney
stood by, helping, favouring, and exchanging glances of
self-congratulation.

"I'm off for my holiday to-morrow, Mr. Sarradet," Sidney announced.

The old man looked up in sudden alarm. It was as if the anchor announced
to the ship that it proposed to take a holiday.

"No, no, that's all right! I'm going for a walking tour in Wales, and
Raymond's coming with me. Twenty miles a day, open air all day! Three
weeks of that, and he'll be as right as rain, and ready to tackle his
work like a Hercules!"

This clever fellow had a plan to meet every emergency! Surely he would
have a plan to save the beloved business too? Mr. Sarradet determined to
consult him about it when he came back from Wales. Meanwhile he grew
much more cheerful, and even went so far as to indulge in some hints of
a giddy youth of his own--hints based (in cold truth be it said) on a
very slender foundation, but showing a desire to make excuses for his
son.

"Yes, and your bit of fun didn't do you any harm, Mr. Sarradet, did it?"
asked Sidney.

No more had his bit--though quite a large bit--done Sidney harm. There
was reason then to hope that even Raymond's formidable bit might not in
the end do Raymond any harm. He might turn out as good a man of business
as his father yet. Still no risks should be run. The old gentleman
hugged the idea of his company--and he had someone in his eye for
Managing Director.

So with skill and courage, with good heart and kindliness, with ambition
and cunning, Sidney Barslow bound the Sarradet family to his chariot
wheels. He was the friend-in-need, the rescuer, the saviour. He was like
to become the sheet-anchor, the arbiter, the referee. Between father and
son--her weak old man and her weaker young one--Marie could not carry
the whole load herself. She was strong and self-reliant, but she was not
strong enough for that. She too would take the strong man's orders,
though she might take them with a smile, when what had been and what
might have been came to her remembrance.

He gave her an order now, when they said good night.

"Look here, when I bring him back from Wales, you mustn't let him mope
or be bored. If I were you, I'd get Amabel to come and stay here a bit."

"Really you think of everything," she told him in a merry wonder. "I'll
ask her, of course."

"I think of a good many things," he said, venturing a bold glance in her
eyes.

"Don't think of too many at a time, Sidney," she warned him with a
smile.

"No, no, each in its proper place! One done, t'other come on, you know!"

He stood looking down on her with a jovial confident smile--and she
liked it. His bold glance of admiration did not displease or alarm her.
She was quite ready to be told what the glance said; but she was not
ready to say anything in reply yet. But it was evident that some day she
would be asked for a reply.

And it seemed evident too in what direction the current of her life was
setting. With a smile for this and a sigh for that, and a wrinkle of the
brow over this-and-that, she went back to the drawing-room and gave old
Sarradet his gin-and-water.



CHAPTER XVI

A SHADOW ON THE HOUSE


"So here you are--at Hilsey at last!" said Bernadette.

"Yes, and, I say, what a jolly old place it is!" He paused for a moment.
"I very nearly didn't come at all, though."

She looked at him in amused surprise. "What was the counter-attraction?"

"I had a job. Consequently it became wildly possible that I might get
another."

"Oh, is that all? I hoped it was something interesting and romantic."

"It is interesting--though I suppose it's not romantic." In fact it had
possessed for him some of the qualities implied by that hard-worked
word. "But my clerk can wire me if anything turns up." He laughed at
himself. "Nothing will, you know, but it flatters my pride to think it
might."

"It won't flatter my pride if you run away from us again." She rose.
"Get your hat and I'll show you round a bit. The others are all out,
doing something."

"Who's here?"

"Only the Norton Wards and Sir Christopher. Sir Oliver's been here, but
he had to go up on some business. He's coming back in a few days. The
others are here just for the week-end."

"But I'm here for a month! Isn't that glorious?"

"Well, you know, something may happen----"

"Oh, no, I shan't be sent for. I'm sure I shan't. Anyhow I could come
back, couldn't I?"

"Yes, if you wanted to. The house would always be at your disposal,
Cousin Arthur." Her smile was mocking, but she laid her hand on his arm
with the old suggestion of a caress, adding, "Let's get out and enjoy
it, while we can, anyhow."

Bernadette looked a little pale and seemed rather tired--"run down after
the season," she had explained to Esther Norton Ward when that lady
commented on her appearance--but Arthur was too joyfully excited, by
meeting her again and by his first view of Hilsey, to notice fine
shades. It was true that he had suffered a momentary hesitation about
coming--a passing spasm of conscience or ambition induced by the great
case of _Tiddes v. the Universal Omnibus Company, Ltd._--but that was
all over with the sight of Bernadette and of his stock's ancestral home.
To see her there was to see the jewel in its proper setting, or (to
adopt Joe Halliday's hyperbole) the angel in her own paradise. As they
stepped out on the lawn in front of the old house, he exclaimed, "It's
beautiful, and it fits you just perfectly! You were made for one
another!"

She pursed up her lips for a minute, and then laughed. "Drink it in!"
she said, jeering at his enthusiasm, and perhaps at something else; the
idea of an innate harmony between herself and her husband's house
seemed, to say the least, far-fetched.

Whatever might be the case as to its mistress, Hilsey deserved his
praises. An old manor house, not very large, but perfect in design and
unimpaired by time or change, it stood surrounded by broad lawns,
bordered on the south side (towards which the principal rooms faced) by
a quick-running river. The pride of the garden lay in the roses and the
cedar trees; amongst all the wealth of beauty these first caught the
eye. Within the house, the old oak was rich in carving; the arms of the
Lisles and of their brides, escutcheons and mottoes, linked past and
present in an unbroken continuity. Grave gentlemen, and beauties, prim
or provocative, looked down from the panels. As he saw the staid and
time-laden perfection, the enshrined history, the form and presentment
of his ancestors, a novel feeling came to birth in Arthur Lisle, a sense
of family, of his own inalienable share in all this though he owned none
of it, of its claim on him. Henceforth, wherever he dwelt, he would know
this, in some way, for his true home. He confessed to his feelings
laughingly: "Now I understand what it is to be a Lisle of Hilsey!"

"Imperishable glory!" But she was rather touched. "I know. I think I
felt it too when Godfrey brought me here first. It is--awfully
charming."

"I don't care for show-places as a rule. They expect too much of you.
But this doesn't. It's just--well, appealing and insinuating, isn't it?"

"It's very genteel."

"Oh yes, it's unquestionably very genteel too!" he laughed.

The incomparable home and the incomparable cousin--his mind wedded them
at once.

"It was a stroke of genius that made Godfrey choose you to--to reign
here!"

Her smile was the least trifle wry now. What imp of perversity made the
boy say all the things which were not, at this moment, very appropriate?

"Reigns are short--and rhapsodies seem likely to be rather long, Arthur.
I think I'll go and write a letter, and leave you to simmer down a bit."

"Oh, I'm an ass, I know, but----"

"Yes, and not only about the house!" She turned to leave him, with a
wave of her hand. "You'll get over all of it some day."

He watched her slender white-frocked figure as she walked across the
lawn and into the porch. From there she looked back, waving her hand
again; he pictured, though he could not at the distance see, the
affectionate mocking little smile with which she was wont to meet his
accesses of extravagant admiration, disclaiming what she accepted,
ridiculing what she let him see was welcome. His memory took an enduring
portrait of her there in the doorway of her home.

His heart was gay as he wandered about, "drinking it in," as Bernadette
had bidden him. The sojourn before him seemed an eternity full of
delight. The future beyond that month was indeed charged with interest;
was there not the great farce, was there not now the strange fact of
Messrs. Wills and Mayne, with whose aid imagination could play almost
any trick it pleased? Still these things admitted of postponement.
Arthur postponed them thoroughly, to fling himself into the flood of
present happiness.

His roving steps soon brought him to the banks of the stream; he had
been promised fishing there and was eager to make an inspection. But he
was to make an acquaintance instead. On a bench by the water a little
girl sat all by herself, nursing a doll without a head, and looking
across the river with solemn steady eyes. Directly Arthur saw her face
he knew her for Margaret, sole daughter of the house.

Hearing his step, the child turned towards him with a rather
apprehensive look, and hastily hid the headless doll behind her back.
She reminded him of her father so strongly that he smiled; there was the
same shy embarrassment; the profile too was a whimsical miniature of
Godfrey's, and her hair was the colour of his--it hung very straight,
without curls, without life or riot in it.

"You're Margaret, aren't you?" he asked, sitting down by her. She
nodded. "I'm Cousin Arthur."

"Oh yes, I knew you were coming."

"Why have you put dolly behind your back?"

"I thought you mightn't like her. Mummy says she's so ugly."

"Oh, bring her out. Let's have a look at her! How did she lose her
head?"

"Patsy bit it off and ate it--at least she ate the face. It made her
sick."

"Who's Patsy?" He was glad that Margaret had now put the doll back in
her lap; he took that for a mark of confidence. "Is she your dog?"

"No, she's Judith's; but she lives here always and Judith doesn't. I
wish Judith did."

"What's dolly's name?"

"Judith."

"I see you like Judith very much, don't you? The real Judith--as well as
dolly?"

"Yes, very much. Don't you?"

"Yes, very much." And then the conversation languished. Arthur was only
moderately apt with children, and Margaret's words had come slowly and
with an appearance of consideration; she did not at all suggest a
chatterbox. But presently she gave him a look of timid enquiry, and
remarked in a deprecating way "I expect you don't like guinea-pigs. Most
people don't. But if you did, I could show you mine. Only if you're sure
you like guinea-pigs!"

Arthur laughed outright. For all the world, it was like the way Godfrey
had invited him down to Hilsey! The same depreciation of what was
offered, the same anxiety not to force an unwilling acceptance!

"Guinea-pigs! I just love them!" he exclaimed with all possible
emphasis.

"Oh, well then!" said Margaret, almost resignedly, with a sort of "Your
blood be on your own head" manner, as she jumped down and put her free
hand into his; the other held tight hold of the headless doll. "In the
kitchen-garden!"

Over the guinea-pigs he made a little progress in her good graces. She
did not come out to meet a stranger with the fascinating trustfulness of
some children; she had none of that confidence that she would be liked
which makes liking almost inevitable. She was not pretty, though she was
refined. But somehow she made an appeal to Arthur, to his chivalry--just
as her father did to his generosity. Perhaps she too had not many
friends, and did not hope for new ones.

When the guinea-pigs gave out, she made him no more offers and risked no
more invitations. In a grave silence she led him back from the
kitchen-garden to the lawn. He was silent too, and grave, except for
twitching lips. He saw that she could not be "rushed" into intimacy--it
would never do to toss her up in the air and catch her, for
instance--but he felt that their first meeting had been a success.

A voice called from within a door adjacent to him: "Margaret, your tea's
ready." The child slipped her hand out of his and ran in without a word.
A minute passed, Arthur standing where he was, looking at the old house.
Judith came out and greeted him.

"You've made an impression on Margaret," she told him, smiling. "She
said to me, 'I've shown Cousin Arthur my guinea-pigs, and I _think_ he's
going to be nice.'"

"Guarded! At any rate, in the way you emphasise it."

"It's a lot from her, though, on so short an acquaintance."

He liked the look of Judith in country kit; she was dressed for exercise
and conveyed an agreeable suggestion of fresh air and energy. "I'm all
by myself; take me for a bit of a walk or something."

"All right. We've time for a stroll before tea--it's always late." She
set off towards a little bridge which crossed the river and led to a
path through the meadows towards a fir wood on rising ground beyond.

"How like the child is to Godfrey! I suppose they're very devoted to one
another?"

"Well, I think they are, really. But they rather need an intermediary,
all the same--somebody to tell Margaret that her father wants her, and
_vice versa_. My function, Arthur--among others which you may have
observed that I fulfil in the course of your study of the household."

He laughed. "I don't think I have studied it. What is there to study?"

"There's a good deal to study in every household, I expect." They had
scaled the hill and stood on the edge of the wood. "There's a pretty
view of the house from here," she said, turning round.

"By Jove, how jolly and--and peaceful, don't you know?--it all looks!"

Her eyes turned from the view to the young man's face. She smiled, a
little in scorn, more in pity. Because he really seemed to identify the
features of the landscape with the household at Hilsey Manor--a most
pathetic fallacy! But he had always been blind, strangely blind, dazzled
by the blaze of his adoration. Yet she liked him for his blindness, and
conceived it no business of hers to open his eyes. Though they were
opened to a full glare of knowledge and sorrow, how would that help?

To her own eyes there rested now a dark shadow over the house, a cloud
that might burst in storm. She felt a whimsical despair about her
companion. How he soared in a heaven of his own making, with an angel of
his own manufacture! With what a thud he would come to earth, and how
the angel would moult her wings, if a certain thing happened! Oh, what a
fool he was--yet attractive in his folly! For the sake of woman, she
could almost love him for the love he bore his Bernadette--who was not,
by a long way, the real one.

"I'm rather glad Wyse isn't going to be here for a bit yet," said Arthur
thoughtfully. "We shall be jollier by ourselves."

Queer that he should put a name so pat to the shadow which he could not
see!

"I like him all right, but he'd be rather in the way, wouldn't he?"

Of a surety he was in the way--right plump in the middle of it! There
was sore doubt whether the family coach could get by without a spill.

"Well, when he comes back, you mustn't expect to monopolise Bernadette."

"I don't think I ever try to do that, do I?" he asked quickly, flushing
a little. "I mean, I don't set up to--well, I don't make a bore of
myself, do I?"

"Goodness, no! I suppose I meant that you mustn't mind if Sir Oliver
monopolises her rather."

"Oh, but I shall mind that!" cried Arthur in dismay. Then he laughed.
"But I'm hanged if he shall do it! I'll put up a fight. What happened
when he was here before?"

"Well, he's her friend, you see, not mine or Godfrey's. So, naturally, I
suppose----"

"What did they do together?"

"Motored mostly."

"That'd mean she'd be out half the day!"

"Yes. All day sometimes."

By now they were strolling back. Arthur's spirits had fallen somewhat;
this man Wyse might be a considerable bore! But then, when he was there
before, there had been nobody else--no other man except Godfrey, and no
other guest except Judith, who was almost one of the family. He would
not find things quite the same when he came back, thought Arthur in his
heart, sublimely sure that Bernadette would not ill-use him. On this
reflection his spirits rose again, now spiced with combativeness. He
would hold his own.

"How did he and Godfrey hit it off?"

"Oh, Godfrey just retired--you know his way."

"Into his shell? Doesn't he like Sir Oliver?"

"Does he like anybody--except me and you?" she asked, smiling ruefully.
"And I think that perhaps he likes Sir Oliver rather less than most
people. But it's not easy to tell what he feels."

As a fact she had been much puzzled to know what Godfrey had been
thinking of late. He had said nothing to her; she would readily swear
that he had said nothing to Bernadette. He had been just a little more
silent, more invisible, more solitary than usual. Of what was in his
mind she knew really nothing. The pall of his passivity hid it all from
her sight.

It seemed to her that his passivity did more than hide him--that it must
also to a great extent put him out of action, render him negligible,
neutralise him, if and when it came to a fight. As an institution, as a
condition, as a necessary part of a certain state of things--in fine, as
being Mr. Lisle of Hilsey--he would no doubt, of necessity, receive
attention. In that aspect he meant and represented much--a whole
position, a whole environment, a whole life. Church and state, home and
society--Godfrey the Institution touched them all. But Godfrey the man,
the individual man--what consideration, what recognition could he expect
if he thus effaced himself? If he put forward no claim, none would be
admitted. If he made a nonentity of himself, he would be counted for
naught. It might be urged that such had been the position for years, and
that, with all its drawbacks, it had worked. The argument was futile
now. A new and positive weight in the other scale upset the balance.

"Well, do you like Sir Oliver yourself?" asked Arthur, after some
moments of silence.

She paused before answering. "Yes, I do," she said in the end. "At any
rate I rather admire him. There's a sort of force about him. And--yes--I
do like him too. You could trust him, I think." Then it seemed to
herself that this was an odd thing which had come to her lips--under
existing circumstances. It was in explanation to herself, rather than
for Arthur's information, that she added, "I mean that, if he undertook
anything towards you, he'd carry it out; you might rely on him."

"I don't want him to undertake anything towards me," said Arthur
loftily.

"Oh, the people outside those limits must shift for themselves--I think
that would be entirely Sir Oliver's view. But I'm not sure it's a wrong
one, are you?" It was still with her own thoughts that she was busy. She
could not quite understand why she was not more angry with Oliver Wyse.
She had no doubt by now of what he wanted. Surely it ought to make her
angry? She was pre-eminently Godfrey's friend--his kinswoman, not
Bernadette's. She ought to be terribly angry. Even apart from moral
considerations, family solidarity and friendly sympathy united to
condemn the trespasser. She was loth to confess it to herself, but at
the bottom of her heart she doubted if she were angry at all with Oliver
Wyse. It was all so natural in him; you might almost say that he was
invited. Bernadette and Godfrey between them had set up a situation that
invited the intervention of a strong man who knew what he wanted. Could
the one complain with justice of being tempted, or the other of being
wronged? To the friend and kinswoman her own impartial mind put these
searching questions.

"It's a view that I quite cheerfully accept as between Oliver Wyse and
myself," said Arthur. There was a note of hostility in his voice, of
readiness to accept a challenge. Then he realised that he was being
absurd; he had the grace often to recognise that. He smiled as he added,
"But, after all, he's done me no harm yet, has he?"

The shadow hung over the house--aye, over his own head--but he did not
see it.



CHAPTER XVII

FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON!


Norton Ward on a country visit gave the impression of a locomotive
engine in a siding. His repose was so obviously temporary and at the
mercy of any signal. He was not moving, but his thoughts were all of
movement--of his own moves, of other people's, of his counter-moves; or
of his party's moves, and the other party's counter-moves. He could not
at the moment be moulding and shaping his life; but, like a sculptor, he
was contemplating the clay in the intervals of actual work, and planning
all that he would do, so soon as he could get at it again. Even in hours
of idleness he was brimful of a restless energy which, denied action for
the moment, found its outlet in discussing, planning, speculating,
making maps of lives, careers, and policies.

"You bring London down with you in your portmanteau, Frank!" Sir
Christopher expostulated. "We might be in the Lobby instead of under the
trees here on a fine Sunday morning."

The old Judge lay back in a long chair. He was looking tired, delicate,
and frail, his skin pale and waxy; his hands were very thin. He had
arrived cheerful but complaining of fatigue. The work of the Term had
been hard; he was turned seventy, and must think of retiring--so he told
his hostess.

"It's so different," he went on, "when it comes to looking back on it
all, when it's all behind you. But, of course, men differ too. I never
meant business to the extent you do. I've done pretty well; I won't cry
down what is, after all, a fine position. It was thought rather a job,
by the way, making me a judge, but I was popular and what's called a
good fellow, and people swallowed the job without making a fuss. But
work and what it brings have never been all the world to me. I've loved
too many other things, and loved them too much."

"Oh, I know I'm a climber," laughed Norton Ward. "I can't help it. I try
sometimes to get up an interest in some dilettante business or other,
but I just can't! I'm an infernal Philistine; all that sort of thing
seems just waste of time to me."

"Well then, to you it is waste of time," said his wife.

"We must follow our natures, no help for it. And that's what one seems
to have done when one looks back. One gets a little doubtful about Free
Will, looking back."

"Yes, sir, but it's awfully hard to know what your nature is," Arthur
interposed. He was lying on the grass, pulling up blades of it and tying
them in knots for an amusement.

"It works of itself, I think, without your knowing much about it--till,
as I say, you can look back."

"But then it's too late to do anything about it!"

"Well, so it is, unless eternity is an eternity of education, as some
people say--a prospect which one's lower nature is inclined to regard
with some alarm."

"No amount of it will quite spoil you, Sir Christopher," Esther assured
him with an affectionate smile.

"If this life can't educate a man, what can?" asked Norton Ward.

"The view traditionally ascribed to Providence--with a most distressing
corollary!"

"I think, if a fellow's come a mucker, he ought to have another chance,"
said Arthur.

"That's what my criminals always tell me from the dock, Mr. Lisle."

"And what women say when they run away from their husbands," added
Norton Ward with a laugh. "By the way, I was talking to Elphinstone the
other day about the effect this Divorce Reform movement might have if
either party really took it up in earnest, and he was inclined to----"

"Shall we hear Sir John Elphinstone's views on this beautiful morning?"
asked the Judge.

Norton Ward laughed again--at himself. "Oh, I beg your pardon! But after
all it is some time since we touched on anything of practical interest."

"If death and judgment aren't of practical interest, I'll be hanged if I
know what is!"

"But neither of them exactly of immediate interest, Judge, we'll hope!"

"Well, what are you all talking about?" asked a voice from behind the
group. Bernadette stood there, with parasol and prayer-book. She had
been to church with Godfrey, Margaret, and Judith.

"Death and judgment, Bernadette," said Esther.

"Not very cheerful! You might as well have come to church, and dressed
the family pew for us."

"Oh, but we were cheerful; we had just concluded that neither threatened
any of us at present."

Bernadette took a seat among them, facing Arthur as he lay on the grass.
She gave him a little nod of recognition; she was especially glad to
find him there, it seemed to say. He smiled back at her, lazily happy,
indolently enjoying the fair picture she presented.

"It's very artistic of you to go to church in the country, Bernadette,"
said the Judge. "It's so much the right thing. But you always do the
right thing. In fact I rather expected you to go so far as to bring the
parson back to lunch. That was the ritual in my early days."

"I don't overdo things, not even my duties," smiled Bernadette. She was
looking very pretty, very serene, rather mischievous. None the less, the
parasol and the prayer-book gave her an orthodox air; she was quite
pronouncedly Mrs. Lisle of Hilsey, sitting on her own lawn. After
attending to her religious duties and setting a good example, she was
now entertaining her house-party.

"The others have gone for a walk before lunch, but it's much too hot for
walking," she went on.

"Oh, but you promised to go for a walk with me this afternoon, you
know," cried Arthur.

"We'll go and sit together somewhere instead, Arthur."

"We're warned off! That's pretty evident," laughed Norton Ward. "You
shouldn't give her away before all of us, Arthur. If she does make
assignations with you----"

"If she does make assignations, she keeps them--no matter who knows,"
said Bernadette. A little mocking smile hung persistently about her lips
as she sat there, regarded by them all, the ornament of the group, the
recipient of the flattery of their eyes.

"If she made one with me," said Sir Christopher, "I don't think I should
be able to keep it to myself either. I should be carried away by pride,
as no doubt Mr. Lisle is."

"Would you kiss and tell, Sir Christopher?" smiled Bernadette.

"Poets do--and such a kiss might make even me a poet."

"Evidently you'd better not risk it, Bernadette," laughed Arthur.

"Well, it hasn't been the usual effect of my kisses," Bernadette
observed demurely.

The mischievous reference to her husband seemed obvious. It forced a
smile from all of them; Esther added a reproving shake of her head.

"Perhaps it's as well, because I don't think I should like poets, not
about the house, you know."

"Now tell us your ideal man, Bernadette," said the Judge.

"Oh, I'll tell each of you that in private!"

To Esther Norton Ward, who knew her well, there seemed something changed
in her. She was as serene, as gay, as gracious as ever. But her manner
had lost something of the absolute naturalness which had possessed so
great a charm. She seemed more conscious that she exercised attraction,
and more consciously to take pleasure--perhaps even a little pride--in
doing it. She had never been a flirt, but now her speeches and glances
were not so free from what makes flirtation, not so careless of the
effect they might produce or the response which might be evoked by them.
To some degree the airs of a beauty had infected her simplicity;
graceful and dainty as they were, to her old friend's thinking they
marred the rarer charm. She was not so childlike, not so free from
guile. But Esther did not suppose that the men would notice any change;
if they did, they would probably like it. For being neither willing nor
able to flirt herself, she was convinced that men liked flirts. Flirts
both flattered their pride and saved them trouble. Perhaps there was
some truth in her theory.

For Esther's own eyes the change in Bernadette was there, whether the
men saw it or not. It was not obvious or obtrusive; it was subtle. But
it was also pervasive. It tinged her words and looks with a
provocativeness, a challenge, a consciousness of feminine power formerly
foreign to them. She had meanings where she used to have none. She took
aim at her mark. She knew what she wanted to effect and used means
towards it. She no longer pleased herself and left her pleasure itself
to make her charming. This was not the old Bernadette, Esther thought,
as she watched her dexterously, triumphantly, keeping the three men in
play.

The men did notice, in varying degrees, though none with so clear a
perception as the woman. Norton Ward, not quick to note subtleties in
people and not curious about women, was content with thinking that
Bernadette Lisle seemed in remarkably good form and spirits that
Sunday--he observed on the fact at a later date. The Judge, a shrewder
and more experienced observer in this line, smiled tolerantly at the way
she was keeping her hand in by a flirtation with her handsome young
kinsman by marriage; she was not a fool, and it would do the boy good.
Arthur too saw the change, or rather felt it, as he would feel a
variation in the atmosphere. He could have given no such clear account
of wherein it lay as Esther had arrived at, nor any such simple
explanation as served for Norton Ward or Sir Christopher. Had he been
pressed, he might have said--doubtfully--that she seemed to have become
more his equal, and more like other women in a way, though still
infinitely more delightful. But, no man asking him to analyse his
feeling, he did not attempt the vain task. The effect on him was there,
whatever its explanation might be; in some vague fashion it was as
though she put out a hand to raise him from the ground where he lay at
her feet, his face hidden, and graciously intimated that he might kneel
before her and dare to raise his eyes to hers. She treated him more as a
man and less as a pet--was that it? This was the idea which came nearest
to explicitness in his mind; the proud pleasure with which he looked and
listened had its source in some such inkling as that. He had grown in
the last few months; both actually and in his own esteem he had
developed; a recognition of his progress from her would crown the
delight she gave him.

She saw not only the men's admiration, amused or dazzled; she perceived
also Esther's covert curiosity. She knew herself that she felt different
and was being different. Esther Norton Ward knew it too! Very well, let
her know. She did not know the reason yet. That she would learn
hereafter. She caught Esther's pondering glance and met it with a smile
of mutinous merriment; Esther might have pondered with more chance of
enlightenment, had she been at Hilsey during the week that Oliver Wyse
had spent there!

"Why don't you use your influence with that young man there and make him
work?" asked Norton Ward of her.

"The wise woman uses her influence to make men do what they want to do,
but think they oughtn't. Then they worship her, Frank."

"Oh, bosh! Henry's in despair about you, Arthur--he's pathetic!"

"I like that!" cried Arthur indignantly. "Didn't he tell you about my
case? It was only in the County Court, of course, but----"

"That's it! Henry said you were very promising, if you'd only----"

"Did you win a case, Arthur? Tell us about it."

Arthur told the story of his battle with Mr. Tiddes, and how Miss
Silcock betrayed the fortress.

"Splendid!" cried Bernadette, clapping her hands, her eyes all
sparkling. "Arthur, you shall defend me, the first time I'm in trouble.
Only I think I shall plead guilty, and throw myself on the mercy of his
lordship."

"You'd get none from me, you baggage!" said Sir Christopher, who was
wondering how the deuce any young fellow could resist her.

"Call witnesses to character, anyhow. We'd all come," laughed Norton
Ward.

"You'd all come as witnesses to my character?" Her laugh came low but
rich, hearty, charged with malicious enjoyment. "I wonder if you would!"

"Witnesses to character don't help the prisoner very much, and in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred convict themselves--of stupidity,
which they invite the Judge to share. What they really come to say is
'We've made a mistake about this fellow all these years. He's been too
clever for us!' Why should that help him? I'm very careful about letting
that sort of thing interfere with my sentences."

"But oughtn't the prisoner to get a reward for past good character, Sir
Christopher? Because it may not have been a case of deceiving his
friends. He may have changed himself."

"Well, it's the changed man I'm sentencing. Why shouldn't he get it
hot?"

"I shall not throw myself on the mercy of this particular lordship,"
said Bernadette. "He hasn't got any, that's obvious."

"No, you'd better get out of my jurisdiction."

"That would be the best thing to do, I think--get out of the
jurisdiction." She rose with a laugh. "Also I'm going to get out of this
church-going frock and into something cool and comfortable for lunch."
Before she went, she had a last word for Sir Christopher. "The prisoner
may have deceived himself as well as his friends, mayn't he? And he may
surprise himself in the end just as much as he surprises them. Come
along, Arthur, and help me to make some hock-cup before I
change--Barber's no good at it."

The Judge looked after her as she walked away, attended by Arthur. "That
was rather an acute remark of hers," he said.

"Yes, I wonder what made her say it!" Esther was looking puzzled and
thoughtful again.

"Oh, come, we all of us make intelligent general observations at times,
Esther."

"I don't think Bernadette's much given to general observations, though."

"Anyhow it's good to see her in such spirits," said Norton Ward. "Rather
surprising too, since you're talking of surprises. Because between
ourselves--and now that the family's out of hearing--I may say that our
host is even unusually poor company just now."

"As Bernadette's very little in his company, that doesn't so much
matter."

"Esther, my dear, you sound rather tart," said Sir Christopher. "Come
and drink the hock-cup; it'll make you more mellow."

Bernadette's gay and malicious humour persisted through lunch, but when,
according to her promise, she sat with Arthur on the seat by the river,
sheltered by a tree, her mood had changed; she was very friendly, but
pensive and thoughtful beyond her wont. She looked at him once or twice
as if she meant to speak, but ended by saying nothing. At last she asked
him whether he has seen anything of the Sarradets lately.

"Not since my lunch--when you met Marie," he answered. He was smoking
his pipe and now and then throwing pebbles into the river--placidly
happy.

"I liked her awfully. You musn't drop her, Arthur. She's been a good
friend to you, hasn't she?"

"Oh, she's a rare good sort, Marie! I don't want to drop her, but
somehow I've got out of the way of seeing so much of her. You know what
I mean? I don't go where she does, and she doesn't go much where I do."

"But you could make efforts--more lunches, for instance," she suggested.

"Oh, yes, I could--sometimes I do. But--well, it's just that the course
of my life has become different."

"I'm afraid the course of your life means me to a certain extent."

He laughed. "You began it, of course, when you came to Bloomsbury
Street. Do you remember?"

"Yes, I remember all right. But I don't want you to lose your friends
through me." Again she glanced at him in hesitation, but this time she
spoke. "You may find me a broken reed, after all, Cousin Arthur."

He smoked for a moment, then laid down his pipe. "I'm fond of you all,"
he said. "You know how well Godfrey and I get on. I've made friends with
Judith, and I'm making friends with Margaret. And--we're too good pals
to say much--but you know what you are to me, Bernadette."

"Yes, I know, Cousin Arthur."

"So I don't know what you mean by talking about broken reeds."

She gave a little sigh, but said no more for the moment. She seemed to
be on another tack when she spoke again. "It's a wonderful thing to be
alive, isn't it? I don't mean just to breathe and eat and sleep, but to
be alive really--to--to tingle!"

"It's a wonderful thing to see in you sometimes," he laughed. "Why, this
morning, for instance, you--you seemed to be on fire with it. And for no
particular reason--except, I suppose, that it was a fine day."

She smiled again as she listened, but now rather ruefully. "For no
particular reason!" She could not help smiling at that. "Well, I hope I
didn't scorch anybody with my fire," she said.

"You made us all madly in love with you, of course."

She gave him a little touch on the arm. "Never mind the others. You
mustn't be that, Cousin Arthur."

He turned to her in honest seriousness. "As long as you'll be to me just
what you are now, there's nothing to worry about. I'm perfectly
content."

"But suppose I should--change?"

"I shan't suppose anything of the sort," he interrupted half-angrily.
"Why should you say that?"

Her heart failed her; she could not give him further warning. Words
would not come to her significant enough without being blunt and plain;
that again she neither could nor would be. Something of her malice
revived in her; if he could not see, he must remain blind--till the
flash of the tempest smote light even into his eyes. It must be so. She
gave a little shrug of her shoulders.

"A mood, I suppose! Just as I had a mood this morning--and, as you say,
for no particular reason!"



CHAPTER XVIII

GOING TO RAIN!


The departure of the Norton Wards and Sir Christopher on Monday morning
left Arthur alone with the family party at Hilsey Manor. To live alone
with a family is a different thing from being one of a party of
visitors. The masks are off; the family life is seen more intimately,
the household politics reveal themselves to the intelligent outsider.
During the days which intervened between his own arrival and that of
Oliver Wyse, Arthur's eyes were opened to several things; and first of
all to the immense importance of Judith Arden in the household. He soon
found himself wondering how it got on at all in the winter, when she was
not there; he had not yet known his cousins through a winter. She was in
touch with all three of them; her love for animals and outdoor things
made her in sympathy with the little girl; her cheerfulness and zest for
enjoyment united her with Bernadette; her dry and satiric humour, as
well as her interest in books, appealed to Godfrey's temper. Thus she
served, as she herself had hinted to Arthur, as an intermediary, an
essential go-between; she was always building bridges and filling up
chasms, trying to persuade them that they had more in common than they
thought, trying to make them open their hearts to one another, and
distributing herself, so to say, among them in the way best calculated
to serve these ends. Arthur soon observed with amusement that she aimed
at distributing him also fairly among the family--now assigning him to
Margaret, now contriving for him a walk with Godfrey, then relinquishing
him to Bernadette for a while, and thus employing him, as she employed
herself, as a link; their common liking for him was to serve as a bond
of union. It was the task of a managing woman, and he would have said
that he hated managing women. But it was impossible to hate Judith; she
set about her task with so much humour, and took him into her confidence
about it not so much in words as by quick amused glances which forbade
him to resent the way she was making use of him. Very soon he was
sympathising with her and endeavouring to help in her laudable endeavour
after family unity.

She still persevered in it, though she had little or no hope left, and
was often tempted to abandon the struggle to preserve what, save for the
child's sake perhaps, seemed hardly worth preserving. Though she
actually knew nothing of how matters stood between Bernadette and
Oliver--nothing either of what they had done or of what they meant to
do--though she had intercepted no private communication, and surprised
no secret meetings, she was sure of what Oliver wanted and of what
Bernadette felt. The meaning of the change that puzzled Esther Norton
Ward was no riddle to her; the touch of love had awakened the instinct
to coquetry and fascination; feelings long latent and idle were once
more in activity, swaying the woman's soul and ruling her thoughts.
Judith had little doubt of what the end would be, whether it came
clandestinely, or openly, or passed from the one to the other, as such
things often did. Still, so long as there was a chance, so long as she
had a card to play----! She played Cousin Arthur now--for what he was
worth. After all, it was for his own good too; he was a deeply
interested party. When she saw that he understood her efforts, though
not how urgent was the need of them, and was glad to help, her heart
went out to him, and she found a new motive for the labours she had been
tempted to abandon.

She got no help from Godfrey Lisle. He was sulking; no other word is so
apt to describe his attitude towards the thing which threatened him.
Though he did not know how far matters had or had not gone, he too had
seen a change in his wife; he had watched her covertly and cautiously;
he had watched Oliver Wyse. Slowly he had been driven from indifference
into resentment and jealousy, as he recognised Bernadette's feelings. He
tried to shut his eyes to the possibility of a crisis that would call
for all the qualities which he did not possess--courage, resolution,
determination, and perhaps also for an affection which he had lost, and
an understanding which he had never braced himself to attain. Since he
could not or dared not act, he declared that there lay on him no
obligation. He hated the idea, but it was not his. It was
Bernadette's--and hers the responsibility. He "declined to believe it,"
as people say so often of a situation with which they cannot or are
afraid to grapple. He did believe it, but declining to believe it seemed
at once to justify his inaction and to aggravate his wife's guilt. Thus
it came about that he was fighting the impending catastrophe with no
better weapon than the sulks.

At first the sulks had been passive; he had merely withdrawn himself,
gone into his shell, after his old fashion. But under the influence of
his grudge and his unhappiness he went further now, not of set purpose,
but with an instinctive striving after the sympathy and support for
which he longed, and an instinctive desire to make the object of his
resentment uncomfortable. He tried to gather a party for himself, to win
the members of the household to his side, to isolate Bernadette. This
effort affected his manner towards her. It lost some of its former
courtesy, or at least his politeness was purely formal; he became
sarcastic, disagreeable, difficult over the small questions of life
which from time to time cropped up; he would call the others to witness
how unreasonable Bernadette was, or to join him in ridiculing or
depreciating her pursuits, her tastes, or her likings. Sometimes there
was an indirect thrust at Oliver Wyse himself.

Being in the wrong on the main issue generally makes people anxious
to be in the right in subsidiary matters. Bernadette, conscious of
the cause of her husband's surliness, met it with perfect
good-nature--behaved really like an angel under it, thought Judith with
one of her bitterly humorous smiles. Arthur, a stranger to the cause of
the surliness--for though he had given Oliver Wyse a thought or two on
his own account, he had given him none on Godfrey's score--was troubled
at it, and proportionately admired the angelic character of the
response. His chivalry took fire.

"What's the matter with the old chap?" he asked Judith. "He's downright
rude to her sometimes. He never used to be that."

"Something's upset him, I suppose--some little grievance. I don't think
she minds, you know."

"I mind, though, especially when he seems to expect me to back him up.
I'll soon show him I won't do it!"

"You'd much better not mix yourself up in it--whatever it is. It won't
last long, perhaps."

"I can't stand it if it does. I shall have it out with him. The way
Bernadette stands it is perfectly wonderful."

Another halo for the fair and saintly head! Judith jerked her own head
impatiently. The natural woman longed to cry out: "Don't you see how
clever the minx is?" Sometimes the natural woman was tempted to wish
that Oliver Wyse would swoop down, carry off his prey, and end the whole
situation.

But there was to be a little more of it yet, a little more time for the
fascination of the new manner and the halo of imputed saintliness to
work. Oliver Wyse had interrupted his visit by reason of the illness of
an old uncle, to whom he had owed his start in life and whom he could
not neglect. It had proved rather a long business--Bernadette read a
passage from Sir Oliver's letter to the company at breakfast--but the
old man was convalescent at last, and Sir Oliver would be able to leave
him in three or four days more, if all went well.

"So, if I may, I'll settle provisionally to be with you next Friday,"
said the letter. It went on--and Bernadette also went on composedly--"So
there ought to be nothing in the way of our making the motor excursion I
suggested one day in the following week, if you've a mind for it then."
She folded up the letter, laid it beside her, took a sip of coffee, and
caught Judith's eyes regarding her with what seemed like an amused
admiration. Her own glance in return was candid and simple. "I'm afraid
I forget what his excursion was to be, but it doesn't matter."

"I haven't had my excursion yet," Arthur complained. "The fact is we've
done hardly anything since I came."

"Well, you shall have yours to-morrow, if it's fine," Bernadette
promised.

"For how long does Oliver Wyse propose to honour us?" asked Godfrey,
glowering and glum at the other end of the table.

"I really don't exactly know. A week or so, I should think."

Godfrey grunted surlily. "A week too much!" the grunt plainly said. He
turned to Arthur. "Yes, you'd better get your excursion while you can.
When Wyse is here, we none of us get much chance at the car."

Saintliness ignored the grumble. Arthur fidgeted under it. "If you want
the car, I'm sure I don't want to take it from you, Godfrey," he said
rather hotly.

"Oh, I spoke in your interest. I'm not likely to be asked to go on a
motor excursion!"

"You wouldn't go for the world, if you were asked," said Judith.

"It'll hold us all. Anybody can come who likes," remarked Bernadette
meekly.

"That's a very pressing invitation, isn't it?" Godfrey growled to
Arthur, asking his sympathy.

Little scenes like this were frequent now, though Oliver Wyse's name was
not often dragged into them; Godfrey shrank from doing that often, for
fear of defiance and open war. More commonly it was just a sneer at
Bernadette, a "damper" administered to her merriment. But Arthur
resented it all, and came to fear it, so that he no longer sought his
cousin's company on walks or in his study, but left him to his own
melancholy devices. The unhappy man, sensitive as he was, saw the change
in a moment and hailed a new grievance; his own kinsman now his wife was
setting against him!

In fact Bernadette's influence was all thrown in the other scale. It was
she who prevented Arthur from open remonstrance, forbade him to be her
champion, insisted that he should still, to as great a degree as his
feelings would allow, be his cousin's friend and companion. She was
really and honestly sorry for Godfrey, and felt a genuine compunction
about him--though not an overwhelming one. Godfrey had not loved her for
a long while; Oliver Wyse was not responsible for that. But she had led
him to suppose that she was content with the state of affairs between
them; in fact she had been pretty well content with it. Now she had
changed--and proposed to act accordingly. Acting accordingly would mean
not breaking his heart, but dealing a sore blow at his pride, shattering
his home, upsetting his life utterly. She really wanted to soften the
blow as much as possible; if she left him, she wanted to leave him with
friends--people he liked--about him; with Margaret, with Judith, and
with Arthur. Then she could picture him as presently settling down
comfortably enough. Perhaps there was an alloy of self-regard in this
feeling--a salve to a conscience easily salved--but in the main it came
of the claim of habit and old partnership, and of her natural
kindliness. These carried her now beyond her first delight in the drama
of the situation; that persisted and recurred, but she was also honestly
trying to make the catastrophe as little of a catastrophe as was
possible, consistently with the effecting of its main object. So it came
about that, in these last days before Oliver Wyse arrived, she thought
more about her husband than she had done for years before, and treated
his surliness with a most commendable patience.

Although Arthur's relations with Godfrey had thus suffered a check, his
friendship with little Margaret throve; the shy child gradually allowed
him an approach to intimacy. They had rambles together, and
consultations over guinea-pigs and gardening. Here Arthur saw a chance
of seconding Judith's efforts after family unity. Here there was room,
even in his eyes--for Bernadette, though kind and affectionate in her
bearing towards the child, did not make a companion of her. Inspired by
this idea, he offered a considerable sacrifice of his own inclination.
When the day came for his motor excursion, he proposed to Bernadette
that Margaret should be of the party. "It'll be such a tremendous treat
for her to be taken with you," he said.

Bernadette was surprised, amused, just a little chagrined. In her own
mind she had invested this excursion with a certain garb of romance or
of sentiment. It was to be, as she reckoned, in all likelihood her last
long _tête-à-tête_ (the driver on the front seat did not count) with
Cousin Arthur; it was to be in some sort a farewell--not to a lover
indeed, but yet to a devotee. True, the devotee was not aware of that
fact, but he must know that Oliver Wyse's arrival would entail a
considerable interruption of his opportunities for devotion. Arthur's
proposal was reassuring, of course, in regard to his feelings, for it
did not seem to her that it could come from one who was in any danger of
succumbing to a passion, and once or twice in these later days a
suspicion that the situation might develop in that awkward fashion had
made its way into her mind. Arthur must be safe enough as to that if he
were ready to abandon his long _tête-à-tête_! She was really glad to
think that she could dismiss the suspicion. But she was also a little
disappointed over her sentimental excursion--at having it turned into
what was in effect a family party. Even talk about sentiment would be at
a discount with Margaret there.

"It'll be rather a long day for her, won't it?" she asked.

"It'll be such a great thing to her, and we can cut it a bit shorter,"
he urged.

With a slight lift of her brows and a smile Bernadette yielded. "Oh, all
right, then!"

"How awfully good of you!" he cried. "How awfully good of me!" would
have seemed to her an exclamation more appropriate in his mouth at the
moment.

The child was sent for, to hear the great news. She came and stood
dutifully by her mother's knee, and Bernadette put her arm round her
waist.

"Cousin Arthur and I are going for a long drive in the car. We shall
take our lunch, and eat it by the road-side, and have great fun. And
you're to come with us, Margaret!"

The delighted smile which was expected (by Arthur, at least, most
confidently) to illuminate the child's solemn little face did not make
its appearance. After a momentary hesitation, Margaret said "Yes,
mummy."

"You like to come, don't you, Margaret?"

"Yes, mummy." She looked down and fidgeted her toe on the carpet. "If
you wish me to."

"No, dear, I want to know what you wish. Were you going to do something
else?"

"Well, Judith had promised to take me with her to Mrs. Beard's this
morning, and show me Mrs. Beard's rabbits."

The tone was undeniably wistful, whether the main attraction lay in
Judith, in Mrs. Beard, or in the rabbits. The combination was a powerful
one in Margaret's eyes.

"And would you rather do that than come with us?" Bernadette went on,
very kindly, very gently.

The toe worked hard at the carpet.

"Do just what you like, dear. I only want you to please yourself."

"If you really don't mind, mummy, I think I would rather----"

"Very well then!" Bernadette kissed her. "Run away to Judith!"

The delighted smile came at last, as Margaret looked up in gratitude at
her kind mother.

"Oh, thank you so much, mummy!" And she darted off with an unusual
gleefulness.

Bernadette, her part of kind mother admirably played, looked across at
Arthur. He was so crestfallen that she could not forbear from laughing.
His scheme a failure, his sacrifice thwarted! The father sulked; the
child, with an innocent but fatal sincerity, repelled advances. Things
looked bad for the unifiers! Indeed one of them had put her foot neatly
through the plan devised by the other. Judith knew about the proposed
excursion; clearly she had not thought it possible that Margaret would
be asked to join, or she would never have arranged the visit to Mrs.
Beard.

"We're unfortunate in meeting a strong counter-attraction, Arthur. We've
overrated the charms of our society, I'm afraid." Though Bernadette
laughed, she spoke in dry tones, and her look was malicious.

Arthur felt foolish. When once the scheme was a failure, it came to look
futile, hopeless--and terribly obvious. Bernadette saw through it, of
course; her look told him that.

"Oh, well, I suppose rabbits are----!" he murmured feebly.

"Rabbits--and Judith!" She rose and went to the window. "I rather think
it's going to rain." Then after a pause she went on, "I think you're
rather a conventionally minded person, Arthur."

He attempted no defence. She had seen through the scheme--oh, quite
clearly! She was vexed too; she was frowning now, as she stood by the
window.

"You can't have the same tastes and--and likings as people have just
because you happen to be some relation or other to them. It's no use
trying." She gave an impatient little shake of her head. She had not
altogether liked the child's being asked; she liked no better the
child's being unwilling to come. Little as she had wanted Margaret's
company, it was not flattering to be postponed in her regard to
rabbits--and Judith. Still, if the child did prefer rabbits and
Judith--well, there was the comforting reflection that she could always
have rabbits at a very moderate cost, and that there was no reason to
apprehend that she would be deprived of Judith. What she valued least
was the thing she was most likely to lose, as matters stood at present.
Hurt vanity wrested the little girl's innocent sincerity into an
argument for Bernadette's secret purpose.

"I don't like the look of that cloud. I'm sure it's going to rain."

Arthur glanced out of the window in a perfunctory way; he felt that he
would have to accept Bernadette's view of the weather prospects, however
subjective that view might be.

She was out of conceit with the excursion. All this "fuss"--as she
expressed it in the primitive phraseology of inward reflection--spoilt
it. She was rather out of humour even with Cousin Arthur. She did not
mind Judith planning and scheming in the interests of family union; she
was used to that and regarded it with an amused toleration. But she did
not fancy Arthur's undertaking the same _rôle_. In her conception his
proper attitude was that of a thorough-going partisan and nothing else.
As such, he had been about to receive the tribute of that excursion. Now
she was no more inclined to it. That sort of thing depended entirely on
being in the mood for it. Arthur's--well, yes, Arthur's stupidity--and
Margaret's--well, yes, Margaret's ungraciousness--had between them
spoilt it. She felt tired of the whole thing--tired and impatient.

"I think we'll wait for a safer day, Arthur."

"All right. Just as you like." He was hurt, but felt himself in fault
and attempted no protest; he knew that she was displeased with him--for
the first time in all their acquaintance.

So the car was countermanded. But the next day was no safer, nor the day
that followed. Then came Friday, which was otherwise dedicated. Neither
as a sentimental farewell nor as a family party did that excursion ever
happen.



CHAPTER XIX

THE LAST ENTRENCHMENT


On that Friday morning Arthur's seclusion--for thus his stay at Hilsey
might be described, so remote it seemed from the rest of his life, so
isolated and self-contained--was invaded by the arrival of two letters
concerned with matters foreign to Hilsey and its problems or emotions.

The first he opened was from Joe Halliday and treated of the farce. Joe
wrote with his usual optimism; prospects were excellent; the company
which had been engaged was beyond praise. But there was a difficulty, a
hitch. The producer, Mr. Langley Etheringham, a man of authority in his
line, declared that the last act needed strengthening, and that he knew
what would strengthen it. The author, Mr. Claud Beverley, denied that it
needed strengthening and (still more vigorously) that Mr. Etheringham
knew how to do it. There was friction. Joe was undecided between the
two. "We three are going to meet on Sunday and have a good go at it," he
wrote. "Thrash the thing out, you know, and get at a decision. I've got
Claud to agree to so much after a lot of jaw--authors are silly asses,
sometimes, you know. Now I want you to come up to-morrow or next day,
and go through the piece with me, and then come on Sunday too. You'll
bring a fresh mind to it that will, I think, be valuable--I seem to know
it so well that I really can't judge it--and you've put in so much of
the money that both Claud and Langley (though he's a despotic sort of
gent) will be bound to listen to your opinion, whatever it is. Come if
you can, old chap. I've no doubt of success anyhow, but this is rather
important. Above all, we don't want Claud and Langley at loggerheads
even before we begin rehearsals."

Frowning thoughtfully, Arthur proceeded to read the second letter. It
came from Henry. "I beg to inform you that Messrs. Wills and Mayne rang
up at two o'clock to-day to ask if you were in town. I had to say that
you had been called away on business but could be here to-morrow (in
accordance with your instructions). They replied that they regretted the
matter could not wait. I did not therefore wire you, but I think it
proper to inform you of the matter. Yours obediently----"

Appeal from Joe Halliday, plain though tacit reproach from Henry! A
chance lost at the Temple! How big a chance there was no telling; there
never is in such cases. A cry for help from the Syndicate! His
legitimate mistress the Law was revenging herself for his neglect;
Drama, the nymph of his errant fancy, whom he had wooed at the risk of a
thousand pounds (or indeed, if a true psychology be brought to bear on
the transaction, of fifteen hundred), might do the like unless he
hastened to her side.

Pangs of self-reproach assailed Arthur as he sat on the lawn, smoking
his pipe. Moreover he was not in such perfect good humour with Hilsey as
he was wont to be. The miscarriage of his excursion rankled in his mind;
the perfection of his harmony with Bernadette was a trifle impaired;
there had been a touch of aloofness in her manner the last two days.
Godfrey was too grumpy for words. Finally, to-day Oliver Wyse was
coming. Was Hilsey really so fascinating that for its _beaux yeux_ a man
must risk his interests, neglect his profession, and endanger, even by
the difference of a hair, a dramatic success which was to outvie the
triumph of _Help Me Out Quickly_? Yet he was annoyed at having to put
this question to himself, at having to ask himself how he stood towards
Hilsey and how Hilsey stood to him. And, down in his heart, he knew that
it would be very difficult to go if Bernadette really wanted him to
stay--and a very distressful departure for him if it appeared that she
did not!

Judith came out of the house, crossed the lawn, and sat down in a chair
opposite him. They had met earlier in the day, and greeting did not seem
necessary to Arthur's preoccupied mind. He was smoking rather hard, and
still frowning over his problem. Judith, on the other hand, seemed to be
engaged with some secret source of amusement, although amusement of a
rather sardonic order. Her mouth was twisted in a satirical smile--not
at Arthur's expense, but at the expense of some person or persons
unknown.

Arthur did not notice her expression, but presently he announced to her
the outcome of his thoughts.

"I think I shall have to go back to town to-morrow for a bit; some
business has turned up."

Her eyes met his quickly and, somehow, rather suspiciously. "Oh, don't
you run away too!" she said.

"Run away too! What do you mean? Who's running away? What are you
grinning at, Judith?" The word, though not complimentary, really
described the character of her smile.

"Godfrey's gone to bed."

"Gone to bed? Why, he was at breakfast!"

"I know. But he says he got up feeling seedy, and now he feels worse. So
he's gone to bed."

Arthur looked hard at her, and gradually smiled himself. "What's the
matter with him?"

"He says he's got a bad liver attack. But I--I think he's left out the
first letter."

"Left out----? Oh, no, you don't mean----?" He burst out laughing.
"Well, I'm jiggered!"

"Oliveritis--that's my diagnosis. He does go to bed sometimes, you know,
when--well, when the world gets too hard for him, poor Godfrey!"

"Oh, I never heard of such a thing! It can't be that! Does he hate him
as much as that?"

"He doesn't like him."

"Do you think that's why he's been so grumpy lately?"

"I suppose he'd say that was the liver attack coming on, but--well, I've
told you!"

"But to go to bed!" Arthur chuckled again. "Well, I am jiggered!"

"You may be jiggered as much as you like--but must you go to London?"

"Does Bernadette know he's gone to bed?" Pursuing his own train of
amused wonder, Arthur did not mark Judith's question, with its note of
appeal.

"I told Barber to tell her. I didn't think I should look grave
enough--or perhaps Bernadette either!"

"Why, would she tumble to its being--Oliveritis?"

"She'd have her suspicions, I think. I asked you just now whether you
really must go to London, Arthur."

"Well, I don't want to--though I've a slight touch of that disease of
Godfrey's myself--but I suppose I ought. It's like this." He told her of
the lost chance at chambers, and of Joe Halliday's summons. "It's no use
going to-day," he ended, "but I expect I ought to go to-morrow."

"Yes, I expect you ought," she agreed gravely. "You mustn't miss chances
because of--because of us down here."

"It isn't obvious that I'm any particular sort of use down here, is it?"

"You're of use to me anyhow, Arthur."

"To you?" He was evidently surprised at this aspect of the case.

"Yes, but you weren't thinking of me, were you? However, you are. Things
aren't always easy here, as you may have observed, and it's a great
comfort to have someone to help--someone to grumble to or--or to share a
smile with, you know."

"That's very nice of you. You know I've always supposed you thought me
rather an ass."

"Oh, in some ways, yes, of course you are!" She laughed, but not at all
unpleasantly. "I should have liked to have you here through--well,
through Sir Oliver."

"The chap's a bit of a nuisance, isn't he? Well, I needn't make up my
mind till to-morrow. It's no use going to-day, and to-morrow's Saturday.
So Sunday for the piece, and chambers on Monday! That'd be all
right--especially as I've probably lost my only chance. I'll wait till
to-morrow, and see how Sir Oliver shapes!" He ended with a laugh as his
mind went back to Godfrey. "Gone to bed, poor old chap!"

Judith joined again in his laugh. Godfrey's course of action struck on
their humour as the culmination, the supreme expression, of his attitude
towards the world and its troubles. He could not fight them in the open;
he took refuge from them within his fortifications. If they laid siege
and the attack pressed hotly, he retreated from the outer to the inner
defences. What the philosopher found in a mind free from passions--a
citadel than which a man has nothing more secure whereto he can fly for
refuge and there be inexpugnable--Godfrey Lisle found in a more material
form. He found it in Bed!

But when Arthur went up to see his cousin, his amusement gave place, in
some measure, to sympathy. Pity for his forlornness asserted itself.
Godfrey insisted that he was ill; he detailed physical symptoms; he
assumed a bravado about "sticking it out" till to-morrow, and not having
the doctor till then, about "making an effort" to get up to-morrow.
Through it all ran a suspicion that he was himself suspected. Bernadette
was in the room part of the time. She too was sympathetic, very kind,
and apparently without any suspicion. True that she did not look at
Arthur much, but that might have been accidental, or the result of her
care for her husband. If it were a sign that she could not trust herself
in confidential glances, it was the only indication she gave of
scepticism as to the liver attack.

At lunch-time too her admirable bearing and the presence of Margaret
enforced gravity and a sympathetic attitude, though out of the patient's
hearing it was possible to treat his condition with less seriousness.

"He's fanciful about himself sometimes," said Bernadette. "It's nerves
partly, I expect. We must cheer him up all we can. Margaret can go and
sit with him presently, and you might go up again later, Arthur. He
likes to talk to you, you know. And"--She smiled--"if Godfrey's laid up,
you'll have to help me with Sir Oliver. You must be host, if he can't."

Bernadette had not practised any of her new graces on Arthur since the
miscarriage of the excursion; either the check to her sentiment, the
little wound to her vanity, prevented her, or else she had grown too
engrossed in the near prospect of Oliver Wyse's arrival. At all events
the new manner had been in abeyance. She had been her old self, with her
old unmeditated charm; it had lost nothing by being just a little
pensive--not low-spirited, but thoughtful and gentle. She had borne
herself thus towards all of them. She showed no uneasiness, no fear of
being watched. She was quite simple and natural. Nor did she pretend any
exaggerated indifference about Oliver. She accepted the fact that he
came as her particular friend and that she was glad of his coming in
that capacity. They all knew about that, of course, just as they knew
that Cousin Arthur was her devotee. All simple and natural--when Oliver
Wyse was not there. Arthur, who had not been at Hilsey during Sir
Oliver's first visit, was still in the dark. Judith Arden had her
certainty, gained from the observation of the two in the course of
it--and Godfrey his gnawing suspicion.

For Bernadette, absorbed, fascinated, excited, had been a little off her
guard then--and Oliver Wyse had not taken enough pains to be on his. He
was not clever at the concealment and trickery which he so much
disliked. His contempt for Godfrey Lisle made him refuse to credit him
with either the feelings or the vigilance of a husband. He had not
troubled his head much about Judith, not caring greatly whether she
suspected what he felt or not; what could she do or say about it? As his
power over Bernadette increased, as his assurance of victory had grown,
so had the signs of them--those signs which had given Judith certainty,
and the remembrance of which now drove Godfrey to that last citadel of
his. But to Bernadette herself they had seemed small, perceptible indeed
and welcome to her private eye, but so subtle, so minute--as mere signs
are apt to seem to people who have beheld the fulness of the thing
signified. She did not know herself betrayed, either by her own doing or
by his.

Oliver Wyse was expected to arrive about tea-time; he was bringing his
own car, as Bernadette had announced that morning at breakfast, not
without a meaning glance at Godfrey--nobody need grudgingly give up the
car to him this time! It was about four when Arthur again visited the
invalid. He found Margaret with her father; they were both reading
books, for Margaret could spell her way through a fairy-story by now,
and they seemed happy and peaceful. When Arthur came in, Godfrey laid
down his book readily, and received him with something more like his old
welcome. In reply to enquiries he admitted that he felt rather better,
but added that he meant to take no risks. "Tricky things, these liver
attacks!" Arthur received the impression that he would think twice and
thrice before he emerged from his refuge. He looked yellowish--very
likely he had fretted himself into some little ailment--but there was
about him an air of relief, almost of resignation. "At all events I
needn't see the man when he comes"--so Arthur imagined Godfrey's inner
feelings and smiled within himself at such weakness, at the mixture of
timidity and bearishness which turned an unwelcome arrival into a real
calamity, a thing to be feared and dodged. But there it was--old
Godfrey's way, his idiosyncrasy; he was a good old fellow really, and
one must make the best of it.

So for this hour the three were harmonious and content together. Timid
yet eager questions from Margaret about fairies and giants and their
varying ways, about rabbits and guinea-pigs and sundry diversities in
their habits; from Godfrey a pride and interest in his little daughter
which Arthur's easy friendship with her made him less shy of displaying;
Arthur's own ready and generous pleasure in encountering no more
grumpiness--all these things combined to make the hour pleasant. It was
almost possible to forget Oliver Wyse.

But presently Margaret's attendant came to fetch her; she was to have
her tea rather early and then change her frock--in order to go
downstairs and see Sir Oliver; such were mother's orders. Godfrey's face
relapsed into peevishness even while the little girl was kissing him
good-bye.

"Why should she be dragged down to see Wyse?" he demanded when she was
gone.

"Oh, I suppose it's the usual thing. Their mothers like showing them
off."

"All damned nonsense!" grumbled Godfrey, and took up his book again. But
he did not read it. He looked at his watch on the table by him.
"Half-past four! He'll be here directly."

"Oh, well, old chap, does it matter so much----?" Arthur had begun, when
Godfrey raised himself in his bed and held up his hand.

"There's a motor-horn!" he said. "Listen, don't you hear?"

"Yes, I suppose it's him." He strolled to the window, which looked on
the drive. "There is a car coming; I suppose it's his."

Godfrey let his hand drop, but sat upright for a few moments longer,
listening. The car passed the window and stopped at the door.

"Yes, it's Wyse all right. The car's open. I saw him." So saying, Arthur
left the window and sauntered back towards the bed, his face adorned
with a well-meaning smile of common sense and consolation. But Godfrey
lay down on the pillow again, and with an inarticulate grunt turned his
face to the wall. Arthur stood looking at him in amazement. His smile
grew grim--what a ridiculous old chap it was!

But there was no more to be got out of him just now; that was clear
enough. No more welcome, no more friendly talk! The sulks were back
again in full force; Godfrey was entrenched in his last citadel. On
Arthur himself devolved the function of acting as Sir Oliver's host.
Feeling no great desire to discharge his duties, he lounged slowly down
the stairs into the hall; he was conscious of a distinct touch of
Oliveritis.

The door which led from the hall to Bernadette's own room stood open.
They were standing together by the window, Bernadette with her back
towards Arthur. Wyse faced her, and her hand rested lightly on his
arm--just as it had so often rested on Arthur's own, in the little trick
of friendly caress that she had. He ought to have known just what--just
how much--could properly be inferred from it; none the less he frowned
to see it now. Then he noticed Oliver Wyse's face, rising over her
head--for Oliver was tall--and turned downwards towards her. Arthur was
in flannels and wore rubber shoes; his feet had made no sound on the
carpeted stairs. His approach was unnoticed.

The next minute he was crossing the hall with determined, emphatic,
highly audible steps. Slowly, as it seemed, Oliver Wyse raised his head,
and slowly a smile came to his lips as he looked over Bernadette's head
at the young man. Then she turned round--very quickly. She was smiling,
and her eyes were bright. But something in Arthur's face attracted her
attention. She flushed a little. Her voice was louder than usual, and
seemed as it were hurried, when she said:

"Here's Sir Oliver safe and sound, Arthur! He's done it in two hours and
twenty minutes."

"Not bad going, was it?" asked Oliver, still looking at Arthur with that
cool, self-confident, urbane smile. He was not embarrassed; rather it
seemed as though he were defying the intruder to embarrass him, whatever
he might have seen, whatever he might be pleased to think.

But Bernadette, his adored, his hopelessly idealised Bernadette--ah, the
vulgar, the contaminating suspicion!--Bernadette was looking as if she
had been caught! A sudden swift current of feeling ran through him--a
new feeling which made his blood hot with resentment of that confident
smile.

Bernadette's confusion was but momentary. She was quite herself again,
serene and at ease, as she said, "Will you show him his room? He'd like
a wash before tea. He's in the Red Room--over the porch, you know."

Arthur entered on his duties as deputy-host to the urbane and smiling
guest.



CHAPTER XX

A PRUDENT COUNSELLOR


Arthur escaped from the house as soon as he could, leaving Bernadette
and Sir Oliver at tea together. He could not bear to be with them; he
had need to be alone with his anger and bewilderment. Perhaps if he were
alone for a bit he could see things better, get them in a true
perspective, and make up his mind whether he was being a fool now or had
been a fool--a sore fool--up to now. Which was the truth? Bernadette's
confusion, if real at all, had been momentary; Sir Oliver's cool
confidence had never wavered. He did not know what to think.

All its old peace and charm enveloped Hilsey that summer evening, but
they could not calm the ferment of his spirit. There was war within him;
the new idea clashed so terribly with all the old ones. The image of
Bernadette which he had fashioned and set up rocked on its pedestal. A
substitute began to form itself in his consciousness, not less
fascinating--alas, no!--but very different. He could not turn his eyes
from it now; it filled him with fear and anger.

He crossed the bridge and the meadows beyond it, making for the wood
which crowned the hill above, walking quickly, under an impulse of
restlessness, a desire to get away--though, again, the next instant he
would be seized with a mad idea of going straight back and "having it
out" with her, with Oliver--with somebody! Shaking it off, he would
stride forward again, his whole mind enmeshed in pained perplexity. Oh,
to know the truth! And yet the truth might be fearful, shattering.

The bark of a dog, short and sharp, struck on his ears. Then, "Patsy,
Patsy, come here!" and a laugh. Judith was sitting on the trunk of a
tree newly cut down, by the side of the path. She had a book in her lap;
Patsy had been on guard beside her.

"Where are you rushing to at six miles an hour?" she asked. "You
frightened Patsy."

He stopped in front of her. "Was I walking quickly? I--I'm not going
anywhere in particular--just for a stroll before dinner."

"A stroll!" She laughed again, raising her brows. "Sit down for a bit,
and then we'll walk back together. You look quite hot."

He sat down by her and lit a cigarette. But he did not meet her eyes. He
sat staring straight before him with a frowning face, as he smoked. She
made her inspection of him, unperceived herself, but she let him know
the result of it. "You look rather gloomy, Arthur. Has anything
happened?"

"No--Well, except that Oliver Wyse has got here--about an hour ago,
before tea."

"Sir Oliver is much as usual, I suppose?"

"I suppose so. I don't know him very well, you see."

"Meeting him doesn't seem to have had a very cheering effect upon you.
You look about as jolly as Hamlet."

He shook his head impatiently, but made no answer. He did look very
forlorn. She patted his shoulder. "Oh, come, cheer up! Whatever it is,
grouching won't help. We mustn't have you going to bed too, like
Godfrey." She gave him this lead, hoping that he would take it. It
seemed better to her now that he should realise the truth, or some of
it.

He turned his face towards her slowly. She looked at him with grave
eyes, but with a little smile--of protest, as it were, against any
overdoing of the tragedy.

"What does the fellow want here?" he asked in a very low voice.

"All he can get," she answered brusquely. "That's my opinion anyhow,
though I couldn't prove it."

He did not move; he looked at her still; his eyes were heavy with
another question. But he dared not put it--at least not yet. "Why is he
allowed to come here then?" he grumbled.

"Who's to stop him? Godfrey? From bed?"

The remembrance of Godfrey turning his face to the wall answered her
question. But she went on with a repressed vehemence, "Do you suppose
Godfrey needs telling? Well, then, what could I do? And I'm not sure I'd
do anything if I could. I've done my best with this family, but it's
pretty hopeless. Things must happen as they must, Arthur. And you've no
right to hold me responsible."

"I can't understand it," he muttered slowly.

"I thought you would by now--staying in the house."

"But she'd never--let him?" His voice sank to a whisper.

"I don't know. Women do, you know. Why not Bernadette?"

"But she's not like that, not that sort," he broke out, suddenly angry
again.

She turned rather hard and contemptuous. "Not that sort? She's a woman,
isn't she? She's never been like that with you--that's what you really
mean."

"It isn't," he declared passionately. "I've never--never had so much as
a thought of anything like that."

"I know. You've made something superhuman of her. Well, Sir Oliver
hasn't."

"I won't believe it of her!"

The burden of grief and desolation in his voice made Judith gentle and
tender again. "Oh, I know you won't, my dear," she said, "unless you
absolutely have to, absolutely must." She got up and whistled to recall
her dog, which had strayed into the wood. "I must go back, or I shall be
late for dinner. Are you coming, Arthur?"

"Oh, there's plenty of time. I must think what to do."

She turned away with a shrug of her shoulders. What could he do? What
could anybody? Things must happen as they would--for good or evil as
they would.

Things were likely to happen now, and that quickly. At the very moment
when Arthur came upon them in Bernadette's room, Oliver had been telling
her of his completed plan. The yacht would be round to Southampton by
the following Tuesday. They would motor over--it was within a drive of
moderate length from Hilsey--go on board, and set sail over summer seas.
She had turned from that vision to meet Arthur's startled eyes; hence
her momentary confusion. But she was over it now. While they drank their
tea, Oliver well-nigh persuaded her that it had never existed--never, at
least, been visible. And besides, "What does it matter what he thinks?"
Oliver urged.

To this Bernadette would not quite agree. "I don't want him to--to have
any idea of it till--till the time comes," she said fretfully. "I don't
want anybody to have any idea till then--least of all Arthur."

"Well, it's not for long, and we'll be very careful," he said with a
laugh.

"Yes, you promised me that when I let you come back here," she reminded
him eagerly.

"I know. I'll keep my word." He looked into her eyes as he repeated,
"It's not for long."

If Oliver Wyse had not inspired her with a great passion--a thing that
no man perhaps could create from what there was to work on in her
soul--he had achieved an almost complete domination over her. He had
made his standards hers, his judgments the rule and measure of her
actions and thoughts. She saw through his eyes, and gave to things and
people much the dimensions that he did, the importance or the
unimportance. At his bidding she turned her back on her old life and
looked forward--forward only. But to one thing she clung tenaciously.
She had made up her mind to the crash and upheaval at Hilsey, but she
had no idea of its happening while she was there; she meant to give--to
risk giving--no occasion for that. Her ears should not hear nor her eyes
see the fall of the structure. No sight of it, scarcely a rumbling echo,
need reach her as she sailed the summer seas. Oliver himself had
insisted on the great plunge, the great break; so much benefit she was
entitled to get out of it.

"And be specially careful about Arthur," she urged. "Not even the
slightest risk another time!"

"Confound Arthur!" he laughed good-humouredly. "Why does that boy matter
so much?"

"Oh, he thinks such a lot of me, you know. And I am very fond of him.
We've been awfully good friends, Oliver. At all events he does
appreciate me." This was why she felt tender about Arthur, and was more
sorry for him than for the others who were to suffer by what she did.
She had not been enough to the others--neither to her husband nor to
Margaret--but to Arthur she knew that she had been and was a great deal.
Besides she could not possibly get up any case against Arthur, whatever
plausible complaints she might have about the others, on the score of
coldness, or indifference, or incompatibility, or sulks.

"In Arthur's presence I'll be as prim as a monk," Oliver promised her,
laughing again, as she left him before dinner.

He strolled out on to the lawn, to smoke a cigarette before going to
dress, and there met Judith Arden on her return from the wood.

"So you're back again, Sir Oliver!" she said, shaking hands.

"As you see. I hope you're not tired of me? It's only to be a short
stay, anyhow."

The two were on a well-established footing, chosen by Judith, acquiesced
in by Sir Oliver. He was pretty sure that she knew what he was about,
but thought she could cause him no hindrance, even if she wished. She
treated him with a cool irony that practically endorsed his opinion on
both points.

"If you're anxious to be told that we're all glad to see you, I'll give
you the formal assurance. I'm sorry my uncle is not well enough to
welcome you himself."

"Oh, I hope he'll be up and about to-morrow. Bernadette tells me it's
nothing serious."

"She ought to know, Sir Oliver, being his wife."

"The party has received an addition since I was here, I see."

"Yes. Some company for us when you and Bernadette go out motoring!"

"Do you think that the addition will be willing to fall in with
that--well, that grouping?"

"Now I come to think of it, perhaps not. But there--you always get your
own way, don't you?"

"If that flattery were only sincere, it would be sweet to my ears, Miss
Judith."

"It's sincere enough. I didn't mean it as flattery. I spoke rather in a
spirit of resignation."

"The same spirit will animate our friend perhaps--the addition, I mean."

"It may; it's rather in the air at Hilsey. But he mayn't have been here
long enough to catch it. I rather think he hasn't."

"You invest the position with exciting possibilities! Unless I fight
hard, I may be done out of my motor rides!"

"That would leave me calm," she flung at him over her shoulder as she
went into the house.

He walked up and down a little longer, smiling to himself, well content.
The prospect of the summer seas was before his eyes too. He had counted
the cost of the voyage, and set it down at six months' decorous
retirement--enough to let people who felt that they must be shocked be
shocked at sufficient leisure. After that, he had no fear of not being
able to take his place in the world again. Nor need Bernadette fear any
extreme cold-shouldering from her friends. It was a case in which
everybody would be ready to make excuses, to find the thing more or less
pardonable. Why, one had only to tell the story of how, on the eve of
the crisis, the threatened husband took to his bed!

As Arthur watched Bernadette at dinner, serene, gracious, and
affectionate--wary too by reason of that tiny slip--his suspicions
seemed to his reason again incredible. Judith must be wrong, and he
himself wrong also. And her friend Sir Oliver--so composed, so urbane,
so full of interesting talk about odd parts of the world that he had
seen and the strange things which had befallen him! Surely people who
were doing or contemplating what they were suspected of could not behave
like that? That must be beyond human nature? He and Judith must be
wrong! But there was something within him which refused the comforting
conclusion. Not the old adoration which could see no flaw in her and
endure no slur on her perfection. His adoration was eager for the
conclusion, and pressed him towards it with all the force of habit and
preconception. It was that other, that new, current of feeling which had
rushed through him when he stood in the hall and saw them framed, as it
were, by the doorway of her room--a picture of lovers, whispered the new
feeling, sparing his recollection no detail of pose or air or look. And
lovers are very cunning, urged the new feeling, that compound of anger
and fear--the fear of another's taking what a man's desire claims for
himself. He had honestly protested to Judith that his adoration had been
honest, pure, and without self-regard. So it had, while no one shared or
threatened it. But now--how much of his anger, how much of his fear,
came from loyalty to Godfrey, sorrow for Margaret, sorrow for Bernadette
herself, grief for his own broken idol if this thing were true? These
were good reasons and motives for fear and anger; orthodox and sound
enough. But they had not the quality of what he felt--the heat, the
glow, the intense sense of rivalry which now possessed him, the piercing
vigilance with which he watched their every word and look and gesture.
These other reasons and motives but served to aid--really was it more
than to mask?--the change, the transmutation, that had set in at such a
pace. Under the threat of rivalry, the generous impulse to protect
became hatred of another's mastery, devotion took on the heat of
passion, and jealousy lent the vision of its hundred eyes.

But Bernadette too was watchful and wary; her position gave her an added
quickness of perception. Oliver's contemptuous self-confidence might
notice nothing, but, as she watched the other two, the effect of his
persuasions wore off; she became vaguely sensible of an atmosphere of
suspicion around her. She felt herself under observation, curious and
intense from Arthur, from Judith half-scornful, half-amused. And Judith
seemed to keep an eye on Arthur too--rather as if she were expecting, or
fearing, or waiting for something from him. Bernadette grew impatient
and weary under this sense of scrutiny. Surely it was something new in
Arthur? And was not Judith in some way privy to it?

"What are the plans for to-morrow?" asked Sir Oliver, as he sipped his
glass of port. "Can we go motoring? I've brought my car, you know, in
case yours is wanted."

"Well, we might take them both, and all go somewhere--Margaret too!" A
family party seemed now an excellently prudent and unsuspicious thing.
"Oh, but I forgot, there's a great cricket-match--Hilsey against
Marling! I ought to put in an appearance sometime, and I expect you're
wanted to play, aren't you, Arthur?"

"I believe I did tell Beard I'd play if I was wanted. I'd forgotten
about it."

"Have you made up your mind about going to London to-morrow?" asked
Judith.

Bernadette pricked up her ears--in pure metaphor, though; she was too
alert to let any outward sign of interest appear. Yet it now seemed to
her very desirable that Arthur should go to London--for a few days
anyhow. The quick look of surprise with which he met Judith's question
did nothing to lessen this feeling.

He had forgotten all about going to London next day! The plight of the
farce, the possible briefs--Joe Halliday's appeal, and the renewed
enquiry from Wills and Mayne, so flattering to professional hopes--where
were they? Where are the snows of yester year? They had gone clean out
of his head, out of his life again. They had become unimportant,
irrelevant. Again, for the moment, Hilsey closed around him on every
side.

He did not answer Judith for a moment. "You know you told me you thought
you might have to," she said, "for a little while anyhow, on some
business."

"Oh yes, I know. But----"

"What business, Arthur?" Bernadette asked. "Briefs? How exciting!"

"Oh, nothing in particular!"

"Nonsense! I want to hear. I'm interested. I want to know all about it."

He could not tell her with his old pleasure, his old delight at any
interest she might be gracious enough to shew in his affairs; but
neither could he refuse to tell. That would be a bit of useless
sulking--after Godfrey's fashion. Besides, perhaps they were wrong--he
and Judith. So he told her about Wills and Mayne's flattering if
abortive enquiry, and how Mr. Claud Beverley and Mr. Langley Etheringham
were at loggerheads over the farce. Sir Oliver, now at his cigar,
listened benevolently. Bernadette fastened on the latter topic; it
interested her more--she thought it probably interested Arthur more
also. "That really is rather important, now! It's sort of referred to
you, to your decision, isn't it? And it's awfully important, isn't it,
Sir Oliver? Perhaps you don't know, though--Arthur's put a lot of money
in the piece."

"Then I certainly think he'd better run up and look after it," smiled
Sir Oliver. "I should."

"I don't think I shall go. I expect the thing can wait; things generally
can."

"I don't think you're being very wise, Cousin Arthur," Bernadette said
gently. "We shall be sorry to lose you, but if it's only for a little
while, and Mr. Halliday makes such a point of it----!"

"Joe always exaggerates things."

"I like having you here--well, I needn't tell you that--but not if I
have to feel that we're interfering with your work or your prospects."

Here Jealousy had a private word for Arthur's ear. "That sounds well,
very nice and proper! But rather a new solicitude, isn't it? Much she
used to care about your work!"

"After all, what do I know about the third acts of farces?"

"I expect that's just why they want you--in a way. You'll be like one of
the public. They want to know how it strikes one of the public. Don't
you think that's it, Sir Oliver?"

Sir Oliver thought so--but Jealousy was mean enough to suggest that the
lady was more ingenious than convincing.

"Don't you think he ought to go, Judith?"

The ironic comedy of this conversation (started too by herself, in all
innocence, purely _à propos_ of the village cricket-match!) between the
prudent counsellor and the idle apprentice was entirely to Judith's
humour. They argued their false point so plausibly. The farce had been a
great thing to him, and would be again, it was to be hoped. And to
Bernadette, for his sake, it had been "exciting" and possibly--just
possibly--would be again. But it was not the fate of the farce that
concerned either of them now. They could not humbug her in that fashion!
Her smile was mocking as she answered: "Yes, I think he'd better go,
Bernadette. I'm sure you're advising him for his own good."

Bernadette gave her a quick glance, bit her lip, and rose from the
table. "We'll have coffee in the drawing-room. Bring your cigar, Sir
Oliver."

Sir Oliver was smiling too; that girl Judith amused him; he appreciated
the dexterous little stabs of her two-edged dagger.

But Arthur was listening to another whisper in his ear: "Very anxious to
get you away, isn't she? Curiously anxious!"

When Bernadette gave him his cup of coffee she said in a low voice,
"Don't be foolish, Arthur. I really think you ought to go."

He looked her full in the eyes and answered, "I see you want me to, at
all events."

Those whispers in his ear had done their work. He turned abruptly away
from her, not seeing the sudden fear in her eyes. His voice had been
full of passionate resentment.



CHAPTER XXI

IDOL AND DEVOTEE


After drinking his coffee quickly--with no word to anyone the
while--Arthur had gone out of the room. Judith took up her book, Oliver
Wyse was glancing at the City article in a weekly paper, Bernadette sat
quiet in her high-backed arm-chair, looking very slight and young in her
white evening frock, but wearing a tired and fretful expression. Just
what she had planned to avoid, just what she hated, was happening or
threatening to happen. She felt herself in an atmosphere of suspicion;
she was confronted by accusers; she was made to witness her handiwork;
the sight and the sound of the shattered edifice menaced her eyes and
ears.

Glancing at her over his paper, Oliver saw that she was moody. He came
and tried to draw her into talk. She received him coldly, almost
peevishly. He had the tact not to press his company on her. "I think, if
you'll excuse me, I'll go and polish off some letters. Then I shall be
quite free for to-morrow," he said.

"Oh, yes, do, of course," she answered with what seemed relief. She was
angry now with him for having come back to Hilsey, and with herself for
having let him. "Will you go to the library?"

"You've given me such a delightfully comfortable room that I'll write
there, I think."

"As you like, and--I'm very tired--perhaps we'd better say good-night."

He smiled and pressed her hand gently. "Very well, good-night." She gave
him a glance half-penitent for her crossness, but let him go without
more. Judith accorded him a curt 'Good-night,' without raising her head
from her book. She was reading with wonderful industry; absorbed in the
book! Bernadette interpreted this as a sign of disapproval--it was more
probably a demonstration of non-responsibility for the ways of fate--but
it was not Judith's disapproval that particularly engaged her thoughts.
They were obstinately set on Arthur. How and what--how much--had he
found out? Enough to make him resolved not to go to London, anyhow, it
seemed! Enough to make him spring with swift suspicion to the conclusion
that she wanted him to go for her own purposes! And yet she had been
wary--and quite plausibly sage and prudent in her counsel.

"Where's Arthur?" she asked. "He's disappeared!"

"I don't know where he is," answered Judith from behind her book.

But he was more than suspicious. He was very angry. His last brusque
speech showed that, and still more the note in his voice, a note which
she had never heard before. It was of more than indignation; it was of
outrage. She could manage the others. Margaret presented no difficulty,
the sulky helpless husband hardly more; from Judith there was to be
feared nothing worse than satiric stabs. But if Arthur were going to be
like this, the next three days would be very difficult--and horribly
distasteful. He had touched her as well as alarmed her. Such an end to
her affectionate intimacy with him was a worse wound than she had
reckoned on its being. To see him angry with her hurt her; she had never
meant to see it, and she was not prepared for the intensity of feeling
which had found vent in his voice. It had been as bad as a blow, that
speech of his; while showing him sore stricken, it had meant to strike
her also. She had never thought that he would want to do that. Tender
regrets, propitiating memories, an excusing and attenuating
fondness--these were what she desired to be able to attribute to Arthur
when she was sailing on the summer seas.

"I wonder what's become of him! Do you think he's gone out, Judith?"

At last Judith closed her book and raised her head. "Why do you want
Arthur now?"

"I only wondered what could have become of him."

"Perhaps he's gone to pack--ready for to-morrow, you know."

"Oh, nonsense! Barber would pack for him, of course--if he's going."

Judith, book in hand, rose from her chair. "I think I shall go to bed."
She came across the room to where Bernadette sat. "You'd better too. You
look tired."

"No, I'm not sleepy. I'm sure I couldn't sleep."

Judith bent down and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Never mind
Arthur. You'd better let him alone to-night."

Bernadette longed to ask "What have you said to him?" But she would not;
she shrank from bringing the matter into the open like that. It would
mean a scene, she thought, and scenes she was steadfastly purposed to
avoid--if possible.

"Well, he's behaving rather queerly, going on like this," she murmured
peevishly.

For an instant Judith stood looking at her with a smile in which pity
and derision seemed oddly mingled; then she turned on her heel and went
out.

Bernadette sat on alone in the big drawing-room; it was very silent and
solitary. The chill fancies of night and loneliness assailed her. Surely
nobody would do anything foolish because of--well, because of what she
did? She rejected the idea as absurd. But she felt uncomfortable and
desolate. She might send for Sir Oliver; no doubt he was at his letters
still, and it was not really late. Yet somehow she did not want him; she
was not in the mood. Her mind was obstinate still, and still asked
obstinately of Arthur.

At last she got up, went through the hall, and out on to the terrace.
She looked up and down the length of it. The night was fine and the moon
shone, but she saw no sign of him. She called his name softly; there was
no reply. Either he had gone further afield, or he was in the house. She
paused a moment, and then took her way along the corridor which led past
the dining-room to the smoking-room--an apartment seldom used in these
lax days (when every room is a smoking-room) and rather remote. Perhaps
he had retreated there. She stood for a moment outside the door,
hesitating at the last whether to seek him out. But some impulse in
her--friendliness, remorse, fear, curiosity, all had their share in
it--drove her on. Very softly she turned the handle and opened the door.

Yes, he was there. He was sitting in a chair by the table. His arms were
spread on the table, the hands meeting one another, and his head rested
on his hands. He did not hear the door she opened so gently. He looked
as if he were asleep. Then, softly still, she closed the door, standing
close by it. This time he heard the noise, slight as it was, and lifted
his face from his hands. When he saw her, he slowly raised himself till
he sat straight in his chair. She advanced towards him timidly, with a
deprecatory smile.

In disuse the room had grown dreary, as rooms do; the furniture showed a
housemaid's stiff ideas of arrangement; there was no human untidiness;
even the air was rather musty.

"Oh, you don't look very cheerful in here! Have you been asleep,
Arthur?" She sat herself sideways on the heavy mahogany writing-table.

He shook his head; his eyes looked very tired.

"I couldn't think what had become of you. And I wanted to say
good-night. We're--we're friends, aren't we, Cousin Arthur?"

"Where's Oliver Wyse?" he asked brusquely.

"Upstairs in his room--writing letters. He went almost as soon as you
did--but more politely!" Her smile made the reproof an overture to
friendship.

"I hate to see the fellow with you," he broke out fiercely, but in a low
voice.

"Oh, you mustn't say things like that! What nonsense have you got into
your head? Sir Oliver's just a friend--as you are. Not the same quite,
because you're a relation too. But still just a very good friend, as you
are. Is this all because I told you you ought not to neglect your work?"

"Why are you so anxious for me to clear out?"

"If you take it like that, I can't--well, we can't talk. I must just
leave you alone." She got down from the table and stood by it, ready, as
it seemed, to carry out her threat of going.

"I'll go to London--if you'll tell Oliver Wyse to come with me."

"He's only just come, poor man--and only for a few days, anyhow! I think
you've gone mad. Who's been putting such things in your head? Is
it--Godfrey?"

"You wouldn't be surprised if it was, would you?" he asked quickly.

"Yes, I should, though Godfrey is sometimes very absurd with his
fancies. I don't want to quarrel, but you really mustn't grudge my
having another friend. It's not reasonable. And if Sir Oliver does
admire me a little--well, is that so surprising?" She smiled coaxingly,
very anxious to make friends to-night, to part friends on the morrow.
"After all, aren't you a little guilty in that way yourself, Cousin
Arthur?"

"Not in the same----" he began, but broke off, frowning and fretful.

"I've spoilt you, but I never promised you a monopoly. Now be good and
sensible, do! Forget all this nonsense; go and do your work, and come
back next week."

He made no reply to her appeal; he sat looking at her with a hostile
scrutiny.

"Anyhow, you can't stay if you're going on behaving like this. It's
intolerable."

"I came here on Godfrey's invitation. If Godfrey asks me to go----"

"If you appeal to Godfrey, you're not a friend of mine!" she cried
hotly.

"Impossible to be a friend both of yours and of Godfrey's, is it?" he
sneered.

Her face flushed; now she was very angry. "Go or stay--anyhow I've done
with you!" She half-turned away, yet waited a moment still, hoping that
his mood would soften.

He leant forward towards her in entreaty. "Don't do it, Bernadette, for
God's sake! For your own sake, for the sake of all of us who love you!"

"Who loves me in this house?" she asked sharply and scornfully. "Am I so
much to any of them? What am I to Godfrey, for instance? Does Godfrey
love me?" She was glad to give utterance to her great excuse.

But his mind was not on excuses or palliation; they belonged to his old
feelings about her, and it was the new feeling which governed him now.
He stretched out his arm, caught one of her hands, and drew her towards
him almost roughly.

"I love you, Bernadette, I love you body and soul, I worship you!"

"Arthur!" she cried in amazement, shrinking, trying to draw back.

"When I see that man with you, and know what he wants, and suspect--It
drives me mad, I can't bear it. Oh, it's all damnable of me, I know! I
could have gone on all right as we were, and been happy, but for this.
But now, when I think of him, I----" With a shiver he let go her hands
and buried his face in his own again. His shoulders shook as though with
a sob, though no sound came.

She drew near to him now of her own accord, came and stood just beside
him, laying her hand gently on his shoulder. "Cousin Arthur, Cousin
Arthur!" she whispered. All her anger was gone; sorrow for him swallowed
it up. "You're making a mistake, you know, you are really. You don't
love me--not like that. You never did. You never felt----"

He raised his head. "What's the use of talking about what I did do or
did feel? I know all that. It's what I do feel that's the question--what
I feel now!"

"Oh, but you can't have changed in four or five hours," she pleaded
gently, yet with a little smile. "That's absurd. You're mistaken about
yourself. It's just that you're angry about Oliver--angry and jealous.
And that makes you think you love me. But you never would! To begin
with, you're too loyal, too honest, too fond of--Oh, you'd never do it!"

"I had never thought of you as--in that way. But when I saw him, he made
me do it. And then--yes, all of a sudden!" He turned his eyes up to her,
but imploring mercy rather than favour.

She pressed his shoulder affectionately. "Yes, I suppose it's
possible--it might be like that with a man," she said. "I suppose it
might. I never thought of it. But only just for a moment, Cousin Arthur!
It's not real with you. You'll get over it directly; you'll forget it,
and think of me in the old pleasant way you used, as being----" With
another little squeeze on his shoulder she laughed low--"Oh, all the
wonderful things I know you thought me!" She suddenly recollected how
she stood. She drew in her breath sharply, with a sound almost like a
sob. "Ah, no, you can never think like that of me again, can you?"

He was silent for a moment, not looking up at her now, but straight in
front of him.

"Then--it's true?" he asked.

With a forlorn shake of her head she answered, "Yes, it's true. Since
you're like this, I can't keep it up any longer. It's all true. Oliver
loves me, and I love him, and all you suspected is--well, is going to be
true about us."

"If you'll only drop that, I swear I'll never breathe a word
about--about myself! I will forget! I'll go away till I have forgotten.
I'll----"

"Oh, poor boy, I know you would. I should absolutely trust you. But how
am I to--drop that?" She smiled ruefully. "It's become just my life."
She suddenly lifted her hands above her head and cried in a low but
passionate voice, "Oh, I can't bear this! It's terrible. Don't be so
miserable, dear Arthur! I can't bear to see you!" She bent down and
kissed him on the forehead. "You who've been such a dear dear friend and
comrade to me--you who could have made me go on enduring it all here if
anybody could! But Oliver came--and look what he's done to both of us!"

"You love him?"

"Oh, yes, yes, yes! Or how could all this be happening? You must believe
that. I didn't want you to know it--Yes, you were right, I was trying to
get you out of the way, I wasn't honest. But since things have turned
out like this, you must believe now, indeed you must."

For a full minute he sat silent and motionless. Then he reached up, took
her hand, and kissed it three--four--times. "God help me! Well, I'll go
to London to-morrow. I can't face him--or Godfrey. I should let it all
out in a minute. I can't think how you manage!"

To her too it looked very difficult to manage now. The revelation made
to Arthur seemed somehow to extend to the whole household. She felt that
everyone would be watching and pointing, even though Arthur himself went
away. She had grown fearful of being found out--how quickly Arthur had
found her out!--and dreaded her husband's surly questions. More scenes
might come--more scenes not to be endured! A sudden resolve formed
itself in her mind, born of her fear of more detection, of more scenes,
of more falling into disgrace.

"I expect Barber will have gone to bed--it's past eleven," she said.
"But you can give him your orders in the morning. And--and I shan't see
you. Be happy, dear Cousin Arthur, and, oh, splendidly successful! I'm
sure you will! And now go to bed and sleep, poor tired boy!"

"Oh, I can't sleep--not yet. This is good-bye?" His voice choked on the
word a little. He turned his chair round, and she gave her hands into
his.

"Yes, this must be good-bye--for the present at all events. Perhaps some
day, when all this is an old story, if you wish it----"

"Are you going away with him, or----?"

"Oh, going away! I must do that. You do see that, don't you? And Oliver
wouldn't have anything else. Try to think kindly and--and pleasantly of
me. Remember our good times, dear Arthur, not this--this awful evening!"

"I've been such a fool--and now such a blackguard! Because now if I
could, I'd----"

"Hush, hush! Don't say things like that. They're not really true, and
they make you feel worse. We're just dear old friends parting for a
while, because we must."

"Perhaps I shall never see you again, Bernadette--and you've been pretty
nearly everything in my life since we've known one another."

"Dear Arthur, you must let me go now. I can't bear any more of it. Oh, I
am so desperately sorry, Arthur!" A tear rolled down her cheek.

"Never mind, Bernadette. It'll be all right about me. And--well, I can't
talk about you, but you needn't be afraid of my thinking
anything--anything unkind. Good-bye."

She drew her hands away, and he relinquished his hold on them without
resistance. There was no more to be said--no more to be done. She stood
where she was for a moment; he turned his chair round to the table
again, spread out his arms, and laid his face on his hands. Just the
same attitude in which she had found him! But she knew that his distress
was deeper. Despair and forlornness succeeded to anger and fear; and, on
the top of them, the poor boy accused himself of disloyalty to his
house, to his cousin, to herself. He saw himself a blackguard as well as
a fool.

She could not help speaking to him once again. "God bless you, Cousin
Arthur," she said very softly. But he did not move; he gave no sign of
hearing her. She turned and went very quietly out of the room, leaving
her poor pet in sad plight, her poor toy broken, behind her.

It was more than she had bargained for, more than she could bear!
Silently and cautiously, but with swift and resolute steps, she passed
along the corridor to the hall, and mounted the stairs. She was bent on
shutting out the vision of Arthur from her sight.



CHAPTER XXII

PRESSING BUSINESS


Oliver Wyse had finished his letters and was smoking a last cigar before
turning in. Barber had brought him whiskey and soda water, and wished
him good-night, adding that, in case Sir Oliver should want anything in
the night, he had put Wigram, his chauffeur, who acted as valet also
when his master was on a visit, in the small room next the bathroom
which Sir Oliver was to use. "He said he liked to be within hail of you,
Sir Oliver."

"Wigram's been with me in a lot of queer places, Barber. He's got into
the habit of expecting midnight alarms. In fact he was a sort of
bodyguard to begin with; then a valet; now he's mainly a chauffeur--a
very handy fellow! Well, thank you, Barber--Good-night."

The cigar was pleasant; so was the whiskey-and-soda; he felt drowsily
content. The situation caused no disturbance either in his nerves or in
his conscience. He was accustomed to critical positions and rather liked
them; to break or to observe rules and conventions was entirely a
question of expediency, to be settled as each case arose--and this case
was now abundantly settled. The only real danger had lain in Bernadette
herself; and she shewed no sign of wavering. He had enjoyed the comedy
of her wise counsel to Arthur, though for his own part he cared little
whether the boy went or stayed; if need be, it could not be difficult to
put him in his place.

A low light knock came on his door. A little surprised, but fancying it
must be the devoted Wigram come to have a last look at him, he called,
"Come in!" Bernadette darted in and shut the door noiselessly. She held
up a finger, enjoining silence, and walked quickly across the room.

He threw his cigar into the grate, and advanced to meet her, smiling. "I
say--is this your 'tremendous caution'?" But then he perceived the
excitement under which she laboured. "What's the matter? Anything gone
wrong?"

"Yes, Arthur! He's found out! And I--somehow I couldn't deny it to him."

He smiled at her kindly and tolerantly, yet with a gentle reproof. Her
courage was failing her again, it seemed. It was a good thing that he
had come back to Hilsey--to keep her up to the scratch.

"Well? Did he turn nasty? Never mind, I'll quiet him. Where is he?"

"No, no, please don't go near him. He's not nasty; he's all broken up.
Oliver, he says he's in love with me himself."

He smiled at that. "Coming on, the young cousin, isn't he? But I'm not
much surprised, Bernadette."

"He--he's upset me dreadfully. I didn't mean it to happen like this.
It's too much for me. My nerves----"

She spoke all the time in quick agitated whispers. Oliver walked to the
door, turned the key, and came back to her. He took one of her hands in
his. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "He has been such a
friend really. He trusted me so."

"Well, I suppose he'll take your advice now--your wise advice--and pack
himself off to-morrow morning. Breakfast in bed, and you needn't see
him."

"Judith will guess--I know she will. Oliver, I--I can't keep it up, with
you here--not even though Arthur goes. I'm afraid of Judith now--even of
Godfrey!"

"I'm certainly not going to leave you here, up against it, all by
yourself." She was not to be trusted alone now. She had been shewn too
vividly the side of the shield which it was his task to hide from her
eyes--a task to which he alone was equal. Left to herself, she might go
back on the whole thing, very likely!

"Take me away from it all now, won't you?" she asked.

"What now--to-night?" His eyes lit up humorously. "Sharp work, isn't it?
Rather difficult to get out of the house to-night without risking--well,
encounters! And you wouldn't like that."

"Can't you think of anything? I can't stand these next few days."

He considered a moment, marshalling plans in his quick-moving mind.
"Look here, can you be sure of waking up early in the morning?"

"I wish I could be half as sure of going to sleep at all!"

"Well, get up at half-past five--Your servants won't be about
then?--pack what you want in a bag, leave it just inside your room, put
on your things, and meet me outside the hall-door just before six. We'll
go for a walk!"

"But the station? It's nearly three miles off! And there are no
trains----"

"Wait, wait! My man will fetch your bag--just a little risk there, not
much at that hour--hang my motor-coat over it, so that nobody can see it
isn't mine, and take it round to the garage with my traps. I suppose the
car'll be locked up, and he'll have to get the key from somebody. He'll
say that I'm suddenly called away, that I've walked on ahead, and he's
to pick me up at the east lodge. If you're seen, you're just putting me
on my way, don't you see? He'll give your fellow at the garage a
sovereign, and he won't be too curious!"

"Yes, yes, I see!" she whispered eagerly.

"Starting then, we can be in town in lots of time to catch the afternoon
train to Boulogne. I'll wire the yacht to meet us somewhere else,
instead of Southampton. Ostend, perhaps--that'd do all right. Now how
does that suit you?"

Her eyes sparkled again. "Why, it's splendid!" How difficulties seemed
to vanish under his sure decisive touch! It was by this gift, more than
any other, that he had won and held her.

"I've managed trickier businesses than this. It's all perfectly easy,
and with luck you won't be exposed to meeting any of them again."

"Thank heaven!" she murmured.

"But you'd better not stay here now. One can never be sure somebody
won't come nosing about." He kissed her lightly. "Go, be quick, to your
room. I'll go and wake up Wigram now, and tell him what I want; you
needn't bother about him--he's absolutely reliable. Come along." He drew
her across the room with him, unlocked the door and opened it. "Don't
make a noise! Just before six, in the porch, remember!"

She nodded in silence and glided quickly along the passage, which was
dimly lighted by a single oil lamp; Godfrey would not hear of installing
modern illuminants at Hilsey. He gave her time to get to her room, and
then himself went in the other direction along the corridor, and knocked
on the door of the little room where the faithful and reliable Wigram
slept.

He was soon back--it did not take long to make Wigram understand what
was wanted of him--and sat down again at his writing-table. Some of the
letters had to be re-written, for he had dated them from Hilsey, and
that would not do now. He was smiling in a half-impatient amusement over
women and their whims. They were so prone to expect to get all they
wanted without paying the necessary price, without the little drawbacks
which could not be avoided. After all, a woman couldn't reasonably
expect to run away without causing a bit of a rumpus, and some little
distress to somebody! It was very seldom in this world that either man
or woman could get all they wanted without putting somebody else's nose
out of joint; if only that were honestly acknowledged, there would be a
great deal less cant talked.

He raised his head from his work and paused, with his cigar half-way to
his mouth, to listen a moment to a slow heavy tread which came along the
passage from the top of the stairs and stopped at a door on the opposite
side, nearer to the stairs. Arthur Lisle coming to bed--he had indicated
his own room in passing, when he was playing deputy-host and showing
Oliver his quarters. A good thing he hadn't come up a little sooner! He
might have met Bernadette coming out of a room which it was by no means
the proper thing for her to have been in. Another painful encounter that
would have been! Again his tolerant smile came; he was really a
good-natured man; he liked Arthur and was sorry for him, even while he
was amused. To-night the world was probably seeming quite at an end to
that young fellow--that young fool of a fellow. Whereas, in fact, he was
just at the beginning of all this sort of business!

"I suppose he wants my blood," he reflected. "That'd make him feel a lot
better. But he can't have it. I'm afraid he can't, really!"

Well, Arthur's was one of the sound and primitive reasons for wanting a
man's blood; nothing to quarrel with there! Only the thing would not
last, of course. Quite soon it would all be a memory, a bit of
experience. At least that would be so if the boy were--or managed to
grow into, to let life shape him into--a sensible fellow. Many men went
on being fools about women to the end. "Well, I suppose some people
would say that I'm being a fool now," he added candidly. "Perhaps I am.
Well, she's worth it." With a smile he finished off his work, got
himself to bed briskly, and was soon asleep.

Sick at last of the dreary and musty room, Arthur had slouched miserably
to bed--though he was sure that he could not sleep. He could not think
either, at least hardly coherently. The ruin which had swooped down on
him was too overwhelming. And so quick! All in a few hours! It seemed
too great to understand, almost too great to feel. It was, as it were, a
devastation, a clean sweep of all the best things in his life--his
adoration for Bernadette, his loyalty to Godfrey, the affection which
had gathered in his heart for these his kinsfolk, for this the home of
his forefathers. A dull numb pain of the soul afflicted him, such as a
man might feel in the body as he comes to consciousness after a stunning
blow. The future seemed impossible to face; he did not know how to set
about the task of reconstructing it. He was past anger, past resentment;
he did not want Oliver Wyse's blood now. Was he not now even as Oliver,
save that Oliver was successful? And Oliver owed no loyalty to the man
he robbed. In the extravagance of his despair he called himself the
meanest of men as well as the most miserable. "My God! my God!" he kept
muttering to himself, in his hopeless miserable desolation.

But he was young and very weary, exhausted with his suffering. He had
sworn to himself that sleep was impossible, but nature soon had her way
with him. Yet he struggled against sleep, for on it must follow a bitter
awakening.

When he did awake, it was broad daylight. From his bed, which stood
between the two windows of the room, he could see the sunlight playing
on the opposite wall to his right; to the left the wall was still in
shadow. It seemed that he must have pulled up the blind of one window
and not of the other, before he got into bed, though he did not remember
doing it. Indeed at the first awakening he recollected nothing very
distinctly. The memories of the night before took a minute or two to
acquire distinctness, to sort themselves out. Presently he gave a low
dull groan and turned on his side again, refusing to face the
morning--the future that awaited him inexorably. But another memory came
to him in a queer quick flash--Judith's smile when she told him that
Godfrey had taken to his bed. With a muttered curse he drew his watch
from under the pillow. Half-past seven!

He raised himself on his elbow, his back turned to the light. Everything
became clear to memory now; and the end of it all was that he had to go,
and go quickly, as soon as he could, by the earliest train possible. He
did not want to see anybody; above all he must not see Bernadette; he
had promised her that, practically; nor could he himself bear another
meeting and another parting. Joe Halliday and Wills and Mayne won the
day--by the help of an alliance most unlooked-for!

A voice spoke from the window to his right--where the blind was pulled
up and the fresh morning air blew in through the opened sash. "So you're
awake at last, Arthur!"

He rolled over on to his other elbow in surprise, blinking at the strong
light. Judith was sitting on the broad low seat beneath the window. She
wore a walking dress and out-of-door boots, but her hair was only
carelessly caught together; she wore no hat. She smiled at him, but her
eyes looked red and she held her handkerchief tightly squeezed in one
hand.

"Why, what are you doing here?" he demanded.

"Well, I've been crying--not that that's any use. I've been here nearly
half-an-hour. I meant to wake you, but you looked so awfully tired.
Besides, it was too late."

"Too late for what?"

"He's taken her away, Arthur."

He did not move; propped up on his elbow, he looked at her with a morose
steadfastness.

"I'm generally out before breakfast, you know, with Patsy. I didn't
sleep well last night, and I was earlier than usual. I was out by
half-past six, and went for a walk in the meadows. Coming back, I passed
the garage; Stokes was cleaning the car and I stopped to speak to him
about the new puppy--he's not very well. I noticed Sir Oliver's car
wasn't there, and he told me that Sir Oliver's man had knocked him up
and made him unlock the garage an hour before. The man brought Sir
Oliver's luggage from the house, Stokes said, and told him that Sir
Oliver had walked on ahead, and he was to pick him up. Stokes asked
where they were going, and the man said home, he supposed, but Sir
Oliver hadn't told him. The man was rather short with him, Stokes said,
and seemed in a hurry. I thought it all sounded rather funny, especially
Sir Oliver walking on ahead--at six in the morning!--but I said nothing
to Stokes, though I think he thought it a bit queer too. So when I got
back I went to Bernadette's room. I didn't exactly suspect that she'd
gone too, but I had a sort of uneasy--well, I wanted to be quite sure,
don't you know? I opened the door quietly--a little way--and I saw that
the room was quite light. That told me directly; she can't bear a chink
of light in her room. So I went in. She wasn't there; she hadn't been to
bed, she'd only lain down on the outside. Most of the things on her
dressing-table were gone, and I couldn't see the dressing-bag that
always stood by her big hanging-cupboard. I thought I'd better come and
tell you. On the way I met Barber, just up, I suppose, in his apron and
shirt-sleeves. He told me that Sir Oliver had gone and Wigram--his man,
you know--too."

"But Stokes didn't see either of them?"

"No. They must have walked on together, and got into the car when it
came up. Only just then I remembered that I'd found the front door
unlocked and had meant to scold Barber for being so careless. It had
gone out of my head till then." She paused a moment. "Did you see her
last night? She wanted to see you--asked where you'd gone, you know."

"Yes; she came to me in the smoking-room."

"Did she say anything that sounded like--like----?"

He waited a while before he answered the unfinished question. "She said
nothing about this morning."

"But did she say----?"

Arthur nodded his head.

"Oh then, it's quite clear!" said Judith.

"I didn't think she meant to go this morning. I was to go. We said
good-bye."

"She has gone, though. I'm sure of it. Well, I've thought she would for
some time past, so I don't quite see why I've been crying. How could we
help it? Could we give her what she wanted? Could Godfrey? Could I?
Could you? Margaret was the only chance, but poor little
Margaret's--well, Margaret! She wasn't enough to keep her." She rose
from her seat. "Well, I'll go, because you must get up."

Arthur paid no heed. "I think it's because of me that she's gone this
morning," he said slowly.

"Why? Did you quarrel? Did you talk about--about Sir Oliver?"

"Yes, at first. Then I told her I was in love with her."

She raised her hands and let them fall in a gesture of despairing
irritation. "In love, in love! Oh, I've had enough of it for the
present! Get up, Arthur!"

"Yes, I'll get up--get up and clear out," he said in sullen bitterness.
"I'll go back to work; that's the best thing I can do. I meant to go
this morning, anyhow."

She had moved towards the door, but she stopped now, facing him, between
bed and door. "You mean that you're going away--now--this morning?" He
nodded his head. She waited a moment and then smiled. "Oh, well, I think
I'll come too. After all, it won't be very lively here, will it?"

He started in surprise. "You go? You couldn't think of that, Judith?
Why, what's little Margaret to do? And Godfrey? Oh, you can't go!"

"Why can't I? I'm a Lisle, aren't I? I'm a Lisle, just as much as you
and Godfrey! Why aren't I to behave as a Lisle then--go to bed or run
away when things get difficult and uncomfortable? I rather wish I had a
real man to run away with--like Bernadette!"

"God help him if you had!" growled Arthur, to whom the insinuation was
not grateful.

"That's better! You have got a bit of a fight somewhere in you," she
mocked. "And anyhow--get up!"

"Well, I'm going to--if you'll clear out, and be----"

"And be damned to me? Yes, I know! You can say that as often as you
like, but you've got to help me to face this business. You've got to be
the Man of the Family!" She smiled rather scornfully. "It's the least
you can do, if you really did try to make love to Bernadette."

He flushed a little, but answered calmly: "As I don't suppose you'll be
able to think of anything to say more disagreeable than that, you may as
well go, and let me dress."

"Yes, I will." She turned to the door, smiling in a grim triumph. Just
as she went out, she looked over her shoulder and added, "You'll have to
tell Godfrey."

That gave him a chance. He cried after her, "You're in a funk too,
really!"

She smiled at him. "Didn't I say I was a Lisle--or half a one--like you,
Arthur?" She pulled the door to, with a bang, and he heard her quick
decisive steps retreating along the corridor.

The next moment Barber entered the room, bringing hot water. He had seen
Judith as she came out. Only another of the queer things happening this
morning! He wore an air of tremendously discreet gravity. But Arthur
guessed from his face that wonder and surmise, speculation and gossip,
were afloat in the house already.

He dressed quickly and went down to breakfast. Judith was there alone;
Margaret was having breakfast upstairs with the nurse, she told him--out
of the way of chattering tongues, her look added--as she poured out
coffee.

Barber came in with a telegram, and laid it by her. "The boy's waiting,
miss."

She read it. "No answer, Barber."

"Oh, I want to send a wire. Bring me a form, will you?" said Arthur.

When he had written his message, Judith rose and came round to him,
carrying his coffee in one hand and the telegram in the other; she gave
him the latter to read--"Don't expect me back. Shall write you." There
was no signature.

"What does she want to write about?"

"Oh, her things, I suppose. What did you say in your wire?"

"I said 'Awfully sorry can't come. Pressing family business.'"

"It is--very. I'm afraid I was rather disagreeable, Arthur."

He looked up at her with a rueful smile as he stirred his coffee.
"You're like a cold bath on a freezing morning--stinging but hygienic."

There was a sudden choke in her voice as she answered: "I'd have said
and done anything rather than let you go. And if I've ruined your play
and your prospects, I can't help it." She walked quickly away to the
window and stood there a moment with her back towards him. Then she
returned to her place and ate a business-like breakfast.



CHAPTER XXIII

FACING THE SITUATION


The gods were laughing at him; so it seemed to Arthur Lisle. They chose
to chastise his folly and his sin by ridicule. He whom the
catastrophe--the intrigue and the flight--had broken was chosen to break
the news of it. He must put on a composed consolatory face, preach
fortitude, recommend patience under the inevitable. He was plumped back
into his old position of useful cousin, the friend of both husband and
wife. Judith was that too. Why should not she carry the tidings? "No,
you'll be more sympathetic," she insisted, with the old touch of mockery
governing her manner again. "I should tell him too much of the truth
most likely." So he must do it. But this useful cousin seemed a very
different sort of man from the stricken sufferer, the jealous lover, of
overnight. Indeed it was pitiable for the forsaken jealous lover--denied
even a departure from the scene of his woes, condemned to dwell in the
house so full of her and yet so empty, the butt (so his sensitive fancy
imagined) of half the gossip and half the giggles of which to his ears
Hilsey Manor was already full. But the forsaken lover must sink himself
in the sympathetic kinsman--if he could; must wear his face and speak in
his tones. A monstrous hypocrisy! "Bernadette's run away, but, I'm sorry
to say, not with me, Godfrey." No, no, that was all wrong--that was the
truth. "Bernadette's left you for Oliver Wyse--unprincipled woman and
artful villain!" Was that right? Well, 'artful villain' was right
enough, surely? Perhaps 'deluded woman' would do for Bernadette. "Brave
woman and happy man!" the rude laughter of the gods suggested. "If we'd
either of us had half his grit, Godfrey!" All sorts of things impossible
to say the gods invented in their high but disconcerting irony.

"Well, I'm in for it--here goes!" thought Arthur, as he requested Barber
to find out from Mrs. Gates--who had been acting as nurse to her master
as well as to his little girl--when Mr. Lisle could see him.

Gossip and giggles there may have been somewhere, probably there were,
but not on the faces or in the demeanour of Barber and Mrs. Gates. Pomp,
funereal pomp! They seemed sure that Bernadette was dead, and that her
death was a suicide.

"I will ascertain immediately, sir," said Barber. He was really very
human over it all--a mixture of shockedness and curiosity, condemnation
and comprehension, outrage and excuse--for she certainly had a way with
her, Mrs. Lisle had. But his sense of appropriateness overpowered them
all--a result, no doubt, of the ceremonial nature of his vocation.

Mrs. Gates's humanity was more on the ample surface of her ample
personality. She made no pretence of not understanding what had
happened, and even went a little further than that.

"Lor, sir, well there!" she whispered to Arthur. "I've 'ad my fears.
Yes, he can see you, poor gentleman! I've not said a word to 'im. And
poor Miss Margaret!" She was bent on getting every ounce out of the
situation. Arthur did not want to kill her--she was a good woman--but it
would have relieved his feelings to jab a penknife into one of the wide
margins around her vital parts. "Why is she so fat?" he groaned inwardly
and with no superficial relevance. But his instinct was true; her
corpulence did, in the most correct sense, aggravate the present
qualities of her emotions and demeanour.

And so, in varying forms, the thing was running all through the
house--and soon would run all through the village. Mrs. Lisle--Mrs.
Lisle of Hilsey! Portentous, horrible--and most exciting! It would run
to London soon. Mrs. Lisle of Hilsey was not such a personage there--but
still pretty well known. A good many people had been at that party where
the Potentates had met. One of them had abdicated now and gone--well,
perhaps only as far as Elba!

All the air was full of her, all the voices speaking her name in unison.
The sympathetic cousin had great difficulty in getting on the top of the
defeated lover when Arthur entered Godfrey's room. And even anyhow--if
one left out all the irony and all the complication--the errand was not
an easy or a grateful one. If Godfrey had gone to bed sooner than
witness a flirtation, what mightn't he do in face of an elopement?

The invalid was sitting up in bed, supported by several pillows, smoking
a cigarette and reading yesterday's "Times." The improvement in his
temper, manifest from the moment when he took to his bed, seemed to have
been progressive. He made Arthur welcome.

"And I hope you've not come to say good-bye?" he added. Arthur had
mentioned to him too the call to London and to work.

"No, I'm going to stay on a few days more, if you can put me up. I say,
Godfrey----"

"Delighted to keep you--especially when I'm on my back. I hope to be up
soon, though, very soon. Er--Wyse is staying on too, I suppose?"

"He left this morning, early, by motor."

"Did he? Really?" He smothered his relief, but it was unmistakable.
"Rather sudden, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was sudden. The fact is----"

"Why did he go? Is he coming back?"

"I don't know--well, I mean, he didn't say anything to me. No, he won't
be back."

"Oh, I suppose he told Bernadette about it. I thought I heard somebody
moving about the house. I'm a light sleeper, you know, especially when
I'm ill. About six o'clock, I think it was. I--I suppose Bernadette's
disappointed at his not staying longer?" The assumed indifference of his
question was contradicted by the eagerness of his furtive glance. Arthur
felt it on him; he flushed as he sat down by the bedside, seeking so
hard for a form of words, for an opening--something enlightening without
being brutal. Godfrey's eyes, sharpened by his ill-will and suspicion,
marked the flush and the hesitation; he guessed there was something to
tell. "Well?" he added, peevish at getting no immediate answer.

"She--she's gone away too this morning, Godfrey--early--before we were
up."

A lean hand shot out from the bed and grasped his wrist. "Arthur?"

"Yes, old chap, I'm sorry to say--it's a bad business."

"You do mean----? Arthur, you do mean----?"

"Yes, she's gone with him." He could not look at Godfrey; his speech was
no more than a mutter. He felt the grasp on his wrist tighten, till it
hurt him.

"The damned villain! I knew it! The infernal villain, Arthur!" Godfrey
cried querulously.

Clearly an assent was required. Arthur's was inadequate. "Awfully bad
business! Try to--to be calm, old fellow, while I tell you about it."

"Yes, yes, tell me!"

There was really nothing material left to tell, but Godfrey was greedy
for details; such as there were to tell or conjecture he extracted by
rapid questioning, even to the telegram which had come for Judith. Not
till the end did he relax his hold on Arthur's wrist and lean back again
on his pillows.

He lay silent like that for a long time, with Arthur silent beside him.
His rage against Oliver seemed spent almost in the moment of its
outburst; to his companion's relief he said nothing about Bernadette's
conduct. He lay pathetically quiet, looking tired now, rather than angry
or distressed. At last he gave a long sigh. "Well, we know where we are
now!" he said.

That piece of knowledge had come to more than one inmate of the house in
the last twelve hours.

"We must face the situation, Arthur. It's come to a crisis! I think I'm
equal to getting up and--and facing the situation."

"Well, you know, there's no particular use in your----"

"My feelings are--well, you can imagine them." ("More or less!" threw in
the gods, grimly chuckling.) "But I mustn't think of myself only.
There's Margaret and--and all of it. Yes, I shall get up. I shall get up
and sit in my chair, Arthur." He was silent again for a minute. "It
makes a great difference. I--I shall have to consider my course--what's
best in the interests of all of us. A terrible blow! It must be a blow
even to you, Arthur? You and she were such good friends, weren't you?
And she does this--she lets herself be seduced into doing this!"

"Yes, of course, it's--it's a blow; but it's you and Margaret we've got
to think about."

"No, I don't forget you, I don't forget you!" ("If only he would!"
groaned Arthur.) "Well, I must consider my course. Where did you say the
telegram was sent from?"

"Winchester."

"I expect they stopped to breakfast there."

"Very likely." Arthur rose to his feet; he did not enjoy a
"reconstruction" of the flight. The afflicted husband made no protest
against his movement.

"Yes, leave me alone for a little while. I have to think--I must review
the position. Tell Judith I should like to see her in about an hour's
time, and--and go into matters."

Happy to escape, Arthur left him facing the situation, reviewing the
position, considering his course, and determining to get up--to get, at
any rate, into his arm-chair--the better to perform these important
operations. The messenger of catastrophe came away with a strange
impression of the effect of his tidings. After the first
outburst--itself rather peevish than passionate--came that idle, almost
morbid curiosity about details from which he himself instinctively
averted his eyes; then this ineffectual fussiness, this vain
self-assertion, which turned to facing the situation only when there was
no longer anything or anybody to face, and to reviewing the position
only when it was past mending. Of smitten love, even of pride wounded to
the heart, there seemed little sign. All Arthur's feelings fought
against the sacrilegious idea, but it would not be denied an entry into
his mind--after the querulous anger, after the curiosity, mingling with
the futile fussiness, there had been an undercurrent of relief--relief
that nothing and nobody had to be faced really, that really nothing
could be done, nothing expected from him, no call made now on courage or
on energy--no, nor on a love or a sympathy already dead before Oliver
Wyse struck them the final blow.

That morning's flight, then, was not the tragedy, but the end of it, not
the culminating scene of terror and pity, but the fall of the curtain on
a play played-out. Whatever of good or evil in life it might bring for
Bernadette, for Godfrey it brought relief in its train. It was grievous,
no doubt, in its external incidents--a society scandal, a family
shame--but in itself, in its true significance to his mind, as it really
and closely touched his heart, it came as an end--an end to the strain
which he could not support, to the challenge which he dared not face, on
which he had turned his back in sulks and malingering--an end to his
long fruitless effort to be a satisfactory husband.

When Judith came down from her interview and joined Arthur in the garden
before lunch, she had another aspect of the case to exhibit, a sidelight
to throw on the deserted man's mind and its workings.

"How did you find him?" Arthur asked her.

"Oh, quite calm--and immersed in his account-books." She smiled. "Yes,
he's up, in his chair, and a pile of them on the table at his elbow! He
says that the first thing to do is to reduce his expenditure. He hopes
now to be able to pay off his mortgage in four or five years. She was
awfully extravagant, you know, and he hated mortgaging Hilsey."

"Do you think she knew he'd had to do it?"

"No, she didn't. He wouldn't let her know. He liked her to think him
richer than he was, I think."

"Then he has no right to grumble at her extravagance."

"I never heard him do that--and he didn't do it this morning. All the
same it worried him, and now he can save, oh, enormously, of course! The
barouche and the pair of horses are to go, the first thing."

The barouche! It carried his mind back to the beginning, when its costly
luxury framed for his eyes their earliest picture of Bernadette's dainty
beauty.

"If he isn't going to keep it, he might send it after her. I would."

"Yes, you'd do a lot of foolish things if you were let. Luckily you're
not!"

"Judith, I half believe he's glad!"

"Need we admit quite so much as that? Let's say he's facing the
situation manfully!"

"Oh, he talked like that to you too, did he?" He jumped up, and took a
few paces about the lawn, then came back and stood beside her. "By God,
if he's glad, she was right to go, Judith!"

"I've never said anything to the contrary, have I? Have you seen
Margaret this morning?"

"No, I haven't. What made you ask me that just now?"

"She came into my head. After all, she's a--a factor in the situation
which, as Godfrey observes, has to be faced. I suppose I shall have to
adopt her--more or less. Premature cares! Not so much Rome and Florence!
It's as well to realise where one comes in oneself. When Godfrey talks
of facing the situation, I don't think he proposes to do it alone, you
know. You and I come into it."

"Yes." He added after a pause: "Well, we can't turn our backs on him,
can we?"

"I've told her that her mother's gone on a visit--suddenly, to see a
friend who's ill--and didn't like to wake her up to say good-bye. But
that's a temporary solution, of course. She'll have to know more, and
something'll have to be arranged about her and Bernadette. I don't
suppose he'll object to Bernadette seeing her sometimes." She ended with
a smile: "Perhaps you'll be asked to take her and be present at the
interviews--and see that Sir Oliver's off the premises."

"I'll be hanged if I do anything of the sort! And, as you asked me to
stay here, I don't think you need go on laughing at me."

Judith was impenitent. "It's a thing quite likely to happen," she
insisted. "Bernadette would like it."

He turned away angrily and resumed his pacing. Yet in his heart he
assented to the tenor of her argument. She might, in her malice, take an
extravagant case--a case which, at all events, seemed to him just now
cruelly extravagant--but she was right in her main contention. No more
than she herself could he turn his back on Godfrey, or cut himself
adrift from Hilsey. In last night's desperate hour Bernadette and he,
between them, seemed to have cut all the bonds and severed all the ties;
his only impulse had been to get away quickly. But it could not be so.
Life was not like that--at least not to men who owned the sway of
obligations and felt the appeal of loyalty and affection. He could not
desert the ship.

Barber came out of the house and brought him a note. "From Mr. Beard,
sir. Will you kindly send a verbal answer?"

He read it, and glanced towards Judith. He was minded to consult her.
But, no, he would not consult Judith. He would decide for himself;
something in the present position made him put a value on deciding for
himself, even though he decided wrongly. "All right, say I will,
Barber." He lit a cigarette and, walking back to Judith, sat down again
beside her. But he said nothing; he waited for her to ask, if she were
curious.

She was. "What did Barber want?"

"Only a note from Beard--about the match. We shall be one man short
anyhow, and two if I don't turn up. So I told Barber to say I would."

"Good. Margaret and I will come and watch you. We've not gone into
official mourning yet, I imagine."

"Hang 'em, they may think what they like! I'm going to play cricket."

So he played cricket, though that again would not have seemed possible
over-night, and, notwithstanding that his eye might well have been out,
he made five-and-twenty runs and brought off a catch of a most
comforting order. Hilsey won the match by four wickets, and Judith,
Margaret, and he strolled back home together in the cool of the evening,
while the setting sun gilded the mellow and peaceful beauties of the old
house.

The little girl held Judith's hand, and, excited by the incidents of the
game, above all by Cousin Arthur's dashing innings--his style was rather
vigorous than classic--prattled more freely than her wont.

"I wish mummy hadn't had to go away just to-day," she said. "Then she
could have seen Cousin Arthur's innings. I wanted to cry when he was
caught out."

Arthur applied the words in parable, smiling grimly at himself in his
pain. He had been crying himself at being caught out, and at mummy's
having had to go away that morning. But he mustn't do it. He must set
his teeth, however sore the pain, however galling the consciousness of
folly. Surely, in face of what had happened to that house, nobody but an
idiot--nobody but a man unable to learn even words of one syllable in
the book of life--could be content to meet trouble with sighs and sulks,
or with cries only and amorous lamentation? Not to feel to the depths of
his being the shattering blow, or lightly and soon to forget it--that
could not be, nor did his instinct ask it; it would argue shallowness
indeed, and a cheapening of all that was good and generous in him, a
cheapening too of her who, towards him at least, had ever been generous
and good. What had he, of all men, against her? Had she not given him
all she could--joy, comradeship, confidence in all things save that one?
In the crisis of her own fate, when she was risking all her fortunes on
that momentous throw, had she not paused, had she not turned aside, to
pity him and to be very tender towards his foolishness? Was his the hand
to cast at her the stone of an ungrateful or accusing memory?

They passed through the tall iron gates which, with a true
squirearchical air, guarded the precincts of Hilsey Manor.

"Why, look, there's papa in the garden, walking on the lawn!" cried
Margaret.

Yes, there was Godfrey, heavily wrapped in shawls, walking to and fro
briskly. He had got up and come downstairs--to face the situation.



CHAPTER XXIV

_DID YOU SAY MRS.?_


The end of another fortnight found Arthur still at Hilsey, but on the
eve of leaving it for a time at least. Another summons had reached him,
one which he could not disregard. His mother wrote, affectionately
reproaching him for delaying his visit to Malvern. "You promised us to
come before this. Besides I'm not very well, and you'll cheer me up. You
mustn't altogether forsake us for the other branch of the family!"

Arthur recognised his duty, but with a reluctance of which he was
ashamed. Common disaster had drawn the party at Hilsey more closely
together. Judith and Arthur, working hand in hand to "make things go,"
had become firm friends, though they were apt to spar and wrangle still.
The little girl--she knew by now that her mother's visit was to be a
long one--responded to the compassionate tenderness evoked by a
misfortune which she herself did not yet understand; she gained
confidence from marks of love and, as she claimed affection more boldly,
elicited it in ampler measure.

Freed from a struggle to which he was morbidly conscious of being
unequal, Godfrey Lisle showed his better side. Aggressive courage was
what he lacked and knew that he lacked; he was not without fortitude to
endure the pain of a blow that had fallen--especially when he could be
sure it was the last! He was at peace now; the worst possible had
happened--and, lo, it was not unendurable! There were compensations; he
was not humiliated any more, and the sad leak in his finances--it had
threatened even his tenure of Hilsey itself--could be stopped. Though he
was still fussy, self-important over trifles, sometimes ridiculous, and
very dependent on his stronger kinsfolk, he was more amiable, less
secretive of his feelings, free from sulks and grievances. The gentleman
in him came out, both in his bearing towards those about him and in the
attitude he adopted towards Bernadette herself. He spoke of her as
seldom as he could but without rancour, and in regard to future
arrangements put himself at her disposal. When letters came from Oliver
Wyse's lawyers, acting on instructions received from the voyagers on
summer seas, he caused Arthur to reply for him that he would give her
the freedom she desired, and would endeavour to meet whatever might be
her wishes in regard to Margaret. He was scrupulous--and even
meticulous--over setting aside all her personal belongings to await her
orders. He declared himself ready to consider any pecuniary arrangement
which might be thought proper; some relics of his old pride in lavishly
supplying all her requirements seemed to survive in his mind, side by
side with his relief at the thought of paying off his mortgage.

To Arthur the quiet after the storm brought a more sober view of himself
and of his life, of what he had done and what had happened to him. His
eyes saw more clearly for what they were both the high-flying adoration
and the tempestuous gust of passion which jealousy had raised. A
critical and healthy distrust of himself and his impulses began
gradually to displace the bitter and morbid self-contempt of the first
hours and days after the disaster. He must still grieve with the
forsaken worshipper of the smoking-room; he could not yet forget the
pangs of the baffled lover; but a new man was coming to birth in
him--one who, if he still grieved and sighed, could come near to smiling
too at these extravagant gentlemen with their idolising dreams and gusty
passions. Rueful and bitter the smile might be, but it was tonic. It
helped to set devotion, passion, and catastrophe in their true places
and to assign to them their real proportions. In it was the dawn of a
recognition that he was still no more than on the threshold of a man's
experience.

Neither was it a bad thing perhaps that another and very practical
trouble began to press him hard. Though he was living in free quarters
now, the bills contracted during his great London season began to come
tumbling in, many for the second or third time. "To account rendered"
was a legend with which he was becoming familiar to the point of
disgust. The five hundred pounds was running very low; the diminished
dividends could not meet his deficit. When Godfrey talked finance to
him, as he often did, he was inclined to retort that there were finances
in a more desperate condition than those of the estate of Hilsey and
possessing no such new-born prospects of recovery--prospects born in
sore travail, it is true, but there all the same for Godfrey's
consolation.

But there was the farce! That persevering project emerged on the horizon
again. It was in full rehearsal now; it was due in three weeks' time: it
had got a third act at last, Mr. Claud Beverley and Mr. Langley
Etheringham having apparently assuaged their differences. It had even
got a name--a name, as Joe Halliday wrote in his enthusiasm, as superior
to the name of _Help Me Out Quickly_ as the play itself was to that
bygone masterpiece. Arthur told Judith the name and, in spite of that
resolution of his about relying on his own judgment, awaited her opinion
anxiously. After all, in this case it was not his judgment, but,
presumably, Mr. Claud Beverley's.

"'_Did You Say Mrs.?_' That's what you're going to call it, is it?"

"It's what they're going to call it. It's not my invention, you know."

"Well, I should think it must be vulgar enough, anyhow," said Judith.

"Oh, vulgar be hanged! That doesn't matter. Jolly good, I call it! Sort
of piques your curiosity. Why did He say Mrs.?--That's what the
public'll want to know, don't you see?"

"Or why did She say Mrs. perhaps!"

"There you are! Another puzzle! You see, you're curious yourself
directly, Judith."

"Well, yes, I am rather," Judith confessed, laughing.

"I think He said it about Her--when she wasn't," Arthur maintained.

"I think She said it about herself," urged Judith. "Oh, of course, she
wasn't--there can't be any doubt about that."

So Judith thought well of the title--evidently she did. Arthur's
approval was fortified and grew with contemplation.

"It's corking!" he declared. "And if only Ayesha Layard's half as good
as Joe thinks----"

"If only who's half as good as----?"

"Ayesha Layard--that's our star, our leading lady. A discovery of Joe's;
he's wild about her."

"I wonder who invented her name, if you come to that!"

"Well, we'll hope for the best," said Arthur, laughing. "I shall be up a
tree, if it goes wrong."

"Not a bad thing to be up a tree sometimes; you get a good view all
round."

"Sagacious philosopher! But I can't afford to lose my money."

"Let's see, how much were you silly enough----?"

"One--thousand--pounds. No less! I can't really quite make out how I
came to do it."

"I'm sure I can't help you there, Arthur. I wasn't in your confidence."

"Never mind! In for it now! I shall get hold of Joe for lunch on my way
through town, and hear all about it."

"You might look in at the Temple too, and see how many briefs you've
missed!"

"Well, it's vacation, you know--Still I mean to settle down to that when
I get back from Malvern."

"Yes, you must. We mustn't keep you any longer. You've been very good to
stay--and it's been very good to have you here, Arthur."

"By Jove, when I think of what I expected my visit here to be, and what
it has been!"

She shook her head at him with a smile. "Then don't think of it," she
counselled. "Think of _Did You Say Mrs.?_ instead!"

The parting from Hilsey could not be achieved without some retrospects,
some drawing of contrasts, without memories bitter or seductive; that
would have demanded a mind too stoical. Yet his leave-taking was graced
and softened by their reluctance to let him go. He went not as a guest
whose sojourn under a strange roof is finished and who may chance not to
pass that way again; his going was rather as that of a son of the house
who sallies forth on his business or his ventures and, God willing,
shall come again, bringing his sheaves with him, to a home ever and
gladly open. So they all, in their ways, tried to tell him or to show
him. For their sakes, no less than for the dear sake of her who was
gone, his heart was full.

Joe Halliday bustled in to lunch at the appointed meeting-place as busy
and sanguine as ever--so busy indeed that he appeared not to have been
able to see much of _Did You Say Mrs.?_ lately. "But it's going on all
right," he added reassuringly. "We had a job over that third act, but
it's topping now. Claud had an idea that Langley liked at last, thank
heaven! It's a job to keep those two chaps from cutting one another's
throats--that's the only trouble. I expect they'll be rehearsing this
afternoon. Would you like to drop in for a bit?"

"Love it! I've never seen a rehearsal, and this'll be thrilling! My
train isn't till 4.45."

"Ayesha's divine! Look here, you mustn't make love to her. I'm doing
that myself. I mean I'm trying. That's as far as I've got." He laughed
good-humouredly, devouring rump-steak at a ruinous rate.

"How's everybody, Joe? How are the Sarradets?"

"I saw the old man only yesterday. He's in great form--so cockahoop
about this company of his that I believe he's taken on a new lease of
life."

"What company? I haven't heard about it."

"Haven't you? Why, he's turned his business into a company--mainly to
stop our young friend Raymond from playing ducks and drakes with it,
when his turn comes. It's a private company--no public issue of shares.
A few debentures for his friends--I've been looking after that side of
it for him a bit. Like some?"

"Thanks, but just at present I'm not supporting the investment market,"
smiled Arthur.

"Will be soon! So will all of us. Yes, it's all fixed--and that lucky
devil Sidney Barslow steps in as Managing Director. He's done himself
pretty well all round, has Sidney!"

"He seems to have. Is he all right?" Arthur's comment and question were
both so devoid of interest that Joe stared at him in amazement.

"I say, don't you know? Didn't anybody write and tell you? Didn't she
write? Marie, I mean. She's engaged to Sidney. Do you mean to say you
didn't know that?"

"No, nobody told me. I've been away, you see." He paused a moment.
"Rather sudden, wasn't it?"

"Well, when a stone once begins to roll down hill--!" said Joe, with a
knowing grin. "Besides he'd been very useful to them over Raymond. The
old man took no end of a fancy to him. I imagine it all somehow worked
in together. Funny she didn't write and tell you about it!"

Arthur felt that his companion was regarding him with some curiosity;
the friendship between Marie Sarradet and himself had been so well known
in the circle; whether it would become anything more had doubtless been
a matter of speculation among them. He did not mind Joe's curiosity;
better that it should be turned on this matter than on his more recent
experiences.

"I suppose she had something considerably more pressing to think about,"
he remarked with a smile.

Yet the news caused not indeed resentment or jealousy, but a vague
annoyance, based partly on vanity--the engagement was sudden, the deeper
memories of another attachment must have faded quickly--but mainly on
regret for Marie. He could not help feeling that she was throwing
herself away on a partner beneath her, unworthy of her--from family
reasons in some measure probably, or just for want of anybody better.
The Marie he had known--that side of her which her shrewd and
affectionate diplomacy had always contrived to present to the eyes whose
scrutiny she feared--the Marie whom once he had marked for his--surely
she could not easily mate with Sidney Barslow, for all the good there
was in him? He forgot that there might be another Marie whom he did not
know so well, perhaps in the end a more real, a more natural, a
preponderating one. He should not have forgotten that possibility, since
there had proved to be more than one Bernadette!

"Well, I hope they'll be very happy. I must go and see her when I'm back
in town."

"They'll do all right," Joe pronounced. "Sidney has taken a reef
in--several, in fact. He'll have a big chance at old Sarradet's place
and, if I know him, he'll use it."

"And how's Raymond going on?"

"Raymond's on appro., so to speak, both as to the business and in
another quarter, I think. Our pretty Amabel is waiting to see how he
sticks to the blue ribbon of a blameless life. The old set's rather gone
to pot, hasn't it, Arthur? The way of the world, what?"

"By Jove, it is!" sighed Arthur. Things had a way of going to pot--with
a vengeance.

The two philosophers finished their pints of beer, and set out for the
Burlington Theatre; upon entering which they shed their philosophic
character and became excited adventurers.

Mr. Langley Etheringham was taking the company through the first act;
they were in the middle of it when Joe, having piloted Arthur through
dark and dirty ways, deposited him in the third row of the stalls. The
well-known "producer" was a shortish man with a bald head, a red
moustache, and fiery eyes. He was an embodiment of perpetual motion. He
kept on moving his arms from the level of his thighs to that of his
head, as though he were lifting a heavy weight in his hands, and
accompanied the action by a constant quick murmur of "Pick it up, pick
it up, pick it up!" He broke off once or twice to observe sadly, "Not a
funeral, my boy, not a funeral!" but he was soon back at his
weight-lifting again.

"Langley's a great believer in pace, especially in the first act," Joe
whispered. Arthur nodded sagaciously. Mr. Etheringham fascinated him; he
could have watched him contentedly for a long while, as one can watch
the untiring and incredibly swift action of some machine. But nobody on
the stage seemed to take much notice. Some were reading their parts all
the time, some were trying to do without their written parts. The
leading man--a tall, stout, grey-haired man in double eyeglasses--just
mumbled his words indifferently, but was terribly anxious about his
"crosses." "Where's my cross?" "Is this my cross?" "I crossed here this
morning." "I don't like this cross, Langley." His life seemed compact of
crosses.

Arthur could not gather much of what the first act was about; he had
missed the "exposition"--so at least Joe informed him; the confusion was
to an inexperienced eye considerable, the dialogue hard to hear owing to
Mr. Etheringham's exhortations and the leading man's crosses. But he did
not mind much; he was keenly interested in the scene and the people. It
did, however, appear that the four characters now taking part in the
action were expecting a fifth, a woman, and that her entrance was to be
the turning-point of the act. Mr. Etheringham varied his appeal. "Keep
it up, keep it up, keep it up!" he implored. "Keep it up for her,
Willie, keep it _Up_!" He waved his hands furiously, then brought them
suddenly to rest, stretched out on each side of him. "_Now!_"

Everybody was still; even the leading man did not want to cross.

Miss Ayesha Layard entered. It was evidently a great moment. The others
stiffened in the rigidity of surprise. Miss Layard looked round,
smiling. The leading man began to mumble. Mr. Etheringham peremptorily
stopped him. "Hold it, Willie, hold it--I told you to hold it, man!
It'll stand another five seconds!" With poised hands he held them
planted and speechless. "Now!"

Joe heaved a sigh. "Pretty good, don't you think so?"

"Splendid!" said Arthur. "I suppose she's really somebody else, or--or
they think she is?"

"Ought to be, anyhow," Joe whispered back with a cunning smile.

Miss Ayesha Layard was a small lady, very richly dressed. She had a
turned-up nose, wide-open blue eyes, and an expression of intense
innocence. She did not look more than seventeen, and no doubt could look
even younger when required. In one hand she held the script of her part,
in the other a large sandwich with a bite out of it; and she was
munching.

"No, no!" cried Mr. Etheringham, suddenly spying the sandwich, "I will
not go on while you're eating!"

"But I'm so hungry, Mr. Etheringham!" she pleaded in a sweet childish
voice. "It's past three and I've had no lunch."

"Lunch, lunch, always lunch! No sooner do we begin to get going than
it's lunch!"

She stood still, munching, smiling, appealing to him with wide-open
candid eyes. He flung himself crossly into a chair. "Take a
quarter-of-an-hour then! After that we'll go back and run straight
through the act." Miss Layard dimpled in a smile. He broke out again.
"But go on while you're eating I won't!"

On receiving their brief respite the men on the stage had scuttled off,
like rabbits into their holes; Miss Layard too hurried off, but soon
reappeared in the front of the house, carrying a paper bag with more
sandwiches. She sat down in the front row of the stalls, still munching
steadily.

"I'll be back in a minute," said Joe, and went and sat himself down
beside her.

A melancholy voice came from the cavernous recesses of the pit: "We
could do with a bit more life, Etheringham."

"If we get the pace and the positions now, the life'll soon come. I've
got some experience, I suppose, haven't I?"

The author emerged into view, as he replied sadly, "Oh, experience,
yes!" He did not appear disposed to allow the producer any other
qualifications for his task.

Mr. Etheringham gave him a fiery glare but no answer. Mr. Beverley saw
Arthur and came up to him. "Hullo, Lisle, have you come to see this
rot?"

"Yes, but I'm afraid I can't stay. I've a train to catch, and I've got
to get my hair cut first."

"Oh, well, you won't miss much," said Beverley resignedly, as he dropped
into the next stall.

Arthur was surprised at his mode of referring to the great work; his
attitude had been different that night at the Sarradets', when they
celebrated the formation of the Syndicate. Perhaps the author detected
his feeling, for he went on:

"Oh, it's all right of its sort. It's funny, you know, all right--it'll
go. Etheringham there swears by it, and he's a pretty good judge, in
spite of his crankiness. But--well, I've moved on since I wrote it. Life
has begun to interest me--real life, I mean, and real people, and the
way things really happen. I'm writing a play now about a woman leaving
her husband and children. I hope the Twentieth Society'll do it. Well, I
treat it like a thing that really happens, not as you see it done on the
stage or in novels."

Arthur was curious. "How do you make her do it?" he asked.

"Why, in a reasonable way--openly, after discussing the matter, as real
men and women would. None of the old elopement nonsense! Real people
don't do that."

"Well, but--er--don't people differ?"

"Not half so much as you think--not real people. Well, you'll see. Only
I wish I could get on a bit quicker. The office takes up so much of my
time. If I can make a bit out of this thing, I'll chuck the office." He
paused for a minute. "You've been away, haven't you?"

"Yes, I've been down in the country. Had some family affairs
to--er--look after." He was a little surprised that Mr. Beverley had
condescended to notice his absence.

"Going to be in town now?"

"Well, I'm off for about ten days more. Then I've got to buckle to
work--if I can get any work to buckle to, that is."

Mr. Beverley nodded thoughtfully and smiled. The next moment a loud
giggling proceeded from where Miss Layard and Joe sat. The lady rose,
saying, "I'll ask Mr. Beverley," and came towards them, Joe looking on
with a broad grin on his face. "He's not like you--he's sensible and
serious." After a quick glance over her shoulder at Joe, she addressed
the author. "Oh, Mr. Beverley, you're a literary man and all that. Tell
me, do you say 'ee-ther' or 'eye-ther'?" Her face was a picture of
innocent gravity.

"Eye-ther," replied the eminent author promptly.

"But which?"

"Eye-ther."

"Oh, but haven't you a choice?"

"I tell you I say 'eye-ther,' Miss Layard."

Joe sniggered. Arthur began to smile slowly, as the joke dawned upon
him.

"Just as it happens--or alternately--or on Sundays and week-days, or
what, Mr. Beverley?"

"I've told you three times already that I say----" He stopped, looked at
her sourly, and fell back in his stall, muttering something that sounded
very like "Damned nonsense!"

"I thought I could pull your leg!" she cried exultantly, and burst into
the merriest peal of laughter--sweet ringing laughter that set Arthur
laughing too in sympathy. She was indeed all that Joe had said when she
laughed like that. She was irresistible. If only Mr. Beverley had given
her opportunity enough for laughter, _Did you Say Mrs.?_ must surely be
a success!

She saw his eyes fixed on her in delight. "Awfully good, isn't it?" she
said. "Because you can't get out of it, whatever you answer!" Her
laughter trilled out again, clear, rich, and soft.

"First Act!" called Mr. Etheringham threateningly.

"I'd like to try it on him," she whispered. "Only he's so cross!"



CHAPTER XXV

THE OLD DAYS END


Arthur was an affectionate son and enjoyed going home, yet on this
occasion he approached his destination with some uneasiness. Mrs. Lisle
was a religious woman, Anna was even more strictly devout; they both
professed High Church principles, and though frail health had compelled
the mother to give up practical good works the daughter was busily
engaged in them. They had lived out of the large world all their lives.
Their standards and point of view had none of the easiness and laxity of
London drawing-rooms and London clubs. They were not at all modern.
Arthur smiled over the thought that Mr. Claud Beverley would probably
decline to consider them real, but he did not smile at the prospect of
discussing with them the catastrophe of Hilsey. He had broken the
terrible news by letter; that was better than announcing it in person
and encountering the full force of dismay and reprobation which it must
provoke. He had also added; "It is very painful to talk of it and can do
no good. Let us forget it when we meet"; but he was extremely doubtful
whether this hint would have any effect. Horror does not, unfortunately,
preclude curiosity.

At first, however, there was no thought or talk of the sin or the
sinner. They had a great piece of news for him, which they had saved up
to tell him themselves; they would not waste it on a letter. Anna had
become engaged to be married to Ronald Slingsby, the curate of the
parish. Another surprise of this kind for Arthur! But here he was
unreservedly delighted, and the more so because he had hardly expected
that Anna would take, or perhaps would find, a husband; she had always
seemed aloof from that sort of thing, too deeply immersed in her pious
activities. It was rather strange to see austere Anna stand
blushing--actually blushing--by the chair where the frail grey-haired
mother sat, and talking about "Ronald" with shy pride and happiness.
Ronald had been a fellow-Malvernian of his, and Arthur did not privately
think much of him--No need, of course, to say that!

"And he's just devoted to her," said Mrs. Lisle. "Oh, yes, he is, Anna
dear! He told us that at first he had scruples about marrying, as he was
a priest, but he felt that this great feeling must have been given him
for a purpose, and so his conscience became quite reconciled."

"I don't think he would ever have cared for anybody who wasn't
interested in his work and couldn't help him in it," Anna added.

"I'd have betted he'd reconcile his conscience all right," smiled
Arthur.

"My dear boy, you mustn't be flippant," said his mother in gentle
reproof. "I'm very very happy," she went on, "to have Anna settled with
a man she can love and trust, before I'm called away; and I'm not nearly
as strong as I was. Last winter tried me very much."

"Her cough gets so bad sometimes," said Anna. "But I shall be only
across the road, and able to look after her just as well when we're
married. Go and get ready for dinner, Arthur. It's been put back till
eight o'clock on your account, and Ronald is coming."

Ronald came but, owing to its being a Friday, ate no meat; his betrothed
followed his example; bodily weakness excused, on Mrs. Lisle's part, a
slice of the white meat of a chicken, both of whose legs were dedicated
to Arthur's healthy appetite. Ronald was not a bad-looking fellow, tall,
thin, and muscular; he was decidedly ecclesiastical in demeanour and
bearing--as well as, of course, in apparel--and this betrayed him
sometimes into a sort of _ex cathedra_ attitude which his office might
justify but his youth certainly did not. Remembering him as an untidy
urchin full of tricks only a few years ago, Arthur became a little
impatient of it.

At last Mrs. Lisle bethought her of Hilsey. "And how did you leave the
poor people?" she asked gently. "You needn't mind speaking before
Ronald; he's one of the family now."

"Oh, really, they're--er--bearing up pretty well, mother. It's a bad
job, of course, a great shock, and all that, but--well, things'll settle
down, I suppose."

"Has anything been heard of the unfortunate woman?" Mrs. Lisle went on.

Arthur did not like the phrase; he flushed a little. "They're abroad,
mother. She'll naturally stay there, I should think, till matters are
adjusted."

"Adjusted, Arthur?" Anna's request for an interpretation sounded a note
of surprise.

"Till after the divorce, I mean."

"Does your cousin intend to apply for a divorce?" asked the happy
suitor.

"Bernadette wants one, and he's ready to do anything she wishes."

A long pause fell upon the company--evidently a hostile pause.

"And will the other man go through a form of marriage with her?" asked
Ronald.

"Of course he'll marry her. To do Oliver Wyse justice, we needn't be
afraid about that."

"Afraid!" Anna exclaimed very low. Mrs. Lisle shook her grey head sadly.
"Unhappy creature!" she murmured.

Arthur had been bred in this atmosphere, but coming back to it now he
found it strange and unfamiliar. Different from the air of London,
profoundly different from the air of Hilsey itself! There they had never
thought of Bernadette as an unfortunate woman or an unhappy creature.
Their attitude towards her had been quite different. As for his own part
in the transaction--well, it was almost amusing to think what would
happen at home if the truth of it were told. He had a mischievous
impulse to tell Ronald--but, no, he must not risk its getting to his
mother's ears.

"And they're abroad together!" mused Mrs. Lisle.

"They're on his yacht--so the lawyers said--somewhere in the
Mediterranean."

"How can they?" Anna speculated.

"Unfortunately we must remember that people are capable of a great many
things which we cannot understand," said Ronald.

"Her conscience can give the poor thing no peace, I should think." Again
Mrs. Lisle shook her head sadly.

"You mustn't think hardly of Bernadette, mother. It--it wasn't
altogether her fault that she and Godfrey didn't hit it off. He knows
that, I think, himself. I'm sure he'd say so. She had her difficulties
and--er--trials."

"Most married women have, my dear, but that's no reason for deserting
their husbands and children, and committing the sin that she has
committed--and is committing."

"If this unhappy person----" Ronald began.

Arthur might stand it from his mother; he could not from Ronald
Slingsby. "If you've nothing pleasant to call people, Slingsby, you
might just call them by their names. Bernadette has been a dear good
friend to me, and I don't like the phrase you choose to describe her.
And I must say, mother, that if you knew the circumstances as well as I
do, you'd be more charitable."

"I'm as sorry--as bitterly sorry--as I can be, dear, but----"

"It's more a question of justice than of sorrow."

"Well, how have we been unjust, Arthur?" This question of Anna's was
plainly hostile.

"You don't allow for circumstances and--and temptations, and----" He
broke off impatiently. "It's really not much good trying to explain."

"I'm inclined to be sorry I ever persuaded you to make their
acquaintance," sighed Mrs. Lisle.

Anna's hostility and Ronald Slingsby's prim commiseration annoyed Arthur
exceedingly. His mother's attitude towards him touched him more deeply,
and to a half-amused yet sincere remorse. It grew more marked with every
day of his visit. She showed an affectionate but rather reproachful
anxiety about him--about his life, his doings, and his ways of thought.
She seemed to fear--indeed she hinted--that his association with the
Lisles (which meant, of course, with Bernadette, and for which she
persisted in shouldering a responsibility not really belonging to her)
might have sapped his morals and induced a laxity in his principles and
perhaps--if only she knew all--in his conduct. She evinced a gentle yet
persistent curiosity about his work, about his companions and his
pursuits in London. She abounded in references to the hopes and
anxieties entertained about him by his father; she would add that she
knew, understood, and allowed for the temptations of young men; there
was the more need to seek strength where alone strength could be found.

Arthur tried hard to banish the element of amusement from his remorse.
Although his behaviour in London might stand comparison pretty well with
that of many young men of his age and class, yet he was really guilty on
all counts of the indictment, and had so found himself by his own
verdict before now. He had neglected his work, squandered his money, and
declared himself the lover of his cousin's wife. He was as great a
sinner, then, as the unfortunate woman herself! It was a bad record,
thus baldly summarised. But what, in the end, had that bald summary to
do with the true facts of the case, with the way in which things had
been induced and had come about? In what conceivable relation, in how
remote a degree of verisimilitude, did it stand towards the actual
history of those London and Hilsey days? Accept condemnation as he
might, his mind pleaded at least for understanding. And the dear frail
old woman said she understood!

Moreover--and it is an unlucky thing for weak human nature--moral causes
and spiritual appeals are apt, by force of accident or circumstances, to
get identified with and, as it were, embodied in personalities which are
not sympathetic; they pay the penalty. His mother's anxious affection
would have fared better, had Anna not stood so uncompromisingly for
propriety of conduct, and Ronald Slingsby for the sanctity of the
marriage bond. The pair--to Arthur they seemed already one mind, though
not yet one flesh, and he secretly charged Ronald with setting his
sister against him--were to him, in plain language, prigs; they applied
their principles without the modifications demanded by common sense, and
their formulas without allowance for facts; they passed the same
sentence on all offenders of whatever degree of guilt. And yet, after
all, as soon as Ronald wanted to marry, he had "reconciled his
conscience" without much apparent difficulty! Lack of charity in them
bred the like in him. When they cried "Sinners!" he retorted
"Pharisees!" and stiffened his neck even against what was true in their
accusation.

But in the end his mother's love, and perhaps still more her weakness,
won its way with him. He achieved, in some degree at least, the
difficult task of looking through her eyes, of realising all the years
of care and devotion, all the burden of hopes and fears, which had gone
towards setting his feet upon the path of life; all that had been put
into the making of him, and had rendered it possible for him to complete
the work himself. He could not be as she, in her fond heart, would have
him, a child still and always, unspotted from the world, nay, untouched,
unformed by it; but he could be something worth being; he could make a
return, albeit not the return she asked for. He renewed to her the
promises he had made to himself; he would work, he would be prudent, he
would order his ways. He took her small thin hand in his and patted it
reassuringly, as he sat on a stool by the side of her arm-chair. "I'll
be all I haven't been, mother! Still I believe I've learnt a thing or
two."

Hardest thing of all, he opened his heart a little--not all the
way--about the sinner, about Bernadette.

"If you had known her, mother! It was cruel bad luck for her! She just
had to have just what poor old Godfrey hasn't got. Oh, I know all you
say but it is much harder for some people than for others. Now isn't it?
And to me I can't tell you what she was. If she wants me, I've always
got to be a friend to her."

"You were very fond of her, poor boy?"

"Yes, mother. She was so full of kindness, and life, and gaiety, and so
beautiful."

"Poor boy!" she said again very softly. She understood something of his
adoration; it was as much as it was well for her to know. "We must pray
that God, in His good time, will turn her gifts to good uses. Tell me
about the others--poor Godfrey, and the little girl, and Judith Arden."

She listened gladly while he told her of Hilsey and how he loved the
place, how they all liked him to be there, and of his hope that peace,
if not joy, might now be the portion of that house.

"It will be another home to you, and you'll need one soon, I think." He
pressed her hand again. "No, my dear, I'm ready. I used to think Anna
would make her home with you in London when I was gone, but that won't
be now." She sighed. "Better not perhaps! She's at home here, and it
mightn't have worked." Another sigh marked her resigned sorrow at the
strange differences there were between children. "And her home
here--well, it won't be quite the same as home to you, will it?"

Most decidedly not--Ronald Slingsby's house! Arthur could reply only by
another squeeze of her hand and a ruefully deprecating smile.

"And some day you'll have a wife and a home of your own." Her mind
travelled back to his earlier letters. "What's become of that nice girl
you told me about--Miss Sarradet?"

"I've just heard that she's engaged to be married. She didn't wait for
me, mother!"

"Oh, well, they were very nice people, I know, but hardly----"

"Not quite up to the Lisles of Hilsey, you mean?" he asked, laughing.
"Worldly pride!"

"Anyhow, since she's engaged----" Mrs. Lisle was evidently a little
relieved. How near the peril once had been Arthur did not tell her.

"Work now--not wives!" he said gaily. "I want to show you a whacking big
brief, before many months are over. Still, don't expect it too
confidently."

"Keep friends with your sister. Keep friends with Ronald," she enjoined
him. "I don't think he'll rise to distinction in the Church, but he's a
good man, Arthur."

"When I'm Lord Chancellor, mother, I'll give him a fat living!"

"You've grown into a fine man, Arthur. You're handsomer than your father
was." The gentle voice had grown drowsy and low. He saw that she was
falling into a doze--perhaps with a vision of her own youth before her
eyes. He did not disengage his hand from hers until she slept.

Thus he came nearer to his mother, and for the sake and remembrance of
that blessed his visit home. But to Anna and her future husband any
approach was far more difficult. There he seemed met by an obstinate
incompatibility. Ronald's outlook, which now governed and bounded
Anna's, was entirely professional--with one subject excepted. He was an
enthusiast about football. He had been a great player, and Arthur a good
one. They fought old battles over again, or recited to one another the
deeds of heroes. There are men who, when they meet, always talk about
the same subject, because it is the only thing they have in common, and
it acts as a bridge between them. Whenever a topic became dangerous,
Arthur changed it for football. Football saved the situation between
them a hundred times.

"I really never knew how tremendously Ronald was interested in it, till
you came this time, Arthur," Anna remarked innocently. "I suppose he
thought I wasn't worth talking to about it."

"Of course you weren't, my dear," said Arthur. "What woman is?" He
smiled slyly over his successful diplomacy.

But though football may be a useful buffer against collisions of faith
and morals, and may even draw hearts together for a season in common
humanity, it can hardly form the cement of a home. His mother was right.
When once she was gone--and none dared hope long life for her--there
would be no home for him in the place of his youth. As he walked over
the hills, on the day before he was to return to London, he looked on
the prospect with the eye of one who takes farewell. His life henceforth
lay elsewhere. The chapter of boyhood and adolescence drew to its close.
The last tie that bound him to those days grew slack and would soon give
way. He had no more part or lot in this place.

Save for the love of that weak hand which would fain have detained him,
but for his own sake beckoned him to go, he was eager to depart. He
craved again the fulness of life and activity. He wanted to be at
work--to try again and make a better job of it.

"I suppose I shall make an ass of myself again and again, but at any
rate I'll work," he said, and put behind him the mocking memory of Henry
encountering the Law Reports in full career. _Retro Satanas!_ He would
work--even though the farce succeeded!



CHAPTER XXVI

RATHER ROMANTIC!


Marie Sarradet's decision had been hastened by a train of events and
circumstances which might have been devised expressly to precipitate the
issue. The chain started with a letter from Mrs. Veltheim, in which the
good lady announced her intention of paying her brother a visit. Mr.
Sarradet was nothing loth; he was still poorly, and thought his sister's
company and conversation would cheer him up. Marie took a radically
opposite view. She knew Aunt Louisa! A persevering bloodhound she was!
Once her nose was on the trail, she never gave up. Her nose had scented
Arthur Lisle's attentions; she would want to know what had become of
them and of him--when, and why, and whither they had taken themselves
off. The question arose then--how to evade Aunt Louisa?

It was answered pat--fortune favours the brave, and Sidney Barslow was,
both in love and in war, audacious--by a letter from that gentleman. For
ten days he and Raymond had walked hard from place to place. Now they
proposed to make their headquarters at Bettws-y-Coed for the rest of the
trip. "It's done Raymond simply no end of good. He'll be another man by
the time we come back. You must want a change too! Why not come down and
join us for ten days, and see if Amabel won't come with you? I believe
she would. We'd have a rare time--Snowdon, and Beddgelert, and the
Hound, and all the rest of it. This is a very romantic spot, with a
picturesque stream and surrounded by luxuriantly wooded cliffs and
hills----"

Hullo! That was odd from Sidney Barslow, and must have cost him no small
effort!

Marie smiled over the effusion. "Oh, he got it out of the guide-book!"
she reflected. But it was very significant of what Sidney thought
appropriate to his situation.

She mentioned the plan to the old man. He was eager in its favour. The
more his own vigour waned, the more he held out his arms to the strong
man who had saved his son and who seemed sent by heaven to save his
business. To him he would give his daughter with joy and confidence.
That the great end of marriages was to help family fortunes was an idea
no less deeply enrooted in his _bourgeois_ blood than in the august
veins of the House of Austria itself. In favouring a match with Arthur
Lisle he had not departed from it; at that time the only thing the
family had seemed to lack was gentility--which Arthur would supply. But
what was gentility beside solvency? He had been compelled to sell
securities! He was all for a man of business now.

"Go, my dear, and take Amabel with you, if she'll go. I'll stand treat
for both of you."

In spite of those vanished securities! "Pops is keen!" thought Marie,
smiling to herself.

And naturally Miss Amabel, though she was careful to convey that the
jaunt committed her to nothing, was not going to refuse a free holiday
combined with a situation of some romantic interest: not too many of
either came her way in life!

Off the girls went, full of glee, and a fine time they had. They found
the young men bronzed to a masculine comeliness, teeming with masculine
vigour, pleasantly arrogant over the physical strength of the male
animal. Little Raymond strutted like a bantam cock. Where was the
trembling nerveless creature whom Sidney Barslow had brought back to
Regent's Park? Sidney himself was magnificent--like a hunter in prime
condition; his flesh all turned to muscle, and his bold eager eyes clear
as a child's. What a leader of their expeditions! "Take the train up
Snowdon? Not much! I'll carry anybody who gets tired!" he laughed, and
in very truth he could have done it. A mighty fellow, glorying in the
strong life within him!

He seemed splendid to Amabel. How should he not? Here was a man worthy
of her dearly admired Marie. Raymond was privy to his hopes and favoured
them, first from admiration and gratitude, next because he knew his
father's purpose, and had his own pride to save. He was not to be left
in charge of the business. To be postponed to a stranger in blood would
be a slur on him in the eyes of his friends and of the staff. But to a
brother-in-law, his senior in age and experience--that would not be half
so bad! Besides he honestly wished to keep his preserver at hand in case
of need, ready to save him again on occasion; and he was shrewd enough
to discern why Sidney had taken so much pains over his salvation.
Father, friend, and brother were all of one mind. A chorus of joy and
congratulation, of praises for her wisdom, awaited Marie's decision, if
it were the right one. In the other event, the best to be hoped for was
that affection should hide, more or less completely, a bitter
disappointment, an unuttered charge of indifference to the wishes and
the interests of those she loved.

Here were valuable allies for Sidney, for in Marie too the sense of
family solidarity was strong. The Welsh trip came as an added godsend to
him, showing him to the greatest advantage, setting her being astir and
shaking her out of her staidness. But in the end he owed most to his
resolution and his confidence, to the very simplicity of his view of the
matter. How could a fine girl like her refuse a fine man like him? When
it came to the point--as soon it should--surely she couldn't do it! She
smiled, she was amused, she teased him; but her secret visions were
always of surrender and acceptance and, following on them, of a great
peace, a transfer of all her cares and troubles to shoulders infinitely
powerful.

He thought her romantic; he chose for his moment a moonlight evening,
for his scene the old bridge--the Pont-y-Pair. He led her there after
dinner, two nights before they were to go back to London. She guessed
his purpose; his air was one of determination. She stood looking down
into the water, intensely conscious of his presence, though for some
minutes he smoked in silence. Indeed the whole place seemed full of his
masterful personality; she grew a little afraid. He knocked out his pipe
on the parapet of the bridge; some glowing ashes twinkled down to the
water and were quenched. She felt her heart beat quick as he put the
pipe in his pocket.

"Marie!"

"Yes."

"Come, won't you even look at me?"

She had no power to disobey; she turned her face slowly towards his,
though otherwise she did not move.

"Do you like me?"

"Of course I like you, Sidney. You know that."

"Anything more?" Her hands were clasped in front of her, resting on the
parapet. He put out his great right hand and covered them. "I love you,
Marie. I want you to be my wife."

She turned her face away again; she was trembling, not with fear, but
with excitement. She felt his arm about her waist. Then she heard his
voice in a low exultant whisper, "You love me, Marie!" It was not a
question. She leant back against the strong arm that encircled her. Then
his kiss was on her lips.

"But I've never even said 'yes,'" she protested, trembling and laughing.

"I'm saying it for you," he answered in jovial triumph.

"Take me back to the hotel, please, Sidney," she whispered.

"Not a walk first?" He was disappointed.

"As much as you like to-morrow!"

He yielded and took her back. There she fled from him to her own room,
but came back in half-an-hour, serene and smiling, to receive praise and
embraces from brother and friend. She had thrown herself on her bed and
lain there, on her back, very still save for her quick breathing, her
eyes very bright--like a captured animal awaiting what treatment it
knows not. Only by degrees did she recover calm; with it came the peace
of her visions--the sense of the strong right arm encircling and
shielding her. The idea that she could ever of her own will, aye, or of
her own strength, thrust it away seemed now impossible. If ever woman in
the world had a fate foreordained, hers was here!

But Sidney had no thought of fate. By his own right hand and his
powerful arm he had gained the victory.

"If you'd told me three or four months ago that I should bring this off,
I'd never have believed you," he told Raymond as they rejoiced together
over whisky-and-soda, the first they had allowed themselves since they
started on the trip. "Never say die! That's the moral. I thought I was
done once, though." He screwed up his mouth over the recollection of
that quarrel at the tennis courts. "But I got back again all right. It
just shows!"

He forgot wherein he was most indebted to fortune, as his present
companion might have reminded him. But strong men treat fortune as they
treat their fellow-creatures; they use her to their best advantage and
take to themselves the credit. The admiring world is content to have it
so, and Raymond Sarradet was well content.

"I did think she had a bit of a fancy for that chap Arthur Lisle once,"
he remarked.

"Well, I thought so too. But, looking back, I don't believe it." He
smiled the smile of knowledge and experience. "The best of girls have
their little tricks, Raymond, my boy! I don't believe she had, but I
fancy she didn't mind my thinking that she had. Do you twig what I mean,
old fellow?"

This reading of the past in the light of the present commended itself to
both of them.

"Oh, they want tackling, that's what they want!" Sidney told his
admiring young companion.

       *       *       *       *       *

The girls shared a room, and upstairs Amabel was chirping round Marie's
bed, perching on it, hopping off it, twittering like an excited canary.
What would everybody say--Mr. Sarradet, Mildred, Joe Halliday? The event
was calculated to stir even the Olympian melancholy of Claud Beverley!
Here too there was an echo of the past--"And Mr. Arthur Lisle can put it
in his pipe and smoke it!" she ended, rather viciously. Her loyalty to
Marie had never forgiven Arthur for his back-sliding.

"You silly!" said Marie in indulgent reproof. "As if Mr. Lisle would
care! He thinks of nobody but his cousin--Mrs. Godfrey Lisle, I mean,
you know."

"He did think about somebody else once," nodded Amabel. "Oh, you can't
tell me, Marie! But I suppose Mrs. Lisle has turned his head. Well, she
is sweetly pretty, and very nice."

"I expect he's quite as fond of her as he ought to be, at all events,"
smiled Marie.

"Rather romantic, isn't it? Like Paolo! Don't you remember how lovely
Paolo was?"

"But Mr. Lisle isn't a bit like that. Still, nobody could have a chance
against her." Marie's tone was impartial, impersonal, not at all
resentful. Sidney Barslow's triumphant march swept all obstacles from
his path, even the guerilla attack of insurgent memories. They could not
cause delay or loss; the sputter of their harmless fire rather added a
zest. "He was very attractive in his way," she reflected with a smile.
"And I really do believe--no, I musn't tell you!"

And in the end she did not. She had, however, said enough to account for
Amabel's exclamation of "Well, it's a blessing you didn't! I like Arthur
Lisle, but to compare him with Sidney!"

"I've got what I want, anyhow," said Marie, with a luxurious
nestling-down on her pillow. "How are you and Raymond getting on?" she
added with a laugh.

"Marie, as if I should think of it, as if I should let him say a word,
oh, for ever so long! One can't be too careful!"

"But you mustn't make too much of it. He was very young and--and
ignorant."

"He's not so ignorant now," Amabel remarked drily.

"Sidney'll keep him in order. You may depend upon that. You see, he
can't fool Sidney. He knows too much. He'd know in a minute if Raymond
was up to anything."

"Oh, that does make it much safer, of course. Still----" She broke into
a giggle--"Perhaps he won't want it after all, Marie!"

"Oh yes, he will, you goose!" said Marie. And so they chattered on till
the clock struck midnight.

When Arthur, returned from Malvern, came to congratulate Marie, he found
her in a blaze of family glory, the reward of the girl who has done the
wise thing and is content with it, who, feeling herself happy in wisdom,
enables everybody else to feel comfortable. Old Mr. Sarradet even seemed
grateful to Arthur himself for not having deprived him prematurely of a
daughter who had developed into such a valuable asset, and been
ultimately disposed of to so much greater advantage; at least some
warrant for this impression might be found in the mixture of extreme
friendliness and sly banter with which he entertained the visitor until
Marie made her appearance. As soon as she came, she managed to get rid
of her father very promptly; she felt instinctively that the triumphant
note was out of place.

Yet she could not hide the great contentment which possessed her; native
sincerity made such concealment impossible. Arthur saw her enviable
state and, while he smiled, honestly rejoiced. The old sense of
comradeship revived in him; he remembered how much happiness he had owed
her. The last silly remnant of condescending surprise at her choice
vanished.

"It does one good to see you so happy," he declared. "I bask in the
rays, Marie!"

"I hope you'll often come and bask--afterwards."

"I will, if you'll let me. We must go on being friends. I want to be
better friends with Sidney."

She smiled rather significantly. Arthur laughed. "Oh, that's all over
long ago--I was an ass! I mean I want really to know him better."

"He'll be very pleased, though he's still a little afraid of you, I
expect. He has improved very much, you know. He's so much more--well,
responsible. And think what he's done for us!"

"I know. Joe told me. And he's going into the business?"

"He's going to be the business, I think," she answered, laughing.

"Splendid! And here am I, still a waster! I must get Sidney to reform me
too, I think."

"I don't know about that. I expect nobody's allowed to interfere with
you!" She smiled roguishly and asked in banter, "How is the wonderful
cousin? You've been staying with her, haven't you?"

Arthur started; the smile left his face. The question was like a sudden
blow to him. But of course Marie knew nothing of the disaster; she
imagined him to be still happily and gaily adoring. She would know soon,
though--all the world would; she would read the hard ugly fact in the
papers, or hear of it in unkind gossip.

"Of course you haven't heard. There's been trouble. She's left us. She's
gone away."

For the first time the Christian name by which she thought of him passed
her lips in her eagerness of sympathy: "Arthur!"

"Yes, about a month ago now. You remember the man she was lunching with
that day--Oliver Wyse? He's taken her away."

"Oh, but how terrible! Forgive me for--for----!"

"There's nothing to forgive. You couldn't know. But it'll be common
property soon. You--you mustn't think too badly of her, Marie."

But Marie came of a stock that holds by the domestic virtues--for women,
at all events. She said nothing; she pursed up her lips ominously. Was
she too going to talk about 'the unfortunate woman'? No, she was surely
too just to dispose of the matter in that summary fashion! If she
understood, she would do justice. The old desire for her sympathy
revived in him--for sympathy of mind; he wanted her to look at the
affair as he did. To that end she must know more of Bernadette, more of
Godfrey and of Oliver Wyse--things that the world at large would never
know, though the circle of immediate friends might be well enough aware
of them. He tried to hint some of these things to her, in rather halting
phrases about uncongeniality, want of tastes in common, not 'hitting it
off,' and so forth. But Marie was not much disposed to listen. She would
not be at pains to understand. Her concern was for her friend.

"I'm only thinking what it must have meant to you--what it must mean,"
she said. "Because you were so very very fond of her, weren't you? When
did you hear of it?"

"I was in the house when it happened."

Now she listened while he told how Bernadette had gone--told all save
his own madness.

"And you had to go through that!" Marie murmured.

"I deserved it. I'd made such a fool of myself," he said.

His self-reproach told her enough of his madness; nay, she read into it
even more than the truth.

"How could she let you, when she loved another man all the time?" she
cried.

"She never thought about me in that way for a moment. And I----" He
broke off. He would not tell the exact truth; but neither would he lie
to Marie.

She judged the case in its obvious aspect--a flirt cruelly reckless, a
young man enticed and deluded.

"I wouldn't have believed it of her! You deserve and you'll get
something better than that! Don't waste another thought on her, Arthur."

"Never mind about me. I want you to see how it happened that Bernadette
could----"

"Oh, Bernadette!" Her voice rang in scorn over the name. "Will nothing
cure you?"

He smiled, though ruefully. This was not now cold condemnation of his
old idol; it was a burst of generous indignation over a friend's wrong.
Bernadette's treatment of her husband, her child, her vows, was no
longer in Marie's mind; it was the usage of her friend. Could the friend
be angry at that?

"Time'll cure me, I suppose--as much as I want to be cured," he said.
"And you're just the same jolly good friend you always were, Marie. I
came to wish you joy, not to whine about myself--only you happened to
ask after her, and I couldn't very well hold my tongue about it. Only do
remember that, whatever others may have, I have no grievance--no cause
of complaint. Anything that's happened to me I brought on myself."

No use! He saw that, and smiled hopelessly over it. Marie was resolved
on having him a victim; he had to give in to her. She had got the idea
absolutely fixed in that tenacious mind of hers. He turned back to the
legitimate purpose of his visit.

"And when is the wedding to be?"

"In about six weeks. You'll come, won't you, Mr. Lisle?"

But Arthur had noticed what she called him, when moved by sympathy.
"Don't go back to that. You called me 'Arthur' just now."

"Did I? I didn't notice. But I shall like to call you Arthur, if I may."
She gave him her hand with the frankest heartiness. 'Arthur' felt
himself established in a simple and cordial friendship; it was not quite
the footing on which 'Mr. Lisle' had stood. Hopes and fears, dreams and
sentiment, were gone from her thoughts of him; a great goodwill was the
residuum.

Perhaps she was generous to give so much, and Arthur lucky to receive
it; and perhaps the news of Bernadette's misdeeds made the measure of it
greater. Whatever might have been the case previously, it was now plain
as day that, in any respect in which Arthur's past conduct needed
excuse, he had not really been a free agent. He had been under a
delusion, a spell, a wicked domination. Did ever so fair a face hide
such villainy?

The tidings of Arthur's tragedy went forth to the Sarradet household and
the Sarradet circle. Sidney Barslow heard of it with a decorous sympathy
which masked a secret snigger. Amabel twittered over it, with a new
reminiscence of her Paolo--only that ended differently! Joe Halliday had
strange phrases in abundance, through which he strove to express a
Byronic recognition of love's joy and woe. He told Miss Ayesha Layard,
and thereby invested handsome Mr. Lisle with a new romantic interest.
The story of the unhappy passion and its end, the flight in early
morning of the guilty pair, reached even the ears of Mr. Claud Beverley,
who sorrowed as a man that such things should happen, and deplored as an
artist that they should happen in that way.

"There need have been no trouble. Why weren't they all open and sensible
about it?" he demanded of Miss Layard--very incautiously.

"Because there's a B in both--and another in your bonnet, old man," the
irrepressible lady answered, to his intense disgust.



CHAPTER XXVII

IN THE HANDS OF THE GODS


Arthur went to several more rehearsals, but as they progressed, as the
production took shape and final form, they became to his unaccustomed
mind painfully exciting, so full of ups and downs, now ominous of
defeat, now presaging glorious victory. What were to the old hands
ordinary incidents and everyday vicissitudes were to him tragedies or
triumphs. If Mr. Etheringham said "That's better," or "Well, we've got
something like it at last," he swelled with assurance, and his pockets
with imaginary bullion. Whereas if Mr. Etheringham flung his script down
on the table and exclaimed, "Well, it's not _my_ money, thank God!"--or
if it appeared that there was no sort of chance of the scenery being
ready (and there very seldom is)--or if the author looked more
melancholy than usual (and Mr. Beverley had an extraordinary and
apparently inexhaustible gift for crescendos of melancholy)--Arthur
concluded that all was "up," and that the shutters would soon follow the
general example. In view of the vital bearing which success had upon his
financial position, the strain was great, almost too exciting and
thrilling for endurance. More than once he swore that he would not go
near the place again--till "the night." But he could not keep his oath.
The fascination of the venture drew him back. Besides he was attracted
to his co-adventurers--to fiery Mr Etheringham, with his relentless
energy, his passionate pessimism and furious outbursts; to the
melancholy author, surveying as it were a folly of his youth and
reckoning on the stupidity of the public to release him from "the
office" and let him "do" real life; to the leading man, war-worn hero of
a hundred farces, whose grey locks were to turn to raven-black, and
whose girth must suffer hard constriction to dimensions that become a
youthful lover--on the night; to Miss Ayesha Layard with the audacious
sillinesses which her laughter and her impudent pug-nose made so
strangely acceptable. Even though Arthur had really no part in it all,
and nothing to do but sit and watch and smoke, he could not keep
away--and he rejoiced when somebody would come and sit by, and exchange
opinions. It says much for his resolutions of reform that, in spite of
all, he spent several hours every day at chambers, trying to bend his
mind to _Benjamin on Sales_ and, by virtue of the human interest of that
remarkable work, succeeding better than was to be expected.

Amidst these occupations and distractions the great trouble which had
come upon him was no longer the continual matter of his thoughts. The
sense of loss and the conviction of folly--the two were inseparably
united in consciousness--became rather enemies lurking in the recesses
of his mind, ready to spring out at him in hours of idleness or
depression. To prevent or evade their attack was a task to which he set
himself more instinctively than of deliberate purpose; but in fact the
fear of them--the absolute need of keeping them down unless he were to
lose heart--co-operated with the good resolutions he had made and with
the new interests which had come into his life. To seek fresh objects of
effort and to lay himself open to a new set of impressions--here rather
than in brooding, or remorse, or would-be philosophising, lay the path
of salvation for a spirit young, ardent, and elastic, healthily averse
from mental hypochondria, from nursing and cosseting its wounds. He was
in the mood of a football player who, sore from a hack and shaken by a
hard tackle, picks himself up and rushes to take his place in the
scrimmage.

Three days before "the night"--that date now served him for a
calendar--he received a hasty summons from Esther Norton Ward. The lease
of the Lisles' house in Hill Street was to be sold, and Judith Arden had
come up to town, to settle matters relating to the furniture; some was
to be disposed of, some sent to Hilsey. The Norton Wards were at home,
the prospective candidate being engaged in an electoral campaign in his
prospective constituency, which could be "worked" most easily from
London; Judith was to stay a few days with them. Though Norton Ward
himself would be away speech-making, the two ladies begged the pleasure
of Arthur's company that evening.

"Then Judith will be in town on the night," thought Arthur. His eye
gleamed with a brilliant inspiration. On the night he would be the proud
possessor of a box at the Burlington Theatre--that, at least, his
thousand pounds gave him. He instantly determined to invite his friends
to share it with him. He added this invitation of his own when he sent
his note accepting Esther's.

"But how comes he to be having boxes at first nights?" asked Esther.

"Oh, don't you know? He's put up some money for the play. Quite a lot,
in fact," said Judith, with a laugh which sounded apologetic.

Esther raised her brows. That was not the Norton Ward idea of the way to
the Woolsack. "Can he afford to--to do that sort of thing? To take
chances like that?"

"Oh, of course not! He's quite poor. But, Esther, I do pray it'll be a
success! He does deserve a turn of good luck. He's been splendid to us
all at Hilsey."

"He was making a great goose of himself, when I was at Hilsey."

"That was before. I meant he was splendid afterwards. Fancy seeing the
play after all! He's often talked to me about it."

"You're very good friends with him now?"

"Well, look what we've been through together! If the piece doesn't
succeed, I'm afraid it'll be a serious business for him. He'll be very
hard up."

Esther shook her head over Arthur when he came to dinner. "I knew you
were a man of fashion! Now you're blossoming out as a theatrical
speculator! Where does the law come in?"

"Next Wednesday morning at the very latest--and whatever has happened to
_Did You Say Mrs.?_ Only, if it's a tumble, I shan't have the money to
go circuit, and--well, I hope your husband will get his rent, but I
expect he'd be wiser to kick me out of his chambers."

"As bad as that? Then we really must pray, Judith, for Frank's sake as
well as Arthur's!"

"Do tell us about the play! Give us an idea of it."

"Oh, well, the plot's not the great thing, you know. It's the way it's
written. And Ayesha Layard and Willie Spring are so good. Well, there's
a dancing club--a respectable one. A man may take a man, but he may only
take a woman if she's his wife or sister. The man Spring plays is
persuaded to take a friend and his best girl in, and to let the girl
call herself Mrs. Skewes--Skewes is Spring's name in the piece. Well, of
course, as soon as he's done that, simply everybody Skewes knows begins
to turn up--his rich uncle, the rich girl he wants to marry, his village
parson--all the lot. And then the other man's people weigh in, and
everybody gets mixed--and so on. And there's a comic waiter who used to
know Flo (Ayesha Layard plays Flo, of course) and insists on writing to
her mother to say she's married. Oh, it's all awfully well worked out!"

"I'm sure it'll be very amusing," said Esther Norton Ward politely. "But
isn't it rather like that farce they had at the--the Piccadilly, wasn't
it?--a year or two ago?"

"Oh no! I remember the piece you mean; but that wasn't a dancing
club--that was an hotel."

"So it was. I forgot," said Esther, smiling.

Arthur burst into a laugh. "I'm a fool! Of course it's been done a
hundred times. But Beverley's got in a lot of good stuff. In the second
act Flo has hidden in Skewes' bedroom, and of course everybody turns up
there, and he has to get rid of them by pretending he's going to have a
bath--keeps taking his coat off, to make 'em clear out." Arthur chuckled
at the remembrance. "But of course Ayesha's the finest thing. Her
innocent cheek is ripping!"

"Why does she want to hide in his room?"

"She took another woman's bag from the club by accident, and the manager
has his suspicions about her and consults the police. But I won't tell
you any more, or it'll spoil the evening."

"I think we know quite enough to go on with," laughed Esther. "I wish
Frank could come with us, but he's got a meeting every night next week.
Why don't you go down with him one night? I think it would amuse you."

"I will, like a shot, if he'll take me. I'm not sure, though, that I'm a
Conservative."

"That doesn't matter. Besides Frank will make you one. He's very
persuasive."

After Arthur had said good-night and gone, the two women sat in silence
for a few minutes.

"It sounds awful stuff, Judith," said Esther at last, in a tone of
candid regret.

"Yes, it does. But still those things do succeed often."

"Oh yes, and we'll hope!" She glanced at Judith. "He doesn't seem
very--lovelorn!"

"He was pretty bad at first." She smiled faintly. "I had to be awfully
disagreeable. Well, I'm quite good at it. Ever since then he's behaved
wonderfully. But I don't know what he feels."

"Well, I hope he'll settle down to work, after all this nonsense."

"He hasn't got any work to settle to, poor boy!"

"Frank says it always comes if you watch and wait."

"I expect it's the successful men who say that." They had all been gay
at dinner, but now Judith's voice sounded depressed and weary. Esther
moved nearer to her side on the sofa.

"You've had a pretty hard time of it too, haven't you?" she asked
sympathetically.

"It may be a funny thing, but I miss Bernadette dreadfully. She was
always an interest anyhow, wasn't she? And without her--with just
Godfrey and Margaret--Hilsey's awfully flat. You see, we're none of us
people with naturally high spirits. Arthur is, and they used to crop out
in spite of everything; so it wasn't so bad while he was there. Godfrey
and Margaret are always wanting to press him to come back, but he must
stay and work, mustn't he?"

Esther took a sidelong glance at her--rather an inquisitive glance--but
she said no more than, "Of course he must. He can come to you at
Christmas--unless he's got another farce or some other nonsense in his
head."

Esther had taken Bernadette's flight with just a shrug of her shoulders;
that had seemed to her really the only way to take it. She had not been
surprised--looking back on her Sunday at Hilsey and remembering
Bernadette's manner, she now declared that she had expected the
event--and it was no use pretending to be much shocked. To her steady
and calm temperament, very strong in affection but a stranger to
passion, a creature of Bernadette's waywardness could assert no real
claim to sympathy, however much her charm might be acknowledged. She was
surprised that Judith should miss her so much, and with so much regret.
For Arthur's infatuation she still could have only scorn, however kindly
the scorn might be. In her eyes Bernadette had never been really a wife,
and hardly in any true sense a mother; by her flight she merely
abdicated positions which she had never effectively filled. She would
not even give her credit for courage in going away, in facing the
scandal; there she preferred to see only Oliver Wyse's strong hand and
imperious will.

On the other hand, there was a true sympathy of mind between her and
Judith, and she was grieved, and rather indignant, at the heavy burden
which the train of events had laid on Judith's shoulders. She asked
something better for her than to be merely the crutch of the crippled
household at Hilsey--for which again her self-reliant nature and
courageous temper had more pity than esteem. It would be a shame if
Judith sank into a household hack, bearing the burden which properly
belonged to Bernadette's pretty shoulders. But Judith herself betrayed
no sense of hardship; she took what she was doing as a matter of course,
though she did regret Bernadette's loss and Arthur's absence. She pined
for the vanished elements of excitement and gaiety in the household; but
none the less she meant to stick to it. So Esther read her mind. But
there was another question--one of proportion. How much of the pining
was for Bernadette and how much for Arthur?

It was dress rehearsal. Mr. Etheringham was a martinet about admitting
people to this function; there were only half-a-dozen or so scattered
about the stalls--and the author prowling restlessly up and down the
pit. Mr. Etheringham sat by Arthur, his hat over his fiery eyes,
regarding the performance with a sort of gloomy resentment. He
interfered only once or twice--his work was done--but Arthur heard him
murmur, more than once or twice, "Damned bad--too late to change!"--and
therewith he sank a little lower down in his seat. Arthur did not laugh
much now, though he expected to to-morrow; he was too busy thinking
whether other people would be amused to be amused himself. All he really
knew was that Willie Spring was acting his very heart out, trying to get
every ounce out of the part; and so was Ayesha, for all her air of utter
unconcern. He ventured on an observation to this effect to Mr.
Etheringham when the curtain fell on the first act.

"They're all right. If it fails, it's my fault--and Beverley's." He
rushed off "behind," and his voice was heard through the curtain in
exhortation and correction.

Joe Halliday came across from the other side of the house and sat down
in the vacant seat. "Right as rain!" he said emphatically. "You may
order your motor car, Arthur."

"I think I won't actually give the order till Wednesday morning, old
fellow."

"May as well. It's a cert. Big money! Wish I had your share in it."

"I sometimes wish I had mine out," Arthur confessed.

"Oh, rot, man! It's the stroke of your life, this is."

Mr. Etheringham returned, glared at the imperturbable Joe, and selected
another stall. Second Act.

The Second Act went well, but when they came to set the Third, there was
a bad breakdown in the scenery. A long long wait--and Mr. Etheringham
audible from behind the curtain, raging furiously. Mr. Beverley emerged
from the pit and came up behind Joe Halliday and Arthur.

"Just my luck!" he observed, in the apathetic calm of utter despair.

"Jolly good thing it happened to-night, and not to-morrow!" exclaimed
Joe.

"But it probably will happen to-morrow too," the author insisted.

Arthur was laughing at the two when Miss Ayesha Layard, in the third of
her wonderful frocks, came in front and tripped up to them.

"If anybody's cold, they'd better go behind and listen to old Langley,"
she remarked, as she sank into the stall by Arthur's side. She had a
large towel tied round her waist, and adjusted it carefully beneath and
round her before she trusted her frock to the mercies of the seat. "I
once spoilt a frock in my early days, and old Bramston boxed my ears for
it," she explained to Arthur. Then she turned round and regarded Mr.
Beverley with an air of artless and girlish admiration. "To think that
he wrote this masterpiece! He who is known to, and will soon be adored
by, the public as Claud Beverley, but who in private life----"

"Shut up, will you!" commanded Mr. Beverley with sudden and fierce fury.
"If you do happen to--to----" He was in a difficulty for a phrase and
ended without finding it--"Well, you might have the decency to hold your
tongue about it."

"Sorry, sorry, sorry! Didn't know it was such a secret as all that." The
offended man looked implacable. "If you don't forgive me, I shall go and
drown myself in that bath! Oh, well, he won't, so never mind! Here, Joe,
take him out and give him a drink. There's just time before closing."

"First-rate idea!" Joe agreed cordially. "Come along, old chap." Mr.
Beverley allowed himself to be led away, mournfully yet faintly
protesting.

"Funny thing he should mind having his real name known, isn't it? I'm
sure I shouldn't mind mine being known, if I had one, but I don't think
I have. I recollect being called 'Sal' at the theatre. Old Bramston--the
one who boxed my ears, as I said--named me. He'd been out in the East as
a young man and liked reading about it. So, when he named me, he
combined his information, like the man in Dickens, and made up the name
you see on the bills. It'll descend to posterity in old Langley
Etheringham's memoirs. He's writing them, his wife told me so. Well,
what do you think of the theatre--inside view--Mr. Lisle?"

"I think it's extraordinarily interesting."

"I've been in it all my life, and I wouldn't change. It takes your mind
off things so--sort of gives you two lives. You come down here in the
blues over your debts, or your love-affairs, or something--and in five
minutes you're somebody else, or--" She gave a little laugh--"rotting
somebody else, which is nearly as good."

"By Jove, that's exactly what it does do!" cried Arthur. "It's done me
heaps of good."

"You'll have got something for your money, anyhow, won't you?"

"Oh, but I want to get more than that!"

"So do I!" she laughed. "I want the salary. But one never knows. This
time to-morrow we may be waiting for the laughs that don't come. You can
always pretty well hear Willie asking for them in the proper places. And
when they don't come, it's such a sell that it makes me want to giggle
myself. It might work! What the notices call my infectious laughter!"

"Well, that's just what your laughter is."

"They catch a word like that from one another--like mumps or measles.
I'm always 'infectious;' Willie's always 'indefat'--'indefatig'--you
know; I can never get to the end of it! Bramston used to be 'sterling'
always; it made him just mad when he saw the word--used awful language!"
She laughed, "infectiously," at the recollection.

The hammering behind the curtain, which had been incessant during their
talk, stopped. A sharp voice rang out, "Third Act!" There was a scurry
of feet. Mr. Etheringham came in front, very hot and dishevelled; Mr.
Beverley reappeared, only to bolt into his burrow in the pit. Miss
Layard rose to her feet, carefully lifting the precious frock well clear
of her ankles.

"What do you mean by keeping me waiting like this, Mr. Etheringham?" she
asked with elaborate haughtiness.

But poor Mr. Etheringham was at the end of his tether--beyond repartee,
even beyond fury.

"For heaven's sake, Ayesha my dear, take hold of this damned third act,
and pick it _up_!" he implored, with the old Weary-Titan lift of his
hands.

"There is a bit of avoirdupois about it, isn't there?" she remarked
sympathetically. "All the same, it's suffered a sea-change under your
accomplished hands, Langley."

"Oh, get round, there's a good girl, or you'll keep the stage waiting."

"What one weak woman can do!" she said, with a nod and a smile as she
turned away.

Mr. Etheringham sank into a stall and lay back--with his eyes shut. "I
should like to have the blood of those stage-hands," Arthur heard him
mutter.

His eyes remained closed right through the act; he knew it too well to
need to see it--every position, every speech, every inflection, every
gesture. He did not speak either; only his hands now and then rose up
above his head and dropped again gently. When at last the curtain fell,
he opened his eyes, took off his hat, smoothed his hair, replaced the
hat, and turned to Arthur with a sudden expression of peace and relief
on his stormy countenance.

"Now it's in the hands of the gods, Mr. Lisle," he said.

Arthur was lighting a cigarette. In the intervals of the operation he
asked, "Well, what do you think?"

Mr. Etheringham looked at him with a tolerant smile. "Think? My dear
fellow, to-morrow's the night! What on earth's the use of thinking?"



CHAPTER XXVIII

TAKING MEDICINE


"Good-night. Thanks awfully for coming, Mrs. Norton Ward! And you too,
Judith! Beg pardon? Oh, yes, I hope so--with just a few alterations.
Wants a bit of pulling together, doesn't it? What? Oh, yes, only quite a
few--one fellow in the gallery really started it. What? Oh, yes, up till
then it was all right--Yes, it will be really, I'm sure. Still I
wish----"

"Move up there!" from the policeman.

"All the same I wish--Well, good-night. See you soon, shan't I?"

Thus Arthur, outside the Burlington Theatre, bade farewell to the two
ladies who had honoured his box with their presence--Arthur very suave,
collected, smiling, easy, but rather pale in the face. Under pressure
from the policeman, Esther's car drove off.

Esther gave a long sigh of relief. Judith had thrown herself back in the
other corner.

"It was very kind of him to take us," said Esther, "but really what a
trying evening, Judith! At first it seemed all right--I laughed
anyhow--but then--Oh, of course, they'd no business to boo; it's rude
and horrid. I was so sorry for them all--especially that pretty girl and
the poor man who worked so hard. Still, you know, I couldn't see that it
was _very_ funny."

No answer came from Judith's corner.

"And a farce ought to be funny, oughtn't it?" Esther resumed. "Some
plays one goes to without expecting to be amused, of course, or--or even
thrilled, or anything of that sort. One goes to be--to be--well, because
of one's interest in the drama. But I always look forward to a farce; I
expect to enjoy myself at it."

Still no answer from Judith in the corner.

"And really I don't think I'll ever go again with anybody who's got
anything to do with the play. You felt him expecting you to laugh--and
you couldn't! Or you laughed in the wrong place. He didn't laugh much
himself, if you come to that. Too anxious perhaps! And when he went out
between the acts and came back, and you asked him what the men were
saying, and he said, 'Oh, they always try to crab it!'--Well, that
didn't make it any more cheerful, did it?"

Response being still lacking, and Esther having pretty well exhausted
her own impressions of the first night of _Did You Say Mrs.?_ at the
Burlington, she peered enquiringly into the other corner of the car.

"Are you asleep, Judith?" she asked.

"No, I'm not asleep. Never mind me, Esther."

"Well, why don't you say something?"

"What is there to say?"

Esther peered more perseveringly into the corner. Then she stretched out
her hand towards the switch of the electric light.

"Don't," said Judith, very sharply.

Esther's eyes grew wide. "Why, you silly girl, I believe you're----!"

"Yes, I am, and it's a very good thing to cry over. Think of all those
poor people, working so hard, and--it's all for nothing, I suppose! And
Arthur! How brave he was over it! He couldn't have been more--more
attentive and--and gay if it had been the greatest success. But I knew
what he was feeling. I laughed like a maniac--and my hands are sore.
What's the use? Who's the idiot who wrote it?"

"Well, if you come to that, I daresay the poor man is just as much upset
as Arthur Lisle is."

Judith was in no mood for impartial justice. "Getting them to produce a
thing like that is almost obtaining money under false pretences. Why
don't they _know_, Esther?"

"I'm sure I don't know. It's easy enough to tell when you see it."

"I was awfully frightened even when he told us about it."

"At dinner, you mean? Yes, so was I. But it was no use saying----"

"Oh, of course, it was no use saying anything about it! What will he do
now? Will he get any of his money back, I wonder!" Judith might be seen
through the gloom dabbing her cheeks forlornly. "And I did think it was
going to be a jolly evening!" she ended.

"It wasn't that," Esther observed with ample emphasis. Protected by the
gloom, she drew nearer to Judith, put her arm round her, and kissed her.
"You mustn't mind so much," she whispered. "Men have to take tumbles all
the time, and Arthur took his bravely."

"Oh, after the other thing it is such hard luck! And I--we--didn't know
how to--to help or console him. I wish Bernadette had been there! She'd
have known how to do that."

Esther frowned at the idea of this very desperate remedy. A forlorn
silence fell on the car, till they reached home and got out. In the hall
Esther laid a hand on Judith's arm.

"Frank will be back by now. Are you equal to facing him?" she asked.

"I'd sooner not, if you don't mind. I shall go to bed."

"Don't fret. Perhaps they will--pull it together, didn't he
say?--really!"

Judith shook her head mournfully and trailed off upstairs to bed. The
hostess stood watching her guest's progress for a moment with what
seemed a rather critical eye, and then went in to her husband's study.

Frank Norton Ward was seated in front of a tray, and was consuming cold
beef and claret with an excellent appetite. An open-air meeting at
seven, followed by a church bazaar (with "a few words" from the
prospective candidate) from eight-thirty till ten, had been his useful,
honourable, but exhausting evening.

"Well, here you are!" he greeted his wife cheerfully. "Had a good time,
Esther?"

His question opened the gates again to the doleful flood of Esther's
impressions. Her husband listened with a smile; to the detached mind a
fiasco has always its amusing side, and Norton Ward was by no means
particularly concerned about Arthur or his fortunes. He finished his
claret and lit his pipe during the sorrowful recital, and at the end of
it remarked, "Well, it serves him right, really. That sort of thing
won't do him any good--it's not his job--and perhaps now he'll see it.
Didn't Judith come in with you?"

"She's gone to bed."

"Oh, has she? I say, I had a jolly good meeting to-night--though it's
supposed to be a Radical centre. I----"

"She was reduced to tears, coming home in the car. Tears, Frank!"

"That's rather a strong order, isn't it? She'll be all right in the
morning. The fact is, there's been a good deal of trouble at the biscuit
works, and since old Thorne's a Liberal, his men----"

"She must be a good deal--well, interested in him to do that!"

"Wouldn't mind giving him one in the eye. What? I beg your pardon, my
dear?"

Even in the happiest marriages husband and wife do not always pursue the
same train of thought. But Esther was very dutiful. "Never mind! Tell me
about the meeting," she said. But she went on thinking of Judith and her
tears.

After he had seen his friends off, Arthur turned back into the lobby of
the theatre. The crowd, that destructive crowd, was thinning quickly; at
the tail-end of it there came, hurrying along, a figure vaguely
familiar. The next instant its identity was established. There was no
mistaking the tremor of the eye. It was Mr. Mayne, of Wills and Mayne,
of _Tiddes v. The Universal Omnibus Company, Limited_.. As he came up,
he saw Arthur, and gave him a quick glance and a faint smile, but no
express recognition. He hurried by, as it were furtively, and, before
Arthur had time to claim acquaintance, disappeared into the street.
"Shouldn't have imagined he was much of a first-nighter!" thought
Arthur, as he made his way towards a little group standing by the Box
Office.

The two Sarradet men were there, talking in low voices but volubly,
gesticulating, looking very angry and somehow unusually French. Marie
stood with her arm in Sidney Barslow's, rather as if she needed his
support, and the big man himself, smiling composedly, seemed as though
he were protecting the family. Fronting them stood Joe Halliday, smoking
a cigarette and listening to the voluble talk with a pleasant smile.

But when the two men saw Arthur, their talk stopped--silenced perhaps by
the presence of a pecuniary disaster greater than that which had
befallen the Sarradet house. Joe seized his opportunity and remarked,
"After all, Mr. Sarradet, you didn't exactly suppose you were investing
in a gilt-edged security!"

"I say, where's poor old Beverley?" Arthur asked.

"Behind, I think--talking it over with Etheringham. Well, let 'em talk!"
He shaped his lips for a whistle, but thought better of it. "We'll have
another flutter some day, Mr. Sarradet!" he remarked with an air of
genial encouragement.

"Flutter!" The old man was choking with indignation. "If I ever----!"

"Well, we'd best be getting home," Sidney interposed, with an authority
which made the suggestion an order. "Come along, Marie."

"Bring Pops, Raymond," Marie directed. She gave her free hand to Arthur,
raising mournful eyes to his. "What a terrible experience!" she
murmured.

"He calls it a flutter!"--A fragment of old Sarradet's indignation was
blown back from the pavement into the lobby.

"Not sports!" Joe mused regretfully. "Not what I call sports, Arthur!
I'm really rather sorry we didn't manage to rope old Sidney in too.
Looking so dashed wise, wasn't he? Come along, let's find Claud--and I
want to see Ayesha."

"I suppose we shall have to settle what's to be done about it, shan't
we?"

"We'll hear what Langley thinks."

They found a little party in Mr. Etheringham's room--that gentleman
himself, standing with his back to the fireplace, smoking a cigar;
Willie Spring, an exhausted volcano, lying back in a chair, staring at
the ceiling; Miss Ayesha Layard on the sofa, smiling demurely; and the
author seated at the table with the script of the play in front of him;
he was turning over the leaves quickly and with an appearance of eager
industry.

"Now we know what to think, don't we, Mr. Lisle? They've done our
thinking for us." Mr. Etheringham smiled quite pleasantly. He was not at
all fiery now.

Arthur laid his hand on Mr. Beverley's shoulder. "It's an infernal
shame, old chap. I'm most awfully sorry."

"You gentlemen are two of the principal shareholders," Mr. Etheringham
went on to Arthur and Joe. "Perhaps you'd like to talk over the
situation privately?"

"We're all right as we are--glad of words of wisdom from any of you! How
do we stand, Langley?" said Joe, sitting down on the sofa by Miss
Layard. "What's the situation?"

"Well, you know that as well as I do. There's the production to be
paid--about twelve hundred, I reckon--and we run into about eight
hundred a week."

"And what--if any--business shall we play to?"

"You can't tell that. You can only guess--and you'd better not
guess high! I should say myself that the money might last a
fortnight--possibly three weeks. Some of 'em'll probably look in now and
then, you know--and even if we paper the whole house, the bars bring in
a bit."

"I'd go a bit more," said Joe, "only the truth is I haven't got a
bob--absolutely stony!" He jingled the money in his pocket. "Hear
that--it's the last of it!"

"If you think there's any chance," Arthur began eagerly, "I think I
could----"

Mr. Willie Spring's eyes came down from the ceiling and sought those of
Mr. Etheringham; Mr. Spring also shook his head very slightly and smiled
a tired smile.

"I don't think we'd better talk about that at this stage," said Mr.
Etheringham. "At least that's my advice. Of course, if later on the
business warranted the hope that----"

"Well, anyhow, let's go on as long as the money lasts," said Arthur.

"All right. Can you be ready with those cuts and the new lines by
to-morrow afternoon, Beverley?"

"Yes." He had never stopped turning over the pages of the script.

"Very well, I'll call a rehearsal for two o'clock."

Ayesha Layard rose from the sofa. "Well, good-night," she said.

"May I wait for you?" asked Joe.

"Yes, if you like, but I want to speak to Mr. Lisle first." As she
passed Arthur, she took hold of his arm and led him to her
dressing-room. "Just a second!" she said to her dresser. When the woman
had gone out, she planted herself in the chair before the looking-glass
and regarded Arthur with a smile. "Were you really ready to put up more
money?" she asked. "Are you a millionaire? Because you're not in love
with me, and that's the only other thing that might explain it."

"I hate being beat," Arthur protested.

"Happened to you before, hasn't it? In other directions, I mean."

Just as he was looking at her, wondering how much she knew--for
something she evidently knew--a knock came at the door, and the dresser
appeared with a telegram in her hand. "You're Mr. Lisle, sir, aren't
you? This came for you just as the curtain went up, and it got forgotten
till now." She gave it to Arthur and went out again.

"May I read it?" He opened it. "Good luck to you to-night. I wish I
could be with you, but circumstances don't permit--Bernadette." The
despatch came from Genoa. Bernadette had looked out for the doings of
_Did You Say Mrs.?_ in the English papers!

"Yes, it's happened to me before," said Arthur, smiling rather grimly.
He put the piece of paper into her hands. "A telegram of good
wishes--come to hand rather late."

"Bernadette? A lady friend? Oh, I remember! _The_ lady-friend, isn't it?
She thinks of you! Touching!"

"I find it so, rather. But, I say, aren't you tired to death?"

"Next door! But I just wanted to say good-bye to you. I like you, you
know. You're pleasant, and you lose like a gentleman, and you haven't
rounded on Willie and me, and told us it's all our fault."

"Your fault indeed! You were splendid. And mayn't it be just good-night,
and not good-bye, Miss Layard?"

"Call it which you like. I know what it will be. This isn't your line,
really. Good-night then--and don't give Joe any more money. He'd break
the Bank of England, if they'd let him."

"I won't then. And I like you, if I may say so. And we're all
tremendously in your debt." He raised the hand she gave him to his lips
and kissed it in a courtly fashion.

He looked handsome as he did it, and she was amused that he should do
it. She looked up at him with dancing eyes and a merry laugh. "Kiss me
good-bye, then, really, if you mean it--and don't be too disgusted with
all of us to-morrow morning!"

He kissed her cheek, laughing. "_Au revoir!_ I shan't be disgusted with
you anyhow. Good-night."

He walked to the door, and was just going to open it when she spoke
again. "Mr. Lisle!"

"Yes." He turned round. She was standing by the table now; her face was
very bright; she seemed to struggle against another spasm of laughter.
"In the stress of business you've forgotten your telegram
from--Bernadette!" She waved the missive in her hand, holding her
mutinous lips closely together.

Arthur stood for a moment, looking at the lady and the missive. Then he
broke into a hearty roar; she let herself go too; their laughter rang
through the little room. The door was flung open, and Joe Halliday
appeared on the threshold in a state of some indignation.

"Pretty good to keep me waiting out in the cold while you--what have you
been up to, Ayesha?"

"Nothing that concerns you, Joe. I've been giving Mr. Lisle some
medicine."

"I should have thought we'd all had enough of that to-night!"

"It's a different sort--and different from any I shall give you. But I
think it did him good, from the symptoms. Oh, here's your wire, Mr.
Lisle!"

She seemed to sparkle with mischief as she gave it to him. "Now mind you
don't give Joe any medicine!" he said.

"The bottle's finished, for to-night at all events." With this gay
promise and a gay nod she let him go.

Pleased at the promise--quite absurdly pleased at it, in spite of its
strict time-limit--and amused with the whole episode, he put
Bernadette's telegram in his pocket, and walked along towards the
stage-door, smiling happily. He was not thinking about the telegram, nor
about the fiasco of the evening, nor of his thousand pounds, very little
or none of which would ever find its way back into his pocket. The
emotions which each and all of these subjects for contemplation might
have been expected to raise had been put to rout. A very fine medicine,
that of Miss Ayesha Layard's!

He said good-night to the doorkeeper and gave him a sovereign; he said
good-night to the fireman and gave him ten shillings; it was no moment
for small economies, and he was minded to march out with colours flying.
But he was not quite done with the Burlington Theatre yet. Outside was a
tall figure which moved to his side directly he appeared. It was Mr.
Claud Beverley, carrying his play in a large square envelope.

"Are you going anywhere, Lisle?" he asked.

"Only home--up Bloomsbury way."

"May I walk with you! The tube at Tottenham Court Road suits me to get
home."

"Why, of course! Come along, old chap." They started off together up
Shaftesbury Avenue. Mr. Beverley said nothing till they had got as far
as the Palace Theatre. Then he managed to unburden his heart.

"I want to tell you how sorry I am to--to have let you in like this,
Lisle. I feel pretty badly about it, I can tell you, for all their
sakes. But you've been specially--well, you took me on trust, and I've
let you in."

"My dear fellow, it's all right. It's much worse for you than for me.
But I hope the new play will put you all right."

The author would not be silenced. "And I want to say that if ever I can
do you a turn--a real good turn--I'll do it. If it's to be done, I'll do
it!"

"I'm sure you will," said Arthur, who did not in the least see what Mr.
Beverley could do for him, but was touched by his evident sincerity.

"There's my hand on it," said Mr. Beverley with solemnity. There in
Charing Cross Road they shook hands on the bargain. "Don't forget!
Good-night, Lisle. Don't forget!" He darted away across the road and
vanished into the bowels of the earth.

Arthur Lisle strolled on to his lodgings, humming a tune. Good sort,
weren't they, all of them? Suddenly he yawned, and became aware of
feeling very tired. Been an evening, hadn't it?

Half-an-hour later he tumbled into bed, with a happy smile still on his
lips. He could not get the picture of that girl waving the telegram at
him out of his head.



CHAPTER XXIX

TEARS AND A SMILE


IN the end the Syndicate left to Joe Halliday the responsibility of
deciding on the future of the unfortunate farce, so far as it had a
future on which to decide. On mature reflection Joe was for acting on
the sound business principle of 'cutting a loss,' and the turn of events
reinforced his opinion. They had taken the Burlington for four weeks
certain, and the liability for rent was a serious fact and a heavy item
to reckon with. Another dramatic venture wanted a home, and Joe had the
opportunity of sub-letting the theatre for the last two weeks of the
term. By and with the advice of Mr. Etheringham he closed with the
offer. _Did You Say Mrs?_ dragged on for its fortnight, never showing
vitality enough to inspire any hope of its recovering from the rude blow
of the first night. In the day-time new figures filled the stage of the
Burlington, new hopes and fears centred there. Only Mr. Etheringham
remained, producing the new venture with the same fiery and
inexhaustible energy, lifting dead weights with his hands, toiling,
moiling, in perpetual strife. Gone soon were all the others who had
become so familiar, from the great Mr. Spring, the Indefatigable,
downwards, some to other engagements, some left "out"--_débris_ from the
wreck of the unhappy _Did You Say Mrs?_

Gone too, soon, was Miss Ayesha Layard with her infectious laugh. For
her sake Arthur had sat through the farce once again--not even for her
sake twice, so inconceivably flat had it now become to him. He had gone
round and seen her, but she had other guests and no real conversation
was possible. Then he saw in the papers that she was to go to America; a
manager from that country had come to see the piece, and, though he did
not take that, he did take Miss Layard, with whose talents he was much
struck. He offered a handsome salary, and she jumped at it. Joe let her
go three days before the end of the hopeless little run. One of the last
items of the Syndicate's expenditure was a bouquet of flowers, presented
to her at Euston on the morning of her departure. Arthur went to see her
off, found her surrounded by folk strange to him, had just a hand-clasp,
a hearty greeting, a merry flash from her eyes, and, as he walked off,
the echo of her laugh for a moment in his ears. The changes and chances
of theatrical life carried her out of his orbit as suddenly as she had
come into it; she left behind her, as chief legacy, just that vivid
memory which linked her so fantastically with Bernadette.

So the whole thing seemed to him to end--the Syndicate, the speculation,
his voyage into the unknown seas of the theatre. It was all over,
shattered by a blow almost as sudden, almost as tragical, as that which
had smitten his adoration itself. Both of these things, always connected
together for him by subtle bonds of thought and emotion, making together
the chief preoccupation of the last six months of his life, now passed
out of it, and could occupy his days no longer. They had come like
visions--Bernadette in her barouche, the glittering thousands dangled in
Fortune's hand--and seemed now to depart in like fashion, transitory and
unsubstantial.

Yet to Arthur Lisle they stood as the two greatest things that had up to
now happened in his life, the most significant and the most vivid. Set
together--as they insisted on being set together from the beginning to
the end, from the first impulse of ambition roused by Bernadette to
the coming of her telegram on that momentous evening--they made his
first great venture, his most notable experience. They had revealed
and developed his nature, plumbed feeling and tested courage.
He was different now from Marie Sarradet's placid, contented,
half-condescending wooer, different from him who had worshipped
Bernadette with virgin eyes--different now even from the forsaken and
remorseful lover of that black hour at Hilsey. He had received an
initiation--a beginning of wisdom, an opening of the eyes, a glimpse of
what a man's life may be and hold and do for him. He had seen lights
glimmering on the surface of other lives, and now and then, however
dimly and fitfully, revealing their deeper waters.

Sitting among the ruins--if tangible results were regarded, scarcely any
other word could be considered appropriate--and acutely awake to what
had happened to his fortunes, he was vaguely conscious of what had
happened to himself. The feeling forbade remorse or despair; it
engendered courage. It enabled him to infuse even a dash of humour into
his retrospect of the past and his survey of the present. If he still
called himself a fool, he did it more good-naturedly, and perhaps really
more in deference to the Wisdom of the Wise and the Prudence of the
Elders than out of any genuine or deep-seated conviction. And anyhow, if
he had been a fool, he reckoned that he had learnt something from it.
Everybody must be a fool sometimes. In prudent eyes he had been a
tolerably complete one, and had paid and must pay for the indulgence.
But it had not been all loss--so his spirit insisted, and refused
sack-cloth and ashes for its wear.

Meanwhile, however, the bill! Not the rather nebulous balance-sheet of
his soul's gains and losses, but the debit account in hard cash. A few
sovereigns from the five hundred still jingled forlornly in his pocket;
a few might possibly, thanks to the sub-let, stray back from the
Burlington Theatre, but not many. In round figures he was fifteen
hundred pounds out, and was left with an income barely exceeding a
hundred pounds a year. Now that would not support the life and meet the
necessary expenses of counsel learned in the law. Other prospects he had
none; what his mother had Anna was to take. He did not want to give up
the Bar; he still remembered Mr. Tiddes with a thrill; Wills and Mayne
were alive--at any rate Mayne was; a third defeat from fortune was not
to his liking. Moreover to abandon his chosen career would nearly break
his mother's heart. He came to a swift determination to "stick it out"
until he had only a thousand pounds left. If that moment came, a plunge
into something new! For the present, all useful expenditure, but strict
economy! He instructed his broker to sell out two hundred pounds' worth
of stock and felt that he had achieved a satisfactory solution of his
financial troubles.

For a mind bent on industry--and Arthur flattered himself that his
really was now--his chambers offered new opportunities. Norton Ward had
got his silk gown. His pupils had disappeared; Arthur could have the run
of his work, could annotate and summarise briefs, and try his hand on
draft "opinions." This was much more alluring work than reading at
large. He could sit in court too, and watch the progress of the cases
with a paternal, a keener, and a more instructed interest. This was how
he planned to spend the winter sittings, rejecting the idea of going
circuit--the chances of gain were so small, the expenses involved so
great. But in the immediate future things fell out differently from what
he had planned.

The morning after the Courts opened, he received a summons to go and see
Mr. Justice Lance in his private room. The old Judge gave him a very
friendly greeting and, being due to take his seat in five minutes,
opened his business promptly.

"My old friend Horace Derwent, who generally comes with me as Marshal,
is down with influenza and won't be available for three or four weeks.
Esther Norton Ward was at my house yesterday and, when she heard it, she
suggested that perhaps you'd like to take his place. I shall be very
glad to take you, if you care to come. If anything crops up for you
here, you can run up--because Marshals aren't absolutely indispensable
to the administration of justice. Your function is to add to my comfort
and dignity--and I shan't let that stand in your way."

"It's most awfully kind of you. I shall be delighted," said Arthur.

"Very well. We start on Monday, and open the Commission at Raylesbury.
My clerk will let you know all the details. If you sit in court
regularly, I don't think your time will be wasted, and a grateful
country pays you two guineas a day--not unacceptable, possibly, at this
moment!" His eyes twinkled. Arthur felt that his theatrical speculation
had become known.

"It's uncommonly acceptable, I assure you, Sir Christopher," said he.

"Then let's hope poor Horace Derwent will make a leisurely
convalescence," smiled the Judge.

In high spirits at the windfall, Arthur started off in the afternoon to
thank Esther for her good offices. He had not seen her since they
parted, with forced cheerfulness, at the doors of the Burlington
Theatre; neither had he carried out his idea of going to one of her
husband's meetings; the urgency of his own affairs would have dwarfed
those of the nation in his eyes, even had his taste for politics been
greater than it was.

"I thought you'd like it. You'll find Sir Christopher a pleasant chief,
and perhaps it'll keep you out of mischief for a few weeks--and in
pocket-money," said Esther, in reply to his thanks.

"I've got no more mischief in view," Arthur remarked, almost wistfully.
"My wild course is run."

"I hope so. Did you ever believe in that terrible farce?"

"Oh yes, rather! That is, I believed in it generally--Moments of qualm!
That's what made it so interesting."

"That evening, Arthur! I declare I still shudder! What did you do after
you got rid of us? Knock your head against the wall, or go to bed to
hide your tears?"

Arthur smiled. "Not exactly, Mrs. Norton Ward. I took part in a sort of
Privy Council, about ways and means, though there weren't any of either,
to speak of--and Claud Beverley swore eternal friendship to me, heavens
knows why! And I had a talk with Miss Layard."

Esther was looking at his smiling face in some amazement; he seemed to
find the memory of the evening pleasant and amusing. Her own impressions
were so different that she was stirred to resentment. "I believe I
wasted some good emotion on you," she observed severely.

"Oh, I forgot! I had a telegram from Bernadette--from Genoa. Good
wishes, you know--but I never got it till it was all over." He was
smiling still, in a ruminative way now.

"Very attentive of her! It seems to amuse you, though."

"Well, it was rather funny. It came when I was in Ayesha Layard's
dressing-room, talking to her, and she--well, rather made fun of it."

Esther eyed him with curiosity. "Did you like that?" she asked.

"I didn't seem to mind it at the time." His tone was amused still, but
just a little puzzled. "No, I didn't mind it."

"I believe--yes, I do--I believe you were flirting with the impudent
little creature! Oh, you men! This is what we get! We cry our eyes out
for you, and all the time you're----!"

"Men must work and women must weep!" said Arthur.

"That's just what Judith was doing--literally--all the way home in the
car; and in bed afterwards, very likely." Esther rapped out the
disclosure tartly. "And all the while you were----!" Words failed the
indignant woman.

"Cried? What, not really? Poor old Judith! What a shame! I must write to
her and tell her I'm as jolly as possible."

"Oh, I daresay she's got over it by now," said Esther, with a dig at his
vanity. But he accepted the suggestion with a cheerful alacrity which
disappointed her malice.

"Of course she has! She's a sensible girl. What's the good of crying?"

"Would you have liked to be asked that at all moments of your life,
Arthur?"

He laughed. "Rather a searching question sometimes, isn't it? But poor
Judith! I had no idea----" His remorse, though genuine enough, was still
tinged with amusement. The smile lurked about his mouth.

Esther's resentment, never very serious, melted away. In the end there
was something attractive in his disposition to refuse even a sympathy
which was too soft. She thought that she saw change there. Hard knocks
had been chipping off a youthful veneer of sentimentality. But she would
not have him impute a silly softness to Judith. "And Judith's not a
crying woman. I know her," she said.

"I know. She's got no end of courage. That's why it's so queer."

"She thought your heart was broken, you see."

"Yes, but--well, I think she ought to know me better than that."

"Perhaps she doesn't always keep up with you," Esther suggested.

Rather to her surprise he let the suggestion go by, and did not seize
the opportunity it offered of considering or discussing himself--his
character and its development. Instead, he began to talk about the
Marshalship once more, full of interest and pleasure in it, looking
forward to the companionship of Sir Christopher, to seeing and learning,
to the touches of old pomp and ceremony in which he was to assist,
unimportantly indeed, but as a favourably placed spectator.

"I'm more grateful to you than I can say," he declared. "And not for the
two guineas a day only!"

His gratitude gave her pleasure, but she could not understand his mood
fully. Her nature moved steadily and equably on its own lines; so far as
she could remember, it always had, aided thereto by the favouring
circumstances of assured position, easy means, and a satisfactory
marriage. She did not appreciate the young man's reaction after a long
period of emotion and excitement, of engrossment in his personal
feelings and fortunes. With these he was, for the moment, surfeited, and
disposed, consequently, to turn on them a critical, almost a satiric,
eye. The need of his mind now was for calmer interests, more impersonal
subjects of observation and thought. He was looking forward to being a
spectator, a student of other people's lives, acts, and conditions--he
was welcoming the prospect of a period during which his mind would be
turned outward towards the world. He had had enough of himself for the
time being.

It was not, then, a moment in which he was likely to ask himself very
curiously the meaning of Judith's tears, or to find in them much stuff
to feed either remorse or vanity. He was touched, he was a little
ashamed, though with twitching lips, as he contrasted them with his
farewell to Ayesha Layard at approximately the same moment. But on the
whole he felt relieved of a matter with which he had little inclination
to occupy himself when Esther said, at parting, "I think on the whole
you'd better not say anything to Judith about what I told you; she might
be angry with me for giving her away."

Judith might well have thought herself betrayed by the disclosure which
Esther had made in her irritated curiosity, in her resentful desire to
confront the smiling young man with the pathetic picture of a girl in
tears. When a woman says to a man, of another woman, "See how fond she
is of you!" there is generally implied the reproach, "And you
under-rate, you slight, you don't return, her affection." Such a
reproach had certainly underlain the contrast Esther drew between
Judith's tears and the smiles in which Arthur had presumably indulged
during his talk with Ayesha Layard. But Arthur took the contrast
lightly; it did not really come home to him; he did not seek to explore
its possible meaning, the suggestion contained in it. Lightly too he
seemed to have taken Bernadette's telegram--her recollection of him at a
crisis of his fortunes, coming out of the silence and darkness in which
her flight had wrapped her. Here was a thing which might surely have
moved him to emotion, rousing poignant memories? But when Miss Ayesha
Layard rather made fun of it, he had not minded! Even this account of
what had happened--this faint adumbration of the truth--agreed ill with
Esther's previous conception of him.

But it was of a piece with his new mood, with the present turn of his
feelings under the stress of fortune. To this mood matters appertaining
to women--to use the old phrase, the female interest--did not belong. He
was liberated for the time from the attack of that, from his obsession
with it, and in his freedom was turning a detached, a critical, eye on
his days of bondage. Rather oddly it had been a woman's work, not indeed
to bring about his release, but still to mark the moment when he began
to be conscious of it; for the turn of the tide of his mind was marked
by the moment when, in kissing Ayesha Layard, he forgot his telegram.
That little episode satirically mocked the erstwhile devotee and the
inconsolable lover, and all the more because it hovered itself
pleasantly near the confines of sentiment. It pointedly and recurringly
reminded him that there were more women than one in the world, that
there were, in fact, a great many. And when a young man's heart is open
to the consideration that there are a great many women in the world, it
is, for all serious purposes, much the same with him as though there
were none.

Esther Norton Ward was not in possession of the full facts, or she might
better have understood why Arthur's smile had resisted even the appeal
of Judith's tears.

On the last evening before he left London, he dined with Joe Halliday
and, with a heart opened by good wine, Joe gave his personal view of the
Burlington Theatre disaster.

"I'm sorry I let the Sarradets and Amabel in," he said, "and of course
I'm awfully sorry I stuck you for such a lot--though that was a good
deal your own doing----"

"It was all my own doing," Arthur protested.

"And I'm sorry for everybody involved, but for myself I don't care much.
As long as a fellow's got a dinner inside him and five quid in his
pocket, what's there to worry about? I've got lots of other jobs
maturing. In fact, as far as I'm personally concerned, perhaps it's
rather a good thing we did take such a toss. The fact is, old chap, I
was getting most infernally gone on Ayesha."

"I thought you were touched! Well, she's very attractive."

"You're right! If we'd run a hundred nights, I should have been a fair
goner! And on the straight too, mind you! Even as it is, I don't mind
telling you--as a pal--that I'm hardly my usual bright self since she
went to Yankeeland. Keep thinking what's she up to--like a silly ass!
Beastly! And what did I get out of it? Nothing!" His voice grew
plaintively indignant. "On my word, not so much as that, Arthur!" With
the words he put two fingers to his lips and flung a kiss to the empty
air.

"That was rather hard lines," Arthur remarked, smiling, pleased to hear
that, so far as Joe was concerned at least, Miss Ayesha's promise about
her medicine had been handsomely kept.

"Well, I suppose you wouldn't notice it much"--(A veiled allusion to the
Romantic and Forsaken Lover!)--"but she's enough to make any man make a
fool of himself over her." He heaved a ponderous sigh. "I expect I'm
well out of it! She'd never have given me more than a string of beads to
play with. And if by a miracle she had succumbed to my charms, I should
have been as jealous as a dog every time she went to the theatre! No
sound way out of it! All just silly!" He looked up and caught Arthur
smiling at him. He burst into a laugh, "Lord, what an ass I am! Come
along, old chap! If we get moving, we shall be just in time to see
Trixie Kayper at the Amphitheatre. I hear she knocks stars out of High
Heaven with her twinkling feet!"

Arthur agreed that the performance was one not to be missed.



CHAPTER XXX

A VARIETY SHOW


The Majesty of the Law--nay, in theory at least, the Majesty of
England--sat enthroned at Raylesbury. In the big chair in the centre the
Honourable Sir Christopher Lance, in his newly powdered wig and his
scarlet robes--the "Red Judge" whose splendour solaces (so it is said)
even the prisoners with a sense of their own importance. On his right
the High Sheriff, splendid also in Deputy-Lieutenant's uniform, but
bored, sleepy after a good lunch, and half-stifled by sitting indoors
all day in bad air, instead of agreeably killing something under the
open vault of Heaven. Beyond him the Chaplain, smooth-faced, ruddy,
rather severe, in gown and cassock of silk so fine and stiff as to seem
capable of standing up straight on its own account, even if His
Reverence chanced not to be inside. At the end, the Under-Sheriff,
unobtrusively ready to come to his Chief's assistance. On his Lordship's
left--a sad falling off in impressiveness--Arthur in mufti, and on his
other side Mr. Williams, the Judge's clerk, a fat man of constant but
noiseless activity, ever coming in and going out, fetching nothing from
nowhere and taking it back again (at any rate so far as the casual
spectator could perceive). Behind, such county magistrates as were
attracted by curiosity or by a laudable desire to take a lesson in doing
justice. In front, to right and left, and down below, divided from this
august company (for even on Marshal and Clerk fell rays of reflected
dignity) the world of struggle--the Bar, the solicitors, jury,
witnesses, prisoners, spectators, with great policemen planted at
intervals like forest-trees amongst the scrub. For mainspring of the
whole machine, the Clerk of Assize, a charming and courtly old
gentleman, telling everybody what to do and when to do it, polite,
though mostly unintelligible, to the prisoners, confidential and
consolatory to the jury, profoundly anxious that nothing should ruffle
so much as a hair of his lordship's wig.

In the morning they had tried a yokel for stealing a pig. The defence--a
guinea's worth--eloquently advanced and ardently pressed--was that the
prosecutor had presented the prisoner with the pig in a moment of
conviviality. The prosecutor met the suggestion with amazement, the jury
with smiles: one might get drunk, but no man was ever so drunk as to
give his pig away! Verdict--Guilty. His Lordship passed a light
sentence, faintly smiling over the ways of a world which, after nearly
fifty years in the law and eighteen on the Bench, still remained to him
rather remote and incomprehensible. This case of the pig was a merry
case. It lent itself to jokes, and young Bertie Rackstraw's caricature
(he solaced briefless days with art) of counsel for the defence
arm-in-arm with a gowned and bewigged pig was circulated and much
admired. _Pignus amoris_, another wag wrote under it.

Now, in the afternoon, a different atmosphere obtained in court. There
were no jokes and no caricatures. People were very quiet. Counsel for
the prosecution put his searching questions gravely and gently, almost
with pitifulness; counsel for the defence was careful, earnest, anxious.
Progress was slow, almost every word of the evidence had to go down in
the Judge's red book, to be written down in Sir Christopher's neat
precise handwriting. A man was on trial for his life and, as afternoon
darkened into evening, the battle drew near its fateful issue.

He was a big, burly, stolid, honest-looking fellow, inarticulate, not
able to help himself by his answers or to take proper advantage of the
dexterous leads given him by his counsel, who strained his right to lead
since life was at stake. In truth, though he was sorry that he had
killed her--since his old tenderness for her had revived, and moreover
he wished he had killed the other man instead--he could not see that he
had done wrong. He knew that the law said he had, and drew therefrom a
most formidable conclusion; but he did not feel convicted in his own
heart. She had deceived him and, when discovered, had derided him with
ugly words. Had he slain her then and there in his rage, the plea of
manslaughter might well have prevailed. But he said nothing to her; in
grim silence he had taken his way to the town and bought the knife, and
waited for two days his opportunity; then cunningly laid in wait where
she would come alone, and swiftly, in silence again, killed her. But may
not rage--ungovernable rage--last two days and be cunning? Round this
the battle raged. He had been cunning, calm, methodical.

It was seven o'clock when the Judge finished his summing-up, and the
jury retired. His lordship did not leave the court, but listened to an
application relating to a civil cause which was to be heard at the next
town. Everybody seemed to turn to this matter with relief; and small
noises--coughs and fidgetings--began to be audible again. But Mr.
Williams rose and went out noiselessly, soon to return. This time he
brought something from somewhere, and held it hidden beneath the Bench.

The jury came back, and the little noises were all hushed.

"How say you--Guilty or Not Guilty?"

"Guilty," the foreman answered. "But we wish to recommend him to mercy,
my lord, in view of his great provocation."

The prisoner's eyes turned slowly from the foreman to the Judge. Mr.
Williams slid what he had brought--the square of black cloth--into the
Marshal's hand, and, under the Bench still, the Marshal gave it to the
Judge.

The prisoner only shook his head in answer to the Clerk of Assize's
question whether he had any reason why the Court should not pronounce
sentence, and in due form sentence followed. The Judge delivered it in
low and very gentle tones, with a high compassion. "The Jury's
recommendation will receive the fullest consideration, but I may not bid
you hope for mercy, save for that Mercy for which everyone of us equally
must pray."

At the end the condemned man made a little bow to the Court, awkward but
not without a pathetic dignity. "Thank you, my lord," he said with
respectful simplicity. Then he was led downstairs, and the black square
travelled back on its hidden way to Mr. Williams' custody. Mr. Williams
stowed it in some invisible place, and issued his summons to all and
sundry to attend again at half-past ten on the morrow. The Court rose;
the work of the day was ended. It remained only for the Marshal to write
to His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department,
apprising him that Sentence of Death had been passed and that the
Judge's notes would be sent to him without delay. His Lordship, the
Sheriff, and the Chaplain passed out to the State carriage, attended by
the Javelin-men.

"Do you think he's got any chance, my lord?" asked the High Sheriff, as
they drove to the Judge's lodgings.

"Yes, Sir Quintin, an off-chance, I should say. In fact I think I shall
help him, as far as I can--that's between ourselves, of course. He
didn't seem to me a bad sort of man, but--" He smiled faintly--"very
primitive! And the poor wretch of a woman certainly didn't let him down
easy."

"I should like to have seen the other man in the dock beside him, my
lord," said the Chaplain.

"Oh, well, Chaplain, he wasn't bound to anticipate murder, was he? As it
is, he's thought it prudent to get out of the country--at some loss and
inconvenience, no doubt; this man's friends were after him. But for that
we should have had him here to-day."

"He wouldn't have been popular," the High Sheriff opined, with a shake
of his glossy head.

Thus, as the days went by, at Raylesbury and the succeeding Assize
towns, drama after drama was unfolded, and varieties of character
revealed--knaves guileless and knaves quickwitted; fools without balance
or self-restraint; mere animals--or such they seemed--doing animal deeds
and confronted with a human standard to which they were not equal and
which they regarded with a dull dismay. Incidentally there came to light
ways of life and modes of thought astonishing, yet plainly accepted and
related as things normal; the old hands on the circuit knew all about
them and used their knowledge deftly in cross-examination. Now and then
the dock was filled by a figure that seemed strange to it, by a denizen
of the same world that Bench and Bar, High Sheriff and Marshal
inhabited; in one place there was a solicitor who had been town-clerk
and embezzled public moneys; in another a local magistrate stood to
plead in the dock side by side with a labourer whom he himself had
committed for trial; the labourer was acquitted, and the magistrate sent
to prison--with nought to seek thence-forward but oblivion. Freaks of
destiny and whirligigs of fortune! Yet these were the exception. The
salient revelation was of a great world of people to whom there was
nothing strange in finding themselves, their relatives or friends, in
that dock, to whom it was an accident that might well happen to anybody,
an incident in many a career. But they expected the game to be played;
they were keen on that, and bitterly resented any sharp practice by the
police; a "fair cop," on the other hand, begat no resentment. Lack of
consideration as between man and man, however, stirred ire. One fellow's
great grievance was that a zealous officer had arrested him at seven
o'clock on a Sunday morning. "Why couldn't 'e let me 'ave my Sunday
sleep out?" he demanded. "A bloke's not going to do a bunk at seven on a
Sunday morning!" His lordship smilingly assured him that he should have
seven days less in prison, but he was not appeased. "Seven of a Sunday,
my lordship!" he growled still, in disappearing.

"Well, I shouldn't like it myself," said "my lordship" aside to the
Marshal.

His lordship's "asides" added something to the Marshal's instruction and
more to his amusement. Sir Christopher was not a reformer or a
sociologist, nor even an emotionalist either. He took this Assize Court
world as he found it, just as he took West-End drawing-rooms as he found
them, at other times of the year. He knew the standards. He was never
shocked, and nothing made him angry, except cruelty or a Jack-in-office.
In presence of these he was coldly dangerous and deadly. To see him take
in hand a policeman whose zeal outran the truth was a lesson in the art
of flaying a man's skin off him strip by strip. The asides came often
then; the artist would have the pupil note his skill and did not disdain
his applause. Though the Marshal's share in the work of the court was of
the smallest, his lordship liked him to be there, hearing the cases and
qualifying himself for a gossip over them, on an afternoon walk or at
dinner in the evening.

As the days went by, a pleasant intimacy between the old man and the
young established itself, and grew into a mutual affection,
quasi-paternal on the one side, almost filial on the other. A bachelor,
without near kindred save an elderly maiden sister, the old Judge found
in Arthur something of what a son gives his father--a vicarious and yet
personal interest in the years to come--and he found amusement in
discovering likenesses between himself and his protégé, or at least in
speculating on their existence with a playful humour.

"Men differ in the way they look at their professions or businesses," he
said. "Of course everybody's got to live, but, going deeper into it than
that, you find one man to whom his profession is, first and foremost, a
ladder, and another to whom it's a seat in the theatre--if you follow
what I mean. That fellow Norton Ward's of the first class. He's never
looking about him; his eyes are always turned upwards, towards an
inspiring vision of himself at the top. But you and I like looking about
us; we're not in a hurry to be always on the upward move. The scene
delights us, even though we've no part in it, or only a small one.
That's been true about me, and I think it's true about you, Arthur."

"Oh, I've my ambitions, sir," laughed Arthur. "Fits of ambition,
anyhow."

"Fits and starts? That's rather it, I fancy. You probably won't go as
far as Norton Ward in a professional way, but you may very likely make
just as much mark on life really, besides enjoying it more; I mean in a
richer broader way. Purely professional success--and I include politics
as well as the law, because they're equally a profession to men like our
friend--is rather a narrow thing. The man with more interests--the more
human man--spreads himself wider and is more felt really; he gets
remembered more too."

"The Idle Man's Apologia! Very ingenious!" said Arthur, smiling.

"No, no, you shan't put that on me. It's perfectly true. The greatest
characters--I mean characters, not intellects--are by no means generally
in the highest places; because, as I say, to climb up there you have to
specialise too much. You have to lop off the branches to make the trunk
grow. But I don't see you like that. The Burlington Theatre was hardly
in the direct line of ascent, was it?"

"I shan't be quite such a fool as that again, sir."

"Not to that extent, and not perhaps in just that way--no. I don't know
exactly how you came to go in for it; indeed you don't quite seem to
know yourself, as far as I can gather from what you've said. But I take
it that it was to see and find out things--to broaden your life and your
world?"

Arthur hesitated. "Yes, I suppose so--complicated by--Well, I was rather
excited at the time. I was coming new to a good many things."

Sir Christopher nodded his head, smiling. "You may safely assume that
Esther has gossiped to me about you. Well now, take that lady--I don't
mean Esther Norton Ward, of course. Men like us appreciate her. Apart
from personal relations, she's something in the world to us--a notable
part of the show. So we what is called waste a lot of time over her; she
occupies us, and other women like her--though there aren't many."

"No, by Jove, there are not!" Arthur assented.

"It's a lucky thing, Arthur, that your good cousin isn't built on the
lines of our friend at Raylesbury, isn't it? The world would have been
the poorer! By the way, that fellow's going to get off; I had a note
from Hurlstone's private secretary this morning." Mr Hurlstone was the
Home Secretary. "It's a funny thing, but she kept coming into my mind
when I was trying the case."

Arthur's nod confessed to a similar experience.

"We didn't know each other well enough to talk about it then," Sir
Christopher observed, smiling. "Fancy if we'd had to try Godfrey Lisle!
I hope you're going to stick to the Hilsey folk, Arthur? It's good for a
man to have a family anchorage. I haven't got one, and I miss it."

"Yes, rather! I shall go down there in the Christmas vacation. I'm
awfully fond of it."

The old man leant forward, warming his hands by the fire. "You'll often
find funny parallels like that coming into your head, if you're ever a
judge. Good thing too; it gives you a broad view."

"I never shall be a judge," said Arthur, laughing.

"Very likely not, if they go on appointing the best lawyers. Under that
system, I should never have been one either."

"I think, on the whole, sir, that it's better fun to be a Marshal."

Certainly it was very good fun--an existence full of change and
movement, richly peopled with various personalities. From the Bar they
lived rather apart, except for three or four dinner-parties, but they
entertained and were entertained by local notables. The High Sheriffs
themselves afforded piquant contrasts. Bluff and glossy Sir Quintin, the
country gentleman, was one type. Another was the self-made man, newly
rich, proud of himself, but very nervous of doing something wrong, and
with stories in his mind of judges savagely tenacious of their dignity
and free with heavy fines for any breach of etiquette: many an anxious
question from him about his lordship's likes and dislikes Arthur had to
answer. And once the office was ornamented by the son and heir of a
mighty Grandee, who did the thing most splendidly in the matter of
equipage and escort--even though his liveries were only the family's
"semi-state"--treated his lordship with a deference even beyond the
custom, and dazzled Arthur, as they waited for Mr. Justice Lance (who
was sometimes late), with easy and unaffected anecdotes of the youth of
Princes with whom he had played in childhood--the perfect man of the
Great World, with all its graces. Between this High Personage and the
man who stole the pig there ranged surely Entire Humanity!

But the most gracious impression--one that made its abiding mark on
memory--was more aloof from their work and everyday experience. It was
of an old man, tall and thin, white-haired, very courtly, yet very
simple and infinitely gentle in manner. He was an old friend of Sir
Christopher's, a famous leader of his school of thought in the Church,
and now, after long years of labour, was passing the evening of his days
in the haven of his Deanery beneath the walls of a stately Cathedral.
They spent Sunday in the city, and, after attending service, went to
lunch with him. He knew little of their work, and had never known much
of the world they moved in. But he knew the poor by his labours among
them, and the hearts of men by the strangely keen intuition of holiness.
There was no sanctimoniousness, no pursing-up of lips or turning-away of
eyes; on the contrary, a very straight dealing with facts and reality.
But all things were seen by him in a light which suffused the Universe,
in the rays of a far-off yet surely dawning splendour; Sorrow endureth
for the night, but Joy cometh in the morning.

As they walked back to the Lodgings, Sir Christopher was silent for
awhile. Then he said abruptly: "That's a Saint! I don't know that it's
much use for most of us to try to be saints--that's a matter of
vocation, I think--but it does us good to meet one sometimes, doesn't
it? All that you and I think--or, speaking for myself perhaps, used to
think--so wonderful, so interesting, has for him no importance--hardly
any real existence. It's at the most a sort of mist, or mirage, or
something of that sort--or a disease of mortal eyes--what you like! Are
you in any way a religious man?"

"No, I'm afraid I'm not." He hesitated a moment and went on: "I don't
quite see how one can be, you know, sir."

"Not as he is, no--I don't either. And I suppose the world couldn't get
on, as a working world, if by a miracle everybody became like him. The
world wants its own children too--though no doubt it begets some
devilishly extreme specimens, as you and I have seen in the last few
weeks. Well, you'll probably make some sort of creed for yourself
presently--oh, a very provisional sketchy sort of affair, I daresay, but
still a bit better than club codes and that kind of thing. And----" He
laid his hand on Arthur's shoulder--"the beginning of it may just as
well be this: Earn your money honestly. Such work as you do get or take,
put your back into it."

"That after all is just what the Dean has done with his job, isn't it?"

"Why, yes, so it is, though he doesn't do it for money--not even money
of his currency. Upon my word, I believe he'd sooner be damned than let
you or me be, if he could help it! So I've shown you one more variety of
human nature, Arthur."

"It's at least as well worth seeing as any of the rest."

"Fit it in at leisure with your other specimens," Sir Christopher
recommended.

It did not seem altogether easy to follow this advice--even after
reflection.

But there had been other specimens, also not too easy to fit in with one
another or with any neat and compact scheme of society, vindicating to
complete satisfaction the ways of God to men and of men to one another.
No symmetrical pattern emerged. Wherever he looked, life met his
enquiring eyes with a baffling but stimulating smile.



CHAPTER XXXI

START AND FINISH


Whenever he was at home at the time of the Assizes Lord Swarleigh made a
point of inviting the Judge to dinner. He was Lord-Lieutenant of the
County, and he considered the attention due from the Military to the
Civil Representative of the Crown. The occasion was treated as one of
ceremony, and though Sir Christopher, in mercy to the horses and his own
patience, refused to drive the six hilly miles which lay between the
town and Higham Swarleigh Park in the state carriage, and hired a car,
he was in court dress; very refined and aristocratic he looked.

"It's an enormous house, but distinctly ugly," he told the Marshal as
they drove along. "But they've got a lot of fine things, and they're
nice people. You'll enjoy yourself, I think."

Presently the great house came dimly into view, its outline picked out
by the lights in the windows. It might be ugly; it was certainly huge;
it seemed to squat on the country-side like a mighty toad. It had a
tremendous air of solidity, of permanence, of having been there from the
beginning of time, and of meaning to stay till the end, of being part of
the eternal order of things--rather like a secular cathedral, with
powdered footmen for beadles, and a groom of the chambers for chief
verger.

With courtly punctilio the Lord-Lieutenant received his guest on the
threshold, and himself led him to the State drawing-room, where her
Ladyship was waiting. The Marshal followed behind, rather nervous, not
knowing exactly what his part might be in these dignified proceedings.
The Lord-Lieutenant was in full fig too, and several of the men in
uniform; the ladies were very sumptuous; the Bishop of the diocese in
his violet coat was a good touch in the picture. Behind the hostess, as
she received them, hung a full-length portrait of His Majesty King
George the Fourth of happy memory, arrayed in the robes of the Garter;
His Majesty too was decorative, though in a more florid manner than the
Bishop.

Lord Swarleigh was not at all like his house, and anything military
about him was purely _ex officio_. He was a short thin man with a grey
beard, an antiquarian and something of an historian. When he heard
Arthur's name, he asked what family of Lisles he belonged to, and when
Arthur (with accursed pride in his heart) answered "The Lisles of
Hilsey," he nodded his head with intelligence and satisfaction. Lady
Swarleigh was not at all alarming either. She was a plump middle-aged
woman who had been pretty and wore her clothes with an air, but her
manner had a natural kindness and simplicity which reminded Arthur of
Esther Norton Ward's. She handed him over to a pretty gay girl who stood
beside her. "Fanny, you look after Mr. Lisle," she commanded. "He's to
take you in, I think, but Alfred'll tell you about that." Lady Fanny
took possession of him in such a friendly fashion that Arthur began to
enjoy himself immediately.

He saw a tall handsome young fellow moving about the room from man to
man and briefly whispering to each; his manner was calm and indolent,
and his demeanour rather haughty; he smiled condescendingly over
something that the Bishop whispered back to him with a hearty chuckle.

"Alfred Daynton's wonderful!" said Lady Fanny. "He's papa's secretary,
you know, though he really does all mamma's work. He can send twenty
couples in without a list! He never mixes them up, and always knows the
right order."

The great Alfred came up. "You're all right," he said briefly to Lady
Fanny and Arthur, and gave a reassuring nod to Lady Swarleigh herself.
Then he looked at his watch, and from it, expectantly, towards the
doors. On the instant they opened; dinner was ready. Alfred again nodded
his head just perceptibly and put his watch back in his pocket. He
turned to Lady Fanny. "You're at the pink table--on the far side." He
smiled dreamily as he added, "In the draught, you know."

"Bother! You always put me there!"

"_Seniores priores_--and little girls last! Sorry for you, Mr. Lisle,
but you see you're on duty--and I've got to sit there myself, moreover.
And you'll have to talk to me, because I haven't got a woman. I'm taking
in the Chief Constable--jolly, isn't it?"

However, at the pink table--where the host presided, flanked by the High
Sheriff's wife and the Bishop's wife--the young folks in the draught got
on very well, in spite of it; and all their wants were most sedulously
supplied.

"The thing in this house is to sit near Alfred," Lady Fanny observed.
"Papa and mamma may get nothing, but you're all right by Alfred!"

"That's a good 'un!" chuckled the Chief Constable, a stout old bachelor
Major of ruddy aspect.

"Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn," said Alfred,
who appeared to be fond of proverbial expressions.

"You see, he engages and dismisses all the men," Lady Fanny explained.

It struck Arthur that Lady Fanny and Alfred were in truth remarkably
good friends, and he was not wrong. In the future among his own best
friends he counted Mr. and Lady Fanny Daynton, and Mr. Daynton turned
his remarkable powers of organisation to the service of the public. But
to-night Lady Fanny dutifully devoted herself to the Marshal, and proved
an intelligent as well as a gay companion. Seeing his interest in his
surroundings, she told him about the pictures on the walls, the old
silver ornaments on the table, the armorial devices on the silver
plates. "You see, papa has drummed all the family history into us," she
said, in laughing apology for her little display of learning. "He says
people don't deserve to have old things if they don't take an interest
in them."

"I'm afraid I should take only too much, if they were mine. They appeal
to me awfully." He added, smiling in a burst of candour, with a little
wave of his hands: "So does all this!"

She considered what he said for a moment with a pretty gravity,
evidently understanding his words and gesture to refer to the
surroundings at large, the pomp and circumstance in which it was her lot
to live, to which he came as a stranger and on which he looked with
unaccustomed eyes; she liked his frank admission that it was unfamiliar.

"I don't think it hurts," she said at last, "if you don't take credit to
yourself for it. You know what I mean? If you don't think it makes you
yourself different from other people."

"But is that easy?" he asked in curiosity. "Isn't there a subtle
influence?"

"You're asking rather hard questions, Mr. Lisle!"

"I suppose I am, but I was thinking mainly of myself. I associate other
people with their surroundings and possessions so much that I believe I
should do the same with myself. If I had a beautiful house, I should
think myself beautiful!"

"If you had this house, then, would you think yourself a hideous giant?"
she asked, laughing. "But how do you mean about other people?"

"Well, I've got cousins who live in a fine old house--oh, not a
twentieth the size of this!--and I'm sure I like them better because
they've got a beautiful house. And the first time I saw a very great
friend she was in a very smart carriage; and I'm sure she made a greater
impression on me because of the carriage. And I'm afraid that's being a
snob, isn't it?"

She laughed again. "Well, don't think of us in connection with our
house, or you'll think of us as snails with shells too large for them on
their backs! No, I don't think you're a snob, but I think you must
beware of an æsthetic temperament. It makes people rather soft
sometimes, doesn't it?"

Before he had time to answer, Alfred cut in firmly: "Now it's my turn,
Lady Fanny!" He pointed with his thumb to the Chief Constable's averted
shoulder, and dropped his voice to a whisper; "I've engineered him on to
the Chaplain's wife!" Arthur could not flatter himself that Lady Fanny
showed any annoyance at the interruption.

On the other side sat the Under-Sheriff--the supply of ladies had quite
given out--but the good man was not conversational, and Arthur was left
at leisure to look about him. His eye fell on the small, thin, refined
little host, sitting back in his big arm-chair with an air of patient
resignation, while two large women--the Bishop's wife and the High
Sheriff's wife--talked to one another volubly across him. Perhaps even
being the local magnate was not all beer and skittles! If one great man
had admired "sustained stateliness of living" another had seen in it a
compatibility with every misfortune save one--poverty. A compatibility
obviously with boredom, and probably with a great deal of it for a man
like Lord Swarleigh! A continuous annual round of it, always between
somebody's wives, wives of eminent persons and not generally in their
first youth--nor, on the other hand, interested in the family history,
nor in armorial bearings. Why even he himself was better off; if he had
the Under-Sheriff on one side, he had youth and beauty on the other.
Arthur found himself being quite sorry for Lord Swarleigh, in spite of
Higham Swarleigh Park, the old silver, and George the Fourth in the
robes of the Garter. He had a vision of Godfrey Lisle at one of
Bernadette's fashionable parties. Godfrey had got out of it all--at a
price. Poor Lord Swarleigh would never get out of it--till Death
authoritatively relieved him of his duties.

After dinner Lady Swarleigh signalled him, and made him come and talk to
her.

"We're always so glad when your Judge comes our circuit," she said.
"He's a friend, you see, and that makes our Assize dinner pleasanter.
Though I always like it; lawyers tell such good stories. Sir
Christopher's very fond of you, isn't he? Oh, yes, he's been talking a
lot about you at dinner. And he tells me you know Esther Norton Ward.
Her mother was at school with me, and I knew her when she was so high!
You must come and see us in London in the summer, won't you? I wish the
Judge and you could come out to dinner again--just quietly, without all
these people--but he tells me you're moving on directly; so we must wait
for London. Now don't forget!"

Here was a woman to like, Arthur made up his mind instantly; a regular
good sort of woman she seemed to him, a woman of the order of Marie
Sarradet; ripened by life, marriage, and motherhood, and, besides,
amplified as it were by a situation and surroundings which gave greater
scope to her powers and broader effect to her actions--yet in essence
the same kind of woman, straightforward, friendly, reliable.

"I've only one girl left at home," she went on, "and I daresay I shan't
keep her long, but the married ones are always running in and out, and
the boys too, and their boy and girl friends. So you'll find lots of
young people, and lots of racketing going on. They often get up private
theatricals and inflict them on the patients at our hospital--my husband
is President of St. Benedict's, you know--and you ought to be able to
help us--with your experience!"

Arthur smiled and blushed. Sir Christopher had been talking, it seemed;
but apparently the talk had not done him any harm in Lady Swarleigh's
estimation.

"We shall be up after Easter. Don't forget!" she commanded again, rising
to meet the Judge as he came to take leave of her.

With renewed ceremony, escorted by the Lord-Lieutenant, with the High
Sheriff, the Chaplain, the Under-Sheriff--last, but certainly not least,
Alfred--hovering in attendance, his lordship and his satellite returned
to their motor-car, the satellite at least having thoroughly enjoyed his
evening.

"What awfully jolly people they are!" he exclaimed, thinking, plainly,
of the ladies of the family; for the adjective was not appropriate to
Lord Swarleigh himself.

Sir Christopher nodded, smiling in amusement at Arthur's enthusiasm, but
very well pleased with it, and more pleased with the hostess's whispered
word of praise for his young friend as she bade him good night.

"I got a piece of news to-night which I'm ashamed to say I find myself
considering bad," he said. "I thought I wouldn't tell you before dinner,
for fear that you'd think it bad too, and so have your evening spoilt to
some extent. Horace Derwent writes that he's quite well again and would
like to join me for the rest of the circuit. And I can't very well
refuse to have him; he's been with me so often; and, what's more,
this'll be the last time. I'm going to retire at Christmas."

"Retire! Why, you're not feeling out of sorts, are you, sir? You seem
wonderfully fit."

"I am. Wonderfully fit--to retire! I'm turned seventy and I'm tired. And
I'm not as quick as I was. When I sit in the Divisional Court with a
quick fellow--like Naresby, for instance, a lad of forty-nine or so--I
find it hard to keep up. He's got hold of the point while I'm still
putting on my spectacles! It isn't always the point really, but that's
neither here nor there. So I'm going. They'll give me my Right
Honourable, I suppose, and I shall vanish becomingly."

"I'm awfully sorry. I wanted to have a case before you some day! Now I
shan't. But, I say, they ought to make you a peer. You're about
the--well, the best-known judge on the Bench."

Sir Christopher shook his head. "That's my rings, not me," he said,
smiling. "No, what's the use of a peerage to me, even if it was offered?
I'm not fit to sit in the Lords--not enough of a lawyer--and I've no
son. If you were my son in the flesh, my dear boy, as I've rather come
to think of you in the spirit, these last weeks, I might ask for one for
your sake! But I've got only one thing left to do now--and that's a
thing a peerage can't help about."

Arthur was deeply touched, but found nothing to say.

"It's a funny thing to come to the end of it all," the old man mused.
"And to look back to the time when I was where you are, and to remember
what I expected--though, by the way, that's hard to remember exactly! A
lot of work, a lot of nonsense! And to see what's become of the other
fellows too--who's sunk, and who's swum! Some of the favourites have
won, but a lot of outsiders! I was an outsider myself; they used to tell
me I should marry a rich wife and chuck it. But I've never married a
wife at all, and I stuck to it. And the women too!"

Arthur knew that gossip, floating down the years, credited Sir
Christopher with adventures of the heart. But the old man now shook his
head gently and smiled rather ruefully. "Very hard to get that back! It
all seems somehow faded--the colour gone out."

He lapsed into silence till they approached the end of their drive. Then
he roused himself from his reverie to say, "So old Horace must come and
see the end of me, and you and I must say good-bye. Our jaunt's been
very pleasant to me. I think it has to you, hasn't it, Arthur?"

"It's been more than pleasant, sir. It's been somehow--I don't quite
know what to call it--broadening, perhaps. I've spread out--didn't you
call it that the other day?"

"Yes. Go on doing that. It enriches your life, though it mayn't fill
your pocket. Make acquaintances--friends in different sets. Know all
sorts of people. Go and see places. No reason to give up the theatre
even! Fill your store-house against the time when you have to live on
memory."

They reached the lodgings and went in together. Arthur saw his Judge
comfortably settled by the fire and supplied with his tumbler of weak
brandy and hot water before he noticed a telegram, addressed to himself,
lying on the table. He opened and read it, and then came to Sir
Christopher and put it into his hands. "I think I should have had to ask
you to let me go anyhow--apart from Mr. Derwent."

Sir Christopher read: "Heavy brief come in from Wills and Mayne coming
on soon please return early as possible--Henry."

"Hum! That sounds like business. Who are Wills and Mayne?"

"I haven't an idea. They gave me that County Court case I told you
about. But I don't in the least know why they come to me."

"That's part of the fun of the dear old game. You can never tell! I got
a big case once by going to the races. Found a fellow there who'd backed
a winner and got very drunk. He'd lost his hat and his scarf-pin before
I arrived on the scene, but I managed to save his watch, put him inside
my hansom, and brought him home. To show his gratitude, he made his
lawyers put me in a case he had. First and last, it was worth four or
five hundred guineas to me. I believe I'd had a good deal of champagne
too, which probably made me very valiant! Well, you must go at once, as
early as you can to-morrow morning, and send a wire ahead--no, Williams
can telephone--to say you're coming. You mustn't take any risks over
this. It ought to be a real start for you." He stretched out his hands
before the fire. "Your start chimes in with my finish!" He looked up at
Arthur with a sly smile. "How are the nerves going to be, if you run up
against Brother Pretyman in the course of this great case of yours?"

"I wish he was retiring, instead of you!" laughed Arthur.

"If you really know your case, he can't hurt you. You may flounder a
bit, but if you really know it you'll get it out at last."

"I'm all right when once I get excited," said Arthur, remembering Mr.
Tiddes.

"Oh, you'll be all right! Now go to bed. It's late, and you must be
stirring early to-morrow. I'll say good-bye now--I'm not good at early
hours."

"I'm awfully sorry it's over, and I don't know how to thank you."

"Never mind that. You think of your brief. Be off with you! I'll stay
here a little while, and meditate over my past sins." He held out his
hand and Arthur took it. They exchanged a long clasp. "The road's before
you, Arthur. God bless you!"

The old man sat on alone by the fire, but he did not think of his bygone
sins nor even of his bygone triumphs and pleasures. He thought of the
young man who had just left him--his son in the spirit, as he had called
him in a real affection. He was planning now a great pleasure for
himself. He was not a rich man, for he had both spent and given freely,
but he would have his pension for life, quite enough for his own wants,
and after providing for the maiden sister, and for all other claims on
him, he would have a sum of eight or ten thousand pounds free to dispose
of. At his death, or on Arthur's marriage--whichever first
happened--Arthur should have it. Meanwhile the intention should be his
own pleasant secret. He would say nothing about it, and he was sure that
Arthur had no idea of anything of the sort in his head. Let the boy work
now--with the spur of necessity pricking his flank! "If I gave it him
now, the rascal would take another theatre, confound him!" said Sir
Christopher to himself with much amusement--and no small insight into
his young friend's character.



CHAPTER XXXII

WISDOM CONFOUNDED


"Mr. Tracy Darton was in it, sir. He advised, and drew the pleadings.
But he got silk the same time as we did" (Henry meant, as Mr. Norton
Ward did), "and now they've taken you in." Henry's tone was one of
admiring surprise. "And Sir Humphrey Fynes is to lead Mr.
Darton--they're sparing nothing! I gather there's a good deal of feeling
in the case. I've fixed a conference for you, sir, at four-fifteen.
There's one or two points of evidence they want to consult you about."

Thus Henry to Arthur--with the "heavy brief" between them on the table.
Perhaps Henry's surprise and enthusiasm had run away with him a little;
or perhaps he had wanted to make quite sure of lassoing Arthur back. At
any rate, had the brief been Norton Ward's, he would hardly have called
it "heavy"--satisfactory and, indeed, imposing as the fee appeared in
Arthur's eyes. Nor was the case what would generally be known as a
"heavy" one; no great commercial transaction was involved, no
half-a-million or so of money depended on it. None the less, it already
displayed a fair bulk of papers--a voluminous correspondence--and
possessed, as Arthur was soon to discover, great potentialities of
further growth. A very grain of mustard seed for that! It was destined,
as luck would have it (the lawyers' luck, not the clients'), to a
notable career; it engaged the attention of no less than ten of His
Majesty's Judges. It had already been before Pretyman, J., in chambers.
Naresby, J., was to try it (if a glance into the future be allowable).
The Court of Appeal was to send it back for a new trial. The Lord Chief
Justice was to take it to himself. Again the Court of Appeal was to
figure, disagreeing with the judgment pronounced by the Lord Chief
Justice on the findings of the jury. And, at last, four noble and
learned Lords were to upset the Court of Appeal, and restore the
judgment of the Lord Chief Justice--a decision which, at all events, was
final, though Arthur, whose feelings were by that time deeply engaged,
never pretended to consider it right. And then, when the case was
disposed of for good and all, no longer _sub judicibus_ (the plural is
obviously demanded), the newspapers took a turn at it with those
ironical comments with which their ignorance is rashly prone to assail
the mysteries of the Law.

It--that is, the case of _Crewdson v. The Great Southern Railway
Company_--was about a dog, consigned according to the plaintiff's--which
was Arthur's--contention (the real movements of the animal were wrapped
in doubt from the outset) by a certain Startin--who was at that date
butler to the plaintiff, but under notice to leave, and who did a few
days later vanish into space--to his mistress, Miss Crewdson, an elderly
lady of considerable means and of indomitable temper--from Tenterden in
Sussex to its owner at Harrogate, where she was taking the waters.
Though a very small dog, it was a very precious one, both from a
sentimental and from a pecuniary point of view. So it ought to have
been, considering the questions of law and fact which it raised! For in
reply to Miss Crewdson's simple, but determined and reiterated, demand
for her dog or her damages, the Company made answer, first, that they
had never received the dog at Tenterden, secondly that they had duly
delivered the dog at Harrogate, and lastly--but it was a "lastly"
pregnant with endless argument--that they had done all they were bound
to do in regard to the dog, whatever had in truth happened or not
happened to the animal. What actually had, nobody ever knew for certain.
A dog--some dog--got to Harrogate in the end. The Company said this was
Miss Crewdson's dog, if they had ever carried a dog of hers at all; Miss
Crewdson indignantly repudiated it. And there, in the end, the question
of fact rested--for ever unsolved. The House of Lords--though the Lord
Chancellor, basing himself on a comparison of photographs, did indulge
in an _obiter dictum_ that the Harrogate dog, if it were not the
Tenterden dog, was as like as two peas to it ("Of course it was--both
Pekinese! But it wasn't our dog," Arthur muttered indignantly)--found it
unnecessary to decide this question, in view of the fact that, Startin
having disappeared into space, there was no sufficient evidence to
justify a jury in finding that the Company had ever received any dog of
Miss Crewdson's. It was this little point of the eternally doubtful
identity of the Harrogate dog which proved such a godsend to the wits of
the Press; they suggested that the Highest Tribunal in the Land might
have taken its courage in both hands and given, at all events for what
it was worth, its opinion about the Harrogate dog. Was he Hsien-Feng, or
wasn't he? But no. The House of Lords said it was unnecessary to decide
that. It was certainly extremely difficult, and had given two juries an
immensity of trouble.

All these remarkable developments, all these delightful ramifications,
now lay within the ambit of the red tape which Arthur, left alone,
feverishly untied. He had to be at it; he could not wait. Not only was
there the conference at four-fifteen, but he was all of an itch to know
what he was in for and what he might hope for, divided between a craven
fear of difficulty above his powers and a soaring hope of opportunity
beyond his dreams.

After three hours' absorbed work he was still on the mere fringe of the
case, still in the early stages of that voluminous correspondence, when
Miss Crewdson was tolerably, and the Company obsequiously, polite--and
no dog at all was forthcoming, to correspond to the dog alleged to have
been consigned from Tenterden. A dog was being hunted for all over two
railway systems; likely dogs had been sighted at Guildford, at
Peterborough, and at York. The letters stiffened with the arrival of the
Harrogate dog--ten days after the proper date for the arrival of the dog
from Tenterden. "Not my dog," wrote Miss Crewdson positively, and added
an intimation that future correspondence should be addressed to her
solicitors. Messrs. Wills and Mayne took up the pen; in their hands and
in those of the Company's solicitors the letters assumed a courteous but
irrevocably hostile tone. Meanwhile the unfortunate Harrogate dog was
boarded out at a veterinary surgeon's--his charges to abide the result
of the action; that doubt as to his identity would survive even the
result of the action was not then foreseen.

Arthur broke off for lunch with a tremendous sense of interest, of zest,
and of luck--above all, of luck. He had not been called two years yet;
he had no influential backing; such a little while ago work had seemed
so remote, in hours of depression, indeed, so utterly out of the
question. Then the tiny glimmer of Mr. Tiddes, now the glowing rays of
_Crewdson v. The Great Southern Railway Company_! It was not the moment,
even if he had been the man, for a measured sobriety of anticipation; it
was one of those rare and rich hours of youth when everything seems
possible and no man's lot is to be envied.

And he owed it to Wills and Mayne--unaccountably and mysteriously still!
The picture of old Mr. Mayne, with his winking eye, rose before his
mind. A strange incarnation of Fortune! A very whimsical shape for a
man's Chance to present itself in! He gave up the mystery of how Mr.
Mayne had ever heard of him originally, but he hugged to his heart the
thought that he must have conducted the Tiddes case with unexampled
brilliancy. Only thus could he account for Mr. Mayne's persistent
loyalty.

So, after lunch, back to the dog--the Harrogate dog, that Tichborne
Claimant of a Pekinese dog!

Four o'clock struck. With a sudden return of fear, with a desperate
resolve to seem calm and not over-eager, Arthur prepared to face Mr.
Mayne. He wished to look as if cases like _Crewdson v. The Great
Southern Railway Company_ were an everyday occurrence.

Punctually at four-fifteen, a knock at the outer door--and footsteps!
Henry threw open the door of his room. "Mr. Thomas Mayne to see you,
sir." Henry's manner was very important.

"Oh, show him in, please," said Arthur. It struck him, with a sudden
pang, that the bareness of his table was glaringly horrible. Not even,
as it chanced, any of Norton Ward's briefs which, turned face-downwards,
might have dressed it to some degree of decency!

"This way, sir, please," said Henry, with his head over his shoulder.

Timidly, rather apologetically, with a shy yet triumphant smile on his
melancholy face, Mr. Claud Beverley entered.

Instantaneously, at the mere sight of him, before Henry had finished
shutting the door, the truth flashed into Arthur's mind, amazing yet
supremely obvious; and his mind, thus illuminated, perceived the meaning
of things hitherto strange and unaccountable--of Wills and Mayne's
interest and loyalty, of old Mr. Mayne's presence at the first night, of
Mr. Claud Beverley's promise to do him a good turn, no less than of that
budding author's bitter references to "the office," which so hampered
and confined the flight of his genius. He had been so fierce, too, when
Ayesha Layard threatened to betray his identity! Arthur fell back into
the chair from which he had just risen to receive his visitor, and burst
into a fit of laughter--at Mr. Beverley, at himself, at the way of the
world and the twists of fortune. "By Jove, it's you!" he spluttered out,
in mirthful enjoyment of the revelation.

Tom Mayne--such was he henceforth to be to Arthur, however the world
might best know him--advanced to the table and--timidly still--sat down
by it. "I swore to get it for you--and I have! Tracy Darton's taking
silk gave me the chance. I had an awful job, though; the governor
thought you hadn't enough experience, and he was rather upset about your
being away--you remember that time? But I stuck to him, and I brought
him round. I managed it!"

In mirth and wonder Arthur forgot to pay his thanks. "But why the deuce
didn't you tell me, old man? Why have you been playing this little game
on me all this while?"

"Oh, well, I--I didn't know whether I could bring it off." His timidity
was giving way to gratification, as he saw what a success his coup had
with Arthur. "Besides I thought it was rather--well, rather interesting
and dramatic."

"Oh, it is--most uncommonly--both interesting and dramatic," chuckled
Arthur. "If you knew how I've wondered who in the devil's name Wills and
Mayne were!"

"Yes, that's just what I thought you'd be doing. That was the fun of
it!"

"And it turns out to be you! And I wondered why your governor was at the
first night!"

"I thought you might see him. I was rather afraid that might give it
away. But he insisted on coming."

"Give it away! Lord, no! It no more entered my head than----!" A simile
failed him. "Did nobody know who you were? Not Joe? Not the Sarradets?"

"None of them--except Ayesha Layard. She knew who I was, because we once
did a case for her."

Arthur was gazing at him now in an amusement which had grown calmer but
was still intense.

"Well, I was an ass!" he said softly. Then he remembered what he ought
to have done at first. "I say, I'm most tremendously obliged to you, old
fellow."

"Well, you came to the rescue. We were absolutely stuck up for the rest
of the money--couldn't go on without it, and didn't know where to get
it. Then you planked it down--and I tell you I felt it! You gave me my
chance, and I made up my mind to give you one if I could. It's only your
being at the Bar that made it possible--and my being in the office, of
course."

"But it wasn't much of a chance I gave you, unfortunately."

"You mean because it was a failure? Oh, that makes no difference. I was
on the wrong tack. I say, Lisle, my new play's fixed. We're rehearsing
now. The Twentieth Society's going to do it on Sunday week, and, if it's
a go, they're going to give me a week at Manchester. If that's all
right, I ought to get a London run, oughtn't I?" His voice was very
eager and excited. "If I do, and if it's a success"--(How the "Ifs"
accumulated!)--"I shall chuck the office!"

It was his old climax, his old hope, aspiration, vision. Arthur heard it
again, had heard him working up to it through that procession of "Ifs,"
with a mixture of pity and amusement. Would the new play do the trick,
would "real life" serve him better than the humours of farce? Would that
"success" ever come, or would all Tom Mayne's life be a series of vain
efforts to chuck an office ultimately unchuckable, a long and futile
striving to end his double personality, and to be nobody but Claud
Beverley? Full of sympathy, Arthur wondered.

"It's bound to be a success, old chap. Here, have a cigarette, and tell
me something about it."

Eagerly responding to the invitation, the author plunged into an
animated sketch of his plot, a vivid picture of the subtleties of his
heroine's character and the dour influence of her environment: the drama
was realistic, be it remembered. Arthur listened, nodding here and
there, now murmuring "Good!" now "By Jove!" now opening his eyes wide,
now smiling. "Oh, jolly good!" he exclaimed over the situation at the
end of the First Act.

Meanwhile _Crewdson v. The Great Southern Railway Company_ lay on the
table between them, unheeded and forgotten. It too, had it been animate,
might have mused on the twists of Fortune. This afternoon at least it
might have expected to hold the pride of place undisputed in Arthur
Lisle's chambers!

But not until the scenario of the drama had been sketched out to the
very end, not until Arthur's murmurs of applause died away, did Claud
Beverley turn again into Tom Mayne. And the transformation was woefully
incomplete; for it was with a sad falling-off in interest, indeed in a
tone of deep disgust, that he said, "Well, I suppose we must get back to
that beastly case!"

Arthur laughed again. What a way to talk of his precious brief, pregnant
with all those wonderful possibilities! What an epithet for the barque
that carried Cæsar and his fortunes! But his laugh had sympathy and
understanding in it. Across the narrow table sat another Cæsar--and
there was a barque that carried his fortunes, and was to set sail within
a short space on a stormy and dangerous voyage, over a sea beset with
shoals.

"Well, anyhow, here's jolly good luck to _Jephthah's Daughter_!" he
said. Such was the title of Mr. Claud Beverley's play of real life.

But when they did at last get back to the neglected case, and Tom Mayne
elbowed out Claud Beverley, a very good head Tom showed himself to have,
however melancholy again its facial aspect. They wrestled with their
points of evidence for an hour, Arthur sending to borrow Norton Ward's
'Taylor,' and at the end Tom Mayne remarked grimly, "That's a double
conference, I think!"

"Some of it really belongs to _Jephthah's Daughter_," said Arthur with a
laugh.

"We may as well get something out of her, anyhow!"--and Tom Mayne
absolutely laughed.

Making an appointment to meet and dine, accepting an invitation to come
and see _Jephthah's Daughter_, full of thanks, friendliness, and
sympathetic hopes for the friend who had done him such a good turn,
inspired with the thought of the work and the fight which lay before
him--in fact, in a state of gleeful excitement and goodwill towards the
world at large, Arthur accompanied his friend to the door and took leave
of him--indeed of both of him; gratitude to Tom Mayne, hopes for Claud
Beverley, were inextricably blended.

And it so fell out--what, indeed, was not capable of happening
to-day?--that, as his friend walked down the stairs with a last wave of
his arm, Mr. Norton Ward, K.C., walked up them, on his return from a
consultation with Sir Robert Sharpe.

"Who's that?" he asked carelessly, as he went into chambers, followed by
Arthur, and they reached the place--half room, half hall--which Henry
and the boy (the Junior Clerk was his own title for himself) inhabited.

"Only one of my clients," said Arthur, with assumed grandeur, but unable
to resist grinning broadly.

"One won't be able to get up one's own stairs for the crowd, if you go
on like this," observed Norton Ward. "Oh, look here, Henry! I met Mr.
Worthing--of the Great Southern office, you know--over at Sir Robert's.
There's a case coming in from them to-night, and they want a
consultation at half-past five to-morrow. Just book it, will you?"

He turned to go into his own room.

But Arthur had lingered--and listened. "A case from the Great Southern?
Do you know what it's about?"

Norton Ward smiled--rather apologetically. He liked it to be considered
that he was in only really "heavy" cases now. "Well, it's something
about a dog, I believe, Arthur." He added, "An uncommonly valuable dog,
I'm told, though."

A valuable dog indeed--for one person in that room, anyhow!

"A dog!" cried Arthur. "Why, that's my case! I'm in it!"

Norton Ward grinned; Arthur grinned; but most broadly of all grinned
Henry. Clerk's fees from both sides for Henry, to say nothing of the
dramatic interest of civil war, of domestic struggle!

"Do you mean you're for the plaintiff? How in thunder did you get hold
of it?"

"That's my little secret," Arthur retorted triumphantly. It was not
necessary to tell all the world the train of events which led up to his
brief in _Crewdson v. The Great Southern Railway Company_.

"Well, I congratulate you, old chap," said Norton Ward heartily. Then he
grinned again. "Come and dine to-morrow, and we'll try to settle it."

"Settle it be----! Not much!" said Arthur. "But I'll dine all right."

Norton Ward went off into his room, laughing.

That was an awful idea--settling! Even though advanced in jest, it had
given him a little shock. But he felt pretty safe. He had read Miss
Crewdson's letters; she was most emphatically not a settling woman! Her
dog, her whole dog, and nothing but her dog, was what Miss Crewdson
wanted.

Arthur sat down before his fire and lit his pipe. He abandoned himself
to a gratified contemplation of the turn in his fortunes. A great moment
when a young man sees his chosen profession actually opening before him,
when dreams and hopes crystallize into reality, when he plucks the first
fruit from branches which a little while ago seemed so far out of reach!
This moment it was now Arthur's to enjoy. And there was more. For he was
not only exulting; he was smiling in a sly triumph. What young man does
not smile in his sleeve when the Wisdom of the Elders is confounded? And
what good-natured Elder will not smile with him--and even clap his
hands?

"It's my own fault if that thousand pounds I put in the farce doesn't
turn out the best investment of my life!" thought Arthur.



CHAPTER XXXIII

A NEW VISION


It was not given to Arthur again to hear his mother's voice or to see
her alive. A few days after the first round of the protracted battle
over the great case had ended in his favour, just before the close of
the legal term, news reached him of her death. She had been suffering
from a chill and had taken to her bed, but no immediate danger was
anticipated. She had read with keen pleasure Arthur's letters, full now
of a new zest for his work and a new confidence. She breathed her gentle
_Nunc Dimittis_; her daughter's future was happily arranged, her son's
now opened before him. In simple and ardent faith her eyes turned to
another world. As though in answer to an appeal instinctively issuing
from her own soul, the end came very quickly. The tired heart could bear
no added strain. After making her comfortable for the night, Anna had
gone downstairs to eat her own supper; when she came up again, all was
over. There was no sign of movement, no look of shock or pain; her eyes
were closed. It seemed that sleeping she had fallen asleep, and her
peaceful spirit found in an instant the eternal peace of its faithful
aspiration.

Here was no place for the bitterness of grief. Death brought a quickened
sense of unity and love, and the lost mother joined her children's hands
in a renewal of childhood's affection and of sweet old memories. "Peace
I leave with you," Anna whispered to Arthur as they stood beside the
grave, and he felt that she divined truly the legacy which their mother
would have chosen, before all others, to bequeath to them.

It was arranged that Anna should go and stay with Ronald Slingsby's
people until the time came for her wedding; it was to take place in
about three months. The old familiar home was to be broken up. They
spent two or three busy days together, sorting out furniture, settling
what was to be sold and what either of them would like to keep;
regretfully deciding that this or that relic of old days was "rubbish"
and must be destroyed, redolent though it was with memories. Many a
sigh, many a laugh, the old things drew from them; forgotten pass-words
of childish intimacy came back to mind; ancient squabbles were recalled
with fond amusement. They lived the old days over again together. The
consciousness that the old days were finally over, that their paths in
life lay henceforth far apart, gave added tenderness to recollection,
making this good-bye to the old house and the old things a good-bye to
the old days also--even in some sense a good-bye to one another.

So it had to be, and so in truth it was best. They were not made to live
together. Differences now submerged beneath the waves of a common love
and a common emotion would rise to the surface again, a menace to their
love and peace. Both knew it--was there not the memory of Arthur's
former visit to remind them?--and acquiesced in the separation which
their lots in life imposed. Yet with sadness. When the actual moment
came for leaving the old house and one another, Anna threw herself into
her brother's arms, sobbing. "We mustn't quite forget one another,
Arthur!"

"Please God, never, my dear," he answered gravely. "We've shared too
much together for that."

"You'll come to the wedding?" Her voice fell to a whisper. "You'll be
friends with Ronald?"

"Yes, yes, indeed I will. Why not?"

"He's not narrow or uncharitable really. It's only that his standards
are so high," she pleaded.

"I know--and I hope mine'll get a little higher. Anyhow we shall be
jolly good friends, you'll see. Come, this isn't really good-bye, Anna!"

She kissed him tenderly, whispering, "I shall pray for you always,
Arthur," and so turned from him to Ronald, who was to escort her on her
journey to his mother's house at Worcester. Arthur left Malvern later in
the same day, to spend his Christmas at Hilsey.

He went from his old home to a new one; the manner of his welcome
assured him of that plainly. They were all--even Godfrey--at the station
to meet him. Their greetings, a little subdued in deference to his
sorrow, seemed full of gladness, even of pride, that they should be
there to soothe and soften it, that he should have Hilsey to turn to,
now that the links with his old life were broken. When they got him to
the house, they shewed him, with exulting satisfaction, a new feature, a
surprise which Judith had conceived and Godfrey gladly agreed in
carrying out--a room, next to his old bedroom, fitted up as a "den" for
his exclusive use, artfully supplied with all male appurtenances and
comforts, a place where he could be his own master, a visible sign that
he was no more a guest but a member of the household.

"Well, this is something like!" said Arthur, squeezing Margaret's little
hand in his and looking at Judith's eyes, which shone with pleasure over
the pretty surprise she had contrived for him.

"You needn't be bothered with any of us more than you want now," she
told him.

"We're never to come in unless you invite us," Margaret gravely assured
him.

"A man's lost without his own room," Godfrey remarked; and without doubt
he spoke his true feelings.

"I take possession--and I'm not sure I shall let any of you in!" Arthur
declared gaily.

"Oh, me, sometimes?" implored Margaret.

"Well, you, sometimes--and perhaps one guinea-pig occasionally!" he
promised.

Only a few days before--while Arthur was still at Malvern--Godfrey's
case had been heard and had, of course, gone through unopposed. He had
performed his part in it with that reserve of quiet dignity which was
his in face of things inevitable. Save for a formality--in this instance
it was no more--he and Bernadette were quit of one another. The new
state of things was definitely established, the family reconstituted on
a fresh basis. Little Margaret was now its centre, her happiness and
welfare its first preoccupation, the mainspring of its life. No longer
harassed by the sense of failure, or afraid of a criticism none the less
galling for being conveyed in merry glances, Godfrey dared to respond
openly to his little girl's appeal for love. When the child, tutored by
Judith's skilful encouragement, made bold to storm the defences of his
study and beg his company, she met with a welcome shy still but cordial,
with a quiet affection which suited her own youthful gravity. They would
wander off together, or busy themselves over Margaret's animals, neither
of them saying much--and what little they did say impersonal and
matter-of-fact--yet obviously content in their comradeship, liking to be
left to it, creating gradually, as the days went by, a little tranquil
world of their own, free from incursions and alarms, safe from
unexpected calls on them, from having to follow other people's changing
moods and adapt themselves to other people's fitful emotions. The little
maid grave beyond her years--the timid man shrinking back from the
exactions of life--they seemed curiously near of an age together,
strangely alike in mind. Day by day they grew more sufficient for one
another--not less fond of Judith and of Arthur, but more independent
even of their help and company.

"Does she often ask about her mother--about whether she's coming back,
and so on?" Arthur enquired of Judith.

"Very seldom, and she's quite content if you say 'Not yet.' But I think
it'll be best to tell her the truth soon; then she'll settle down to
it--to tell her that her mother isn't coming back, and isn't married to
her father any more. You know how easily children accept what they're
told; they don't know what's really involved, you see. By the time she's
old enough to understand, she'll quite have accepted the position."

"But Bernadette will want to see her, won't she?"

"I don't know. I really hope not--at present at all events. You see
what's happening now--Bernadette's just going out of her life. Seeing
her might stop that. And yet, if we look at it honestly, isn't it the
best thing that can happen?"

"In fact you want Bernadette completely--obliterated?" He frowned a
little. To make that their object seemed rather ruthless. "A bit strong,
isn't it?" he asked.

"Can she complain? Isn't it really the logic of the situation? With
Bernadette what she is too--and the child what she is!"

"You're always terribly good at facing facts, Judith." He smiled. "A
little weak in the idealising faculty!"

"In this family you've supplied that deficiency--amply."

"You musn't sneer at generous emotions. It's a bad habit you've got."

She smiled, yet seemed to consider what he said. "I believe it is a bad
habit that I used to have. The old state of affairs here rather
encouraged it. So many emotions all at cross-purposes! Rather a
ridiculous waste of them! It made them seem ridiculous themselves. But I
think I've got out of the habit."

"You've still a strong bias towards the mere matter-of-fact. You like
humdrum states of mind--I believe you positively prefer them."

"And you like to pass from thrill to thrill!" She laughed. "Is that very
unfair? Because I don't mean it to be. And I am changed a little, I
think. What has happened here has made a difference. Say you think me a
little--just a little--softer?"

"Say you think me a little--just a little--harder?" he retorted, mocking
her.

"No, but seriously?" she persisted, fixing her eyes on him almost
anxiously.

"Well then, yes. I think you're perceptibly more human," he
acknowledged, laughing still.

A more serious description of the change that Arthur found in Judith
might not have gone so near the mark. Though her judgment preserved the
sanity which he admired--without emulation--and her manner the cool
satiric touch which he generally relished and sometimes resented, stress
of circumstances had broken down her detachment and forced her out of
her pose of critical but scarcely concerned spectator. She had become,
willy-nilly, involved in the family fortunes; she could no longer merely
look on, and smile, or deride; she had been forced to think, to act, and
to feel--to take a part, to shoulder her share of the load. The latent
faculties of her nature, ripe to spring into full womanhood, had
answered to the call with instinctive readiness. So soon as there was
work for her courage, her love and sympathy, she had them to give, and
the more she gave the greater grew her store. Sustaining Godfrey,
mothering Margaret, she had experienced something of the stirring and
development of feeling which comes with marriage and motherhood. Through
disaster and consolation, in ruin and the need to re-build, she had been
forced to seek the rich things of her heart and had found abundance.

Thus she seemed 'perceptibly more human,' the change of heart revealing
itself not only in her dealings with others but as surely, though more
subtly, in herself. She opened out in a new spontaneity of feeling; she
was easier to approach in confidence, more ready to appreciate and to
share the joys of the spirit. Even in her bearing and looks there might
be discerned a new alacrity, a new brightness of the eyes. Her mirth was
heartier and more kindly; her mockery had lost its bitterness without
losing its flavour.

Some such new, or revised, impression of her had formed itself in
Arthur's mind and found voice now in his bantering speech. His gaze
rested on her in pleasure as he added, "But you needn't carry it too
far. Nobody wants you to become a gusher."

"Heaven forbid!" she murmured. "I really think I'm safe from that. I've
too much native malice about me--and it will out!"

"Perpetual founts of warm emotion--geysers! Terrible people!"

"Oh, even you're hardly as bad as that!"

"They debase the emotional currency," said Arthur, with a sudden and
violent change of metaphor.

On Christmas Day hard weather set in, with a keen frost. A few days of
it promised skating on the low-lying meadows, now under flood. Full of
hope and joyful anticipation, Arthur telegraphed for his skates.

"Can you skate? Have you got any skates? If you can't, I'll teach you,"
he said excitedly to Judith.

"I have skates, and I can skate--thank you all the same," she replied,
smiling demurely. "But you and I can teach Margaret between us. I don't
suppose Godfrey will care about doing it."

The frost held, their hopes were realised. Godfrey's attitude was what
had been expected; with pathetic objurgations on the weather he shut
himself up in his study. The other three sallied forth, though Margaret
seemed alarmed and reluctant.

"I haven't skated for years," said Arthur, "but I used rather to fancy
myself."

"Well, you start, while I give Margaret a lesson."

Arthur was an average skater--perhaps a little above the average of
those who have been content to depend on the scanty natural
opportunities offered by the English climate. He was master of the
outside edge, and could manage a "three," an "eight" and, in a rather
wobbly fashion, a few other simple figures. These he proceeded to
execute, rather "fancying himself" as he had confessed, while Judith
held Margaret in a firm grip and tried to direct her helplessly
slithering feet.

"I don't think I like skating," said Margaret, with her usual mild
firmness. "I can't stand up, and it makes my ankles ache."

"Oh, but you're only just beginning, dear."

"I don't think I like it, Cousin Judith."

Judith's brows went up in humorous despair. "Just like Godfrey!" she
reflected helplessly. "Oh well, have a rest now, while I put my skates
on and show you how nice it will be, when you've learnt how to do it."

"I don't think I shall ever like it, Cousin Judith. I think I shall go
back and see what papa's doing."

Judith yielded. "Do as you like, Margaret," she said. "Perhaps you'll
try again to-morrow?"

"Well, perhaps," Margaret conceded very doubtfully.

"The ice is splendid. Hurry up!" Arthur called.

But Judith did not hurry. After putting on her skates, she sat on a
hurdle for some minutes, watching Arthur's evolutions with a thoughtful
smile. He came to a stand opposite to her, after performing the most
difficult figure in his repertory, his eyes and cheeks glowing and his
breath coming fast. "How's that for high?" he asked proudly.

"Not bad for a beginner," she replied composedly. "Would you like really
to learn to skate? Because, if you would, I'll give you a lesson."

"Well, I'm hanged! Come on, and let's see what you can do yourself!"

She got up and peeled off her jacket; before she put it down on the
hurdle, she produced an orange from the pocket of it. Motioning Arthur
to follow her, she glided gently to the middle of the ice and dropped
the orange on to it. Having done this and given him a grave glance, she
proceeded to execute what was to him at least an inconceivably and
dazzlingly complicated figure. When it was at last achieved, it landed
her by his side, and she asked "How's that for high?"

"You humbug! How dare you say nothing about it? Letting me make a fool
of myself like that! How did you learn?"

"Oh, in Switzerland. I often went there in the winter--before Hilsey
claimed me. Come and try."

Arthur tried, but felt intolerably clumsy. His little skill was vanity,
his craft mere fumbling! Yet gradually something seemed to impart itself
from her to him--a dim inkling of the real art of it, not the power to
do as she did, but some idea of why she had the power and of what he
must do to gain it. She herself seemed to be far beyond skill or art.
She seemed part of the ice--an emanation from it, a spirit-form it gave
out.

"Why, you must be a champion, Judith!"

"I just missed it, last year I was out," she answered. "I think you show
quite a knack."

"I've had enough. Give me an exibition!"

"Really?" He nodded, and she smiled in pleasure. "I love it better than
anything in the world," she said, as she turned and darted away across
the ice.

He sat down on the hurdle, and smoked his pipe while he watched her. He
could see her glowing cheeks, her eyes gleaming with pleasure, her
confident enraptured smile--above all, the graceful daring turns and
twists of her slim figure, so full of life, of suppleness, of the beauty
of perfect balance and of motion faultlessly controlled--all sign of
effort hidden by consummate mastery. She was grace triumphant, and the
triumph irradiated her whole being--her whole self--with a rare fine
exhilaration; it infected the onlooker and set his blood tingling
through his veins in sympathetic exultation.

At last she came to a stop opposite to him--cheeks red, eyes shining,
chest heaving, still full of that wonderful motion waiting to be loosed
again at the bidding of her will.

"I never saw anything like it!" he cried. "You're beautiful, beautiful,
Judith!"

"You mean--it's beautiful," she laughed, her cheeks flushing to a more
vivid red.

"I meant what I said," he persisted almost indignantly. "Beautiful!"

She did not try to conceal her pleasure and pride. "I'm glad, Arthur."

"Look here, you've got to teach me how to do it--some of it, anyhow."

"I will, if the frost will only last. Let's pray to heaven!"

"And you've got to come to Switzerland with me next winter."

"I'll think about that!"

"In fact every winter--if you'll kindly think about that too!" He got up
with a merry ringing laugh. "God bless the frost! Let's have another
shot at waltzing? You've inspired me--I believe I shall do it better!"

He did it--a little better--and she ardently encouraged him; the slender
supple strength of her figure resting against his arm seemed a help more
than physical, almost, as he said, an inspiration. Yet presently he
stopped, and would have her skate by herself again.

"No, that's enough for this morning," she protested. Yet, when he
begged, she could not but do as he asked once more; his praises fell so
sweet on her ears. At the end she glided to him and held out her hands,
putting them in his. "No more, no more! I--I feel too excited!"

"So do I, somehow," he said, laughing, as he clasped her hands, and
their eyes met in exultant joyfulness. "You've given me a new vision of
you, Judith!"



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE LINES OF LIFE


The glorious frost lasted a glorious week, generous measure for an
English frost, and long enough for Arthur to make considerable
improvement in the art of skating; since Margaret maintained her
attitude of not caring about it, he had the benefit of the professor's
undivided attention. Long enough too it lasted for the new vision to
stamp itself deep on his mind. For companion picture he recalled from
memory another, which at the outset had made no such vivid
impression--Judith crying over the failure of the farce. His mind had
passed it by lightly when it was first presented to him; it had not
availed to turn his amused thoughts from Miss Ayesha Layard and her
medicine. It came back now, at first by what seemed only a chance or
freak of memory, but presently establishing for itself a relation with
its sister-vision of triumphant grace. Between them they gave to Judith
in his eyes something that he had not discerned before--something which
had always been there, though not in such full measure in the earlier
days of their acquaintance, before disaster and grief, and love and
sympathy, had wrought upon her spirit. He saw her now--he was idealising
again, no doubt, to some degree, after that generous fashion of his
which no cold steel of experience could quite eradicate--as capable of
the depths and heights of emotion; no longer as tethered too tight by
reason and good sense, somewhat too critical, a trifle too humdrum in
her notions--that was the conception of her which he had in the days of
Bernadette's reign. The solid merits of that type he left to her still;
and in this he was indeed on the firm ground of experience; he had tried
and tested them. But now he decked them with bright ornaments and
blended their sober useful tints with richer colouring--with tenderness
of heart, a high brave joy in life, the grace of form and charm of face
in which the eye delights.

Subtly and delightfully sure of his changed vision of her, she dared now
to be wholly herself with him, to maintain no shy reserves where
prudence held pleasure in bondage, and affection took refuge from the
fear of indifference. She borrowed of him too, though this
unconsciously, in an instinct to adapt herself to him. As she had lent
to him from her stores of fortitude and clear-sightedness, she levied
toll for herself on his wealth of persistent and elastic cheerfulness,
his gust for life and all that life brings with it.

Yet her old self was not eclipsed nor wholly transformed. Her caution
remained, and her healthy distrust of sudden impulses. The satiric smile
was still on her lips, to check transports and cool the glow of
fascination. She had been so wont to think him Bernadette's man--whether
in joy or in delusion, or in the cruel shock of sudden enlightenment--so
wont to think Bernadette invincible, that even Bernadette's memory
seemed a thing that could hardly be displaced. She craved a probation, a
searching test both of her own feelings and of Arthur's. She feared
while she enjoyed, and of set purpose nursed her doubts. There was not
always skating--not always bright sun, keen air, and the rapture of
motion, incentives to hot blood. If he deluded himself, she would have
compassion ready and friendship for him unimpaired; but if she, with
open eyes, walked into a trap, her judgment of herself would be bitter,
and friendship would scarcely stand against the shame.

Arthur went back to town ten days before the Christmas vacation ended,
to look after his work and, incidentally, to attend Marie Sarradet's
wedding. He left Hilsey cheerfully, with no real sense of a parting or
of separation. He was still keen and excited about his work, about the
life that seemed now to lie before him in the law, and Hilsey--with all
it meant to him--figured no longer as a distraction from that life, or
even an enemy to it, but rather as its background and complement, so
much a part of it as to seem with him while he worked. And so it was
with Judith herself--the new Judith of the new vision. She was no enemy
to work either. However bedecked and glorified, she was still Judith of
the cool head and humorous eyes, the foe of extravagance and vain
conceits.

"Back to my dog!" he said gaily. "Holding on to his tail, I'll climb the
heights of fortune! And I hope one or two more will find their way to
chambers--some little puppies, at all events."

"Ambition is awake! I seem to see a dawning likeness to Mr. Norton
Ward."

"I seem to see, as in a golden dream, enough to pay his rent, confound
him!"

"I discern, as it were from afar off, a silk gown gracefully hanging
about your person!"

"I discern money in my pocket to pay a railway fare to Switzerland!"

"There rises before my eyes a portly man in a high seat! He administers
Justice!"

"Before mine, a lady, gracious and ample, who----" But that final vision
was promptly dispelled by a cushion which Judith hurled at him with
unerring aim.

Marie Sarradet and Sidney Barslow were married at Marylebone Church, and
after the ceremony there was a gathering of old friends at the house in
Regent's Park--the family (including Mrs. Veltheim), Amabel Osling,
Mildred Quain, Joe Halliday, and Mr. Claud Beverley, the last-named (and
so named still in the Sarradet circle) blushing under congratulations;
for the drama of real life had met with a critical success, though the
London run had not as yet followed. Indeed, as befitted the occasion, a
sense of congratulation pervaded the air. It seemed as though more than
a wedding were celebrated. They toasted in their champagne the restored
stability of the family and the business also. The bridegroom, Managing
Director of Sarradet's Limited, showed signs of growing stout; there was
a very solid settled look about him; order, respectability, and a
comfortable balance at the bank were the suggestions his appearance
carried. Far, far in the past the rowdy gaieties of Oxford Street! Old
Sarradet basked in the sun of recovered safety and tranquillity. Even
Raymond, still nominally "on appro," used, all unrebuked, such airs of
possession towards Amabel that none could doubt his speedy acceptance.
Marie herself was in a serene content which not even the presence of her
aunt could cloud. She greeted Arthur with affectionate friendship.

"It is good of you to come. It wouldn't have seemed right without you,"
she told him, when they got a few words apart.

"I had to come. You don't know how glad I am of your happiness, Marie."

She looked at him frankly, smiling in a confidential meaning. "Yes, I
think I do. We've been very great friends, haven't we? And we will be.
Yes, I am happy. It's all worked in so well, and Sidney is so good to
me." She blushed a little as she added, with frank simplicity, "I love
him, Arthur."

He knew why she told him; it was that no shadow of self-reproach should
remain with him. He pressed her hand gently. "God bless you, and send
you every happiness!"

She lowered her voice. "And you? Because I've a right to wish you
happiness too."

"Fretting about me! And on your wedding day!" he rebuked her gaily.

"Yes, just a little," she acknowledged, laughing.

"Well, you needn't. No, honestly you needn't." He laughed too. "I'm
shamefully jolly!"

"Then it's all perfect," she said with a sigh of contentment.

Arthur had missed seeing _Jephthah's Daughter_ owing to his mother's
death, but since not having seen or read the work is not always a
disadvantage when congratulations have to be offered to the author, he
expressed his heartily to Mr. Beverley. "Next time it's put up, I shall
be there," he added.

"I don't know that it ever will be--and I don't much care if it isn't.
It's not bad in its way--you've seen some of the notices, I
daresay?--but I'm not sure that it's my real line. I'm having a shot at
something rather different. If it succeeds----"

Arthur knew what was coming. "You shan't chuck the office before we've
found the dog, anyhow!" he interrupted, laughing. But none the less he
admired the sanguine genius. "Only there won't be enough 'lines' to last
him out at this rate," he reflected.

At the end--when bride and bridegroom had driven off--Arthur suddenly
found his hand seized and violently shaken by old Mr. Sarradet, who was
in a state of excited rapture. "The happiest day of my life!" he was
saying. "What I've always hoped for! Always, Mr. Lisle, from the
beginning!"

He seemed to have no recollection of a certain interview in Bloomsbury
Street--an interview abruptly cut short by the arrival of a lady in a
barouche. He was growing old, his memory played him tricks. He had found
a strong arm to lean on and, rejoicing in it, forgot that it had not
always been the thing which he desired.

"Yes, you know a good thing when you see it, Mr. Sarradet," Arthur
smilingly told the proud old man. But he did it with an amused
consciousness that Mrs. Veltheim, who stood by, eyeing him rather
sourly, had a very clear remembrance of past events.

"We'll give 'em a dinner when they come back. You must come, Mr. Lisle.
Everybody here must come," old Sarradet went on, and shuffled round the
room, asking everyone to come to the dinner. "And now, one more glass of
champagne! Oh yes, you must! Yes, you too, Amabel--and you, Mildred!
Come, girls, a little drop! Here's a health to the Happy Pair and to
Sarradet's Limited!"

"The Happy Pair and Sarradet's Limited!" repeated everybody before they
drank.

"_And_ Sarradet's Limited!" reiterated the old man, taking a second
gulp.

"I don't know when he'll stop," whispered Joe Halliday.

"If we don't want to get screwed, we'd better make a bolt of it,
Arthur."

So they did, and went for a stroll in the Park to cool their heads.

"Well, that's good-bye to them!" said Joe, when he had lit his cigar.
"And it's good-bye to me for a bit too. I'm sailing the day after
to-morrow. Going to Canada."

"Are you? Rather sudden, isn't it? Going to be gone long?"

"I don't know. Just as things turn out. I may be back in a couple of
months; I may not turn up again till I'm a Colonial Premier or something
of that sort. The fact is, I've got into no end of a good thing out
there. A cert.--well, practically a cert. I wish I'd been able to put
you in for a thou. or two, old fellow."

"No, thanks! No, thanks!" exclaimed Arthur, laughing.

"But it wasn't to be done. All I could do to get in myself! Especially
as I'm pretty rocky. However they wanted my experience----"

"Of Canada? Have you ever been there?"

"I suppose Canada's much like other places," said Joe, evading the
direct question. "It's my experience of business they wanted, of course,
you old fool. I'm in for a good thing this time, and no mistake! If I
hadn't had too much fizz already, I'd ask you to come and drink my
health."

"Good luck anyhow, old fellow! I'm sorry you're going away, though. I
shan't enjoy seeing Trixie Kayper half as much without you."

Joe suddenly put his arm in Arthur's. "You're a bit of a fool in some
ways, in my humble judgment," he said. "But you're a good chap, Arthur.
You stick to your pals, you don't squeal when you drop your money, and
you don't put on side. As this rotten old world goes, you're not a bad
chap."

"This sounds like a parting testimonial, Joe!"

"Well, what if it does? God knows when we shall eat a steak and drink a
pot of beer together again! A good loser makes a good winner, and you'll
be a winner yet. And damned glad I shall be to see it! Now I must
toddle--get in the Tube and go to the City. Good-bye, Arthur."

"Good-bye, Joe. I say, I'm glad we did _Did You Say Mrs.?_ Perhaps
you'll run up against Ayesha Layard over there. Give her my love."

"Oh, hang the girl! I don't want to see her! So long then, old chap!"
With a final grip he turned and walked away quickly.

Arthur saw him go with a keen pang of regret. They had tempted fortune
together, and each had liked what he found in the other. Joe's equal
mind--which smiled back when the world smiled, and, when it frowned,
thought a cheerful word of abuse notice enough to take of its
tantrums--made him a good comrade, a good stand-by; his humour, crude
though it was and pre-eminently of the market-place, put an easier face
on trying situations. He had a faithful, if critical, affection for his
friends, and Arthur was not so rich in friends as to lose the society of
one like this without sorrow. As it chanced, his intimates of school and
university days had drifted into other places and other occupations
which prevented them from being frequent companions, and he had as yet
not replaced them from the ranks of his profession, from among the men
he met in the courts and in the Temple; up to now courts and Temple had
been too much places to get away from, too little the scene of his spare
hours and his real interests, to breed intimacies, though, of course,
they had produced acquaintances. As he walked down to the Temple now,
after parting from Joe Halliday--and for how long Heaven alone could
tell!--he felt lonely and told himself that he must get to know better
the men among whom his life was cast. He found himself thinking of his
life in the Temple as something definitely settled at last, not as a
provisional sort of arrangement which might go on or, on the other hand,
might be ended any day and on any impulse. The coils of his destiny had
begun to wind about him.

It was vacation still, and chambers were deserted; Henry and the boy
departed at four o'clock in vacation. He let himself in with his key,
lit his fire, induced a blaze in it, and sat down for a smoke before it.
Marie Sarradet came back into his mind now--Marie Barslow; the new name
set him smiling, recalling, wondering. How if the new name had not been
Barslow but another? Would that have meant being the prop of the family
and the business, being engulfed in Sarradet's Limited? That was what it
meant for Sidney Barslow--among other things, of course. But who could
tell what things might mean? Suppose the great farce had succeeded, had
really been a gold mine--of the sort with gold in it--really a second
_Help Me out Quickly!_ Where would he be now--he and his thousands of
pounds--if that had happened? Would he have been producing more farces,
and giving more engagements to infectious Ayesha Layard and
indefatigable Willie Spring?

_Dis aliter visum_--Fate decreed otherwise. Detached from the fortunes
of Sarradet's Limited, rudely--indeed very rudely--repulsed from the
threshold of theatrical venture, he had come back to his Legitimate
Mistress. He knew her ways--her rebuffs, her neglect, her intolerable
procrastination; but he had enjoyed just a taste of her favour and
attractions too--of the interest and excitement, of the many-sided view
of life, that she could give. Because of these, and also because of her
high dignity and great traditions--things in which Sarradet's Limited
and theatrical ventures seemed to him not so rich--he made up his mind
to follow the beckoning of fate's finger and to stick to her, even
though she half-starved him, and tried him to the extreme limit of his
patience--after her ancient wont.

But his renewed allegiance was to be on terms; so at least he tried to
pledge the future. He did not want his whole life and thought swallowed
up. Here his own temperament had much to say, but his talks with Sir
Christopher a good deal also. He would not be a sleuth-hound on the
track of success (a Norton Ward, as he defined it to himself privily),
nose to the ground, awake to that scent only, with no eyes for the world
about him--or again, as it might be put, he would not have his life just
a ladder, a climb up the steep side of a cliff, in hope of an eminence
dizzy and uncertain enough even if he got there, and with a handsome
probability of tumbling into the tomb half-way up. Could terms be made
with the exacting Mistress about this? Really he did not know. So often
she either refused all favours or stifled a man under the sheer weight
of them. That was her way. Still, Sir Christopher had dodged it.

Suddenly he fell to laughing over the ridiculousness of these
meditations. Afraid of too much work, when but for that dog he was
briefless still! Could there be greater absurdity or grosser vanity? Yet
the idea stuck--thanks perhaps to Sir Christopher--and under its
apparent inanity possessed a solid basis. There was not only a career
which he wished to run; there was a sort of man that he wanted to be, a
man with broad interests and far-reaching sympathies, in full touch with
the varieties of life, and not starved of its pleasures. Thus hazily,
with smiles to mock his dreams, in that quiet hour he outlined the
future of his choice, the manner of man that he would be.

The ringing of the telephone bell recalled him sharply to the present.
With a last smiling "Rot!" muttered under his breath at himself, with a
quick flash of hope that it was Wills and Mayne again, he went to answer
the call. A strange voice with a foreign accent enquired his number,
then asked if Mr. Arthur Lisle were in, and, on being told that it was
that gentleman who was speaking, begged him to hold the line. The next
moment another voice, not strange at all though it seemed long since he
had heard it, asked, "Is that you, Cousin Arthur?"

"Yes, it's me," he answered, with a sudden twinge of excitement.

"I'm at the Lancaster--over here on business with the lawyers, just for
a day or two. Oliver's in Paris. I want to see you about something, but
I hardly hoped to find you in town. I thought you'd be at Hilsey. How
lucky! Can you come and see me some time?"

"Yes, any time. I can come now, if you like. I'm doing nothing here."

A slight pause--Then--"Are you alone there, or is Frank Norton Ward
there too?"

"There's absolutely nobody here but me."

"Then I think I'll come and see you. It's only a step. Will you look out
for me?"

"Yes, I'll be looking out for you."

"In about a quarter of an hour then. Good-bye."

Arthur hung up the receiver and returned to his room--the telephone was
in Henry's nondescript apartment. A smile quivered about his lips; he
did not sit down again, but paced to and fro in a restless way. Strange
to hear her voice, strange that she should turn up to-day! Of all the
things he had been thinking about, he had not been thinking of her. She
recalled herself now with all the effectiveness of the unexpected. She
came suddenly out of the past and plunged him back into it with her
"Cousin Arthur." He felt bewildered, yet definitely glad of one thing--a
small one to all seeming, but to him comforting. He was relieved that
she was coming to chambers, that he would not have to go to the
Lancaster, and ask for her with proper indifference; ask for her by an
unfamiliar name--at least he supposed she used that name! He felt
certain that he would have blushed ridiculously if he had had to ask for
her by that name. He nodded his head in relief; he was well out of that
anyhow! And--she would be here directly!



CHAPTER XXXV

HILSEY AND ITS FUGITIVE


She met him just as of old; she gave him the same gay, gracious, almost
caressing welcome when she found him at the foot of the stairs, awaiting
her arrival and ready to escort her to his room. She put her arm through
his and let him lead her there; then seated herself by the fire and,
peeling off her gloves, looked up at him as he stood leaning his arm on
the mantelpiece. She smiled as she used; she was the same Bernadette in
her simple cordiality, the same too in her quiet sumptuousness. Only in
her eyes, as they rested on his face, he thought he saw a new
expression, a look of question, a half-humorous apprehension, which
seemed to say, "How are you going to treat me, Cousin Arthur?" Not
penitence, nor apology, but just an admission that he might have his own
views about her and might treat her accordingly. "Tell me your views
then--let's know how we stand towards one another!"

Perhaps it was because some such doubt found a place in her mind that
she turned promptly, and in a rather business-like way, to the practical
object of her visit.

"I came over to see my lawyers about the money question. They wanted to
see me, and convince me I ought to take something from Godfrey. I don't
know that I should refuse if I needed it, but I don't. You know what
lawyers are! They told me Oliver would desert me, or practically said he
would! Well, I said I was going to chance that--as a fact he's settling
quite a lot on me--and at last they gave in, though they were really
sulky about it. Then they told me that I ought to settle something about
Margaret. Godfrey's been very kind there too; he's offered to let me see
her practically whenever I like--with just one condition, a natural one,
I suppose." She paused for a moment and now leant forward, looking into
the fire. "I shouldn't have quarrelled with that condition. I couldn't.
Of course he wouldn't want her to see Oliver." She frowned a little. "I
told the lawyers that the matter wasn't pressing, as I was going abroad,
for a year probably, perhaps longer; it could wait till I got back."

"You're going away?" asked Arthur, without much seeming interest.

"Yes--to Brazil. Oliver's got some interests there to look after." She
smiled. "I daresay you think it happens rather conveniently? So it does,
perhaps--but I think he'd have had to go anyhow; and of course I mean to
go with him. But about Margaret. The real truth is, I didn't want to
talk about her to the lawyers; I couldn't tell them what I really felt.
I want to tell you, Arthur, if I can, and I want you somehow to let
Godfrey know about it--and Judith too. That's what I want you to do for
me. Will you?"

"I'll do my best. He won't like talking about it. He may be very
unapproachable."

"I know he may!" She smiled again. "But you'll try, won't you?" She
looked up at him gravely now, and rather as though she were asking his
judgment. "I'm not going to see her, Arthur."

"You mean--not at all? Never?" he asked slowly.

"It was always rather difficult for Margaret and me to get on together,
even before all that's happened. We didn't make real friends. How could
we now--with sort of official visits like those? Under conditions!
Still, that's not the main thing; that's not what I want you to say to
Godfrey. I don't mean to see her till she's old enough--fully old
enough--to understand what it all means. Then, when she's heard about
it--not from me, I don't want to make a case with her or to try to
justify myself--when Godfrey, or Judith, or even you, have told her, I
want it to be left to her what to do. If she likes to leave it alone,
very good. If she likes to see me, and see if we can make friends, I
shall be ready. There'll be no concealment then, no false pretences,
nothing to puzzle her. Only just what sort of a view she takes of me
herself, when she's old enough." She paused and then asked, "Have they
told her anything yet?"

"Only that you can't come back yet. But I think they mean to tell her
presently that you won't, that--well, that it's all over, you know.
Judith thinks she'll accept that as quite--well, that she won't see
anything very extraordinary about it--won't know what it means, you
see."

"Do you think she misses me much?"

"No, I don't think so. She and her father are becoming very great
friends. I think she's happy."

"You've been there a lot?"

"Yes, a good deal."

"I saw your mother's death in the paper. I'm sorry, Arthur."

"They make me quite at home at Hilsey. They've given me a den of my
own."

"And Godfrey?"

"He's very cheerful, with his walks and his books--and, as I say, with
Margaret."

"You're looking very thoughtful, Arthur. What are you thinking of? Do
you think me wrong about Margaret? I shall hear of her, you know. I
shall know how she's getting on; Judith will tell me--and Esther. You
can too."

"It's all so strange!" he broke out. "The way you've just--vanished! And
yet the house goes on!"

She nodded. "And goes on pretty well?" she hazarded, with raised brows
and a little smile. He made a restless impatient gesture, but did not
refuse assent. "Well, if there's anything to be said for me, there it
is! Because it means that I was a failure."

"You weren't the only failure, Bernadette."

"No, I wasn't. It was all a failure--all round--except you; you got on
with all of us. Well, when things are like that, and then somebody comes
and--and shows you something quite different, and makes--yes, makes--you
look at it--well, when once you do, you can't look at anything else. It
swallows up everything."

She fell into silence. Arthur moved from the mantelpiece, and sat down
in a chair by her side, whence he watched her delicate profile as she
gazed into the fire thoughtfully. He waited for her to go on--to take up
the story from the day when the long failure came to its violent end,
from the morning of her flight.

"I don't see how I could have done anything different; I don't see it
now any more than I saw it then. You won't forgive Oliver, I suppose--my
old Sir Oliver! In fact, if I know you, Cousin Arthur, you've been
trying to paint him blacker in the hope of making me whiter! But he
gives me a wonderful life. I never really knew what a man could do for a
woman's life before. Well, I'd had no chance of understanding that, had
I? It's not being in love that I mean so much. After all, I've been in
love before--yes, and with Godfrey, as I told you once. And Oliver's not
an angel, of course--about as far from it as a man could be----"

"I should think so," Arthur remarked drily.

She smiled at him. "But there's a sort of largeness about him, about the
way he feels as well as the things he goes in for. And then his courage!
Oh, but I daresay you don't want to hear me talk about him. I really
came only to talk about Margaret."

"You must know I'm glad to hear you're happy."

She caught a tone of constraint in his voice; the words sounded almost
formal. "Yes, I suppose you are--and ready to let it go at that?" she
asked quickly, with a little resentment.

"What else can I do--or say?" he answered, slowly and with a puzzled
frown. "I've got nothing more to do with it. I really belong to--to what
you've left behind you. I made a queer mess of my part of it, but still
I did belong there. I don't belong to this new life of yours, do I?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "No, I suppose you don't. You belong to
Hilsey? Is that it? And I'm trying to get you on my side--unfairly?" She
challenged him now with something like anger.

"Oh, it's not a question of sides! I tried not to take sides. The thing
went too deep for that. And why must I, why should I? But there's what's
happened--the state of things, you see."

"And the state of things makes you belong to Hilsey, and prevents your
having anything to do with me?"

"That's putting it too strongly----" he began.

"Oh, but you mean it comes to that?" she insisted.

"I don't see how, in practice, it can work out very differently from
that."

His voice was low and gentle; he avoided her eyes as he spoke, though he
knew they were upon him, watching him closely. He had come to this
curious searching talk--or rather it had come upon him--totally
unprepared. She had not been much in his thoughts lately; when he had
thought of her, it had been in relation to the past, or to the household
at Hilsey. Her present and future life had been remote, out of his ken,
perhaps relegated to neglect by an instinctive repugnance, by a latent
but surviving jealousy. Now he was faced with it, without time to
consider, to get a clear view--much less to find diplomatic or dexterous
phrases. If he were to say anything in reply to the questions with which
Bernadette pressed him--and he could hardly be dumb--there was nothing
for it but to give her bluntly what he thought, his raw reading of the
position as it stood, the best he could make of it on the spur of the
moment, without looking far forward, or anticipating future
modifications and weighing the possible effect of them, and without
going into any of the ethics of the case, without moral judgments or a
casuistry nicely balancing the rights and wrongs of it; all that seemed
futile, arrogant, not for him anyhow. The real present question was how
the state of affairs which had come into being affected him in regard to
Bernadette, what it left open to them. It was on that point that her
questions pressed him so closely and sharply.

What did she expect? A resumption of her empire over him? That the idol
should be re-erected in the shrine, pieced together again and put in
place to receive its worship? Then she could not understand all that had
gone to the making and the adoration of it. The flight had brought
mighty changes in and for her--had she not herself said so? In and for
him was it to make none? She could hardly expect or claim that. Yet her
questions, her resentment, a forlorn pettishness which had crept into
her voice and manner, suggested that she was feeling hardly used, that
she was disappointed and in some measure affronted by his attitude. She
seemed to pit herself against Hilsey--against the household and the home
she had elected to leave, for reasons good or bad, under impulses
whether irresistible or merely wayward--to pit herself against it with
something like scorn, even with jealousy. Had she not herself been all
in all to him at Hilsey? Had it not been to him a setting for her charm
and fascination, dear to him for her sake? The others there--what had
they been to him? Oh, friends, yes, friends and kinsfolk, of course! But
essentially, in his real thoughts, her attendants, her satellites--and
largely the grievances against which his adoration had protested.

She remembered their last interview, the night before she went
away--Arthur's despair, his sudden flare of hot passion, even the words
in which he told her that she had been everything, nearly everything, in
his life. Discount them as she might, calling them a boy's madness and
self-delusion, how they had moved her even at that crisis of her life!
They had smitten her with tender grief, and remained her last impression
of her generous young devotee. She did not want to hear them again, nor
to find that folly still in his heart. But they had been a witness to
her power over him. Was it lost? What had destroyed it? Her flight with
Oliver? That would be natural and intelligible, and was true in part, no
doubt; nor did she complain of it. But it did not seem to be what was
deepest in his mind, not the real stumbling-block. If it were a question
of personal jealousy and a lover's disenchantment only, how came Hilsey
into the matter? And it seemed that it was over Hilsey that they had
come to an issue.

She sat a long while, brooding over his last answer, with her eyes still
set on his averted face.

"You mean it'll work out that you're part of the family, and I'm not?
Are you going to cut me, Arthur?"

"Oh, no, no!" he cried, turning to her now. "It's monstrous of you to
say that! God knows I've no grudge against you! I've owed you too much
happiness and--and felt too much for you. And if we must talk of sides,
wasn't I always on your side?"

"Yes, but now you're not."

"I'm not against you--indeed I'm not! But if you're away somewhere
with--well, I mean, away from us, and we're all together at home----"

"Us! We! Home!" she repeated after him, with a smile of rather sad
mockery. "Yes, I suppose I begin to see, Arthur."

"They've made it home to me--especially since my mother's death."

Her resentment passed away. She seemed tranquil now, but sad and
regretful. "Yes, I suppose that's the way it'll work," she said. "I
shall get farther and farther off, and they'll get nearer and nearer!"
She laid her hand on his for a moment, with one of her old light
affectionate caresses. "I was silly enough to think that I could keep
you, Arthur, somehow, in spite of all that's happened. And I wanted to.
Because I'm very fond of you. But I suppose I can't. I'm a spoilt
child--to think I could have you as well as all the rest I've got!" She
smiled. "Awfully thorough life is, isn't it? Always making you go the
whole hog when you think you can go half-way, just comfortably half-way!
I don't like it, Cousin Arthur."

"I don't like it either, altogether; but that is the kind of way it gets
you," he agreed thoughtfully.

"Still we can be good friends," she said, and then broke away from the
conventional words with a quick impatience. "Oh, being good friends is
such a different thing from being really friends, though!" She took up
her gloves and began to put them on slowly. "I had a letter from Judith
just before I came over," she remarked. "She writes every three or four
weeks, you know. She said you were down there, and that she and you were
having a good time skating."

"Yes, awfully jolly. She's a champion, you know!"

Bernadette was busy with her gloves. She did not see the sudden
lighting-up of his eyes, as her words recalled to him the vision of
Judith skating, the vivid grace of motion and the triumph of activity,
there on the ice down at Hilsey.

"Oh, well, she's been to Switzerland in the winter a lot," said
Bernadette carelessly. "I suppose she'd have gone this year, if it
hadn't been for--" She raised her eyes again to his, and stopped with a
glove half-way on. "Well, if it hadn't been for me, really!" She smiled,
and jerked her head impatiently. "How I seem to come in everywhere,
don't I? Well, I can't help it! She's got no one else belonging to her,
and she used to be a lot with us anyhow."

"Oh, you needn't worry about her; she's quite happy," said Arthur
confidently.

"I don't know that I was worrying, though I daresay I ought to have
been. But she likes being there. I expect she'll settle down there for
good and all." As she went back to her glove-buttoning she added, by way
of an after-thought, "Unless she marries."

Knowing the thing that was taking shape in his own heart, and reading
his own thoughts into the mind of another, as people are prone to do,
Arthur expected here a certain suggestion, was wondering how to meet it,
and was in a way afraid of it. He felt a sense of surprise when
Bernadette passed directly away from the subject, leaving her
after-thought to assume the form of a merely perfunctory recognition of
the fact that Judith was a girl of marriageable age and therefore might
marry--perhaps with the implication that she was not particularly likely
to, however. He was relieved, but somehow a little indignant.

"You've told me hardly anything about yourself," said Bernadette. But
here again the tone sounded perfunctory, as though the topic she
suggested were rather one about which she ought to inquire than one in
which she felt a genuine interest.

"Oh, there's not much to tell. I've sown my wild oats, and now I've
settled down to work."

She seemed content with the answer, whose meagreness responded
sensitively to her own want of a true concern. She was not really
interested, he felt, in any life that he might be living apart from her.
She was very fond of him, as she said and he believed; but it was
fondness, a liking for his company, an enjoyment of him, a desire to
have him about her, had such a thing been still possible; it was not
such a love or deep affection as would make his doings or his fortunes
in themselves of great importance to her. Where his life was not in
actual contact with her own, it did not touch her feelings deeply. Well,
she had always been rather like that, taking what she wanted of his life
and time, leaving the rest, and paying with her smiles. Well paid too,
he had thought himself, and had made no complaint.

He did not complain now either. He had never advanced any claim to more
than her free grace bestowed; and what she gave had been to him great.
But he felt a contrast. At home--his thoughts readily used that word
now--his fortunes were matter for eager inquiry, excited canvass and
speculation. His meagre answer would not have sufficed there. Judith and
little Margaret had to hear about everything; even old Godfrey fussed
about in easy earshot and listened furtively. It was not that Bernadette
had changed; there was no reason to blame her, or call her selfish or
self-centred. It was the others who had changed towards him, and he
towards them, and he in himself. For Bernadette he was still what he had
been before the flight--what Judith had once called a toy, though a very
cherished one. To himself he seemed to have found, since then, not only
a home but a life.

She did not know that; she had not seen it happening. Nobody had told
her; probably she would not understand if anyone did--not even if he
himself tried to; and the task would be difficult and ungracious. And of
what use? It would seem like blame, though he intended none, and against
blame she was very sensitive. It might make her unhappy--for she was
very fond of him--and what purpose was served by marring ever so little
a happiness which, whatever else it might or might not be, was at least
hard-won?

She rose. "It must be getting late," she said, "and I'm going to the
theatre. And back to Paris to-morrow! I shan't be in London again for a
long long while. Well, you'll remember what to tell Godfrey--how I feel
about Margaret? And--and anything kind about himself--if you think he'd
like it."

"I don't really think I'd better risk that."

She smiled. "No, I suppose not. I'm never mentioned--is that it?"

"Oh, Judith and I talk about you."

"I daresay Judith is very--caustic?"

"Not particularly. Not nearly so caustic as when you were with us!"

"Us! Us! I begin to feel as if I'd run away from you too, Arthur! Though
I wasn't your wife, or your mother--or even your chaperon, was I? Well,
at the end I did run away a little sooner because of you--you'd found me
out!--but I don't think I meant to run away from you for ever. But you
belong to Hilsey now--so it seems as if it was for ever. I ran away for
ever from Hilsey, all Hilsey--and now you're part of it!"

She was standing opposite to him, with a smile that seemed half to tease
him, half to deride herself. She did not seek to hide her sorrow and
vexation at losing him; she hardly pretended not to be jealous--he could
think her jealous if he liked! Her old sincerity abode with her; she had
no tricks.

She looked very charming in his eyes; her sorrow at losing her--he did
not know what to call it, but whatever it was that she used to get from
his society and his adoration--touched him profoundly. He took one of
her gloved hands and raised it to his lips. She looked up at him; her
eyes were dim.

"It's turned out rather harder in some ways than I thought it
would--making quite a fresh start, I mean. I do miss the old things and
the old friends dreadfully. But it's worth it. It was the only thing for
me. There was nothing else left to do. I had to do it."

"You're the only judge," he said gently. "Thank God it's turned out
right for you!"

She smiled under her dim eyes. "Did you think I should repent? Like
those frogs--you remember?--in the fable. King Stork instead of King
Log?" She laughed. "It's not like that." She paused a moment. "And
Oliver and I aren't to be alone together, I think, Cousin Arthur."

He sought for words, but she put her slim fingers lightly on his lips.
"Hush! I don't want to cry. Take me to a taxi--Quickly!"

She spoke no more to him--nor he to her, save to whisper, with a last
clasp of her hand before she drove away, "God bless you!"



CHAPTER XXXVI

IN THE SPRING


Yes, it was all true! The events of that Red Letter Day had really
happened. When Arthur awoke the next morning, he had a queer feeling of
its all being a dream, a mirage born of ambition. No. The morning paper
proved it; a glance at his own table added confirmation.

Revolving Time had brought round the Easter vacation again. The last
case heard in the Court of Appeal that sittings was _Crewdson v. The
Great Southern Railway Company_, on appeal from Knaresby, J.'s, judgment
on the findings of the jury. (The subsequent history of the great Dog
Case lay still in the future.) It was a time of political excitement;
Sir Humphrey Fynes, K.C., M.P., had chanced the case being reached, and
gone off to rouse the country to a proper sense of its imminent peril if
the Government continued so much as a day longer in office. Consequently
he was not there to argue Miss Crewdson's case. Mr. Tracy Darton, K.C.,
was there, but he was also in the fashionable divorce case of the
moment, and had to address the jury on the respondent's behalf. He cut
his argument before the Court of Appeal suspiciously short, and left to
his learned friend Mr. Lisle the task of citing authorities bearing on
tricky points relating to the subject of Common Carriers. Arthur was in
a tremor when he rose--nearly as much frightened as he had been before
Lance and Pretyman, JJ., a year ago--but his whole heart was with his
dog; he grew excited, he stuck to his guns; they should have those
authorities if he died for it! He was very tenacious--and in the end
rather long perhaps. But the Court listened attentively, smiling now and
then at his youthful ardour, but letting him make his points. When they
came to give judgment against his contention, they went out of the way
to compliment him. The Master of the Rolls said the Court was indebted
to Mr. Lisle for his able argument. Leonard, L.J., confessed that he had
been for a moment shaken by Mr. Lisle's ingenious argument. Pratt, L.J.,
quite agreed with what had fallen from My Lord and his learned Brother
concerning Mr. Lisle's conduct of his case. Even Miss Crewdson herself,
whose face had been black as thunder at Sir Humphrey's desertion and Mr.
Darton's unseemly brevity, and whose shoulders had shrugged scornfully
when Arthur rose, found a smile for him in the hour of temporary defeat;
that she would lose in the end never entered the indomitable woman's
head. Then--out in the corridor, when all was over--Tom Mayne patted him
on the back, and almost danced round him for joy and pride--it was
impossible to recognise in him the melancholy Mr. Beverley--Norton Ward,
hurrying off to another case, called out, "Confound your cheek!" and, to
crown all, the august solicitor of the Great Southern Railway Company,
his redoubtable opponents, gave him a friendly nod, saying, "I was
afraid you were going to turn 'em at the last moment, Mr. Lisle!" That
his appreciation was genuine Arthur's table proved. There, newly
deposited by triumphant Henry, lay a case to advise the Great Southern
Railway Company itself.

"Once you get in with them, sir----!" Henry had said, rubbing his hands
together and leaving the rest to the imagination.

Such things come seldom to any man, but once or twice in their careers
to many. They came to Arthur as the crown of a term's hard work, mostly
over Norton Ward's briefs--for Norton Ward had come to rely on him now
and kept him busy 'devilling'--but with some little things of his own
too; for Wills and Mayne were faithful, and another firm had sent a case
also. His neck was well in the collar; his fee book had become more than
a merely ornamental appurtenance. Long and hard, dry and dusty, was the
road ahead. Never mind! His feet were on it, and if he walked warily he
need fear no fatal slip. Letting the case to advise wait--his opinion
would not be needed before the latter part of the vacation, Henry
said--he sat in his chair, smoking and indulging in pardonably rosy
reflections.

"Rather different from what it was this time last year!" said Honest
Pride with a chuckle.

A good many things had been rather different with him a year ago, he
might have been cynically reminded; for instance the last Easter
vacation he had dedicated to Miss Marie Sarradet, and he was not
dedicating this coming one to Mrs. Sidney Barslow; and other things,
unknown a year ago, had figured on the moving picture of his life, and
said their say to him, and gone their way. But to-day he was looking
forward and not back, seeing beginnings, not endings, not burying the
past with tears or smiles, but hailing the future with a cheery cry of
welcome for its hazards and its joys.

Henry put his head in at the door. "Sir Christopher Lance has rung up,
sir, and wants to know if you'll lunch with him to-day at one-thirty--at
his house."

"Yes, certainly. Say, with pleasure." Left alone again, Arthur
ejaculated "Splendid!" Sir Christopher had seen the report in the paper!
He read the law reports, of course. A thought crossed Arthur's
mind--would they read the law reports at Hilsey? They might not have
kept their eye on his case. He folded up the paper and put it carefully
in the little bag which he was now in the habit of carrying to and fro
between his lodgings and his chambers.

Sir Christopher was jubilant over the report. "A feather in your cap to
get that out of Leonard--a crusty old dog, but a deuced fine lawyer!" he
said. But the news of the case from the Great Southern Railway Company
meant yet more to him. "If they take you up, they can see you through,
Arthur."

"If I don't make a fool of myself," Arthur put in.

"Oh, they'll expect you to do that once or twice. Don't be frightened.
The dog of yours is a lucky dog, eh? All you've got to do now is to take
things quietly, and not fret. Remember that only one side can win, and
it's not to be expected that you'll be on the right side always. I think
you'll be done over the dog even, in the end, you know."

"Not I!" cried Arthur indignantly. "That Harrogate cur's not our dog,
sir."

"Human justice is fallible," laughed the old man. "Anyhow it's a good
sporting case. And what are you going to do with yourself now?"

"I'm off to Hilsey for a fortnight's holiday. Going at four o'clock."

"Losing no time," Sir Christopher remarked with a smile.

"Well, it's jolly in the country in the spring, isn't it?" Arthur asked,
rather defensively.

"Yes, it's jolly in the spring--jolly anywhere in the spring, Arthur."

Arthur caught the kindly banter in his tone; he flushed a little and
smiled in answer. "It was very jolly there in the winter too, if you
come to that, sir. Ripping skating!"

"Does all the family skate?"

"No, not all the family." He laughed. "Just enough of it, Sir
Christopher."

The old man sat back in his chair and sipped his hock. "Some men can get
on without a woman about them but, so far as I've observed you, I don't
think you're that sort. If you must have a woman about you, there's a
good deal to be said for its being your own wife, and not, as so often
happens, somebody else's. May we include that among our recent
discoveries?"

"But your own wife costs such a lot of money."

"So do the others--very often. Don't wait too long for money, or for too
much of it. Things are jolliest in the spring!"

"I suppose I'm rather young. I'm only twenty-five, you know."

"And a damned good age for making love too!" Sir Christopher pronounced
emphatically.

"Oh, of course, if that's your experience, sir!" laughed Arthur.

Sir Christopher grew graver. "Does the wound heal at Hilsey?"

"Yes, I think so--slowly."

"Surgery's the only thing sometimes; when you can't cure, you must cut.
At any rate we won't think hardly of our beautiful friend. I don't
believe, though, that you're thinking of her at all, you young rascal!
You're thinking of nothing but that train at four o'clock."

Arthur was silent a moment or two. "I daresay that some day, when it's a
bit farther off, I shall be able to look at it all better--to see just
what happened and what it came to. But I can't do that now. I--I haven't
time." They had finished lunch. He came and rested his hand on the old
man's shoulder. "At any rate, it's brought me your friendship. I can't
begin to tell you what that is to me, sir."

Sir Christopher looked up at him. "I can tell you what it is to me,
though. It's a son for my barren old age--and I'm quite ready to take a
daughter too, Arthur."

Arthur went off by the four o'clock train, with his copy of _The Times_
in his pocket. But out of that pocket it never emerged, save in the
privacy of his den, and there it was hidden carefully. Never in all his
life did he confess that he had "happened" to bring it down with him.
For, on the platform at Hilsey, the first thing he saw was Judith
waiting for him. As soon as he put his head out of the window, she ran
towards him, brandishing _The Times_ in her hand. No motive to produce
his copy, no need to confess that he had brought it!

His attitude towards Judith's copy was one of apparent indifference. It
could not be maintained in face of her excitement and curiosity. The
report seemed to have had on her much the same effect as skating. She
proposed to walk home, and let the car take his luggage, and, as soon as
they were clear of the station, she cried, "Now you've got to tell me
all--all--about it! What are the Rolls, and who's the Master of them?
What's Lord Justice Leonard like? And the other one--what's his
name?--Pratt? And what was it in your speech that they thought so
clever?"

"I thought perhaps you wouldn't see it," said Arthur, not mentioning
that he had taken his own measures to meet that contingency, had it
arisen.

"Not see it! Why, I hunt all through those wretched cases every morning
of my life, looking for that blessed dog of yours! So I shall, till it's
found, or buried, or something. Now begin at the beginning, and tell me
just how everything happened."

"I say, this isn't the shortest way home, you know."

"I know it isn't. Begin now directly, Arthur." She had hold of his arm
now, _The Times_ still in her other hand. "Godfrey's quite excited
too--for him. He'd have come, only he's got a bad cold; and Margaret
stayed to comfort him. Begin now!"

His attitude of indifference had no chance. All the story was dragged
from him by reiterated "And thens--?" He warmed to it himself, working
up through their lordships, through Miss Crewdson's smile ("She looks an
uncommonly nice old girl," he interjected), through Tom Mayne's raptures
and Norton Ward's jocose tribute, to the climax of the august solicitor
and the case to advise which attested his approval. "That may mean a lot
to me," Arthur ended.

"The people you'd been trying to beat!" Her voice sounded awed at the
wonder of it. "I should have thought they'd just hate you. I wish I was
a man, Arthur! Aren't you awfully proud of it all?"

Well, he was awfully proud, there was no denying it. "I wish the dear
old mater could have read it!"

She pressed his arm. "We can read it. I've helped Margaret to spell it
out. She's feeling rather afraid of you, now that you've got your name
in the paper. And Godfrey's been looking up all the famous Lisles in the
County History! You won't have to be doing Frank Norton Ward's work for
him now all the time--and for nothing too!"

In vain he tried to tell her how valuable the devilling was to him. No,
she thought it dull, and was inclined to lay stress on the way Norton
Ward found his account in it. Arthur gave up the effort, but, somewhat
alarmed by the expectations he seemed to be raising, ventured to add,
"Don't think I'm going to jump into five thousand a year, Judith!"

"Let me have my little crow out, and then I'll be sensible about it,"
she pleaded.

But he did not in his heart want her sensible; her eyes would not be so
bright, nor her cheeks glow with colour; her voice would not vibrate
with eager joyfulness, nor her laugh ring so merrily; infectious as Miss
Ayesha Layard's own, it was really! Small wonder that he caught the
infection of her sanguine pleasure too. Long roads seemed short that
evening, whether they led to fame and fortune, or only through the
meadows and across the river to Hilsey Manor.

"Now the others will want to hear all about it," said Judith, with
something like a touch of jealousy.

The story had to be told again--this time with humorous magniloquence
for Margaret's benefit, with much stress on their lordships' wigs and
gowns, a colourable imitation of their tones and manner, and a hint of
the awful things they might have done to Arthur if he had displeased
them--which Margaret, with notions of a trial based on _Alice in
Wonderland_, was quite prepared to believe. Godfrey shuffled about
within earshot, his carpet slippers (his cold gave good excuse for them)
padding up and down the room as he listened without seeming to listen,
and his shy, "Very--very--er--satisfactory to you, Arthur!" coming with
a pathetic inadequacy at the end of the recital.

Then--before dinner--a quiet half-hour in his own den upstairs, where
everything was ready for him and seemed to expect him, where fresh
fragrant flowers on table and chimney-piece revealed affectionate
anticipation of his coming, where the breeze blew in, laden with the
sweetness of spring, through the open windows. As he sat by them, he
could hear the distant cawing of the rooks and see the cattle grazing in
the meadows. The river glinted under the setting sun, the wood on the
hill stood solid and sombre with clear-cut outline. The Peace of God
seemed to rest on the old place and to wrap it round in a golden
tranquillity. His heart was in a mood sensitive to the suggestion. He
rested after his labours, after the joyful excitement of the last
twenty-four hours. So Hilsey too seemed to rest after its struggle, and
to raise in kind security the head that had bent before the storm.

He had left his door ajar and had not heard anyone enter. But
presently--it may be that he had fallen into a doze, or a state of
passive contemplation very like one--he found Judith standing by the
arm-chair in which he was reclining--oh, so lazily and pleasantly! She
looked as if she might have been there for some little while, some few
moments at all events, and she was gazing out on the fairness of the
evening with a smile on her lips.

"I've been putting Margaret to bed--she was allowed an extra hour in
your honour--and then I just looked in here to see if you wanted
anything."

"I shall make a point of wanting as many things as I possibly can. I
love being waited on, and I've never been able to get enough of it. I
shall keep you busy! Judith, to think that I was once going to desert
Hilsey! Well, I suppose we shall be turned out some day." He sighed
lightly and humorously over the distant prospect of ejection by
Margaret, grown-up, married perhaps, and the _châtelaine_.

"If you want to know your future, I happen to be able to tell you," said
Judith. "Margaret arranged it while she was getting into bed."

"Oh, let's hear this! It's important--most important!" he cried, sitting
up.

"If you don't want to go on living here, you're to have a house built
for you up on the hill there. On the other side of the wood, I insisted;
otherwise you'd spoil the view horribly! But Margaret didn't seem to
mind about that."

"Yes, I think I must be behind the wood--especially if I'm to have a
modern artistic cottage."

"There you're to live--when you're not in London, being praised by
judges--and you're to come down the hill to tea every day of the week."

"It doesn't seem a bad idea--only she might sometimes make it dinner!"

"She'll make it dinner when she's bigger, I daresay. At present, for
her, you see, dinner doesn't count."

"Why does she think I mightn't want to go on living here? Is she
contemplating developments in my life? Or in her own? And where are you
going to live while I'm living on the top of the hill, out of sight
behind the wood? Did Margaret settle your future too, Judith?"

"I don't think it occurs to her that I've got one--except just to go on
being here. We women--we ordinary women--get our futures settled for us.
I think Bernadette settled mine the day she ran away and left poor
Hilsey derelict."

He looked up at her with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Should you
put the settling of your fate quite as early as that, Judith?"

She saw what he meant and shook her head at him in reproof, but her eyes
were merry and happy.

"Have you thought over that idea of Switzerland in the winter?"

"It's the spring now. Why do you want to think of winter?"

"The thought of winter makes the spring even pleasanter." She smiled as
she rested her hand on his shoulder and looked down on his face. "Well,
perhaps--if I can possibly persuade Godfrey to come with us."

"If he won't? What are we to do if we can get nobody to go with us?"

She broke into a low gentle laugh. "Well, I don't want to get rusty in
my skating. And it's splendid over there." Her eyes met his for a moment
in gleeful confession. "Still--the best day's skating I ever had in my
life, Arthur, was the first day we skated here at Hilsey."



                      PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
                WILLIAM BRANDON AND SON, LTD., PLYMOUTH



                        METHUEN'S POPULAR NOVELS


                         Crown 8vo. =6s. each=
                              AUTUMN, 1915

    JOSEPH CONRAD                                            VICTORY
    H. G. WELLS                                               BEALBY
    ARNOLD BENNETT                                       A GREAT MAN
    ANTHONY HOPE                                  A YOUNG MAN'S YEAR
    C. N. and A. M. WILLIAMSON                        SECRET HISTORY
    GEORGE A. BIRMINGHAM                                    GOSSAMER
    MARJORIE BOWEN                           BECAUSE OF THESE THINGS
    D. H. LAWRENCE                                       THE RAINBOW
    RICHARD PRYCE                                   DAVID PENSTEPHEN
    W. PETT RIDGE                                 THE KENNEDY PEOPLE
    E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM                    Mr. GREX OF MONTE CARLO
    LADY TROUBRIDGE                                     THE EVIL DAY
    Mrs. HENRY DUDENEY                                THE SECRET SON
    ASHTON HILLIERS                                       DEMI-ROYAL
    P. G. WODEHOUSE                                    SOMETHING NEW
    H. C. BAILEY                                      THE HIGHWAYMAN
    SAX ROHMER                                       THE YELLOW CLAW
    MAURICE DRAKE                                   THE OCEAN SLEUTH
    CONSTANCE COTTERELL                         THE PERPETUAL CHOICE
    EVELYN APTED                                   CHARLES QUANTRILL
    MARJORIE L. PICKTHALL                              LITTLE HEARTS


                               ORDER FORM

    To..............................
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    Kindly send me the several books which I have marked on the above
    list.

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                                                                 [P.T.O.


=VICTORY. By Joseph Conrad,= Author of 'Chance.'

In this story Mr. Conrad returns to the manner of his famous early
romance, _The Outcast of the Island_. The principal character, a lawless
adventurer called 'Enchanted Heyst,' is one of the great figures in Mr.
Conrad's gallery; the scene is laid in and about the tropical island of
Samburan; and the theme is love and jealousy.


=BEALBY. By H. G. Wells.=

This new novel is a feast of fast and furious fun. Mr. Wells throws
problems of all sorts to the dogs, and revels in the diverting
adventures of a small boy who, in the course of one brief week, works
havoc in the lives of many people. Delightful people are they all, as
portrayed by Mr. Wells, from the self-important, philosophic Lord
Chancellor down to the socialistic (and very dirty) tramp.


=A GREAT MAN. By Arnold Bennett,= Author of 'Clayhanger.'

This is a new edition of a well-known novel by Mr. Arnold Bennett,
called by him a 'frolic.' It may be said to have paved the way for his
famous comic romance _The Card_ and its sequel _The Regent_. In _A Great
Man_ Mr. Bennett describes the life and achievements of Henry
Shakespeare Knight, who from humble beginnings becomes a world-famous
novelist and one of the wealthiest of playwrights, a goal attained only
after much amusing adventure by the way.


=A YOUNG MAN'S YEAR. By Anthony Hope.=

The story of an eventful year in the life of Arthur Lisle, of the Middle
Temple, Esquire: recounting his fortunes and ventures, professional,
speculative, and romantic, and showing how he sought without finding,
and found without seeking, and, at the end of the year, was twelve
months older and as much wiser as young men are for such experiences.


=SECRET HISTORY. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson,=

Authors of 'The Lightning Conductor.'

The title of this book refers to the 'secret history' of a recent
critical episode between the United States and Mexico. Taking the form
of the dramatic and sensational love stories of two Irish girls and two
officers, the romance has its scenes partly at an army post in Texas and
partly in diplomatic circles in London in 1914-15. The story is told in
the first person by Lady Peggy O'Malley.


=GOSSAMER. By George A. Birmingham,= Author of 'Spanish Gold.'

In this book the principal characters are a leader in the world of
international finance, an Irish country gentleman who has parted with
his estate, an Irish journalist who is also a member of Parliament
attached to the Nationalist party, a lady artist, and an inventor
occupied with mechanical devices. The story ends with the declaration of
war in August 1914, and culminates in the effect of that catastrophe on
the lives and fortunes of the various characters.


=BECAUSE OF THESE THINGS. By Marjorie Bowen.=

This story relates the inevitable tragic drama of the reckless union of
two diverse temperaments and races, brought together by a useless
passion. The scene changes from Bologna, the most dissipated city of
Italy, to the Calvinistic gloom of Scotland.


=THE RAINBOW. By D. H. Lawrence,= Author of 'Sons and Lovers.'

This story, by one of the most remarkable of the younger school of
novelists, contains a history of the Brangwen character through its
developing crisis of love, religion, and social passion, from the time
when Tom Brangwen, the well-to-do Derbyshire farmer, marries a Polish
lady, to the moment when Ursula, his granddaughter, the leading-shoot of
the restless, fearless family, stands waiting at the advance-post of our
time to blaze a path into the future.


=DAVID PENSTEPHEN. By Richard Pryce,= Author of 'Christopher.'

The author deals with the early years of a boy's life. The action of the
story, opening abroad, and then moving to London and to English country
houses, takes place in the seventies. The story is almost as much the
story of David's mother as of David himself, and shows, against a
background of the manners of the time, the consequences of a breaking
away from the established order. How, under the shadow, David's
childhood is yet almost wholly happy, and how on the threshold of
manhood he is left ready--his heart's desire in view--to face life in
earnest and to make a new name for himself in his own way, these pages
tell.


=THE KENNEDY PEOPLE. By W. Pett Ridge,= Author of 'The Happy Recruit.'

The author is, in this novel, still faithful to London, but he sets out
here to till something like fresh ground. A description is given of
three generations of a family, and particulars are conveyed of the kind
of chart that represented their advances and their retreats. The story
is told in Mr. Pett Ridge's lively and characteristic manner.


=Mr. GREX OF MONTE CARLO. By E. Phillips Oppenheim,= Author of 'Master
of Men.'

Mr. Oppenheim has never written a more absorbing story than this one, in
which an adventurous young American first falls in love, then into
trouble, and becomes a part of events that are making history.

In Monte Carlo three men skilled in international intrigue meet in
secret conference; two Ministers of foreign affairs and a Grand Duke
plan to make over the map of Europe, while a diplomat representing a
fourth great world-power, aided by skilled secret-service men, aims to
thwart their endeavours. Then--enter the American. How young Richard
Lane, wealthy and used to having his own way, fell in love with
mysterious Mr. Grex's daughter, how he was not discouraged even when he
found out what an important personage Mr. Grex really was, how he took a
hand in events and caused an upset, is told in a thrilling love story
that lays bare the methods of modern international diplomatists and
incidentally conveys a warning to America to arm herself against the
possibilities of war.


=THE EVIL DAY. By Lady Troubridge.=

In this book Lady Troubridge abandons for the first time the study of
the very young girl, to give us one of a woman of forty, who, until the
story opens, has led a quiet, retired and domestic existence.
Circumstances, however, bring the heroine face to face with modern life
and its developments in their most vivid form, and she does not pass
through the experience altogether unscathed.


=THE SECRET SON. By Mrs. Henry Dudeney.=

Mrs. Henry Dudeney's new novel is a delightful story of the Sussex
Downs. Its types and characters are rustic, and in it comedy and tragedy
are skilfully mingled by this most accomplished writer. The theme of the
book is the relation between mother and son, and the reader passes to
the close of a very human story with a most absorbing interest.


=DEMI-ROYAL. By Ashton Hilliers,= Author of 'The Adventures of a Lady of
Quality.'

That the famous Mrs. Fitzherbert, legal and loyal wife of the Regent,
_may_ have borne him a child is indisputable. That she did so is the
author's thesis in this diverting romance; and the fortunes of this
child, legitimate, but un-royal, trepanned, lost, mourned as dead,
repudiated, traced, acknowledged, are his theme. The mother-love of a
noble woman, the fears of a selfish voluptuary, the self-sacrifice of
honest York, form the warp across which runs the woof of a girl's life
lived innocently and spiritedly in Puritan surroundings, watched over by
the Order of Jesus, the unconscious centre of vehement antagonisms.


=SOMETHING NEW. By P. G. Wodehouse,= Author of 'The Little Nugget.'

The treatment of this story is farcical, but all the characters are
drawn carefully as if it were a comedy. Ashe Marson, a struggling writer
of adventure stories, sees an advertisement in a paper in which 'a young
man of good appearance who is poor and reckless, is needed for a
delicate and perilous enterprise.' Joan Valentine, the heroine, who has
been many things in her time, also answers an advertisement requiring 'a
woman to conduct a delicate and perilous enterprise.'


=THE HIGHWAYMAN. By H. C. Bailey,= Author of 'A Gentleman Adventurer.'

This is a story set in the last years of Queen Anne. Naturally, Jacobite
and Hanoverian plots and conspirators furnish much of the incident. They
are, however, only a background to the hero and heroine, whose love with
its adventures and misadventures is the main subject of the novel.
Though Marlborough and the Old Pretender, Queen Anne and other figures
of history play their part, it is the hero and heroine who hold the
centre of the stage.


=THE YELLOW CLAW. By Sax Rohmer,= Author of 'Dr. Fu-Manchu.'

This is an enthralling tale of Eastern mystery and crime in a European
setting. The action moves from an author's flat in Westminster to the
'Cave of the Golden Dragon,' Shadwell, and the weird Catacombs below the
level of the Thames, and circles round 'Mr. King,' the sinister and
unseen president of the Kan-Suh Opium Syndicate. We meet with the
beautiful Eurasian, Mahâra, 'Our Lady of the Poppies,' and are
introduced to M. Gaston Max, Europe's greatest criminologist, and to the
beetle-like Chinaman, Ho-Pin.


=THE OCEAN SLEUTH. By Maurice Drake.=

This is an exciting story, by one of the most promising of the younger
novelists, of perils by sea and criminal hunting by land. The tale
begins with some exciting salvage while off the Cornish coast, and
passes on to the allurements of detective work in England and Brittany.
In Austin Voogdt, the hero, Mr. Drake has created a commanding figure in
romance.


=THE PERPETUAL CHOICE. By Constance Cotterell,= Author of 'The Virgin
and the Scales.'

_The Perpetual Choice_ runs between poverty and wealth, passion and
prejudice, London and the country, and is the story of a high-spirited
girl. She has to discover the precariousness of housekeeping on
enthusiasm with her strange friends, and finds that poverty is partly
fun and partly a blight. Three men love her, all differently, and when
she falls in love her crisis has come.


=CHARLES QUANTRILL. By Evelyn Apted.=

A story of quiet charm and of intense human interest. The interest of
the book does not depend on sensational effects, but rather in the
endeavour to apply insight and imagination to the faithful description
of events and problems which might confront any one of its readers. The
scene shifts at times from England to South Africa, Norway, and the
Riviera. A perfectly natural sequence of events leads to the marriage of
a girl of strong character with a man of principles less high than her
own. The writer brings the story to a dramatic close about two years
after the marriage.


=LITTLE HEARTS. By Marjorie L. Pickthall.=

A story of the Forest and the Downs in the troubled times of the
eighteenth century, telling how Mr. Sampson, a gentleman engaged in the
production of a Philosophy of Poverty, rescues and shelters one Anthony
Oakshott, who is thrown from horseback over his wall, and whom he takes
for an heroic Jacobite, much wanted by the King's men. By so doing he
changes his own life and that of the girl he loves.


          =METHUEN & CO. LTD., 36 Essex Street, LONDON, W.C.=





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