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Title: Lady Lilith
Author: McKenna, Stephen, 1888-1967
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The Sensationalists: I

LADY LILITH

by

STEPHEN McKENNA


      *      *      *      *      *      *

BY STEPHEN McKENNA

THE SENSATIONALISTS
PART ONE: LADY LILITH
PARTS TWO AND THREE: _In preparation_

SONIA MARRIED

SONIA

MIDAS AND SON

NINETY-SIX HOURS' LEAVE

THE SIXTH SENSE

SHEILA INTERVENES


NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

      *      *      *      *      *      *


LADY LILITH

by

STEPHEN McKENNA

Author of "Sheila Intervenes," "Midas and Son," "Sonia," "Sonia
Married," "Ninety-Six Hours' Leave," etc.



[Illustration: Logo]

New York
George H. Doran Company

Copyright, 1920,
By George H. Doran Company

Printed in the United States of America



TO MY MOTHER
AND
THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                           PAGE
   I THE DEATH OF THE PHOENIX        9

  II THE COMING OF LILITH           34

 III THE SPIRIT OF PAN              58

  IV APHRODITE DEMI-MONDAINE        79

   V NOBODY'S FAULT                107

  VI THE SHADOW LINE               124

 VII A MATTER OF DUTY              141

VIII A MATTER OF PLEASURE          161

  IX THE JUDGEMENT OF SOLOMON      177

   X VINDICATION                   198

  XI THE LAUREL AND THE ROSE       217

 XII AN ERROR OF JUDGEMENT         230

XIII A NOTE OF INTERROGATION       257

 XIV THE ANSWER OF THE ORACLE      277

  XV PRELUDE TO ROMANCE            294



LADY LILITH


"I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal
youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I
deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation ... I
grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased
me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day
makes or unmakes character...."

OSCAR WILDE: _De Profundis_.



LADY LILITH



CHAPTER ONE

THE DEATH OF THE PHOENIX

     "Conceive of your life as an unfinished biography, and try to
     discover the next chapter and the end."

     J. A. SPENDER: "THE COMMENTS OF BAGSHOT."


"Within ten years five of us will be married and five will be dead,"
cried O'Rane, writing rapidly. "(Every one of us will have made such a
fool of himself that it's _wishing_ himself dead he'll be.) One will
have had to cut the country. One will have lost all his money. As you
seem to like jam with your powder, I've said that one--and not
more--will achieve fame--by the mercy of God; one--and not more--will
make great money."

The prophecy, delivered with apparent sincerity in the mellow atmosphere
of dinner to a score of men between the optimistic ages of twenty and
twenty-five, was, on the face of it, discouraging. He who achieved fame
and he who amassed a fortune were condemned, with the rest, to pass
through the contemplation of suicide or, at least, the prayerful
expectation of death. And the moment for the forecast was undoubtedly
ill-chosen. Seventeen of the twenty members of the Phoenix had spent the
last week wrestling with examiners in their final schools; O'Rane spoke
with the subconscious triumph of one who was not bidding farewell to
Oxford for another year; and, if a vote had been taken, nine-tenths of
his friends would have accorded him the scant portion of worldly
success with which Providence in his grudging prophecy would crown their
ambitions.

"Dry up, Raney," growled Jack Waring. "It's all very well for you----"

"It's a twenty-to-one chance I'm giving you," O'Rane pointed out. "You
might bring off the double event. And get a wife thrown in. It would be
no fun, if we all leaped to the top. 'When everybody's somebody, then no
one's anybody.'"

Waring jumped up and turned to the president.

"I have to report Mr. O'Rane for singing at dinner, sir. A good,
thumping fine, Sinks," he added.

Jack Summertown intercepted the ruling.

"On a point of order, sir; was that singing? If it was--oh, my Lord!"

Sinclair rose majestically from the presidential chair and turned his
eyes from one disputant to the other.

"The accused is acquitted, but he's not to do it again," he ruled
diplomatically. "I have to censure Lord Summertown for addressing the
Chair without rising."

Ten suspended conversations were resumed, as he sat down; and Waring
reverted to his own gloomy thoughts. Unaccustomed to look more than a
day ahead, he was only beginning to recognize that in twenty-four hours
he would have gone down from Oxford for the last time and that within
four months he would have to begin reading for the bar. He had
interrupted his dressing an hour before to stare out of the window,
sprawling on the sill and dangling a collar and tie with idle hand.

Outside, the setting sun of a late June day filled the Broad with sleepy
warmth and dyed the crumbling stone of the Sheldonian rose-red. In the
middle of the road two cabmen slumbered on their boxes, pillowing their
heads on their arms and leaving their horses to munch contentedly from
frayed nosebags and to twitch an ear or flick a tail at too persistent
flies. Rare groups of sight-seers approached the deserted gates of
Trinity and Balliol, sought inspiration from guide-books and vanished
diffidently from view. Oxford belonged to the ages; and for the first
twenty-fifth part of the twentieth century Waring had fancied that it
belonged to him. A hansom, overfilled by an American and her two
daughters, jingled lazily from Holywell; the driver exhibited a contempt
for Oxford no less profound than for America and waved his whip from
side to side in rough time with the scornful scraps of information which
he drawled through the trap.

"Ol' Clar'nd'n Buildin'. Bodleian be'ind it. Trin'ty. Balliol."

Three heads nodded and turned mechanically from right to left. The
driver paused for new instructions, and an anxious voice from inside
exclaimed:

"Gracious! it's a quarter of seven! Say, how many blocks are we from the
depot?"

The high nasal intonation seemed to shiver the warm repose of the
afternoon, and in another moment the Broad was echoing with life. A
stream of bicycles poured down Parks Road; blazers of every colour
flashed into sight and disappeared; men bareheaded and men in panamas,
men with tennis racquets and men with dogs, men in flannels and men in
tweeds, a few, even, still in white ties and coats of subfusc hue,
parading the bondage of the Examination Schools, all hurried back to
make ready for Hall. Oxford still belonged to them. At the gates of the
colleges, deserted a moment since, the heirs of all the undergraduate
ages assembled in careless disregard of their heritage; the last
bicycles were tumbled into place; the last rainbow blazers and
hat-ribbons vanished from sight; pipes were replaced in pockets, and
necks bared from the dingy embrace of tattered gowns.

With a glance at the watch on his dressing-table, Jack Waring twisted
himself to catch the reflection of his bottle-green dress-coat. It was
the envied livery of the Phoenix Club, which--consistently with its
name--died and came to life again once a year. At the end of every
summer term not more than one survivor remained; the following
Michaelmas the new president proposed and elected his own friends,
choosing one junior to carry on the life and traditions of the club at
the year's end. The institution had ensured for nearly two university
generations and was the one constructive effort of Lord Loring's life at
Oxford. With the grave self-absorption of nineteen he had demanded a
club to which none but his own friends had access and of which he could
nominate himself president and ordain the rules as he went on. He had
long wanted a pretext, he explained in his inaugural address, for
wearing a bottle-green dress-coat with brass buttons and white silk
facings; and his position as founder of the club would give him an
excuse for revisiting Oxford at the end of his lawful term.

A faint frown of regret and perplexity hovered over Jack Waring's plump
and cheerful face, as he resumed his dressing. He had no fault to find
with Oxford, where he had done more than most men and all that could be
expected of any man. A case full of silver cups testified to his success
in college and university Grinds; he had been Master of the Drag and a
member of the Bullingdon; less than three days before he had shewn his
versatility by proceeding, without the ostentation of an Honour School,
to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Colonel Waring had urged him to enjoy
himself, and the four years had passed very satisfactorily.

"Eric!"

"Hullo! Are you ready?"

The door was kicked open, and Eric Lane sauntered in and inspected his
own clothes by the revealing light of the afternoon sun. He also was
frowning, for the sense of departure was heavy upon him too, and the
papers that day had not been to his liking.

"Our final dissipation!" cried Jack, seizing him by the arm and
clattering down the narrow staircase into the Turl. "I say, Eric, I
don't half like the idea of not coming up next term; I was just
beginning to find my way about this place. There you see Lincoln. Here
we have Jaggers. I've never been inside Jaggers. Shall we make up a
party and go to-morrow?"

A knot of Jesus men glared with the dumb fury which the small nations of
the world feel towards the Great Powers. A sing-song Welsh voice
commented devastatingly on the vanity of bottle-green dress-coats and
their wearers.

"I can't go after _that_," murmured Jack with dignity. "Never imagined
they understood English. Ought I to go back and apologize?" He stopped
short in front of a haberdasher's shop and nodded gravely at the
seductive window. Club colours and college colours contended and clashed
with giant brown and yellow silk handkerchiefs adorned with white
bulldogs. "We might buy them a peace-offering."

"I always wonder why you're not more disliked than you are," mused Eric.

"People only dislike me until I've given them time to see that I'm right
and they're wrong," explained Jack complacently. "I was very unpopular
at New College my first term. They wanted me to row--just because I'd
rowed at Eton. You can't row _and_ hunt. I never did any of the things
they wanted; the people here are such sheep. Did I ever tell you that
the rowing push came to rag my rooms just because I chose to dress for
Hall? They said it was 'side.' Unfortunately, their spokesman was drunk,
so I had to ask him to leave. It's such bad form to drink more than you
can carry. Now any number of men dress for Hall. Sheep, just sheep. I
think the reason you and I get on so well together is that you don't try
to lead my life for me."

"Oh, I'm used to you," Eric interrupted. "Ever since I can remember,
you've sat still and let every one else revolve round you. Your people,
Agnes, me----"

Jack smiled at his reflection in the window. Though his
self-satisfaction annoyed women and older men, no one could remain
impatient with him for long. He was always too good-tempered to provide
sport and too sure of himself to mind criticism. The man who is content
to do nothing starts, too, with an advantage over the man who not only
wants something done but would like it done in his own way. In childhood
the threat that he would not be taken to a party unless he behaved
himself well had only once been used against Jack; his mother found
afterwards that he had genuinely enjoyed himself more at home; and ever
since he had won his own way by studied inertia.

"You're so efficient!" he explained. "I should never have got through my
schools but for you. And you pack so well. By the way, you've looked out
the trains for to-morrow, haven't you? And arranged with Agnes for a
cart to meet me? I hate writing letters.... Shall we dig together in
London? If you'll find some decent rooms and a man to look after
us--Agnes will help you choose the furniture--and if you'll make
everything shipshape and comfortable, I'm hanged if I don't come and
live with you! There!"

Eric held out his hand with affected emotion.

"That's uncommon good of you! I thought you'd want me to choose some one
to live with me in your place."

"I wish you'd find somebody to go to the bar in my place," murmured Jack
with a momentary return of his earlier gloom. "Can't _you_? The exams
are quite easy for a man of your powerful intellect, and you only have
to eat a few dinners and get called. _I_ should live at Lashmar as the
simple, old English country gentleman.... Hullo! we're late! You'll see
about paying the fine, won't you?"

They crossed the High to a chorus of welcome flung at them from a
first-floor window over a pastry-cook's shop. Two sleek heads protruded
over the cushions in one tier, with three more, less lovingly cemented,
in the background.

"Hurry up, Spurs," shouted the president.

The name, applied jointly and severally to the two men, had passed
through ingenious refinements before reaching its present brief clarity.
If Waring's Christian name was Jack, his inseparable companion Lane must
be Jill; if Jack's surname was Waring, Eric's must be Gillow; the home
of the furnishing trade, if not of Waring and Gillow, was Tottenham
Court Road, which readily suggested Tottenham Hotspurs. An unexplained
intellectual craving was at length satisfied when the pair were renamed
"the Spurs."

After their first term no one shewed the psychological curiosity to
wonder why so incongruous a couple lived together. Though neighbours in
Hampshire, they were from different schools and of different colleges;
the shrewd but consummately indolent Master of the Drag was the arbiter
of taste for sporting, ultra-conservative Oxford--already a personality
and almost a tradition; the fine-drawn scholar of Trinity was a recluse,
a dreamer and a rebel, with ambition corroding the fabric of a too frail
constitution. Outside the Phoenix they had few friends in common, for
Eric's disputatious poets grew silent under the breezy onslaught of a
more robust generation; Jack's intellectual hunger was satisfied by
Surtees, the text-books for his schools, the _Sportsman_ and _Morning
Post_; while Eric, who had divided the first ten years of his life
between his father's library at Lashmar Mill-House and a verandah at
Broadstairs, had read quickly, brooded deeply and taken up an attitude,
sometimes precocious but always clearly defined, towards problems which
as yet did not exist for Jack. On one side, the friendship was founded
on a worship of opposites; Eric never forgot that he had gone friendless
through six years at school because he was forbidden by his doctor to
play games. On the other, Jack found devotion a convenience; he
respected Eric's brains and needed some one to relieve him of minor
exertions and to make up his mind for him. Accordingly, though all the
fourth-year men in the University would have been honoured to live with
him, it was to Eric that he drawled, "By the way, have you arranged to
dig with any one next term? Well, do go and find some decent quarters,
there's a good fellow."

"Hullo! No fine to pay after all!" cried Jack, as he burst into the club
dining-room and compared the number of covers with the members of the
Phoenix already assembled. "Who's coming, Mr. President?"

"O'Rane and Deganway haven't turned up yet," answered Sinclair. "I've
just had a wire from Loring to say that he's motoring down with Oakleigh
and they'll probably be late. Summertown and Pentyre you can hear. It's
their idea of music," he added, as a free fight broke out over the piano
in the adjoining room.

Jack studied the _menu_, inspected the wine on the side-board and
elbowed himself a place in the kneeling row at the open window. An
interrupted conversation struggled back to plans for the Long Vacation
and discussion of the schools. Sinclair, a stocky, simple-minded
sportsman, now pitifully embarrassed by his presidential duties, had
been chosen to play at Lord's for the University and for the Gentlemen;
after that he would tour with the Authentics till the end of the season;
and, until the following season, he would interest himself in the
management of his father's mines in Yorkshire. Knightrider and
Framlingham were destined for the army; Deganway and Pentyre were due to
cram for the Foreign Office; Draycott proposed to study art in Paris;
and Mayhew had forced his way into Fleet Street and the offices of the
"Wicked World." It was a wide dispersal; and all felt that they were
changing a life of proved comfort for something unknown and presumably
less easy.

"What are you doing, Spurs?" Sinclair asked Eric.

"I'm not quite sure. My people want me to try for the Civil Service. I
want to have a shot at journalism. You can't _do_ anything in the Civil
Service."

"Who _wants_ to do anything?" retorted Waring from his window-seat.
"Late as usual, Raney.... I only want money and decent holidays....
Sounds of a car, furiously driven. You'll have to fine 'em double, Mr.
President, if it's Jim and George; once for being late and once for not
coming in club dress. It is! Two dozen of fizz from each!"

He withdrew his head from the window as the car came to a standstill. A
moment later Loring entered apologetically in morning dress, fingering
his moustache and smiling with pleasure at the volley of welcome; George
Oakleigh followed, peering with approval at the familiar beams and dingy
panels of the low-ceilinged room; while O'Rane strode across the passage
and brought the free fight to an end by putting the heads of the
disputants into chancery, the president rapped the table and tried to
allot the places.

"Gentlemen! The toast of the Phoenix will be drunk in silence," he
proclaimed, as every one obstinately seated himself next to his greatest
friend.

Sinclair waited until the sherry was served and then rose to his feet.
Of the twenty members present only O'Rane was staying up another year:
in obedience to ritual he remained seated in the vice-president's chair.

"The Phoenix is dead," announced the president.

"The Phoenix will rise again," answered the vice-president with awful
gravity. Then, as the others sat down, he added reflectively, "'Wonder
where we shall all be in ten years' time? 'Wonder what we shall be
doing? 'Wonder how many of us will be dead?"

"You can always depend on Raney for an irresistible little note of
cheerfulness," commented Loring, as he pulled in his chair and looked
round to see who was present.

It was then that O'Rane flung his prophecy at the head of the club.

"Bah! You know as much about life as a Sunday School teacher!" he
retorted contemptuously, banging his hand on a bell. "Where's the
betting-book? And give me a pen, somebody. Let you mark my words. 'Mr.
David O'Rane bets the Marquess Loring ten sovereigns that within ten
years of this date five out of the twenty members present to-night will
be married. A further ten sovereigns that five will be dead----'"

"Always the optimist," murmured Oakleigh from Loring's side.

"I'll bet that every one of us will have made such a fool of himself
that it's _wishing_ himself dead he'll be.... A further ten sovereigns
that one at least will have had to cut the country. A further ten that
one at least will have lost all his money.... I'm only dealing in
averages. Ten years, I said; that's not much for any positive
achievement, but I'll bet a further ten pounds that one--and not more
than one--will have achieved what an independent tribunal considers
fame. A further ten pounds that one of us will make great money----"

"That's sixty pounds," interposed Sinclair warningly.

"But I shan't have to pay it," answered O'Rane, writing rapidly. He read
out a summary of the wager and passed the book for Loring to sign.
"Besides, I'm going to be the one who makes all the money. I hope you
won't be one of the five who die, Jim; or I shall have to claim against
your estate and all. Which of us will achieve fame in ten years?
Draycott as an Academician? I don't see it. Spurs as a judge? 'Don't
see it either. The Gander as an ambassador? The other Spurs?" He looked
round the table and went on quickly; half-unconsciously he had decided
that Eric Lane would be the first of the five to die. "I should mark
down Sinks as the first to marry; there's an appealing domesticity about
him. And we shall _all_ make colossal fools of ourselves; don't forget
that! Folly's the great leveller. Jim, I think you'd better give a
dinner once a year to the survivors just to see how we're getting on."

"If I don't die or cut the country," Loring assented.

O'Rane snapped the clasp of the betting-book and tossed it on a chair
behind him.

"You're far too healthy and respectable," he grunted, concentrating his
attention on the cooling soup. "Besides, I'm reserving that for
Summertown. You know he's been sent down for good and all?"

"A man cuts the country because of the disreputability of others,"
answered Loring. "By the way, I'm not going to be fined for being late,
Mr. President, because I had a good reason. Also, the founder of a club
is never fined."

"Let's hear the reason," suggested the president.

"I've been taking the chair at a family council." Loring looked round
the table until he located his cousin Knightrider. "You ought to have
been there, Victor. I don't want to wash my dirty linen in public, but
Victor and I have a young cousin of twelve," he explained, "who's driven
her father out of one continent and is on the point of driving him out
of another. Crawleigh's a most dignified and worthy viceroy, and he's my
own uncle, and I wouldn't say a word against him; but a fellow on his
staff told me that he'd no more control over that child than over the
man in the moon. She does whatever she pleases; Government House is
turned upside down, and, if any one tries to coerce her, she just runs
away. They've pursued her across Canada and they've pursued her across
India. Now she's been sent home. The family council was convened to
decide what was to be done with her. All the uncles and aunts and
cousins met together; and I need hardly tell you that we got stuck with
her. So, if I disappear suddenly, you'll know that my young cousin has
been too much for me. If that isn't a good reason for being late, I
don't know what is."

The president adroitly reserved judgement on a fine which he knew would
never be paid, and the conversation reverted to the former grim
discussion of the schools and vague plans for the future. Eric Lane felt
out of sympathy with his surroundings, for he alone lacked money and
influence and a ready-made niche. In ten years' time Deganway would be
progressing gently and comfortably in the Diplomatic; Summertown and
Pentyre, who were avowedly waiting for their fathers to die, would
either still be waiting or would have already succeeded; Framlingham and
Knightrider would be swallowed by the army, even Jack Waring would make
a career for himself at the bar or elsewhere, because men with his
backing were not allowed to fail. George Oakleigh would be in the House,
probably an under-secretary; Loring, with his position and an income
which fluctuated between a hundred thousand and a hundred and fifty
thousand a year in accordance with the yield of certain mines, might be
anywhere.

"What are _you_ going to do, when you go down?" Eric asked O'Rane.

"I haven't the least idea. That's where the fun comes in," O'Rane
answered buoyantly.

"Starting behind scratch?"

"Yes, that gives you an incentive. I wonder which of us will get to the
top first."

"I wonder how one starts."

"Oh, you'll write. I've never had any doubt of that. That rot I was
talking about averages wasn't _all_ rot; we ought to turn out one
genius, and you're going to do something very big. I declare to my soul
I'm not ragging! I've seen the things you wrote for _Cap and Bells_,
I've heard you talk and I can see you're on a different plane from the
rest of us. I could probably beat you at pure scholarship, but you've a
literary sense which I should never attain in a life-time. Do _you_ care
for a bet with me?"

Eric shook his head; but he felt the need of encouragement, and O'Rane
was more serious than he usually condescended to be.

"I won't rob you, Raney."

"Robbery be blowed! You won't bet against your destiny. In ten years'
time you'll have beaten the whole of our generation, starting behind
scratch. And, God's my witness, I'd sooner have that than be born with a
title and a million pounds a minute like Jim. Hullo, they're off! Jim,
may I take wine with you?"

He raised his glass and was quickly followed by Oakleigh and Summertown.
Loring flushed a little at the compliment of being chosen first. In
order of popularity O'Rane followed as a close second, with Waring
third. Pentyre, Summertown and Deganway toasted one another; Oakleigh
was honoured as an afterthought by half the table. There was a moment's
silence, as the glasses were recharged, and Jack Waring leaned forward
with a smile.

"Eric? Best of luck."

"Best of luck, Jack."

Their eyes met, and both smiled. Then the interrupted dinner went on.
Oakleigh was detected, reported and fined for smoking without
permission; Pentyre was deprived of port wine for allowing the decanter
to stand at his elbow. A vote was taken, and Draycott was censured for
wearing a pleated shirt. Less constitutionally, Deganway was stretched
on the floor and deprived of his eye-glass amid falsetto protests. Then
the loving-cup went round, and all stood to drink the health of the king
and of fox-hunting, the president and vice-president, absent members
and "our glorious founder." Sinclair presented a seven-branch
candlestick to the collection of club plate; and Loring proposed and
carried a unanimous vote of thanks.

"And now a little Gilbert and Sullivan from Raney," ordained the
president, as the last speech came to an end and he led the way into the
next room.

Prising open a box of cigars, he sniffed it with the suspicion of
inexperience and proffered it diffidently to Oakleigh. O'Rane slid on to
the music-stool, while Deganway and Waring, Summertown and Eric sprawled
over the top of the piano with pipes doggedly gripped between their
teeth and with their chins resting on their arms, demanding of the
musician that he should give them "something with a chorus." Pentyre
withdrew to an armchair and fell asleep; the others formed themselves
into a circle round Loring and tried to talk against the music.


     "_Long years ago, fourteen, may be,
       When but a tiny babe of four,
     Another babe played with me,
       My elder by a year or more.
     A little child of beauty rare,
     With marvellous eyes and wondrous hair,
     Who, in my child-eyes, seemed to me
     All that a little child should be.
       Ah, how we loved, that child and I,
         How pure our baby joy!
       How true our love--and, by-the-by_,
         HE _was a little boy_!"


Waring, as "Angela" struck in with a deep, reproachful bass:


     "_Ah, old, old tale of Cupid's touch!
     I thought as much--I thought as much!_
       _He_ WAS _a little boy_"


"Patience" justified herself shyly.


     "_Pray don't misconstrue what I say--
     Remember, pray--remember, pray,
      He was a_ LITTLE _boy_"


O'Rane gave the "Wandering Minstrel" as a solo, followed by "A Pair of
Sparkling Eyes" and "Is Life a Boon?"

Loring turned approvingly to George Oakleigh.

"Raney's got a ripping voice," he said. "And he's in good form to-night.
All the same, we must be getting back, George, if you want to be in
London early to-morrow morning. It's very pleasant to see all these boys
again. Sad, too, very sad; the young lions with all their troubles
before them."

"I suppose this _is_ absolutely the end," sighed Sinclair. "Shall I see
you at Lord's, Jim?"

As the party began to break up, a chill of collective wistfulness
descended upon it, too strong for even O'Rane to dispel.

"Yes, if you don't want me to watch the play. But I'll _look_
intelligent."

It was still so early when the straggling escort convoyed Oakleigh and
Loring into the safety of their hotel that an hour was agreeably spent
by each in accompanying every one else home. Jack and Eric reached the
Broad, only to turn back and take Deganway to Grove Street, and from
Grove Street they all proceeded by Boar Lane to St. Aldates. Here O'Rane
protested that he could not go to bed until he had disposed of Sinclair
in comfort. At a quarter to twelve the whole party, intact and a little
bored, found itself on Magdalen Bridge; Jack and Eric broke away at a
run up Long Wall, and the others, led by O'Rane, traversed the High for
the fourth time that night.

The familiar rooms at the corner of the Turl were bare and disordered
with the signs of coming departure. The undulating floor of the
sitting-room was littered with paper and straw, with cases of books and
half-filled crates of pictures; on a dusting-sheet in one corner was
gathered a miscellany of broken pipes and perished pouches, tattered
note-books and sprung rackets, torn photographs, old shoes and a
policeman's helmet. Overflowing trunks and yawning Gladstone bags
projected from the bedrooms on to the narrow, gas-lit landing.

"Nice, comfortable quarters," observed Jack, as he looked for somewhere
to sit. "It was quite a good evening, you know. The part I liked best
was when it was all over. Oxford looks quite decent at night."

Eric had been trained to economy of enthusiasm in talking to Jack, who
would not have understood him if he had said that the Meadows on a May
morning or the Bodleian from All Souls, or the Trinity limes in leaf or
a pack of low, grey clouds racing across the sky behind Magdalen Tower
made him drunk with the consciousness of physical beauty. And he
wondered what he could ever have said to betray to O'Rane his secret
yearning for self-expression.

"Our last night in Oxford," he murmured.

"Oh, I think I shall come up occasionally and dine with the lads."

Eric said nothing; but the sense of incongruity with his surroundings
still oppressed him, and he privately resolved that he would not revisit
Oxford until he had done something to put himself at least on the level
of his friends, perhaps above them. That night he lulled himself to
sleep with a vision in which he burst on the world as a new Byron and
took London by storm in a night. Comely heads turned and whispered his
name, as he strode down Bond Street; the windows were full of his
photograph; when he entered a room there was a hush of reverence for the
new novelist, the rising playwright, the last wit and latest fashion.
All his day-dreams led him to the stage. There, after twisting the house
to laughter and tears, he would nonchalantly allow himself to be called
before the curtain; after three gossamer epigrams, he would retire with
a perfunctory bow. And there would follow supper on the stage for George
Oakleigh, who was only a subordinate minister, and Loring, who was only
governor of a colony, and Jack, who was only a successful barrister, and
Knightrider, who was only a subaltern in the Guards, and Summertown, who
was only a third secretary on leave from a distant legation, and
Pentyre, who had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth and had
_done_ nothing.... The vision was so stimulating that he resolved to
conjure it up again whenever he felt depressed.

They were roused in the morning by the cheerful and insistent voices of
a cavalcade which reined in under Jack's windows for the last
opportunity of wishing him good-bye.... Unembarrassed by spectators, he
made a leisurely toilet and refused to be intimidated by Eric's
prophecies that they would lose their train. "There is sure to be
another," he pointed out, as he finished brushing his short,
mouse-coloured hair and satisfied himself that he was smoothly shaved.
Undergraduate Oxford was all too careless of its appearance, and Jack
secretly believed that slovenliness in clothes was the visible sign of
depravity in morals. Colonel Waring had said so, basing himself on his
experience in the army. Jack respected his father's judgement, because
it so often coincided with his own.

He appeared in time to see Eric distributing the last tips and counting
the luggage as it was piled on top of the cabs. Waving good-bye to their
landlord and surrounded by their escort, they drove with self-conscious
solemnity to the station, cut a passage through the jungle of dogs and
cricket bags on the platform and bribed a porter to find an empty
first-class carriage and to lock the door after them. While Jack
possessed himself of the papers, Eric watched the familiar landmarks
fading one by one from view as the train steamed out of Oxford: Tom
Tower and the Cathedral spire, the reservoir and gasworks, the Abingdon
Road and Boar's Hill. The whistle of the engine as it entered Culham
sounded like the last chord in an operatic score. Oxford was over. He
remembered his shyness in first approaching it four years earlier and
wondered whether he would as quickly overcome the sense of loneliness
which filled his mind at the thought of working in London.

"When do your bar lectures start?" he asked with a drawl which attempted
to emulate his companion's easy carelessness.

Jack tossed aside the _Sportsman_ and yawned with lazy contentment.

"I haven't the least idea," he answered.

"I was thinking about rooms. I'm going up almost at once for a month on
trial with the _London News_. You've got no preferences?"

"I'd trust your taste and judgement anywhere."

Eric laughed a little impatiently.

"You--are--the--laziest--brute--I've ever come across. Are you going to
behave like this at the bar?"

Jack put up his feet and closed his eyes.

"It's not half a bad idea," he mused. "I believe, if I let it be known
that I didn't want briefs, the solicitors would form up at the early
door out of sheer perversity. Everything comes to him who doesn't much
care whether it comes or not. You see, as soon as you want anything, you
increase the demand and raise the price against yourself; it's a great
thing to have studied political economy. If I ever marry it will be some
one who's madly in love with me and whom I can just tolerate. If you're
fool enough to try it the other way round, you're simply selling
yourself into slavery.... As a matter of fact, I'm not lazy at all, but
I refuse to fuss about unimportant things. I had all this business out
with the guv'nor two years ago; I'd got to do something for a living,
and he had all sorts of gold-lace jobs in contemplation--clerk in the
House of Lords, agent to my uncle at Penley, private secretary to this
man and that. I said it wasn't good enough. If I couldn't go into the
army like him, I'd go somewhere where I could make money. We haven't any
particular influence in the city, so I chose the bar; and I've every
intention of making money there. _That's_ important. But I can't wear
myself out looking for digs when I've a kind friend to do it for me. And
I never try to do more than one thing at a time. During the next few
weeks I shall stay with several very pleasant people. Lady Knightrider's
invited me to Raglan as usual; and I'm going to Croxton with the
Pentyres; and to House of Steynes with Jim Loring; and to Ireland with
George Oakleigh. I wish you'd come, too; I've got such a good
country-house manor, I should like you to see it."

"I've got to work."

"So have I--every bit as much as you," Jack answered aggressively. "But
I never believe in meeting trouble half-way." His voice became drowsy,
and he composed himself for sleep. "Wake me, when we get to Reading."

Such philosophic detachment was a birthright, not to be bought or
borrowed; and Eric looked with a mixture of amusement and envy at his
slumbering friend. Some time in the autumn the bar term would begin,
there would be lectures and examinations, Jack would be called; later he
would pay a hundred pounds to an overworked junior for the privilege of
sitting in a pupil-room and confusing his head with such papers as he
was allowed to see; he would find chambers of his own and choose a
circuit and open it. And get together a practice--or fail. In the
meantime he slept with the sun shining on his face, trimly brushed and
shaved, smiling, rosy and round-cheeked as a plough-boy.

Eric could not so casually leave the future to look after itself; and he
was preparing, with a highly-strung man's dread of altercation, for a
conflict with his family. Dr. Lane's suggestions were purely
scholastic--a fellowship, if possible; failing that, a position on the
staff of one of the great public schools. Either would give him security
and a chance of earning money at once. There must be other things, of
course, but a philologist lived too much out of the world to give
practical advice.... Mrs. Lane favoured the Civil Service; but Eric,
from the editorial chair of _Cap and Bells_, had lately made journalism
the fabric of his day-dreams. During his last term the editor of the
_London News_ came to Oxford as guest of honour at a dinner of the
Sherbrooke Club; with eye professionally skinned for rising talent, he
had been first amused and then impressed by his young host; there
followed a vague proposal of an article, and Eric had been careful to
thrust his foot into the yielding doorway of the paper until a month's
trial was suggested.

A red-brick wilderness of villas warned him that they were running into
Reading. He prodded Jack awake, collected his luggage from the rack and
changed into the Basingstoke train. At Winchester a dog-cart, driven by
a stiff, military groom, and a pony trap, with an eight-year-old child
and her governess, awaited them. The luggage appeared unhurriedly and
was separated and stowed out of sight. Jack edged away after a shy
greeting to Sybil Lane, and a moment later they were heading through the
town for the Melton and Lashmar road.

"Roll round some time and discuss those digs," Eric shouted, as the
pony-trap turned from the high-crowned Melton road and jolted into the
twilight of unreclaimed woodland whose youngest trees were old and
firm-rooted before the New Forest had begun to show the first green of
its leaves.

"No, you come to me," Jack called back. "It's shorter for you, because
you walk so much faster."

As the low lines of the Mill-House came in sight, Mrs. Lane rose from
her chair by the studded front door, closed her book and waved a
handkerchief in welcome. For the first time in his life Eric felt that
this was no longer his home. Lashmar and Oxford belonged to a youth
wherein he was not required to look for a career or to trouble about
money and ambition. Within a week he would be occupying chambers of his
own and earning his own living.

"Well, dear Eric, I'm very glad to see you again. You're looking thin,"
said his mother.

"I'm all right, thanks. How are you, mother? Is the guv'nor working?"
asked Eric.

The need for action was strong upon him, and he had to explain once and
for all that he aimed at something more than security and a chance of
earning money at once.

"He's indoors."

Eric ducked his head and entered the long, low house. It was dark after
the glowing June sunlight outside, chillingly cold, too; from the back
of the house came the gentle murmur of the Bort with an unchanging drone
of falling water and a regular double creak from the mill-wheel, like
the slow cadence of a grandfather's clock. Through the open French
windows of the dining-room he sniffed the stream's familiar scent of
decay, half-smothered by the coarse reek of a blazing patch of
marigolds. Lashmar Mill-House was, for Eric, a place where ambition was
brought to die.

Without waiting to be disturbed, Dr. Lane rattled open the door of the
library and appeared in his shirt-sleeves, fleshless, tall and stooping,
with the gentle, brown eyes, black hair and aquiline nose which he had
handed down to Eric. An unkempt brown moustache drooped drearily on
either side of a long corncob pipe-stem, and his bony hands fidgetted
with an untanned strap round his waist.

"I want to have a talk with you," said Eric to his parents. "I'm
starting work next week with the _London News_. Jack and I are going to
live together."

Mrs. Lane nursed a well-founded suspicion that Jack preyed on her son's
scant vitality, but she shrank from confessing jealousy of his friend.

"Let's have a day or two to think things over," she proposed.
"Journalism is very wearing."

"But everything's arranged," Eric answered.

And next morning he rose from breakfast and started through the Forest
to Red Roofs and the task of pinning Jack down to the joint
establishment in London. Every step on the familiar road was a gesture
of farewell. There was a recognized point in the two-mile walk where
even the smoke of the Mill-House chimneys was invisible; another point
where he had to jump from stone to stone across a furlong of marsh; and
another where the forest thinned imperceptibly and vanished. Over the
tops of the last trees appeared a row of small-bricked Tudor chimneys,
dusty-grey in the sunshine; then the deep red tiles of the gabled roofs;
then the house itself, three-quarters covered in creeper that swung in
the breeze and veiled the narrow windows with a curtain of tangled
green. It was the perfect frame, Eric thought, for a perfect picture of
country toryism; a social analyst could not look at the house without
peopling it in imagination with the cadet branch of a rankly
conservative family--conventional, godly, sporting, military and, by a
freak, unexpectedly evangelical--in a word, with such a family as the
Warings. The colonel was returning home from an early gallop; he reined
in his horse and walked beside Eric to the gate of the stable-yard,
erect and dapper, with a dictatorial voice and a hint of ill-temper in
his bearing, his face weather-beaten and the white of his eyes faintly
tinged with yellow.

"Hullo! How are you? How's your father? How's the _magnum opus_?" he
asked, as he dismounted and walked towards the house. The three
questions never varied, and the colonel derived immense private
amusement from the thought that Dr. Lane had given thirty years of his
life to an Anglo-Saxon dictionary. "Jack tells me you're going to be a
journalist. Dog's life, I've always heard."

"I hope it won't be only journalism," said Eric, who was sensitive
enough to be daunted by the misgiving which his proposed career excited
first in his parents and now in an unbiased outsider. "I hope to do some
rather more original work as well."

"Original? That's bad! Seven-act tragedies and five-volume novels."
Colonel Waring had evolved the belief that young men could be coaxed out
of their natural shyness by well-timed jocosity. "You must excuse me,
I'm going to have my bath. You'll find every one in the smoking-room, I
expect."

Eric escaped with relief and ran Jack to earth in the faded dining-room,
where he was finishing a late breakfast. His sister ministered to his
wants, keeping the food warm in a chafing-dish, plying him with coffee
and fetching him clean plates. Mrs. Waring, plump, idle and
self-indulgent, was fondly overhauling her son's wardrobe when Eric
entered the room.

"Dear Jack, you can't go to Lady Knightrider's until you've ordered
yourself some new shirts. These are a disgrace," she protested.

Jack nodded without looking up from his paper.

"I know. I was waiting till I got home so that Agnes could write to my
man. I always forget his name. Hullo, Eric! You're bursting with energy
this morning. Have some capital kidneys and bacon?"

"I came to talk about where we are going to live," Eric explained,
shaking hands with Mrs. Waring.

"But I thought I'd left that to you? Why don't you and Agnes arrange
something?" Jack filled a pipe and strolled towards the open window.
"The guv'nor seems to have got me elected to the County Club; he rather
favours my trying to get a bedroom there."

Eric felt a twinge of dismay. It was only natural that a club should
have been found for Jack, as everything else was found; but Eric could
not afford to let him slip away. Perhaps the suggestion was only a
diplomatic hint that, if he were troubled further, he would follow the
line of least resistance.

"Oh, no! You're coming with me. If you've no preferences, Agnes and I
will go straight ahead."

He motioned to the girl, and they went out into the garden together.
Agnes Waring, in company with her mother, had been brought up to believe
that Jack was the one person in the house who mattered; though
intellectually head and shoulder his superior, she had been kept at home
from the day when Colonel Waring demonstrated incontrovertibly that he
could not afford to send her to Newnham if Jack was to be given an
adequate allowance at Oxford. Once isolated at home, she had nothing to
do but to run errands for her father and brother. At her suggestion it
was now arranged that Eric should look for rooms in the Temple.

Two days later he wrote that he had discovered an ideal set of chambers
in Pump Court, and for a week they worked to get it in order for Jack's
arrival in October. On the last afternoon Agnes looked on her completed
handiwork and sighed with satisfaction and envy.

"If you're not comfortable, you ought to be," she declared. "Men are
lucky creatures. I wish I could change places with you, Eric."

"So that you could wait on Jack?"

"I should like that, of course.... I hope Jack does well at the bar. You
will make him work, won't you?"

Eric shrugged his shoulders and looked into the silent little court.

"Can any one make him do anything he doesn't want to? I wonder whether
he was wise to choose the bar. I wonder whether I was wise to choose
journalism, whether any of us.... We had a very cheerful dinner on our
last night at Oxford. There were about twenty of us, and one man bet
that in ten years' time five of us would be dead and a certain number
bankrupt. A certain number more would have to cut the country. So far as
I remember only one was to make anything of a success. Not an
encouraging forecast."

"A very cynical forecast," Agnes distinguished.

"Will he win his bet?"

"Oh, a man of character can make anything of his life," she answered
with a glance of fleeting interest and affection which he did not see.

Eric recalled the extraordinarily young faces at the last dinner of the
Phoenix. Their outlook was frivolous and their talk trivial. He was
already feeling older in ten days.

"Do you get more than one man of character in twenty?" he asked.



CHAPTER TWO

THE COMING OF LILITH

     "What private man in England is worse off than the constitutional
     monarch?... I don't believe he may even eat or drink what he likes
     best: a taste for tripe and onions on his part would provoke a
     remonstrance from the Privy Council."

     BERNARD SHAW: "AN UNSOCIAL SOCIALIST."


The partnership in Pump Court lasted for more than four years. After
nicely judging the minimum of work which would carry him through his bar
examinations, Jack surprised his friends by closing the former life of
indolence with a snap. When assizes were on, he made an undiscriminating
round of the North Eastern circuit, conducting a dock defence as though
it were a state trial; in London he attended suburban county courts with
as much zeal as if he had been sent special. During the Long Vacation he
remained at the end of a wire; the Bar Point-to-Point was sacrificed
without a murmur, and invitations during his working day seldom
penetrated farther than the telephone in his clerk's room.

Once a year, indeed, he consented to meet his friends at dinner with
Loring, but they were contracting new ties and professing enthusiasms
which he did not share. Framlingham and Knightrider had been drilled
into the professional rigidity and limited outlook of junior subalterns
in crack regiments: Oakleigh was a politician, Pentyre a man of leisure;
Summertown had abandoned diplomacy for the army--the life of a public
danger for that of a private nuisance, as Valentine Arden, the novelist,
complained in a moment of exasperation. Deganway, on the same
authority, rested in the Foreign Office by day and spent tireless
nights adding to the number of those who addressed him by his Christian
name. O'Rane and Mayhew were abroad.

Had he ever felt the inclination, Jack professed to be without the time
or energy to take part in a social life of dinners and dances.
Exchanging one pose for another, he had ceased to be the arbiter of
"good form," as that is understood at Eton and New College, and was
aping the manners of an older generation; the new aloofness, like the
old, dispensed him from doing anything that he did not like and
gratified his faint but ineradicable sense of superiority. At night he
now chose the society of his own profession at the County Club and
steeped himself in forensic retorts discourteous and the aroma of
judicial wit; by day he chopped leading cases at luncheon in Hall and
smoked one cigarette in the Gardens, striding up and down with his chin
deep on his white slips and his hands locked beneath the tails of his
coat. He was too busy for week-end parties, too old to take his sister
to dances.

"It doesn't do to be seen lunching at your club too much," he explained
to Eric, when at the end of four years he had decided that the
inconvenience of moving was less than that of continuing to live in the
Temple. "People think you've no work. Trouble is, I'm getting no
exercise. I think I shall have to move away so that I can get a walk in
the morning."

Eric received the news with little surprise and hardly more regret. Jack
was in chambers before he himself got up in the morning and in bed
before the _London News_ began to print off. The dissolution would only
cost them an occasional half-hour's talk in the early evening and a rare
Sunday walk when Jack was not staying at Red Roofs.

"Nineteen nine, nineteen five," Eric calculated. "We're twenty-six and
we've had four years here. By the way, are you dining with Jim
to-night? Give him my love and say I wish I could come too. It's no
good, if I have to run away after the fish. I remember your father
telling me that journalism was a dog's life. He never spoke a truer
word."

"But you've done extraordinarily well," Jack insisted, rousing
reluctantly from the contemplation of his own career. "What are you?
Dramatic critic and assistant literary editor? And you're making a dam'
sight more than I am. I've decided to give up this twopenny ha'penny
criminal work. Otherwise I shall get left in a rut."

Eric was thinking less of his routine work than of four dog's-eared
plays which he had sent the round of the London managers; a critic was
ever one who could not create.

"The right people have died at the right time," he explained. "It's not
quite what I hoped, though."

Jack knocked out his pipe and left Eric to finish his early dinner by
himself. It was the anniversary of their last Phoenix Club gathering at
Oxford; and for the last four years a dozen or more of them had
contrived to meet at the end of every June. So far, O'Rane's pessimistic
forecast had halted short of fulfilment; none was dead, none was
bankrupt, though Draycott was living at Boulogne with a warrant in
readiness for him, if he ever returned to England. Sinclair was married,
but the others had not yet found time for triumph or disaster. If Eric
enjoyed a good salary and a responsible position, they had been bought
with hard work, unsleeping contrivance and two severe illnesses; the
instant spectacular effect of Lord Byron's descent upon London remained
a day dream.

"You'll be able to find some one to take on my room, won't you?" asked
Jack, with fleeting compunction, as he reappeared from his bedroom in
shirt and trousers.

"I shan't try," answered Eric. "My books are overflowing into every
room.... And I loathe strangers as much as you do."

Like Jack, he had soon found that it was impossible to play on equal
terms with men who did not pretend to work for a living; and Eric's rare
excursions from the Temple led him only to the supper-table of the
Thespian Club and occasional luncheons in Chelsea. In the days of his
apprenticeship to the _London News_, he had won the friendship of Martin
Shelley by attending first nights when, as happened three times out of
five, the dramatic critic was indisposed. For ultimate reward he
succeeded to a coveted position; in payment by instalments he received a
careless regard and full-blooded advice on drama and life. When
Shelley's ill-used brain and nerves had been flogged to activity and not
yet drowned, he would talk of theatrical art as a master. "Don't forget
what I'm telling you, Lane," he would say through a cloud of smoke and
whiskey fumes. "I've taught you what construction is--and dialogue--and
technique--and characterization. You could write a _successful_ play
to-morrow, but you must wait until you've filled a sketch-book or two.
You don't know live men and women yet; you're too much the maiden of
bashful fifteen. The public isn't ready for naturalism; so, if you want
to kill theatricality--which is what I've tried to do all my life--you
must do it with a play that's overwhelming. I could teach you a hell of
a lot, if I had time.... When I'm gone, fire in your application for my
berth so that no one else gets in before you and yet leave just enough
margin to keep the old man from thinking you pushed me under the wheels.
Not that I'd blame you, we've all got to make our way. But the old man
finds me rather an asset. My poor wife runs teetotal salons in Chelsea
on the strength of my name. I'll take you to one. You'll fill a
sketch-book with society smatterers alone."

Eric went from courtesy and stayed from compassion. Mrs. Shelley, the
faded, pretty daughter of a Cambridge tutor who had left her a few
hundreds a year, threw herself tacitly on his mercy, as though he had
come to blackmail her with sordid tales of her husband's degradation.
They had no children; and she had set herself to make a life of her own.
So long as she could fill her house with the North Street school of
poets, the Fitzroy Square impressionists--and all who came humbly to her
for a chance of meeting them--she shut her eyes to her husband's
excesses and infidelities. He was required to act as decoy for new
literary and artistic lions, to appear at one party out of five freshly
shaved and decently habited, to lend her a hand when she could climb no
longer unaided and to accept a rare invitation in return to lunch with
Lady Poynter or the Duchess of Ross, when "the society smatterers"
wanted him to write up a charity _matinée_ or the amateur performance of
a Restoration comedy.

Before and after her husband's unheroic death under a newspaper van,
Mrs. Shelley was Eric's single link with the world outside Fleet Street
and the Thespian Club. Jack's white waist-coat and button-hole were
occasionally a galling remainder of his own bondage.

"God! this is a life!" he broke out, as he looked at the clock and
brought his dinner to an untimely end. "I never dine anywhere; I don't
speak to a woman from one year's end to another----"

"Nor do I. It only encourages them," Jack returned, as he filled his
case with cigarettes and gave a final polish to his hat.

"It would bring a little colour into one's life," said Eric, looking
with disfavour at the grimly celibate sitting-room.

"Some people don't know when they're well off. I _can't_ dance and I've
nothing to say to the modern girl. Why they won't take 'no' for an
answer I can never make out. I suppose you _like_ women, Eric. Every
time you go to a theatre, you come back raving about somebody's dress or
pearls or eyes--honestly, you do! It's like a fashion article. I'm
beyond all that. I don't mind 'em when they're as old as Lady
Knightrider; they've ceased to be exacting then, and you can count on
them to see that you're comfortable and that you have plenty of
bath-salts. But the vulgar little atrocities of nineteen! I'm not
ragging; if you compare a girl like my sister Agnes, who's twenty-two,
with the hoydens who think they constitute London Society! Brains of
spidgers and manners of factory hands! In my day.... However, they're
all pure young girlhood to you. The Lord preserve you in your innocence
and keep you from marrying one of them! I must fly!"

He ran down the stairs and hailed a taxi at the top of Middle Temple
Lane. Since the downfall of Draycott, the Phoenix Club dinners had lost
their old strict form and were no longer confined to members of the
club. As Jack entered the hall, Valentine Arden, a satirical
consumptive, was divesting himself of a violet-lined cloak, smoothing
his long straight hair back from his forehead, patting the tie that
wound twice round his collar and adjusting the straps of his trousers
under his insteps. There were other friends of a younger generation whom
Loring had acquired in his easy-going progress, but the older members
were meagrely represented.

The first arrivals were already in the library, exchanging fragmentary
news of the absentees, when their host appeared with a preoccupied frown
and a jejune apology for his lateness.

"Where's Pentyre?" he asked, as he looked round the room. "Here, my
friend, you'll get yourself into hot water, if you give any more parties
like your last one."

"What's the row?" asked Pentyre in surprise.

"Well, I won't mention names," Loring answered, "but one of your guests
has come to grief as the result of your last little gathering at
Croxton. I don't say that it's _your_ fault," he added, "except that you
ought to exercise more general control in your own house. There was a
certain amount of gambling, wasn't there? Some fairly big sums of money
changed hands? One man lost who couldn't afford to lose, I believe. It
may have been absence of mind or it may have been the only way out of
the difficulty, but the man in question signed his father's name on a
cheque instead of his own. The son is now on his way to one of those
'thoughtful islands where warrants never come.' D'you mean this is all
news to you?"

Pentyre tugged at his moustache and shook his head in wide-eyed wonder.
The only sign of discord that he could remember had occurred between his
mother and Loring's own cousin, Barbara Neave. On the first night she
had stayed up after Lady Pentyre had shepherded the women of the party
to bed. In the morning there had been a gentle reprimand, but Lady
Barbara ignored it and persisted in staying up as long as any one would
stay up with her. She or one of the men--Pentyre could not remember--had
started poker, which they played until two or three o'clock in the
morning.

"I've never heard a word of it," he said. Less than a year had passed
since he succeeded to his father's title and the ownership of Croxton
Hall. The social life of the county had been brightened; but there had
been one or two regrettable mishaps, and Loring always seemed to hear of
them. "How did you get hold of the story?" he asked with a touch of
bluster.

"From the man's father in the first place; then from my cousin Barbara.
We're supposed to be responsible for her, and I tackled her about it.
She won nearly five hundred pounds from this wretched boy. Of course, I
made her disgorge it; but the fellow may be ruined for life. I told her
so pretty plainly, and she seemed to take it as an enormous compliment."

"Who was the man?" asked Pentyre.

"Well, it wasn't your fat friend Webster, and it wasn't John Gaymer;
they played poker before they could walk. I think you can guess now.
Really, Pentyre, if you admit people of that kind to your house.... That
girl will be the death of my poor mother. Thank goodness, Crawleigh's on
his way home! D'you know, in the four years we've been nominally in
charge of her we've been asked to have her removed from three different
schools? Once it was for holding a table-turning _séance_ in her bedroom
after lights-out, and twice simply because they didn't know what to do
with her. She's a holy terror. But I've got rid of her now, so let's
have some dinner and forget all about her."

The three-hour discussion, which had been brought to an end by the
dressing-gong, was only the latest of a long succession of family
councils; but hitherto Lady Barbara had split the court of enquiry into
factions and escaped between the feet of the disputants. On this, as on
earlier occasions, she had won over her two aunts, but Loring proved
himself to be of sterner stuff. "It's no use her saying that it's just
as if she hadn't a father and mother of her own! She has,--and they'll
discover it to their cost," he said. "The immediate point is that, if
Barbara stays in this house, I go out of it. She's not in the least
sorry. You think she's crying, but she isn't. I've seen her do that a
dozen times when she wants to get round the servants. It's time some one
else had a turn of her. If you believe in her repentance, Aunt Kathleen,
you're welcome to her." While he dressed for dinner, the girl's clothes
were packed and disposed in Lady Knightrider's car. She herself came to
his door with a woebegone face, begging him to forgive her, for life
with Lady Knightrider involved discipline, religious exercises and
banishment for most of the year to Scotland or Monmouthshire. He refused
and felt so small-minded at using his authority against a child that it
was a relief to vent his ill-humour on a man.

"This is all very well," said Pentyre stolidly, as they sat down to
dinner, "but I refuse to be bully-ragged because you can't keep your own
cousin in order."

"I can't make out how you can be seen in the same street as Webster and
Gaymer," answered Loring. "To me they're everything that's wrong in the
life of the present day. Webster, Pennington, Lady Maitland,
Erckmann----"

"You're so infernally narrow-minded."

"If it's narrow-minded to dislike a noisy little clique of rich cads who
try to dominate society by being one degree more outrageous than anybody
else."

A murmur of dissent made itself heard; but Loring warmed to his work,
and the party divided into two camps and joined battle over the bodies
of their friends. It was a stimulating encounter and afforded
unrestricted opportunity for personal attack. For several years there
had been raging a secret warfare which Valentine Arden compared with a
tournament in a dark room between blindfolded combatants who did not
know why they were fighting. On the one side was a group of influential
and highly respected families led by the Lorings, the Knightriders and
the Pebbleridges, on the other the cosmopolitans. They were an
ill-defined host without leader or tenets. In every other capital of the
world they had found their place as a wealthy and cultured class,
excluded from the houses of the historic aristocracy but forming an
artistic aristocracy of their own. In Paris, Vienna and New York Sir
Adolf Erckmann was a social power; he would not, indeed, be found with
the Princesse de Brise or Mrs. Irwin T. Churton, but he was known and
reverenced in a world of music and pictures which did not know Mrs.
Irwin T. Churton or the Princesse de Brise by name.

In England there were no such recognizable lines of demarcation.
Erckmann was received by the Duchess of Ross, because she wanted him to
subsidise a French theatre for London and hoped that he might be induced
to take Herrig on a long lease; he was blackballed for the County Club,
because the committee disliked his race, his accent, his friends and his
too frequent appearance in the Divorce Court. With one foot in a
Promised Land, from which the society of Paris, Vienna and New York had
excluded him, Sir Adolf lifted the second; it was at this point that the
battle was joined, and both sides fought blindly. The cosmopolitans were
not always fortunate in their manners or their allies; and to Loring
their very toleration meant the invasion of society by "a noisy clique
of rich cads." Their antagonists were no less unfortunate in a few of
their prejudices; and the cosmopolitans claimed with some reason to be
fighting against a Philistine oligarchy. As there was not even a common
ground of dispute, the warfare degenerated into indecisive skirmishes,
and the discussion of it into embittered personalities.

"They're a bit hairy about the heel," said Summertown, "but they _are_
alive, and some of their shows are great fun. Val can bear me out."

Arden assumed non-moral detachment and explained that the novelist, like
the sanitary inspector, entered all houses with professional
impartiality.

"They've no sense of responsibility and not much feeling for decency. I
don't want to make too much of this business," said Loring, as acrimony
slipped out of control and threatened the peace of the dinner. "But I
was thoroughly stirred up over that wretched boy and I felt it was time
to make a stand."

"What are you going to do?" demanded Pentyre.

"Well, I've been knocking about in London for half a dozen years,
watching these gentry, and I can see that _we're_ not assimilating
_them_. The egregious Pennington, that young swine Webster----"

"Both of whom I've met in this house," interposed Pentyre.

"I know. One gets roped in. Some one dragged me along to their parties,
so I had to invite them back. But I don't go any more. The danger _now_
is that they'll assimilate us. I went through my mother's book a short
time ago and put a mark against certain names; and in future those
people will not be invited or admitted to the house. No doubt they'll
get on very happily without me, but so much mud is thrown at us in the
ordinary way of business that I can't afford to put up gratuitous
targets for the amusement of the gutter-press. Honestly, Pentyre, you'd
feel rather small, if the _Sunday Budget_ or _Morton's Weekly_ came out
with a 'Society Gambling Scandal.' Wouldn't you?"

Pentyre adroitly evaded the question and continued his own bombardment.

"Is your cousin's name in the condemned list?" he asked.

"It will be, if I have any trouble from her again. What I can't get
people to see is that we're hanging on by our eyelids to such position
as we've got. A hundred years ago we were a class apart and above
criticism; nobody thought the worse of us, if we appeared at the theatre
with a notorious cocotte or drank ourselves gently under the table. Our
present accursed democracy was unborn. But, when once that came into
existence, we could only keep ourselves from proscription by saying very
loudly that we were still a class apart and were setting a standard.
Democracy's too lazy and snob-ridden to be very exacting, but it's had
its eye on us. George and his friends are conspiring to hamstring the
poor, decent House of Lords; and, if they succeed, the rot won't stop
there. I find life very pleasant, and it isn't worth a tremendous
upheaval simply for the amusement of behaving like a Bank Holiday
crowd.... Let's go and smoke in the library."

Under the tranquilling influence of tobacco, Loring recovered his
good-humour and the controversy flickered to extinction. There was a
short attempt to revive and explore the scandal of Croxton Hall, but
Pentyre was secretly frightened by the possibility of seeing his name in
the papers; and he knew from long experience that there was no surer way
of achieving notoriety than that of telling anything in confidence to
those of his friends whose social importance was measured by their range
and freshness of gossip.

"You're _too_ provoking!" Deganway protested shrilly, pinning him in an
embrasure and flapping irritably with his eye-glass. "You know it's not
fair to tell a story without giving all the names."

"I didn't tell the story," Pentyre pointed out.

"But I've asked Jim, and he won't say. Val! Do make him tell! He's being
so tiresome."

Arden shrugged his shoulders and, with the outward frozen detachment
which had become second nature to him, retired to a table by himself
where he called for China tea and produced a pack of patience cards.
There were other means of investigating the poker episode, and he had
decided that it was more than time for the social satirist to make
Barbara Neave's acquaintance. For the merits of the controversy he cared
nothing, but his sense of humour was maliciously stirred in
contemplation of a self-consciously decorous clan stung into undignified
curvettings by a gadfly girl of sixteen. Though he ostentatiously
refused to be drawn into partisanship, the stiff blamelessness of the
interlocked Catholic families occasionally oppressed him; and the
material outcome of Loring's tirade was to stimulate his desire to
explore the domestic dissension at first hand.

"One feels that Lady Barbara would repay study," he observed to Jack, as
they left the house together. "She is a new element in our worn-out
social system."

"You must study her for me," answered Jack. "I agree with every word Jim
said. I'm too busy to go out much, but _some_ of the people I meet....
My father says that twenty years ago they wouldn't have been tolerated.
But since the South African diamond boom and all the new money.... Of
course, the girl just wants slapping."

"You have met her? No? One hoped that you would have effected the
introduction."

"I avoid the present-day girl like the plague," said Jack.

The following afternoon Arden called in South Street with a book which,
he assured Lady Knightrider, he had promised to lend her. Lady Barbara
was at Hurlingham with Webster; but, as she was expected back to tea, he
planted himself immovably in a chair and awaited her return. When at
last she came, he found her utterly unlike the rebellious school-girl of
his imagination. A childhood spent in public had matured her beyond her
years so that she had the looks of twenty-two and the self-possession of
forty. Instead of studying her, he found himself being studied; slender
and lithe as a boy, she was tall enough to look down on him. He found
her haggard with restlessness and a life of nervous excitement; her
tired eyes, ever changing in size and colour, brightened as she took in
his affectations of dress and mannerisms of speech; he felt that she was
harmonizing her pose with his and that her vitality and quickness had
already given her an advantage.

"I've read all your books. Witty, but very artificial," she said, as
they were introduced. "The French do that sort of thing more easily, but
you've not read much French, have you? There are several things I want
to discuss with you. A play I've written." She drew off her gloves
jerkily, splitting the thumb of one. "Did you come to see me or Aunt
Kathleen? And you know Jim, of course. I want your opinion of him."

"_He_ knows _me_," Arden distinguished, as he watched her carelessly
calculated movements. Within sixty seconds she had shewn herself
full-face and in profile, with a hat and again with two tapering hands
smoothing a mass of wayward hair. He had seen her wistful and tired, as
she came into the room, and again alert and galvanised at finding him
there. Yet she had certainly noticed his hat in the hall; probably she
had read the name and thought out her attack as she came upstairs. He
was charmed by her conscientious artifice.

"You talk just like Fatty Webster's imitations of you! That's so clever
of you! But why do you do it? You've arrived. There's no need to be
eccentric now. But perhaps you've grown into your own pose? In that case
you're right to express yourself in your own medium. Life is simply
self-expression, isn't it? The discovery of the Ego, the refinement of
the Ego, the presentation of the Ego." She nodded quickly at a portrait
of her father in Garter robes. "It would never do to be submerged by
that kind of thing. I'm always so sorry for Royalty."

As he hesitated for an answer, she put her hands to her throat,
unclasped her necklace and threw it out of the window. Arden sprang
across the room and looked down into the street to make sure that he had
seen aright. A District Messenger-boy approached, whistling; he explored
the necklace with his foot and finally picked it up.

"My dear, what _are_ you doing?" cried Lady Knightrider in amazement.

"I went flying to-day," Lady Barbara answered, as she poured herself out
a cup of tea.

"Flying!"

"Yes, I didn't tell you beforehand, because I was afraid of a scene.
Besides, I should have done it, whatever you said. Johnnie Gaymer
promised to take me up. I haven't been near Hurlingham. Don't bother,
Mr. Arden."

"But why----?" Valentine began, startled out of his invertebrate
placidity by a sensationalist more original than himself.

"Because I wasn't killed. I love that necklace more than anything in
the world. It was given me when I was recovering from typhoid and every
one thought I _must_ die.... The engine stopped in mid-air, and I made
sure I was going to be killed. Johnnie thought so, too. I felt I owed
something to Nemesis.... I've known you by sight all this season, Mr.
Arden. You weren't at the Poynters last night, by any chance? I couldn't
go, because I was in disgrace. And Lord Poynter sent his car this
morning with a wreath of lilies, because he was afraid I must be dead."

The short, disjointed sentences, flung out rapidly as she helped herself
to cake, demanded all Arden's attention and left her aunt far behind.
Lady Knightrider hurried belatedly to the window and then stretched her
hand to the bell. Lady Barbara took her arm soothingly and led her back
to her chair.

"Your disgrace was our diversion," said Arden.

"Did Jim tell you about it," asked Lady Barbara. "How like him! I'm
beginning to think he's naturally cruel. Or unnaturally. Conscious
cruelty is what divides men from animals.... Aunt Kathleen, if you fuss,
I shall scream; I've been badly frightened and I hated throwing it
away.... I'd sooner die than hurt any one.... Have you ever flown? I've
wanted to for years; I felt it would be a new sensation. Won't it be
awful when we've done so much that there are no sensations left? Aunt
Kathleen's quite irrepressible, isn't she?"

After an interval of indecision Lady Knightrider had hurried out of the
room and downstairs. Arden looked at his watch and prepared to follow
her.

"One always lies down before dinner," he explained.

"You're going--just when we've been left a moment together?" she asked
with a smile that had less of amusement than of artistic sympathy.
"That's a brilliant effect. Not one man in a million would have thought
of it. We must meet again. Why did you come at all? What had you heard
about me? I don't recommend Aunt Kathleen's cigarettes."

She offered him her case, and Arden lighted one.

"A poker party was mentioned at dinner last night," he told her. "One
casually wondered who the man was."

"Claude Arkwright. Jim says I've got his soul on my conscience. Any more
questions?"

Arden laughed and for a moment shed all his mannerisms.

"Yes. What's behind all this?" he asked.

"All this what? All this me? What I do?" Lady Barbara met him
unreservedly on his own chosen ground of sincerity, and her voice and
smile changed. "_I'm_ behind it. Come, you're quite clever enough to
understand. I want to enjoy life and know life and meet people and read
books and do things.... I won't be treated like a minor Royalty. The
world's full of Jim Lorings. Wherever I go, some one says 'Not there,
not there, my child.' And then! _Then_ I go quite mad! You'll like me, I
think. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Lady Lilith."

"Lilith? Who was she? Wasn't she Adam's first wife?"

"She existed before Man tasted of the tree of knowledge; before good and
evil came into the world," said Arden impressively.

"_I_ remember. I hope you won't become sententious. That went out with
the last of the Wilde plays."

Lady Knightrider was standing in the hall, plump, white-haired and
perplexed, peering through her lorgnettes into the street. The
messenger-boy had disappeared, and the necklace with him.

"He will take it to Scotland Yard," predicted Arden reassuringly. "And
then Lady Barbara will throw it away again for fear of cheating Nemesis.
One despaired of meeting honest superstition in these degenerate latter
days."

"I've never heard----," began Lady Knightrider. One crime jostled
another and confused her mind. "Crawleigh will be furious if he finds
out she's been flying."

Arden walked back to the Ritz, wondering whether the fuller study of
Barbara Neave justified him in giving away points by betraying interest
in her. His preliminary diagnosis discovered energy with no outlet,
premature experience with unsated curiosity; public life held no mystery
or attraction for the only daughter of a viceroy; unless Lord Crawleigh
set himself to gain a dukedom, there were no social heights to scale;
the family was too rich for her to be troubled about money; and so
energy sought its outlet in making and receiving new sensations. This
was well enough at sixteen or seventeen, but after another five years
emotion-hunting...? He was still undecided when he encountered her a
week later at Covent Garden, sitting with Summertown and Webster on a
sofa outside Lady Maitland's box and having her fortune told by Sonia
Dainton. Her setting was of more interest than her occupation, for
Summertown and Miss Dainton were leaders of the younger cavalry in the
cosmopolitan army; they echoed the noise and reflected the insistent
glare of Sir Adolf Erckmann without sharing his solid prestige as a
critic and patron of art. Webster was a sodden, characterless youth, who
bought his way into toleration which he mistook for popularity. Arden
wondered what Loring would say if he found his cousin in such company.

"The discovery of the Ego?" he enquired.

"Hullo! We're having such fun!" said Lady Barbara. "Miss Dainton's
wonderful! I've had two bad illnesses, and something is going to happen
soon which will change the whole of my life. I'm going to have an
enormous success of some kind. And then an enormous tragedy. I'm very
artistic and full of intuition. I've got a strong will and a great
influence over people. Go on, Sonia."

"The line of heart--give me your other hand a minute," said Sonia
Dainton. "Yes, the line of heart hasn't begun yet. When it _does_!"

Lady Barbara withdrew her hand abruptly.

"I don't believe you know anything about it, Sonia. Are there any good
palmists in London, Mr. Arden? I collect fortune-tellers. Let's go
somewhere to-morrow. Father will be back in England next month, and then
I shan't be able to do anything."

"You believe in all this?" Arden asked, remembering her action with the
necklace and wondering how far she was trying to beat him at his own
game of extravagant effects.

"Oh, implicitly. Don't you? And I do want to find out all about the
future. Let's devote a week to it and try _every one_."

"I might spare you two days," he answered, as he passed on to his box.

At the end of the first Arden's curiosity was satisfied. Lady Barbara
was a study in crude contrasts. While she pained her family by sceptical
indifference to religion, there seemed nothing that she would not
believe, provided only that it did not come to her from the lips of a
priest. As they drove from one clairvoyant to another, she revealed a
curious knowledge of necromancy; she had read every book that she could
find on Satanism and the Black Mass and would talk of astrology and the
significance of dreams with grave conviction. But the cult of the
fortune-tellers was inspired primarily by a desire to discuss herself
and to be discussed. A single morning exhausted the possibilities of
amusement from such a source, and her companions were less diverting
than herself; Sonia Dainton dropped out when she found herself accorded
second place, Summertown played a thin stream of monotonous jocosity
over the survivors, and Webster fell asleep with an air of duty well
done when he had provided luncheon for every one, discovered a new
clairvoyant and driven the party to her at breakneck speed in the latest
of the racing cars whose purchase constituted the overt business of his
life.

They were to have met again with Lady Knightrider at the end of the
season; but, when Arden and Jack Waring entered the train for Raglan,
Loring awaited them with a grave face and pointed to a column notice in
his paper, headed "Serious Flying Accident."

"Thank Heaven, it happened when she was with her people and not with
me," he began. "That's my silly little fool of a cousin again! She got
that fellow Gaymer down to Crawleigh Abbey; and, when her parents' backs
were turned, they went off for a jaunt to Salisbury Plain. The
manoeuvres were on, so they brightened them up by flying so low that the
inspecting general bolted and the troops scattered in panic. There'll be
the deuce to pay for that alone. Then, on the way back, they came down
in the New Forest and got hung up on a tree. Gaymer's broken a
collar-bone and two ribs; and Barbara's badly shaken and bruised. Here's
an opportunity for your literary genius, Valentine; help me to draft a
telegram of sympathy which will shew at the same time that I think she
richly deserved all she got."

The accident was Lady Barbara's formal introduction to England.
Throughout 1909 there was an official pretence that she was not yet out;
she would still be no more than seventeen when her parents returned, and
both Lady Loring and Lady Knightrider refused to present her before
that. The baptism of blood in the New Forest made her name and face
known to every reader of every illustrated paper. "The ideal _début_ for
her," exclaimed Loring in disgust. "I can see her spending the rest of
her life trying to live up to it."

Four days later he came into Arden's room with a letter which he threw
onto the bed with a grim smile.

_"Dearest Jim,_

_"It was sweet of you to send me that wire. I've strained my back and
covered myself with bruises, but it was worth it. Fear is a wonderful
sensation; I believe it's the strongest of all the emotions. I certainly
feel that I shall never again get that sublimated degree of fear. I got
Death. (D'you spell Death with a capital D? I always do--from respect;
Death will outlast God.) You heard I had concussion? I knew I was dying
and that one step would carry me over the dividing-line. There was a
black curtain, like a drop-scene; and I knew that, as soon as that
lifted, I should be dead and on the other side. I said to myself I
wouldn't die. When I came to, the doctor was frowning terribly, and I
heard him mutter, 'Just about time, too, young lady.' I wonder whether
you'd be sorry, if I died, Jim. When I had appendicitis at Simla, you
couldn't get through the streets for the people who were waiting to hear
how the operation had gone off. The wires were blocked for three days
with enquiries._

_"I'm to be allowed out at the end of the week and hope to be well
enough to come to you at House of Steynes with father and mother._

_Your loving Barbara."_

Arden smiled as he handed back the letter.

"Characteristic," he commented.

"Oh, very! Not a word about Gaymer. Or the feelings of her parents.
She's had two new sensations and she can't be sure whether she'd get as
good a press for her death here as in India. Crawleigh will have his
hands full. You've not met him? Well, it's one thing to govern India and
another to keep a little devil like that in order."

A month later, still in the detached spirit of the social satirist,
Arden allowed himself to be introduced to Lady Barbara's parents in
Scotland. He was anxious to study her family setting, for Lord Crawleigh
was already beginning to be regarded primarily as the father of his own
daughter and only in afterthought as a distinguished public servant.
Fifteen years earlier he had first shewn the administrative brilliance
and incapacity to work with colleagues which impel a man to a
viceroyalty or the leadership of a disgruntled party of one on the
cross-benches. In Canada, in Ireland and in India he had been publicly
admired and privately abhorred. Without the backing of long established
authority, however, he was thrown on his own resources; and paper-work
genius proved itself powerless without palpable force of character.
Over-sensitive to his personal dignity, he treated his wife and children
with the pomp and despotism of Government House; according to Loring's
description, councils were convened to decide what train should bear
them from London to Crawleigh Abbey; the cook's shortcomings were
minuted to Lady Crawleigh for observations and appropriate action; the
servants were pinned to the straight path of their duties by
proclamation, and the household books were scrutinized with an
exhaustive particularity not vouchsafed to the preparation of an Indian
budget.

It was the self-protective assertion of a man sensitive to his physical
inadequacy. Lord Crawleigh's domed head, ascetic face and rimless
spectacles were impressively intellectual, but he degenerated as he went
lower. The bottom half of his face was confused with a straggling blonde
moustache intended for an operatic viking; his body was too short, his
legs too long; and, when he became excited, his voice rose querulous and
shrill. But the viceregal manner carried him far. Lord Neave and his two
younger brothers had been taught obedience at Eton; Lady Crawleigh, as
her passivity and plumpness hinted, suffered from a family streak of
laziness, which she shared with Lady Loring and Lady Knightrider, and
from twenty-five years' experience of her husband, which she could share
with no one. It required Barbara's temperamental irreverence and gipsy
craving for liberty to break down the imposing forms and spirit of her
father's rule. The boys, who could be caned while she remained immune,
sheltered themselves behind their younger sister; and, with a woman's
genius for tactical alliances and strategical choice of ground, she
explored and profited by the weak places in the enemy's system of
defences. Her father's public position and private dignity were her
strongest accessories. "She can always blackmail him by threatening a
scandal," as Loring explained.

So long as she had her own way, Arden discovered a rule of peace and
mutual affection. Lady Barbara hated to be on bad terms with any one;
and her parents were humanly, if reluctantly, proud of her. Throughout
his visit to House of Steynes, she dominated the party by her vitality
and versatile charm. Loring was in the early stages of devotion to Sonia
Dainton and disappeared as long and often as possible to escape his
mother and sister, who were trying to avert an engagement, and Lady
Dainton, who was forcing it to a head; and in his absence Arden watched
Lady Barbara posing herself in the middle of the stage, methodically
sharing herself among the guests and holding her own with all. It was
the fruit of early years, during which she had lived consistently in
public, meeting men of every profession and country, listening,
remembering, learning and giving her best in return. She shewed a nice
appreciation of personality and varied her attitude with her audience.
In talking to Arden himself she still gravely met pose with pose and
extravagance with extravagance.

"D'you feel you know me adequately now?" she asked him on the last
night. "Mr. Deganway told me you were going to write a book about me."

"And you replied, 'Only one?' It is unfortunate that Meredith has
already taken 'The Egoist' as a title."

Lady Barbara turned slowly, as though he were a mirror, and gave him
time to appreciate her slender height and lithe figure. One hand
directed attention to her hair, as she brushed away a curl from her
forehead; and she looked at him sideways with her fingers pressed
against one cheek so that he should see the size and deep colour of her
eyes.

"D'you think I'm unduly vain?" she asked.

"Genius demands vanity. But one comes back to the old question: what is
behind it? One thinks of you in six years' time and asks oneself what
will be left. You have been everywhere, Lady Lilith, and met every one
whom the world considers worth meeting--they were not too numerous?
No?--and you have read so much.... In six years' time you will be the
best known woman in London, but there will be nothing left for you to
do."

"There are always new experiences. When I had that accident in the New
Forest, a man came from the other end of England, because he'd fallen in
love with my photograph. He said he couldn't marry any one else after
seeing me."

"It is surfeiting to be easily loved," Arden sighed. "One does not shoot
sitting birds. Some day, perhaps, Lady Lilith will meet a man who goes
to the other end of England to avoid her. That will be a new experience.
She will follow him, of course. To find a heart will be the greatest
experience of all. One will watch your career with interest."

"And describe it? Or are you afraid to risk my friendship?"

"The only book that could offend Lady Lilith is one in which she does
not appear."

For the next six months Arden was compelled to study her through the
press. Loring went abroad for the winter in his yacht, Lady Knightrider
withdrew to Scotland, and Lord Crawleigh moved his seat of government
from Berkeley Square to Hampshire. Despite the rival claims of a general
election, however, she secured creditable space in the daily and weekly
papers. A ball at Crawleigh Abbey was followed by an abortive rumour of
her engagement to her cousin Lord John Carstairs. A prompt and
unambiguous disclaimer was issued, but the findings of the commission,
which Lord Crawleigh appointed under his own chairmanship to investigate
his daughter's conduct, were such that he deemed it prudent to transfer
his seat of government from Hampshire to Cap Martin. A series of
photographs from the Riviera correspondent of the 'Catch' shewed her
walking demurely with her father, playing tennis and participating less
demurely in a battle of flowers and a fancy-dress carnival.

In the spring of 1910 public interest was deflected to another branch of
the family, for Loring's engagement to Sonia Dainton was announced. But
by that time, as Arden pointed out, a man had only himself to blame if
he did not know all that was to be known of Lady Barbara Neave.

"How poor Jim must loathe all this self-advertising," said Jack Waring,
when he met Arden at the County Club to discuss the engagement. "I've
never even seen her, but I've had _her_ and her _hats_ and her _clothes_
thrust under my eyes by these infernal papers till I'm sick of them.
She's talented, she's charming. I know all the things she said to all
the big pots in India. When she is twenty-one she comes in for all her
godfather's money on condition that she marries a Catholic.... I suppose
there must be a public for this kind of stuff, or the papers wouldn't
print it; but she's on the level of a musical-comedy star. Arden, my
lad, I'm an old man, but I swear people had a little more dignity and
restraint in my young days. The one good thing about the court mourning
is that she doesn't get so much opportunity for her antics."

"She'll emerge again, when it's over," Arden predicted. "Meanwhile,
London is becoming very tiresome. Has life lost its savour? Are we
growing old? One would give much for the tonic of a good scandal."

"There'll be no lack of that," Jack prophesied, "judging from the people
I see in London nowadays."



CHAPTER THREE

THE SPIRIT OF PAN

     "A maid too easily
     Conceits herself to be
         Those things
       Her lover sings;
     And being straitly wooed,
     Believes herself the Good
         And Fair
       He seeks in her."

     FRANCIS THOMPSON: "ANY SAINT."


"D'you remember once saying that you wanted the tonic of a good
scandal?" asked Jack Waring one night three years later. "It was soon
after King Edward's death."

"And we were all very respectable and dull." Valentine Arden roused from
sleep, blinked at the clock and rang for a whiskey and soda. "One
recalls it. There is a difference between court mourning and the second
coming of Christ, but the English are the last people in the world to
recognize it. And there is a difference between taking a tonic and being
pelted to death with medicine bottles. Since those days one scans the
paper each morning to see what new reputations have been lost. Who has
made the latest Roman holiday?"

"Oh, it's this old business about your friend Barbara Neave."

Jack threw the paper to Arden and took up another in which he could
read, with insignificant verbal changes, a second and equally gratifying
account of his own prowess in the Court of Appeal that day. Three years
earlier he had talked to Eric Lane of abandoning his unproductive
criminal work on circuit; he now wondered whether he dared abandon
circuit work altogether and concentrate on his London practice. After,
perhaps, six years more he would be wondering whether to risk his whole
practice by applying for silk. Success was none the less gratifying
because he had backed his own determination against the disparaging
anticipations of his friends. Jack knew as well as any one that he was
not a great lawyer; but natural shrewdness gained him a reputation for
sound judgement; slowness passed for caution; and the inelasticity which
saved him from seeing all round a case was reinforced by an obstinate
refusal to let go the single point which he had grasped. More than one
over-astute witness in those three years had entered the box with
assurance and left it in dismay.

Only those who had known him longest wondered occasionally whether his
practice had not been bought at the price of his soul. The plea of work
and a ponderous affectation of age excused him from any effort to widen
his interests. As old a friend as Eric Lane was allowed to drop out of
his life; he refused to enter a new house and on one pretext or another
reduced the number of the old, until any time that he could spare from
work was divided between his club and his home in the country. At the
first his friends were at liberty to visit him, if they chose; but he
was obviously happier with the two Chancery silks and the one Indian
judge, all of them twice his age, in whose company he dined nightly. And
the influence of Red Roofs was even more lamentable on a man who was
born self-centred and opinionated; Mrs. Warning and Agnes idolized and
spoiled him, the colonel crystallized an intolerant conservatism of
ideas which was better justified as the mature experience of a
middle-aged soldier and country gentleman than as the untried prejudice
of a thirty-year-old barrister. "A man may be a prig or a bore or both,"
said Pentyre at a time of temporary estrangement, "but he needn't be so
infernally pleased with himself about it." The school of sport and
fashion which Jack had once led at Oxford entertained the same feeling,
if it expressed it with more disappointment and less candour.

"The coroner would seem to have spoken with visible emotion," commented
Arden, trying to disguise his relish as he read the paper which Jack had
thrown to him. "One wishes one had stayed to the end."

"I've no doubt she'll try to use it as another advertisement," Jack
grunted. "What her unfortunate people must think.... _And_ what the
younger generation is coming to. It's a good thing for Jim that he's
being spared all this."

"Yet he also has unselfishly contributed to the general diversion," said
Arden.

Three years had passed since Sonia Dainton delighted her friends by
becoming engaged to Loring, and two since she astonished them by
breaking off the engagement. He had at once gone abroad and was reported
to be still cruising aimlessly in the East. The social ghouls had hardly
sated themselves with gossip, when Webster entangled himself with the
proprietress of a dancing academy and was constrained to pay damages for
breach of promise; and, while this case was still being discussed, Jack
Summertown proceeded to occupy the press for three days with an enquiry
into a series of minor outrages inflicted on an unpopular brother
officer. Valentine Arden sat through the whole variety programme,
unamused and detached, watching his friends succumbing one after another
to epidemic madness. "The spirit of Pan is abroad," he explained
gravely.

Lady Barbara Neave had flitted on the outskirts of each new scandal;
but, since her flying accident, she had contributed no scandal of her
own.

For the first year of the three she opened her social circuit as
comprehensively as an unfledged barrister. Lady Crawleigh carried her
from Milford to Kenworth, from Warmslow to Lenge and from Cheniston to
Granlake. Lady Barbara's interest in social analysis was roused and fed
by her tour of the great houses; they required a technique different
from the absolutism of Government House and the unaided personal
ascendancy of London; and, if she remained unabsorbed into the new
atmosphere, at least she returned to Crawleigh Abbey with a mature
country-house philosophy and clear-cut ideas of what to avoid and
extrude from her own parties. The second year was devoted to romantic
exploration. At the end of the court mourning she met a pleasant
undistinguished soldier on furlough and chose, for no better reason--so
far as her parents could see--than that he was already married, to fancy
herself in love with him. Their few meetings--and still more their
emotional parting--convinced at least the theatrical side of her
temperament that she had broken her heart in a hopeless passion. Always
thin, she artistically allowed herself to waste. For twelve teeming
months she passively accepted the worship of all who were intrigued by
her attitude of mystery and unresponsiveness; then native impatience
broke through the unconvincing crust of cynicism, and she returned to
London in a dangerous state of expectancy and unsatisfied excitement. In
the absence of an overt scandal, her father hoped that she was sobered
from the tomboy who had spread devastation through his three viceregal
terms of office; the lesser optimists opined that she was only awaiting
adequate opportunity.

Disaster overtook her in the summer of 1913; and, whatever other
criticism was made, no one could deny that she won notoriety in the
grand manner. The facts, as disclosed in court, revealed that Sir Adolf
Erckmann had given a ball at his house in Westbourne Terrace. Lady
Barbara decided within a few minutes of her arrival that the party was
over-crowded and tiresome. Finding her slave Webster unoccupied, she
suggested that he should drive her to another dance in the country and
return to Westbourne Terrace when the congestion had been relieved. As
his own car was gone home, they explored the line until the unknown
chauffeur of some one else's car was persuaded to take them to
Rickmansworth, wait half an hour and bring them back. Lady Barbara
promised that there should be no awkward consequences, if they were
discovered; Webster substantiated her guarantee with a five-pound note;
and, by the time that they had further cajoled him with a stimulating
supper of champagne and cutlets, the driver's last reluctance was
overcome.

The story was liberally punctuated with questions on the general
propriety of a girl's bribing a strange chauffeur and stealing an
unknown car, with comments, too, on the dignity of their carrying a
bottle of champagne and a plate of cutlets into the middle of Westbourne
Terrace. There followed a digression to discover how much had been
consumed; Lady Barbara and Webster asserted unshakably that the
chauffeur was sober and that, if his driving became erratic at any
point, this was due to his admitted ignorance of the route.

While the question of sobriety was left in suspense, the expedition was
reconstructed to the moment when the car reached a fork in the road and
the chauffeur turned to Webster and asked "Right or left, sir?" Examined
on the question of speed, Lady Barbara was sure that they were not going
more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour; twenty-five at the outside,
Webster conceded unwillingly; they could not see the speedometer. It was
suggested, however, that they must have calculated how long the double
journey would take; they had even noticed when the car started and when
it stopped; a damaging calculation shewed that their average pace was
thirty-seven miles an hour and that, if they drove slowly out of London,
they must have reached forty-five or fifty miles an hour in the
country. And they had not told the man to moderate his pace; it even
seemed that they had encouraged him to drive faster.

At the fork in the road Webster called out, "To the right, I think";
then he saw that he was mistaken and shouted, "No! the left." In trying
to change direction, the chauffeur drove into a wedge-shaped brick wall
and was instantly killed. Lady Barbara and her companion escaped with a
severe shaking and a few scratches from the broken glass of the
wind-screen; the front of the car was smashed beyond repair.

The accident took place in open country without a house in sight. As
soon as they saw that the driver was dead, Lady Barbara spread her cloak
over the crushed head and broken face; Webster's nerve was gone, and she
left him, whimpering, to guard the body, while she went in search of
help. An early market-cart came to their rescue, and they rumbled slowly
back to London, shivering in their thin clothes and glancing over their
shoulders at a pair of twisted legs in black gaiters, which protruded
stiffly from beneath a blood-stained cloak.

The news swept through London in the evening papers, and Lady Barbara
was inundated next day with enquiries and messages of sympathy. So
grudging a critic as Jack Waring contended warmly at the County Club
that, apart from her silliness in rushing away to the country in the
middle of the night and borrowing a car without leave, she was really
not to blame; and it was a dreadful experience for any girl. By
comparison with Webster she had kept her head and behaved very properly,
taking the body straight to a hospital, communicating with the widow,
making herself personally responsible for a liberal pension and
undertaking to replace the shattered car. Before night two papers had
published sympathetic interviews with her, reproducing in her own not
undramatic words the abrupt transition from a careless drive to violent
death, the slow passage of a funeral procession between barren grey
fields, the silence and desolation of the night, the early-morning chill
which beat on her unprotected arms and shoulders and the haunting sense
of helplessness which dominated every other feeling. Inset was one
photograph of her in evening dress and another with hollow cheeks and
big ghostly eyes, in the subdued black frock which she had worn to
receive her interviewers; for these Jack blamed the notorious vulgarity
of the Press.

Admiration changed again to pity when the inquest opened. Sonia Dainton,
who attended as an act of friendship, reported that the coroner was
underbred and ill-tempered; Lady Maitland, who felt no curiosity but did
not want Barbara to think that her friends were deserting her, added
that he was a natural bully; and the Duchess of Ross, who hated any
unpleasantness and only went--with Lord Poynter, Mrs. Shelley and Val
Arden--to give the girl confidence, brought back word that, to the best
of his ability and the utmost of his despotic functions, he was resolved
to humiliate Lady Barbara, to discredit her associates and, without
respect of persons, to put such a brand on her family and herself that
they would never again dare to shew themselves among decent men and
women. The witness learned on the first day that she was a pampered and
spoiled child; _blasée_ and restless, she would do anything for a new
excitement; with that absence of rudimentary decorum which some people
appeared to think "smart," she had lawlessly appropriated a car--the
coroner wondered what she would think if any one took one of her
father's cars "just for a joke"--she had helped to make the driver
intoxicated, thereby shewing characteristic disregard for the safety of
mere ordinary people who might also want to use the road; she or her
companion--was it usual for a girl to ride about at night unattended in
this way?--had incited the chauffeur to drive at a reckless rate of
speed. And the price of this prank--the momentary diversion of the Lady
Barbara Neave, daughter of the Marquis of Crawleigh, one time
Governor-General of Canada, Viceroy of India and Lord Lieutenant of
Ireland--was the hideous death of a man who left behind him a widow and
four small children. Lady Barbara, who naturally thought that money paid
for everything, was graciously and of her abundance trying to compute
the dead man's cash value to his wife. The hearing was adjourned for a
week, as Mr. Webster was indisposed by the shock of the accident.

Had the coroner been inspired by malice, he could not have waged a
deadlier warfare than by taking three days for the inquest and allowing
intervals of a week for the case to be discussed. The stream of sympathy
ran dry; and, if no one criticized Lady Barbara to her face, every one
chattered about the enquiry and took his time from the coroner.
Repenting his precipitate tolerance, Jack Waring told the two Chancery
silks and the Indian judge that it was absurd for Crawleigh to say that
the man was abusing his position and stirring up class prejudice; when
one looked back over the last few years, one remembered a dozen things
which Lady Barbara had been allowed to do for no better reason than that
she was Lady Barbara Neave; but a line had really to be drawn somewhere.
If Crawleigh disliked having mud thrown at him in public, he should
exercise his authority with the girl; her friends were wholly
impossible....

By the time that Webster was well enough to give evidence, the tide was
in flood against him. The breach of promise case was fresh in the public
mind; and, if it could not relevantly be brought up against him, it had
at least familiarised his appearance and history and made a dark
background to his examination. Mr. Webster was a young man; he did not
work for his living, as he had considerable private means; in fact, he
had nothing to do except to spend money and amuse himself. Pressed to
state what good he was effecting for himself or the world at large, he
could only say that he was interested in the theatre and fond of
motoring--another instance of this small, rich, insistent class whose
social importance varied in inverse ratio as its public usefulness. Put
shortly, his object in life was to kill time, to avoid boredom.

The story of the night drive was rehearsed a second time, as the coroner
wished to know who had proposed it; and the suspended question of the
driver's sobriety was brought up for retrial. A bottle of champagne had
been mentioned; had Mr. Webster and Lady Barbara partaken of it in their
idyllically democratic picnic? Mr. Webster had dined at his club; could
he remember what he had drunk with his dinner? His bill would no doubt
shew that.

On the second adjournment a sordid note had been introduced, alienating
the last sympathisers and sinking a tragedy in a drunken frolic. No one
acquainted with Webster would associate him with a temperate life; those
who saw him for the first time in court with twitching hands, a puffy
face and flickering eyelids drew their own conclusions. If it was a
shock to look at Lady Barbara and to hear it suggested that she, too,
had been hardly accountable for her actions, the shock was not wholly
displeasing to those who believed in the rottenness of so-called
"society."

"They say I've murdered the man," she whispered to her father, as she
left the court. "They've made the foulest insinuations about Fatty
Webster and me. Now they say I drink. There's not much left, is there? I
shouldn't be surprised if the people in the street hooted me."

Lord Crawleigh chewed his blonde, viking moustache and hurried her
across the pavement into a closed car. He had never been present at an
inquest before; and a voice had murmured that the coroner was working
for a verdict of manslaughter. A nondescript crowd, dotted with cameras,
waited in a half-circle outside the court; it was curious, but at
present it was silent. Valentine Arden paused at the door and
ostentatiously raised his hat. He, too, would not have been surprised to
hear hooting; and he was disappointed to have no vivid contrast for his
gesture of chivalry. He wondered whether Lady Barbara was missing the
hostile demonstration; it would have been a new sensation....

On the third day she appeared once more in a black hat and dress and sat
with her veil up, waiting for the verdict and the coroner's comments.
Arden decided that she was modelling herself on Marie Antoinette and
hoped that she would be given an opportunity of speaking. At the end,
the jury found that death was due to misadventure; the reporters closed
their note-books, and Lord Crawleigh reached for his hat. Arden left at
once for fear of spoiling his earlier effect by repetition, but the
evening papers reported the invective of the coroner in full.

_"I suggest to the representatives of the press that it is their duty to
give the widest publicity to this case. In an experience which goes back
for a good many years now, I have never regretted so bitterly that I
have no power to punish those who by wanton carelessness or evil
disposition contribute to the death of a man or woman as surely as if
they had killed him with their own hands. We have had an illuminating
picture of the life and habits of some of those who traditionally expect
us to look up to them for an example. If these people are too idle or
vicious or brainless to live a life which shall be of use to the
community, there should at least be power to restrain them from becoming
a source of public danger. The proper treatment for such incipient
hooligans and reformatory children is the birch-rod: I wish I had
authority to order it. Rank and wealth can only be defended if they
impose obligations: to these bright ornaments of the leisured classes
they only afford opportunities. There has been far too much of this kind
of thing lately, and I hope I shall never again be required to deal with
so disgraceful a case. These young hobbledehoys, unchecked by any
domestic discipline, unrestrained by common decency, owing no
obligation to any one, a law unto themselves, are a new and poisonous
growth in our social life. They fulfil no useful purpose, there is no
room for them."_

"There _was_ a hostile demonstration in the street," Arden announced, as
he came to the end of the report.

"How she must have enjoyed it!" grunted Jack.

"One wishes one had stayed to the end. The court was not unlike a gala
night at Covent Garden. You have read the descriptions of the dresses?
No?"

"All this only encourages her," Jack pointed out. "I'm about the one man
in London who's succeeded in not meeting her, but, if there's ever a
revolution, that young woman will have done more than any one else to
bring it about. And she'll be photographed getting into the tumbril; and
some one will interview her on the scaffold. On my honour, I can't see
what amusement she gets out of it."

"Emotion, drama, limelight, romance," Arden suggested. "Lady Barbara may
be sure that every one in London is talking about her at this moment;
London is her stage."

"Well, she'll have to retire from it after this," said Jack.

"She will re-emerge," Arden prophesied.

Both predictions were fulfilled before the end of the summer. Lord
Crawleigh held his hand until the inquest was over, because he could not
trust himself to deal even justice while the offence was fresh. For
three weeks he was equally indifferent to Lady Barbara's tragic
attitude, the sympathy of friends and the infamies of a hostile press:
more than one anonymous letter reached him, to be read with a frown and
silently filed with the documents in the case; and it was reported that
a reference to his family had crept into the patter of a music-hall
comedian. In the rich silence of a choleric and expressive man the
nerves of family and retainers stretched to breaking-point.

On the morrow of the verdict he assembled his wife and children in the
library, rehearsed the charges against Lady Barbara and made known his
will. Henceforward she was to go nowhere unless attended by her mother,
one of her brothers or her maid. The family would proceed to Crawleigh
Abbey that day and would remain there until further notice. The ball
which Lady Crawleigh was giving would be cancelled; his daughter was to
refuse all invitations already accepted and to accept no more. At the
end of the season she would stay in no house unless one at least of her
parents accompanied her.

As he ended, Lady Barbara stole a glance round the hushed library. Her
three brothers were silent and submissive; her mother helpless and
pained, like an "honest broker" who saw the nations of the world flying
at one another's throats, when she had exhausted herself to keep the
peace; her father's eyes were burning, and he dragged at one side of his
moustache as though he were trying to tear it out by the roots. In every
altercation, great and small, Lady Barbara had to fight single-handed.

"But, father, you seem to think this was my _fault_!" she cried in
bewilderment.

Lord Crawleigh handed his wife a paper with fingers that trembled.

"Here are the dates and trains," he said. "You will go to the Abbey by
the 4.10 from Waterloo. I shall join you at the end of the session." He
turned to his daughter without trusting himself to face her dark,
reproachful eyes. "I contemplate taking you to Raglan in August and
House of Steynes in September, if your aunts see fit not to withdraw
your invitation----"

"But how long is this going on?" Lady Barbara interrupted.

"I cannot permit any discussion," he answered in something that was half
a whisper and half a sigh.

Lady Barbara looked at him reflectively and went to her room. When she
came of age, in little more than a year's time, he would have no means
of coercing her. Without waiting a year she could go to Harry Manders
and demand to be given a part; he had offered her one in her own
duologue. But the tension of the last three weeks and the dazing
examination and attack at the inquest had left her uncertain of herself.
A day or two at the Abbey, even though she were snatched away in the
middle of the season, would give her time to find her bearings and
discover what people really thought of her.

The more she pondered, the deeper grew her bewilderment. If all had gone
well, the dash to Rickmansworth and back would have been regarded as a
wholly innocent diversion in the course of a tiresome evening; on her
return every one else would have regretted that he had not come too;
even the borrowing of the car was venial, for the owner refused to
accept any compensation, though the insurance company might well make
difficulties; even he regarded the expedition as a joke, which had
unhappily turned to tragedy, and was far sorrier that Lady Barbara
should have been upset than that the chauffeur should have been killed.

If the facts, then, were innocent, she was being persecuted by the
coroner and threatened with persecution by society at large for an
accident to which she had contributed nothing. The chauffeur was sober
enough to drive through dense traffic on the Harrow Road; Webster--she
remembered his words--had looked at his watch and said through the
speaking-tube, "You can let her out a bit now, I should think. We don't
want to keep you out too long." The charge that any one of them was
drunk would have been more insulting if it had been less grotesque. And
for this the coroner had suggested that she should be ostracized. And
her simple-minded father imagined that there were other simple-minded
souls who would take such a Jack-in-office at his own pontifical
valuation.

She almost hoped that they would, so that she might force them in
triumph to acknowledge her innocence. To start as an outcast and win her
way back was a dramatic dream which almost made her wish that she was
guilty. To become an outcast might be as dramatic as to rise from
obscurity to a pinnacle of fame.... Napoleon owed half his place in
history to St. Helena.

An undistracted fortnight at the Abbey cooled Lady Barbara's resentment
and checked the more romantic flights of her imagination. Her father's
judgement was clearly at fault; to run away was to admit herself in the
wrong. By the time that she had got herself into perspective, the season
was so near its end that she did not think it worth while to make a
demonstration and to occupy her room in Berkeley Square by force. But
the late summer and autumn lay before her, and, when her father came to
the Abbey for a week-end in July, she informed him that she had not yet
cancelled any of her arrangements for staying with friends.

"You will remain here till we go to the Riviera in February," he
answered.

"But, father, I'm not going to. This is quite serious. I've been here a
month without seeing a soul; I should go mad, if I had to vegetate for
another seven months. If you won't let me go, I'm afraid I must go
without your leave."

"That may not be as easy as you think."

"What d'you mean?"

Lord Crawleigh unlocked a red leather despatch-box, turned over his
files and produced a sheet of paper which he spread before her.

"This is a copy of a cable which your cousin has sent to his mother from
Surinam. I had intended taking you to House of Steynes, but that is out
of the question now."

_"Please arrange that Barbara and her friend are not admitted to my
house. This applies to Monmouthshire and Scotland as well as London."_

Lady Barbara handed back the paper and tried to laugh, but she knew
that her expression was out of control. If the news had reached Surinam,
it had reached every cable-station on the way; and the operators had
hardly done feasting themselves on the inquest before a message, signed
"Loring" and mentioning her by name, added a dainty titbit to the
savoury repast. Sooner or later it would be common property that her own
cousin had slammed his door in her face for fear of contamination; the
family would be divided into those who knew her and those who publicly
refused to know her; she would become a test-case for disreputability.

"Jim has his own standards of loyalty, hasn't he?" she commented and was
infuriated to find her voice trembling. "He's usually so keen on the
family that I shouldn't have thought he'd have wanted to take the whole
world into his confidence. One good thing, he can't call _me_
self-advertising after this. Have you seen the darling boy's mother? Is
she--_proud_ of him over this?"

"She was as much shocked as I was that you should have made it
necessary."

"I? Father, you can't make me responsible for _this_. But is she proud
of his chivalry? And I suppose _you_ didn't make a fight for me? I must
see her. I want to tell her about the accident." She pressed her hands
to cheeks which were still hollow from the anxiety of the last two
months and looked at her father over her finger-tips. "I'd never seen
any one killed before, I'd never seen a dead body; and I couldn't sleep
at night, because of it. I kept seeing that unhappy woman's face, too,
when I had to tell her that her husband was dead. I didn't ask for
sympathy, but I thought perhaps my own father and mother might have seen
that I wasn't exactly--enjoying myself, that I was ill, worried out of
my mind. If _I_ had a daughter, I should have felt for her, I think,
when a foul-mouthed little reptile hinted that she was _drunk_ and that
her _lover_ had helped her kill an innocent man for her own amusement.
Never a word! Do you know that for three weeks you only said
'Good-morning' to me, father? Even if I was guilty a hundred times over,
it wouldn't have compromised you to be sorry that I was suffering. I
don't complain. You at least left me alone. But Jim waits till I'm
beaten to my knees, waits till I'm bleeding--and then hits wherever he
can see a bruise or wound. That _wasn't_ necessary, father."

Lord Crawleigh rearranged his papers without answering. He was himself
so much humiliated by his nephew's cable that he had hardly thought how
it might affect Barbara. She was always most formidable when she stood,
as now, with drooping head, composed and subdued, speaking in an
undertone and rejecting in advance any sympathy that he might belatedly
offer her. She had learned in childhood to fight men with their own
weapons and to fall back on her sex when the battle was going against
her. He had seen her trading on pathos a hundred times with her mother
and aunts, using to full advantage a pose of tired frailty, a wistful
mouth and big eyes which filled with tears at will or flashed black with
indignation; she could droop her head and body until she looked like a
tortured martyr, or cough until she looked consumptive. Almost certainly
she was acting now, but her passion for romance and a dramatic impact
led her to act without knowing it.

"If you had behaved properly, this would not have happened," he threw
out with weak, inconsequent irritability.

"It's too late now. Are you going to House of Steynes? Do you allow
people to say that they'll be glad to see you on condition you don't
bring your daughter with you? And will you invite Amy and Aunt Eleanor
here to meet somebody who can't be admitted to their house?"

Lord Crawleigh had enough imagination to see the more obvious
consequences of his nephew's ultimatum; but he could not devise an
effective reply, and it was merely exasperating to have his own
disadvantage explored and stated by Barbara.

"I talked to your aunt. She says she daren't go against Jim's wishes.
After all, they're his houses. She's writing to him----"

"To intercede for me?" Lady Barbara interrupted scornfully. "When next I
enter House of Steynes, it will be on his invitation. And, before I
allow him to invite me, he will apologize."

"It's no use taking _that_ line," cried her father testily. Her last two
sentences had exceeded the probable limits of sincerity, and he swooped
before she could escape into a convincing pathos. "If _any one_ ought to
apologize----"

Lady Barbara caught sight of her reflection, full-length, in a mirror,
with her father fidgetting at her side. He looked insignificant, almost
ridiculous, with his domed forehead and straggling blonde moustache, his
short body and long legs. She wanted to make him see himself and to play
up to their two reflections like Metternich and L'Aiglon in the mirror
scene.

"I can only apologize for the fact of my existence," she sighed. "I was
_not_ responsible, father, and you know it. And, instead of standing up
for your own daughter, you let her be insulted. I can't do anything with
people who stab in the back, but I'm ready to meet every one! I _will_
meet them. If they want to insult me, they can insult me to my face."

The embargo on Lady Barbara's presence only extended to the houses
controlled by her cousin. In August she went to stay with Lady
Knightrider in Raglan and was received with demonstrative affection. A
gentle reaction had set in, inspired directly by Lord Crawleigh and
aided by all who felt that Jim Loring's precipitous cable had placed the
family in an intolerable position. Working in a sympathetic atmosphere,
Lady Barbara enlisted her aunt's support in a campaign which was to
rehabilitate her or at least to shew whether she stood in need of
rehabilitation. As soon as they returned to London for the autumn, Lady
Knightrider undertook to give a dance and to insist that Lady Loring
and Amy should come; if Jim were home by then, she would make him come,
too, and the whole ridiculous quarrel would be forgotten. Lady Barbara
intended to go farther than the settlement of a family difference. The
party should be a challenge to all who felt disposed to criticise her;
she was determined to appear side by side with Webster and to give them
their opportunity; and any one who declined to come would have to shew
convincing justification for his refusal.

The invitations were sent out six weeks in advance; Lady Knightrider
reasoned with those who made excuses, sent reminders to those who had
accepted and surrounded herself with a staff of energetic lieutenants.

"_You're_ coming on, Val, aren't you?" asked George Oakleigh
distractedly on the night of the ball, as he prowled hungrily through
the County Club with a list in his hand. He had undertaken to bring six
men and was bribing them beforehand with dinner.

"A doubt has crept in," Arden replied uncertainly. "One invitation may
be attributed to hospitality; four suggest panic."

"Well, if there are too few men, you'll be all the more popular; if
there are too many, you can go home early. Gerry, I'm counting on you."

Deganway paused for an instant on his way to the cloak-room.

"My dear, I wouldn't miss it for anything."

Oakleigh added a tick to his list and hurried after Jack Waring. They
were still disputing, when Eric Lane was announced.

"I don't dance, I can't talk and I want to go to bed," said Jack firmly.

"You can go after half an hour," Oakleigh promised.

"Well, I'll come for one cigar, if Eric comes too. I'm an old man,
George; I haven't been to a ball for ten years."

At eleven o'clock Oakleigh convoyed them securely into the drawing-room
of Lady Knightrider's house in South Street. By the test of numbers the
dance promised well, for the house was already crowded and Lady
Barbara's relations were in full attendance. Her triumph was left
incomplete by the absence of Webster, but he had been snubbed more than
once in the last few months and was waiting for time to heal his
reputation. She had spent the afternoon arguing with him until she felt
her dignity compromised, and the embers of her ill-humour smouldered
through the night.

By prearrangement Jack escaped to the smoking-room for a cigar, while
Eric unbosomed himself of news which had been choking him for three
days; Harry Manders had accepted a play, which was to be produced in the
following autumn; after eight years of disappointment the daydream was
being realized. They were still bandying congratulations and thanks,
when the smoking-room was invaded by Deganway and a girl.

"Isn't that the famous Lady Barbara Neave?" Eric whispered.

Jack half turned and shook his head.

"Don't ask me. I'm shortly starring at the Halls as the one man in the
world who doesn't know her and doesn't want to. I think it must be, all
the same. Gerry seems to be getting called over the coals for
something."

Lady Barbara's annoyance with Webster was spending itself on Deganway.
There were long silences, broken by deferential squeaks of small-talk
from him and restored by petulant rejoinders from her. She treated her
companion with a contempt that was almost insolent and jumped restlessly
to her feet, as the band began to tune up. Deganway hurried after her to
the door, and the calm of the smoking room was only disturbed by
half-heard music and the sound of high, rapid voices on the stairs. As
his second cigar burnt low, Jack looked at his watch and beckoned Eric
from his chair.

"Come and say good-bye; then you can drop me at the club," he
suggested.

They steered a tortuous and apologetic course through the couples seated
on the stairs and looked hopelessly for Lady Knightrider. In their
absence the drawing-room had filled to overflowing, and the landings and
balconies were packed to the limit of their capacity. As the next dance
started, Deganway entered, blinking in the light, from one of the open
French windows; Lady Barbara was still with him, but, as the music
began, she was claimed and taken away.

"First time I've ever seen you indulging in frivolities like this,
Jack," he said, letting fall his eye-glass and hunting for his
cigarette-case.

"Well, I don't dance, and the conventional alternative is to talk to
young women," answered Jack. "I confess that I can imagine less dreary
pastimes--for both."

"That depends on the woman. I've spent most of the evening with Babs
Neave. My dear, there's plenty of excitement in talking to _her_! Care
to meet her?"

"I'm going home as soon as I've found Lady Knightrider," Jack answered.

"It'd pay you to talk to her for a bit. Let me introduce you! She's
awful good fun--doesn't care a damn what she says or does----"

"That's her general reputation," interrupted Jack.

"Oh, you mustn't believe everything you hear about her. She's quite all
right _really_; awful nice girl. Let me introduce you!"

Jack shook his head and took Eric by the arm.

"My dear Deganway, I've no doubt she's everything you say, but I don't
care a great lot for the Websters and Penningtons and Welmans and
Erckmanns and all that gang that she goes about with. They're such
devilish bad style. Good-night."

Deganway grinned maliciously.

"I've a good mind to tell her what you said. Do her no end of good. And
I should get a bit of my own back after the way she's been ragging me."

They stood talking by the door until the music stopped. Then Jack and
Eric turned and went downstairs, while Deganway sidled up to Lady
Barbara.

"No, you're tiresome to-night," she told him, when he asked for another
dance. "Who are those two going out? I don't know them."

"The fair one's Jack Waring----"

"Well, I should like to know him," Lady Barbara interrupted. "I'm tired
of everybody."

Deganway hurried obediently out of the room and returned a moment later
with a smirk of satisfaction.

"Try again, Babs," he suggested. "Waring's not taking any."

"Do talk intelligibly, Gerry!"

"Well, I told him _before_ that he ought to meet you. I said what good
fun you were and what he was missing and all that sort of thing----"

Lady Barbara shivered at the blunt catalogue of her charms.

"What did he say?"

By natural compensation Deganway atoned for certain defects of
intelligence by an excellent power of mimicry. He gave not only Jack's
lilt and phraseology, but his facial changes and rather prim,
tight-lipped smile.

"I tried him again," he added, "but he said he _must_ go to bed. I don't
believe he wanted to meet you."

Lady Barbara smiled composedly, but the brusque rebuff, brusquely
quoted, wounded her pride as nothing had done since Jim's cable. Some
one had taken up the challenge, as she had feared--or hoped.

"Sorry he's so hard to please," she answered lightly. "You can give me
some supper, if you like. Who and what is he? A candid critic is so rare
that I should quite like to meet him."



CHAPTER FOUR

APHRODITE DEMI-MONDAINE

     "What rage for fame attends both great and small!
     Better be d----d than mentioned not at all!"

     JOHN WOLCOTT: "TO THE ROYAL ACADEMICIANS."


"_The Princess Juanita dawned upon respectability like Aphrodite rising
from the gutters._"

According to Mrs. Shelley, as quoted by Eric to George Oakleigh and the
author, this was the opening sentence of Valentine Arden's "New
Jerusalem," and she had given a luncheon party on the strength of it.
Since her husband's death, Eric had edged gently away from her
self-conscious artistic menagerie; he had been recaptured for a moment
after the Coronation, when his father was knighted for "eminent services
to the study of Anglo-Saxon" and he could himself be introduced as "the
son of Sir Francis Lane, you know"; and it was no sooner hinted that a
play of his had been accepted by Harry Manders than she dragged him back
into his cage with a tacit order to stay there until his public interest
was exhausted.

It was Mrs. Shelley's practice to read every book of importance on the
day of publication; it was her ambition to know all about it before it
was written. The new satire, she informed her guests, had engaged
Arden's energies for two years and presented a picture of London society
under the empire of Sir Adolf Erckmann and the cosmopolitans; the forces
of respectability had not escaped the impartial lash of his ridicule,
and almost every character was a portrait. Mrs. Welman waltzed
unmistakably over the glittering pages with Sir Deryk Lancing; Lord
Pennington, Jack Summertown and the Baroness Kohnstadt flitted from
place to place like the chorus of a musical comedy, and every scandal of
the last ten years was described or mentioned. If the book were ever
published, Mrs. Shelley was convinced that the heavens would rain writs
for libel; certainly no one would continue to know the author. She had
reasoned with him, but he was apparently tired of London and
contemplated impressing his personality on New York.

While no one was secure, Eric gathered that the greatest speculation
surrounded the identity of "Princess Juanita." Mrs. Shelley maintained
that the character must be intended for Sonia Dainton, who had joined
the Erckmann faction when she broke off her engagement with Loring; Lady
Maitland, who was still smarting in the belief that Arden had sketched
her for his earlier "Madame Chasseresse-de-Lions," had no doubt that he
was now squirting his poison at Lady Barbara Neave. "A man like that,"
she told Mrs. Shelley, "would never waste time on a commoner like Sonia
Dainton when he could besmirch the daughter of a marquess and tickle his
wretched provincial audience by calling her a princess." Her bitter
words were repeated to the author, who announced that he was giving his
book the sub-title "Commoner and Commoner," and dedicating it to Lady
Maitland. Only when he was tired of his friends' good advice did he
admit that the satire existed but in his imagination.

"One is taken altogether too literally," he complained to his friends in
the smoking-room of the Thespian Club. "A grim, cultured hostess,
spectacled young poets having their own poems explained to them by Lady
Poynter, a dinner which one ate and tried to forget, furtive confidences
on the wine from Lord Poynter, a succession of _longueurs_--you see the
scene? Chelsea.... Earnestness.... Ill-assortment.... Without any wish
to _épater le bourgeois_, one played with an idea, developed it,
invented characters, let fall a phrase.... Perhaps one has allowed good
Sir Adolf to obsess one's mind.... It was not a remarkable phrase; but
one could hardly have caused a greater stir if one had telegraphed
anonymously to one's friends--"_Fly. All is known._" Lady Knightrider
almost offered one a blank cheque to stop publication. A _jeu d'esprit_
must be labelled before it is offered to the English."

"Well, I'm glad the book's not going to be published," said Oakleigh.
"That little gang's had quite enough advertisement without any help from
you."

"One hates to disappoint Lady Barbara," answered Arden reflectively.
"Undeniably she compels a reluctant admiration. She has lived in three
continents--in regal state; she has met every one and done everything;
in her leisure she has written plays, selected poetry, exhibited
caricatures--not altogether contemptible--of her family and friends,
patronized new schools of decoration, invented new fashions of dress
and, as all the world knows, worn them. What remained? One met her first
some years ago and asked oneself that question. It is still unanswered!"

"At present she's bolstering up two or three dozen people who are only
received on the strength of her name," Oakleigh replied. "And she's
going to find that her name isn't strong enough to carry them."

"These people go to her head," Arden replied with disgust. "One credited
her with more detachment."

The campaign of rehabilitation had not been an unqualified success. Lady
Knightrider aimed at reconciling Barbara with her relations rather than
at reconciling her relations with her friends. There was an implied
threat that she must choose one or the other; and a prevalent feeling
was crystallized by Jack Waring, when he said that she was not worth
knowing at the price of having to know her disorderly retinue. While she
welcomed the concordat, Lady Barbara could not explain to Sir Adolf
Erckmann that he was her fit companion one day and unfit the next; she
might gently repel a cosmopolitan here and there, but she could not
refuse all their invitations always; loyalty imposed its obligations,
and stronger than loyalty was an impatient desire to tell other people
to mind their own business. Yet the concordat might have endured, if the
discussion of Arden's hypothetical book had not impelled Lady
Knightrider hot-foot from Mrs. Shelley's house to his rooms at the Ritz.
Not content with her legitimate relief at finding that "Princess
Juanita" was no less a myth than "The New Jerusalem," she confided to
Arden that dear Barbara _did_ go about with "really rather dreadful
people"; some one at her party had said that the girl's friends were
such that he preferred not to know her. So long as she associated with
them, it was only too probable that there would be another
unpleasantness of some kind.

"I really think it my duty," she said on leaving, "to drop a little hint
to my sister."

The nods and winks of verbal warning are apt to take on an exaggerated
significance when defined in black and white. On receipt of the letter
Lord Crawleigh motored to London and opened a new commission of enquiry
to investigate the personal desirability of his daughter's associates.
If Lady Barbara was at first bewildered, she was in no way daunted, for
in the endless intermingling of groups throughout London she could
usually find a sponsor for the most draggled of her friends. Sir Adolf
Erckmann's private life might lead him into the Divorce Court, he might
even be the "vulgar, common fellow" that her father described, but he
had dined in Berkeley Square as a member of Lord Crawleigh's
Departmental Committee on Indian Currency Reform. Lady Crawleigh always
went to the vulgar, common fellow's famous musical parties in Westbourne
Terrace. Lady Barbara had originally met Mrs. Welman at a performance of
"The School for Scandal," organized by Lady Maitland for charity, and
had naturally accepted the implied guarantee; it was not against civil,
canon or moral law for a woman to have been on the stage. Those who,
like Webster, could not so easily be defended were pushed into the
background. The battle of wits ceased to be amusing when Lord Crawleigh
repeated his threat that Barbara would not be allowed to go anywhere
unless she were suitably chaperoned. The dreary banishment at the Abbey
lingered in her memory as a summer stolen out of her life. As her
patience ebbed, she decided that there must be an end of these
inquisitions.

It was easy to trace her present plight through Lady Knightrider to Val
Arden; but there was some one behind Arden, for her father claimed to
have chapter and verse for saying that people were refusing to know her
so long as she associated with her present friends. With a shock of
surprise she recalled a self-satisfied young man who had in fact met her
invitation to be introduced with a drawling, "Thanks very much. She may
be all you say, but...."

It was incredible that one bumptious boy could do so much harm.... Even
when the commission adjourned without arriving at an agreed report, Lady
Barbara felt that a vendetta was being forced upon her....

She had no plan of campaign and knew nothing of her adversary but his
name. Apart from Gerry Deganway she did not know of any one who was
acquainted with him; and Deganway had done enough harm already without
being given new opportunities. But, if the vendetta required resource,
resource should be forthcoming. She called on Sonia Dainton the day
after her father's inquisition and proposed that they should go for a
drive. As the car entered the Park by Albert Gate, she pretended to
recognize a face and said:

"Wasn't that Jack Waring?"

"I didn't see," Sonia answered.

"It was like him--though I don't know him to speak to."

"You'll find him very sticky. He's a great friend of your cousin Jim.
When we were engaged, I used to see a certain amount of him. He's a
heavy, Stone-Age creature; when he and Jim and George Oakleigh put their
wise old heads together, there was nothing they wouldn't disapprove of!"

"I hear he's been good enough to criticize _me_," said Lady Barbara
carelessly.

"When he doesn't even know you? What did he say?" asked Sonia.

"Oh, what does it matter? Some one started a story the other day that I
took drugs. Li Webster heard a woman say, 'I was told by a friend who'd
been to the same dressmaker; her arm was all red and pulpy; I believe
she's been doing it for years and that's why she always wears long
sleeves at night.' Have you _ever_ seen me in long sleeves, Sonia. I've
got much too good arms! And, if I wanted to take the beastly stuff,
shouldn't I have it injected where it wouldn't shew? I _did_ want to
meet that woman--just to tell her to use her brains. And, if I ever meet
your friend Mr. Waring----"

"My dear, he's not _my_ friend! I was asked down to Croxton for the hunt
ball at the end of this month; I made Bobby Pentyre tell me who was
going to be there and, when I saw Jack Waring's name, I said 'nothin'
doin'.' I know those hunt balls! Vermilion men in pink coats.... Jack
will be just in his element; he'll support a wall and tell everybody
that he doesn't know any of 'these modern dances,' as though it were
something to be proud of."

Lady Barbara laughed mechanically and sorted the new information into
its appropriate pigeon-hole. She was dining and going to a play that
night with Summertown and his sister; Sally Farwell's passion for
Pentyre had become a habit, and, if he did not reciprocate her passion,
he could hardly refuse her friend an invitation for the ball. Once
within the same house as Jack Waring, she had decided nothing save that
he could not be allowed to walk through the world with his nose in the
air, saying that she or her friends were "bad style."

A week later she arrived at Croxton Hall and explored the terrain for
the engagement. Waring, she learned, came once a year into
Buckinghamshire from old habit, because he had hunted with the Croxton
from Oxford; he was returning to chambers by the breakfast-car train
next day. She had few hours for making her effect; and they were further
reduced when Jack drove up three-quarters of an hour late to find that
the house-party was already dressed and busily adjusting its
relationships. Lady Pentyre scrambled through half a dozen introductions
in as many seconds and hurried her guests into the dining-room, without
giving him time to dress or even to see who was there; Barbara, standing
a little behind the others, escaped notice; and, when she found herself
seated by prearrangement at his side, she had to introduce herself.

"I believe you're a great friend of Jim's," she began. "He's a cousin of
mine, and I've often heard him speak of you."

Jack was already disconcerted by having to dine unwashed and in a tweed
suit; and his embarrassment increased as he guessed at her identity. For
a while he would only talk disjointedly of Jim Loring, varying his
conversation with apologies for his tweed suit; he had been kept late
with a consultation, and, when he began to change in the train, two
women got in at Bletchley. Barbara fastened on the consultation and with
deft questions encouraged him to talk about his work. She had sat next
to so many shy young men at official dinners that she could put any one
at his ease. At her prompting and wholly unconscious of it, Jack
discoursed of the bar in general and his own practice in particular for
three-quarters of the dinner and was agreeably surprised to find her so
intelligent a listener.

"I oughtn't to be here, really," he confided. "I haven't the time or
energy for this kind of thing, but the Croxton's an old love of mine,
I've not missed a Croxton ball since I was at Oxford." He was tempted to
describe his first Croxton ball; but it was a long story, and he
discovered that he had been monopolizing the conversation. "You're a
great dancer, I expect?" he said with the indulgence of early middle
age. "I look forward to watching you to-night."

Lady Barbara began to shake her head and then stopped with closed eyes
and a bitten lip.

"I'm not going," she answered. "I've had such an awful headache all
day."

"I'm so sorry! I don't dance myself, but I hoped you might spare me one
or two for sitting out. If you're _interested_ in law--the bar's by no
means the dry-as-dust life some people think."

Talking to her was so easy that Jack had half determined to ask if he
might have supper with her. Of the rest of the evening he could dispose
comfortably enough by gossiping with old Gervaise, who had been in his
father's regiment, and the other veterans of the hunt. Lady Pentyre
never regarded him as a dancing man in making up her numbers. It would
not be half so easy to find common ground with Sally Farwell or Grace
Pentyre; without meaning to be unsympathetic, he felt that Lady Barbara
might have chosen any other night of the year for her headache.

"It'll be better, when you get there," he prophesied encouragingly and
wondered whether she would mistake his convenience for her own triumph.
So far he had not looked at her, but he now stole a glance out of the
corner of his eye and saw a straight, thin nose, haggard cheeks that had
a pathetic fascination for him and a mouth which drooped wistfully; the
lips were red, her eyes a velvet black, fringed with long black lashes
and shaded with dark rings, changing colour and size like a cat's. The
white, hollow cheeks combined with the dark eyes and red lips to
suggest ravaging dissipation or ill-health; he would never be surprised
to be told that she was consumptive. And he could not understand how any
one so thin could be so attractive.

She caught him watching her and forced a smile.

"I've only been doing rather too much lately, I expect," she said.

"That I can well believe. But after dinner--I say, have you had
_anything_ to eat?"

"I had some melon.... But I'm not very hungry. If I _don't_ go, don't
tell Aunt Kathleen--Lady Knightrider, you know--will you? She gave me
this dress specially and she'd be so awfully disappointed."

"Jolly dress," Jack answered, looking unanalytically at something which
he could only remember afterwards as being generally black--with bits of
silver here and there--and little transparent triangular pendants
hanging down from shoulder to elbow. "I hope you'll be able to come."

"I shan't be able to dance," she sighed. "Every time I turn my head--Oo!
I did it then! It's like a red-hot needle at the back of the eyes...."
She picked up her gloves and held out a hand, as the butler announced
that the cars were at the door. "I'll say good-night and good-bye. I
hope you'll enjoy yourself. And I hope I've not been too unutterably
boring."

Jack felt her hand pulling gently against his.

"When I'm trying to persuade you to come on with us?" he asked.

Lady Barbara shut her eyes in a second spasm of pain.

"Do you really want me to?"

"If you're up to it."

"I will, if you want me to," she promised.

For many years longer than Jack could remember, the Croxton Ball had
taken place in the vast and half-derelict "King's Arms," once famous,
with its long coffee-room and unlimited stabling, as the best
posting-house in the county and the beginning of the last stage for
coaches running from the east and northeast coast through Oxford to
South Wales and the west. Once a year the dingy grey-stone hotel,
filling one side of the market-place, blazed with unaccustomed light;
and the barrack of stables behind awoke to welcome the procession of
tightly-packed cars that explored their way with long white fingers down
the broad, uneven village street.

Jack changed his clothes and joined a shivering group by the fire in the
Commercial Room. Lady Barbara was sitting apart, sniffing a bottle of
salts and gently repelling those who tried to engage her for a dance.

"She oughtn't to have come," murmured Lady Pentyre, who neither
understood nor forgave her son for this eleventh-hour addition. After
the disgraceful episode of the poker-party, she had vowed never to have
the girl in her house again; and these later scandals were no
recommendation to leniency. But, before she could hint at her
objections, she was told that the invitation had already been issued.
"If she's beginning a chill or anything----"

Jack crossed to the distant chair and was welcomed with a smile.

"How nice you look in that coat!" Lady Barbara cried. "Are those the
Croxton buttons?"

"Yes.... May I sit and talk, if you didn't have too much of me at
dinner? I feel responsible for bringing you here, you know."

"But I love doing what people ask me! It's my greatest self-indulgence.
When are they going to begin, and what's all the fuss about in the
hall?"

A babble of angry voices floated through the open door--criticism,
suggestions and conflicting orders. The Secretary came in frowning and
snatched at all members of the Committee within reach.

"I'll never go to those people again!" he thundered. "After all these
years, too. Band hung up on the road. Wrong train. They won't be here
for half an hour!"

A murmur of disappointment swelled through the room, eddying round the
hall and rising from group to group on the stairs and in the ball-room.

Lady Barbara sat up alert, without any trace of headache or fatigue. The
red lips were parted expectantly, with a gleam of small white teeth.

"I'll play!"

She darted from her chair, humming to herself and only pausing to
crumple her scarf into a ball and to toss it with her gloves to Jack. He
caught it mechanically, wonderingly. In a moment the grave-voiced girl
with the tragic eyes and hint of consumption had transformed herself
into something untamed, with shining eyes and irresponsible
restlessness. He listened to her voice growing fainter on the stairs,
then looked with some embarrassment at the crumpled scarf and gloves.


     "Sometime, somehow, somewhere--
     How should I know or care?--
       It is written above
       That fortune and love
     Are waiting for me somewhere..."


The strict waltz rhythm was slightly modified to give scope to the
voice; but no one had began to dance when Jack went upstairs, and Lady
Barbara had to break off and say:

"Do begin, some one!"

"We want to hear you sing," murmured a diffident voice.

"Rubbish! What d'you like? Ragtime? A waltz?"


     "When you are in love,
     All the world is fair;
     Hearts are light with laughter gay;
     Roses,--roses all the way..."


Bobby Pentyre and Sally Farwell edged through the door; Summertown and
his partner followed, and within two minutes the room was
three-quarters full. Jack squeezed his way forward for a better view.
Lady Barbara played tirelessly, modulating from waltz to waltz, humming
a line here, whistling two bars there, until the Master panted up to the
piano and cried "time." She laughed and sat back on the music-stool,
softly fingering the keys and looking round the ball-room to see who was
there. Jack stood self-consciously stranded by the door, assuring
himself of the line of his tie, pulling down his waistcoat and glancing
at the hang of his knee-breeches. Her eyes met his, and she smiled.

"Say when you want me to begin again," she called out.

"Give us just a moment," begged the Secretary.

She struck a chord and threw "Lord Rendel" at them with such tragic
intensity that, at the end, Summertown raised a husky view-holloa of
applause and the decorous group at the door clapped noiselessly. Jack
always freely confessed that he knew nothing of music, but he felt
bathed in delightful irresponsibility, as Lady Barbara mingled old
English ballads with plantation songs and jolting ragtime with waltzes
which seemed to draw his heart out of his body. She was gloriously free
from self-consciousness. After two false starts, which were not lost on
her, he crossed the room in the wake of a little party which went to beg
for its favourite tunes.

"Awfully good of you to play like this," he said, as the others edged
away. "I hope you're not making the headache worse?"

"I love making people happy." She stretched out her foot and pulled a
chair beside her stool. "Tell me what you'd like me to play. D'you know
"Deirdre of the Sorrows"? Not the play, but the waltz. Little O'Rane
wrote it. You know him, I expect, he's a great friend of my cousin Jim."
At the first chords of the waltz, couples from all round the room rose
and began to dance. Jack threw one leg over the other and pushed his
chair a short way back, faintly and belatedly embarrassed to find
himself marooned on the dais by her side. "Mr. Waring----"

"Yes?"

"I want to ask you one question. You needn't answer it, unless you
like.... And then we'll leave it alone. I'm not as bad as you expected?"

Though he had warned himself at the beginning of dinner to be untiringly
on his guard, Jack looked up with a start. She was absorbed in the
music; her head was bowed, and she only raised it to glance with
half-closed eyes at the dancers, occasionally concentrating on one
couple and regulating her time by theirs.

"You've answered your own question. Rather inadequately," he added.

"Thank you ... I wish you danced! You're missing such a lot!"

"Am I? Lady Barbara, why on earth did you ask me that?"

Her head drooped lower over the keys.

"Because it hurt so!" she whispered tremulously. "Am I so vulgar?"

"Do you imagine you're quoting me?"

"Oh, Mr. Waring, be honest! You despised me before you met me. Do you
now?"

"It's the last thing I should dream of doing."

"Well, wasn't it rather unfair--before you even knew me? It's done me a
lot of harm ... and it hurt so terribly. If you were just to say you
were sorry----?"

Her humility was so unexpected as to be bewildering.

"My dear Lady Barbara, I've only seen you once before!" he exclaimed. "I
_did_ say something about you then; I criticized the people you went
about with, if you're referring to that."

"Then you don't despise _me_?"

"You're the greatest revelation I've ever had."

As the waltz quickened to the coda, a stout, flamboyant figure appeared
in the doorway, attended by a sallow escort armed with music-cases and
instruments. The Secretary ended a warm exchange of invective to cross
the room and thank Lady Barbara. Refusing to give an encore to the
waltz, she bowed to Jack and hurried out of the room.

Half-way down the stairs he overtook her and asked to be allowed to sit
out the next dance with her.

"We can hardly leave it like this, can we?" he urged.

"Like what? I must get some air! My head will burst, if I don't!"

She ran across the hall, rattled at the door-handle and hurried into the
Market Square. The December night air lashed him like a jet of icy water
and cut through his clothes; thirty yards ahead, Lady Barbara was
running with arms outstretched and jumping from side to side over the
grey-black puddles of dull, frozen water. A group of chauffeurs by the
village pound removed their pipes and watched her; then replaced them;
then removed them a second time as a second figure, in pink coat and
knee-breeches, pounded along the echoing street. Once she glanced back
on hearing the sound of footsteps; then ran on without changing her
pace. They had overshot the last house and were facing an unhedged
expanse of roots and crisp furrows before he overtook her.

"I say, what _are_ you doing?" he panted, angry at being made
conspicuous by her aimless freak.

Lady Barbara pressed a hand to her side, breathing quickly. Her hair had
blown into disorder, her bosom was rising and falling; and once she
kicked off a shoe to caress a bruised foot, balancing herself with her
other hand on his shoulder.

"Impulse," she answered.

By moonlight her eyes were black; and, as she panted gently, her parted
lips and rounded cheeks made a child of her. It was at least her third
incarnation since eight o'clock, but Jack had lost strict count. As she
squeezed the pebble out of her shoe, he noticed the provocative
whiteness of her shoulders and the softness of her hair. His own pink
coat and knee-breeches added the last touch to his discomfiture; and he
knew that he could never equal her in creating the unconventional in
order to master it.

"I was afraid your head might have made you faint," he murmured,
consciously fatuous.

"It was only partly my head. Sometimes.... Did you see "_Justice_"? You
remember the man in solitary confinement? He _knew_ he mustn't pound on
the door; he _knew_ he'd be punished, if he did. He pounded all the
same.... I've got too much vitality; I seem sometimes as if I'm in
prison...." She shivered and gave a slight cough. "Is it very cold?"

"Not more than ten degrees of frost. I thought of bringing you a cloak,
but I was afraid of losing you. If you don't come back at once, impulse
will land you in double pneumonia."

She slipped her arm through his and began to walk, with a slight limp,
back to the hotel.

"We had a gipsy in the family, though no one's ever allowed to mention
her," she announced abruptly. "D'you call me pretty? I think you would,
rather. Val Arden says I'm the 'haggard Venus.' Well, any looks we've
got come from her."

"With a dash of temperament thrown in. Suppose we go a _bit_ faster and
then look for a fire? You're quite well enough to dance now."

"But I'd sooner talk to you. A girl told me the other day that you
were--what was the word? 'sticky'; you never had anything to say, you
were prim and old maidish----"

"I'm no good at ordinary social patter," he interrupted. "But you'd
hardly apply that term to our conversation to-night."

They strode incongruously down the broad village street, past the group
of expectant chauffeurs and into an ill-ventilated box described as the
"reading-room." Both were emotionally out of breath, and the lights of
the hotel made Jack self-conscious; he stole a sidelong glance at her
and waited for the next change. Wistful appeal passed into effervescent
irresponsibility; the self-possession of a woman of the world alternated
with the radiant joyousness of a child.... And six months earlier she
had left a German Jew's ornate carnival to drive with a sodden debauchee
in a stolen car and had impaled an unknown chauffeur on the grey angle
of a jutting wall in Hertfordshire. And there was the aeroplane
accident; and the poker-party; and a dozen other things.... His glance
held admiration as well as curiosity, and she smiled with glowing
friendliness.

"Aren't you going to dance at all?" he asked.

"I didn't come here for that.... Now I'm going to pay you a compliment.
I got myself invited because I heard you were coming; I wanted to give
you a chance of judging me at first hand. There's an opportunity for
returning the compliment, if you care to take it."

Jack looked at her with a surprise which he tried to veil, as he
reminded himself again that he must be on his guard.

"I only hinted that your friends weren't good enough for you," he
answered. "Knowing who you were and the positions your father had
held----"

"Dear Jack, don't drag in father! Isn't that what I have to fight
against? Having my personality submerged by his dead pomp and glory?"

Her use of his Christian name startled him; and she watched with
amusement his stiff attempt not to seem startled.

"I'd sooner think of you as Lord Crawleigh's daughter than as Sir Adolf
Erckmann's friend."

Her eyes half closed, and she looked at him through the long black
lashes.

"I believe you're falling in love with me."

Jack lazily threw away the end of his cigarette, dusted imaginary specks
of ash from his breeches and rose slowly to his feet.

"I was only thinking what I should feel about you, if you were my
sister," he said. "Ought we to be going upstairs? Lady Pentyre's rather
concerned about you."

"I'll reassure her," said Lady Barbara. "Don't bother to come up; you
won't be dancing."

Though she had a reserve of self-control for scenic emergencies, he had
snubbed her so wantonly that she darted like a black and silver moth out
of the room before he could mark a change of expression. Jack followed
in time to see her locate Lady Pentyre and take the chair by her side.
The warm, scented air of the ball-room struck and flushed his cheeks
like the heavy breath of a hot-house. Summertown, waltzing by,
disengaged one hand and whistled shrilly on his fingers above the boom
and wail of the band.

"Missing two, Babs?" he called out.

Lady Barbara pressed her hand against her eyes, then drew it away and
shook her head.

"I'm not dancing to-night," she answered.

Lady Pentyre turned to her with mingled anxiety and impatience.

"Aren't you feeling any better?" she asked.

"I can't say that I am. When I stand, the floor goes up and down; and,
when I sit down, the room goes gently round me."

Jack was leaning aimlessly against the door, and Lady Pentyre beckoned
to him. She had no intention of leaving her son to make a fool of
himself with Sally Farwell; and, if she told him or young Summertown to
take Lady Barbara home, she would next hear that all three had fallen
down a shaft in Durham.

"Mr. Waring, you're not dancing! _Do_ you think you could find one of
the cars and take this child back to bed? I hardly like to send her
alone, you know, and every one here has a party of her own to look
after."

Jack bowed with adequate graciousness, but Lady Barbara intervened with
a vigorous refusal.

"I couldn't think of dragging him away," she exclaimed. "This is the
only ball he ever comes to; and he's been looking after me so much that
he hasn't had time to see any of his friends."

"But he can be back within an hour," Lady Pentyre urged. "It's still
quite early."

Lady Barbara looked uncertainly at Jack, waiting for him to become more
inviting. His face expressed no concern, and he was patiently gaining
time by consulting his watch and looking from one to the other of them,
as though he had no personal interest in the decision.

"Would that be agreeable to you?" he asked her at length.

"I don't feel that I have any right to spoil your evening."

"_Illness_ is hardly within your control, is it?"

She walked downstairs with a novel sense of failure and a misgiving that
she had overestimated his stupidity; yet a man must be more than
ordinarily stupid not to appreciate her after the trouble that she had
taken. Insisting on an open car, she settled herself in one corner and
looked thoughtfully at her companion's reflection in the jolting mirror
of the wind-screen. Valentine Arden, who allowed disparagement to become
a disease, told her to her face that she had genius; George Oakleigh had
said that she had "the clearest-cut personality of her time." And these
things were industriously repeated to her.

_Rather Lord Crawleigh's daughter than Sir Adolf Erckmann's friend_....
But Lord Crawleigh's world had no place for any woman who was above the
average. In Canada, in Ireland and in India she had tasted greater
personal success before she was sixteen than London could offer her in
a life-time. She had seen the government of India at very close
quarters; and, after that, it was impossible to feel Sonia Dainton's
elation at bobbing to Royalty at the Bodmin Lodge ball in Ascot week. At
other times and in other places, dusty, long streets, dazzling white and
quivering with heat, had been cleared for her and lined with picked
native troops; in an Empire crowded with immemorial soveranties she had
been the only daughter of a man who was vicegerent of the Emperor-King.

"You spoke too soon in saying you didn't despise me," she murmured.

They had covered but two of the ten miles, and Jack instinctively
avoided altercation. He was no longer interested in a girl who
deliberately invited herself to the same house, singled him out and
detached him, in an open car and a north-east wind, to pick a quarrel or
justify herself.

"If you're feeling ill, why don't you try to go to sleep instead of
making conversation?" he suggested.

"I'm not _making_ conversation!" she answered impatiently. "You attacked
me on such slender evidence that I was wondering whether you'd any
better excuse for attacking people like Sir Adolf, who's a very fine
musician----"

"And an impossible bounder," Jack interrupted. "My father pilled him at
his club ten years ago; if he put up again, _I'd_ pill him; if he got
in, I'd _resign_."

"And I suppose you'd 'pill' Villon and Benvenuto Cellini and
Verlaine----"

"I would, if they were friends of Erckmann," Jack answered cheerfully.

She shivered and lapsed into silence. Talking to Jack was like
explaining colour to a blind man. She had never sought out the Erckmann
circle; it was one of innumerable circles which a connoisseur in life
patronized and sampled for its distinctive atmosphere. Her god-father,
Dick Freyton, had kept a string of race-horses at Oxford and taken a
double first; he had dined with the Queen one day and entertained a
party of comedians and jockeys the next; he had been a gentleman-rider
and an ambassador, a soldier and a collector of early printed Bibles, a
competent sportsman and a more than competent poet. Touching life at
every angle, there was an Elizabethan spaciousness about him;--Loring's
father did not forbid him the house because Bessie Galton took her
company to Liverpool and he invited them all to stay with him at
Poolcup. Freyton was too big to be compromised. And the world had
developed so fast that nowadays a woman could touch life at as many
angles; for some it was the only thing to do. The queens of the salon
were dead, the political hostesses were dying. There was room for one
universalist.

They drove to the lodge of Croxton Hall in silence. It was only when she
saw him dropping asleep that she fanned the discussion to life.

"It's men like you who kill art in this country," she sighed.

"I can never see why there should be a special code of morals for a
fellow because he grows his hair long and plays the fiddle," Jack
answered, as he helped her out of the car and rang the bell.

While he explained their return to the butler, Lady Barbara let fall her
cloak into a chair and walked to a glowing fire at the end of the hall.
In the fender stood a tureen of soup and an urn of cocoa; behind her a
big table was invitingly set with sandwiches, cake, fruit, syphons and
decanters. Jack watched her for a moment and then explored the table
critically.

"Is there anything you'd like me to bring you?" he asked as he chose a
cigar and poured himself a brandy and soda. "Don't forget you've had no
supper."

She looked at him over one shoulder and sighed contemptuously.

"_How_ characteristic! The indecent irregularity of missing a meal! I
eat because I love nice things; one gets a new emotion sometimes. When
we were at Ottawa, father took me down to Washington, and one of the
secretaries at our embassy fell in love with me. We met at twelve and he
was in love with me by a quarter past. I suppose he was a man of method,
like you, and never declared his passion under half an hour, so for five
minutes we talked about food, and he asked me if I'd ever tasted
Baltimore crab-flake. I hadn't. His car was at the door of the chancery,
we both got in without a word; at 12:23 we were flying down Connecticut
Avenue. We drove to Baltimore without a stop, had our crab-flake and
returned to Washington in time for me to have a good rest before dinner.
When father began looking for me, some one explained that I'd been taken
to see the Congressional Library, and everything was all right till the
papers next day came out with great head-lines--'Breakneck Race for a
Crab-Flake.' 'Just Bully, Says British Governor-General's Daughter' Then
there was the usual unpleasantness.... But the crab-flake _was_ a new
emotion." She turned from the fire and joined him at the table. "If I
start eating caviar, I never stop."

The butler returned to announce that her maid had gone to bed and to ask
whether she should be called.

"Oh, it's all right, thanks," she answered. "I'm feeling much better."
She had talked herself into good-humour and, when they were alone again,
she looked at Jack with a smile. "Are you enjoying yourself? You look so
bored. What shall I do to amuse you?"

She pulled a chair to the fire and beckoned him to her side.

"I'm sorry to seem ungracious," said Jack, as he put down his empty
glass, "but I've been commissioned to send you to bed."

"But the others won't be back for hours!"

"Exactly. Barring the servants, we're alone in the house, and it
wouldn't look well for us to bolt away from the ball and then sit here
talking all night."

Lady Barbara sprang from the chair and faced him with amazement in her
eyes.

"My dear creature, do you imagine you're compromising me?"

"That's a strong word. I'm some years older than you, Lady Barbara," he
added meaningly.

"But if you _knew_----"

Jack interrupted her with a shake of the head.

"If you're trying to tell me some of the things you _have_ done, you may
spare yourself the trouble. I used to think you were being swept off
your feet by the people you went about with. The more stories you tell
me, the more I'm tempted to wonder whether you don't set the fashion.
Some one's frightfully to blame for not pulling you up, though I know
Jim did his best. Does it make no difference to you when a man like that
refuses to have you inside his house?"

Lady Barbara walked slowly to the table.

"You must apologize for that, Mr. Waring."

She imagined that she was contending with one man over a single hasty
sentence; but behind Jack stood his father, his father's regiment and
his father's club, all honestly conservative and gently self-approving.
Behind the sentence there lay in support a social philosophy framed in
days before England was corrupted by the uncertain morals of the east
and the uncouth manners of the west.

"Isn't it true?" demanded Jack, unabashed. "He cabled to his mother from
Surinam after the motor smash and that inquest. I wasn't told the exact
words, but you _haven't_ been to the house very lately, have you?"

He was so certain of himself--he was always so certain of himself--that
the question rang out like a taunt. Lady Barbara felt her self-control
weakening.

"And your informant?" she asked, still trying not to yield ground.

"I've really forgotten. Obviously no one in the family. So, you see,
there must be several people who know. For what it's worth, I have _not_
handed the story on."

"How chivalrous!--And to a girl that you'd never met!"

"I didn't want Jim to be mixed up in a fresh scandal. And you've driven
this country near enough to revolution as it is."

He picked up his hat and was starting towards the stairs, when an
unexpected sound stopped him, and he turned to see her burying her face
in her hands. It was a surprising collapse in one who seemed to be made
of steel, though he wondered whether the tears were an artifice or a
novel indulgence of emotion.

"You _didn't_ mean what you said!" she sobbed. "Please say you were only
punishing me for taking you away from the ball!"

"I've not the least desire to punish you. You've got great qualities;
you were charming at dinner, you're kind and good-natured, you can be
fascinating when you like. And then you spoil all you are, all you might
be and do, by tricks unworthy of a chorus-girl. Arranging this meeting
at all to smooth one ruffled feather of your vanity. The sham headache.
Calling me by my Christian name the first time we meet. Things of that
kind. That's not the _grande dame_, Lady Barbara."

She began to collect her gloves and cloak.

"I'm sorry," she said with trembling lips. "You won't be troubled
again."

"If you were sorry, you wouldn't try to be dramatic. Your 'curtain,'
like your repentance, is only the latest form of the Baltimore
crab-flake--a new emotion, a new indulgence.... Look here, I shall be
gone before you're up to-morrow; won't you part friends?"

He crossed the hall with a smile and held out his hand without fear of
a rebuff. She looked at him and had to confess herself at fault. His
heavy overcoat was hanging open, and in his knee-breeches and pink coat
he looked slim and boyish; he was a booby at dinner and a clod at the
ball; outside his own profession he had no more knowledge or ideas than
a schoolboy. Yet she submitted to his criticism almost in silence.

"Won't you part friends?" he repeated.

Lady Barbara could not let him ride off so complacently. She pressed one
hand to her side and groped her way to the table; as she leaned against
it, the friendliness died out of his smile.

"I shouldn't do that again, if I were you," he counselled, reverting to
his slightly nasal drawl; and this time she could have cried without
feigning, for she was tired and humiliated by her consistent failure.

"I _am_ ill," she protested. "Needless to say, you don't believe----"

"My dear Lady Barbara, the worst of taking people in by lies is that
afterwards they refuse to be taken in by the truth. That always means a
dreadful muddle for everybody."

There was no trace of anger in the indolent voice; a lazy, superficial
smile played still over the composed face, but she felt that she had
touched his vanity, which was so petty that he could allow no one even
to chaff him.

"I say, you _are_ revengeful," she cried. "Just because, in the most
harmless way----"

"I don't mind any one making the most complete fool of me--once," he
interrupted. "A very moderate sense of humour carries that off. One
doesn't want to make a habit of it, that's all. And I always think it's
a perilous thing to begin playing with the truth."

"So you'll never believe anything I say?"

"We're so very unlikely to meet that it hardly matters. Won't you shake
hands?"

She held out the tips of her fingers and, as he released them, caught
him by the sleeve of his coat. He noticed that she was biting her lip
and had either improved her acting or lapsed into sincerity.

"Are you like Jim?" she asked. "D'you despise me so much that you refuse
to meet me?"

He looked carelessly at his sleeve, but she refused to understand the
movement of his eyes.

"I should be honoured to meet you. Only I never go anywhere. Lady
Pentyre and Lady Knightrider are about our only two links."

"And I suppose Jim will have me turned out of _their_ houses, when he
comes back. If you knew how I hated having people angry with me.... Will
you meet me, if I don't have any of my objectionable friends, if I'm on
my best behaviour----"

"I don't think that your experience of my society can be so alluring as
all that," he laughed.

"I've never allowed any other man to lecture me as you've done!"

"Ah, but you invited it. You don't want me to come merely for a
continuation of the lecture."

"Perhaps it won't be necessary."

Her voice and eyes softened appealingly--and then became charged with
perplexity, as Jack gently removed her fingers from his sleeve.

"Another new emotion, Lady Barbara?" he laughed. "You won't easily
convince me that I've changed your character in a night."

"You interest me," she murmured, with a puzzled frown.

"Ah, that rang true! But I'm no good at the modern business of
discussing people with themselves. A man like Val Arden does that so
much better.... Lady Barbara, are you _ever_ going to say good-night to
me?"

"In a minute. Will you come to Connie Maitland's Consumptive Hospital
_matinée_ after Christmas? It's at the Olympic, and I'm dancing there. I
_do_ want you to appreciate me!"

Jack reflected for a moment and then smiled lazily.

"I'll come to the _matinée_, if you'll promise _not_ to perform," he
answered. "If I'm not in court.... I know I'm old-fashioned, but I call
it intolerable for you to blacken your eyes and rouge your face and make
sport for any one who cares to spend a guinea or two for the chance of
gaping at you. It cheapens you. I'd as soon put on tights and tie myself
in knots on a strip of carpet outside a public-house."

Barbara leant against the table in helpless amazement.

"You're more of a Philistine than my own father!" she cried.

Jack smiled imperturbably.

"And what would you think if Lord Crawleigh came to that same _matinée_
and gave a display of juggling with billiard-balls?"

"I should die happy," Barbara answered with a gurgle of laughter; then
more seriously, "But why on earth shouldn't he? If he can do it, if the
thing's all right in itself, why should the professionals have the
monopoly? I'm very good."

"No doubt. But, if you had no more idea of dancing than I have, people
would still flock to see Lady Barbara Neave. Now do you understand why I
loathe the whole life you lead?"

When, late that night, she thought over the long succession of snubs and
insults, Barbara chose this as the most wounding. She had recited and
danced, acted and sung on occasions innumerable, always hearing and
feeling that she was meeting the professionals on their own ground;
they themselves hurried to congratulate her, and she fancied vaguely
that she was paying the stage a delicate compliment.

"I've never been told that I hawked my father's position about for
advertisement," she answered quietly.

"It's the result."

He picked up his hat again and again held out his hand.

Lady Barbara locked her fingers behind her back and turned away.

"I don't like the feeling that you'll ring for carbolic as soon as I'm
out of the room!" she said.

"D'you think I should?"

"You wouldn't wait!" she cried, springing round as though she were going
to strike him.

Jack's growing surprise merged in a novel sense of helplessness. The
girl had wholly lost control of herself. Her pupils were dilated, her
cheeks white with anger and fatigue; one hand gripped the back of her
chair, and the other rolled her handkerchief into a tight ball. Not for
the first time that night he felt that a man had only himself to blame
for getting on to such terms with a woman. A lion's cage could be
entered or avoided at will....

Yet he could not escape the feeling that even at the white-heat of
passion she was enjoying her scene.

"Do part friends," he begged. "I shouldn't presume to criticize you, if
I didn't think you worth it. I ask you--as a favour--to come to that
_matinée_ with me. Will you?"

Lady Barbara could not decide whether to try once again to punish him;
she dared not admit that she was daunted, but she was certainly puzzled.
At one moment he insulted her, at another he hoisted her on to a
pinnacle and mounted guard below.

"Would you like me to come?" she asked.

"I should love you to."

"I'll come, if you want me to.... Now I think I _shall_ go to bed. It
would be a tragedy if we had _another_ scene. Good-night, Mr. Waring."

"Good-night, Lady Barbara."

She looked at him steadily before turning to the stairs, still undecided
whether to be angry or intrigued. Jack went into the library, chose
himself a book, undressed slowly, read for ten minutes and dropped
instantly asleep. Lady Barbara stood for many minutes in front of a long
mirror, admiring the black and silver dress and watching the gleam of
her arms and shoulders as she moved. Then with careless impatience she
loosened the dress, leaving it to fall and lie in a tumbled heap by the
fire; shoe followed shoe, stocking followed stocking; her maid would
repair the havoc in the morning, and it was a relief to lapse into
untidiness after so many hours of Jack Waring's orderly influence.
Pulling an armchair to the fire she began to brush her hair. Six hours
before, as her maid had brushed it for her, she had rehearsed the
meeting with Jack up to the point when he apologized for his presumption
in criticizing her. If only she had stopped then! But he was wholly
different from her preconception of him; fully as 'superior'--and with
as little reason--but disappointing as an intellectual antagonist; he
was commonplace in mind and yet had a certain blunt stubbornness of
character, a refusal to be stampeded--together with an indifference
which still piqued her.

And the indifference was broken by a solicitude which he expressed in
terms to earn himself a horse-whipping. Her eyes were blinded by a hot
rush of shame when she remembered her gentle words and appealing voice
at the piano. "_I'm not as bad as you expected?_" Humility was a
pleasant emotion, but a losing card. At their next encounter....

She laid aside the brush and sat staring into the fire. The room grew
gradually colder, but she did not notice it. Only when her ears caught
the sound of subdued voices on the stairs did she rouse with a shiver
and jump into bed.



CHAPTER FIVE

NOBODY'S FAULT

     "Cock the gun that is not loaded, cook the frozen dynamite...."

     RUDYARD KIPLING: "ET DONA FERENTES."


As a matter of form and to wash her hands of personal responsibility,
Lady Pentyre sent next morning for the local doctor. His advice--to take
things quietly for a few days--enabled Lady Barbara to keep her promise
to Jack with a good conscience. "_They say that I have been doing too
much_," she told Sir Adolf Erckmann, "_so I'm afraid I shan't be able to
come to your party on Thursday...._" On the same plea she wrote to Lady
Maitland, promising to attend the _matinée_ but regretting her inability
to play an active part. When she had taught Jack to appreciate her, it
would be time enough to shew him that her friendship was adequate
guarantee for her friends.

On returning to London she angled without success for a first-hand
report on him. To her earlier half-dozen words of disparagement Sonia
Dainton added a break-up price for the family. The Surinam cable
precluded consultation of Amy Loring, and Phyllis Knightrider could only
affirm that Jack went every year to Raglan for a few days' fishing--when
she was away and there was none but men present.

"I believe he's hopeless with a mixed party," she went on. "If you were
told to bring a man anywhere, you'd never dream of asking _him_."

"Well, I think that's better than being the first man that everybody
thinks of," Barbara answered. "God created Gerry Deganway to be the
eternal fourteenth at dinner."

"Val Arden once said that God invented bridge so that Jack Waring might
say he didn't play it," Phyllis went on. "That sums him up."

Lady Barbara was wondering whether the unintelligent appreciation of
such a man was worth having, when Jack once more wantonly put himself in
the wrong. After writing to remind her of the day and time of the
_matinée_, he had gone about his business. She mislaid the letter and
telephoned to his chambers to find out where she was to meet him. An
unwelcoming Cockney voice answered that Mr. Waring was engaged and
invited her to leave a message.

"I won't keep him a moment," answered Lady Barbara.

"Mr. Waring doesn't like being called to the 'phone when he's got a
consultation on."

She hardly knew whether to be angrier with Jack for his hide-bound likes
and dislikes or with the officious clerk for his interference.

"Will you be good enough to say that Lady Barbara Neave wants to speak
to him?" she said in a voice of authority.

"I'll see," the clerk mumbled reluctantly. "Hold on, please."

She was not accustomed to being kept waiting, and Jack or the clerk kept
her waiting so long that the Exchange enquired once whether she had
finished and then cut short the call. She hung up the receiver and
waited for the connection to be re-established. There was no sound for
five minutes; they did not think it worth while to remember her
existence or to recall that she had expressed a wish to speak to Mr.
Waring, that she had been ordered to wait.... Taking down the receiver,
she repeated the number. The same unwelcoming Cockney voice greeted her.

"I was trying to speak to Mr. Waring," she explained, "but I was cut
off."

"Mr. Waring's ingiged--Oh, were you the lidy who just rang up? Mr.
Waring says, Would you be kind enough to leave a message?"

Half an hour earlier Lady Barbara had been undecided whether to
telephone herself or to arrange the meeting through her maid. Now she
felt that, whatever it might cost her, she must speak to Jack without
intermediaries. And, if he were engaged in a consultation (or whatever
the absurd thing was called), so much the better.

"No, I don't want to leave a message," she answered. "I want to speak to
him privately."

The new attack seemed only to consolidate the hateful clerk's already
strong position.

"Oh, I thought it might be business. Mr. Waring never speaks to any one
privately on the 'phone."

"Will you kindly ask him to make an exception, then?"

"I'm afride it's no good," answered the clerk with undisguised boredom.
"And Mr. Waring won't be best pleased, if I go in agine."

While Jack should pay for his pleasure to the uttermost farthing, it was
undignified to prolong an altercation with a Cockney voice, especially
as she was gaining nothing.

"Mr. Waring asked me to go to the theatre with him. Will he kindly let
me know when and where I'm to meet him?"

The words were repeated slowly, as the message was written down.

"When-and-where-you're to meet him. Very good. If you'll give me your
number, I'll find out and 'phone you as soon as the consultation's
over."

"But I want to know now! I've got arrangements of my own to make!"

It was no longer the deliberate high voice of authority. Grievance was
merging in anger.

"I don't like to go in agine.... But he can't be long now. If you'll
give me your number...."

The Cockney voice suggested a mean, back-bent creature with bitten nails
and cunning eyes, a Uriah Heep, cringing but sinister. She did not care
for him to know that she had lost her temper; only this and the need to
punish Jack for his latest indignity kept her from refusing to accompany
him to the theatre.

"Oh, ask him to write," she answered with attempted carelessness.

As she ceased speaking, her maid came in to say that Mr. Webster had
called. They had not met since their quarrel on the afternoon of Lady
Knightrider's dance; and she was secretly relieved at the hardiness of
his ill-humour, for of all men he least repaid the discredit which she
earned by being seen in his company. At best he was a good-natured,
plastic slave with a ubiquitous car and a knack of securing seats in
theatres and tables in restaurants when others failed; at worst he was
an enigmatic sensualist, who attracted her because he privately
frightened her. They met first on the common ground of an interest in
spiritualism, later as companions in misfortune; Sonia Dainton alleged
that he was always inviting chorus-girls to his rooms and giving them
too much to drink for the amusement of hearing what they would say; some
one else added that he smoked opium, and an agreeable air of mystery
surrounded an otherwise disagreeable young man. After their last quarrel
Lady Barbara had decided to give him up; and she only wavered now
because she wanted a whipping-boy and felt that she was in some way
scoring a point against Jack by receiving him.

"I'll see him--up here," she told her maid.

Her face was still flushed from the telephone altercation, and she
posed herself carefully, backing the window, but with the curtains
thrown to their widest extent, so that Webster's oedematous eyelids
blinked as he crossed the room and held out a plump white hand.

"New car d'livered t'day," he wheezed. The habit, induced by
intemperance, of slurring the major parts of speech and omitting the
minor survived even in his sober diction. "'Wondered if you'd care come
spin."

"Oh? _I_ was wondering whether you'd been ill."

"Ill?" He shook his head and coughed. "No. Only too many cigarettes.
Care come?"

"Not till you've apologized for your behaviour to me, Mr. Webster."

"Haven't least idea what mean, but I'll apologize. Always ready
apologize."

As a whipping-boy he was too spiritless to be satisfying, and Lady
Barbara addressed herself to the invitation. Since the accident and the
inquest she had not embarked on any expeditions with him. Indeed, on the
evening before she went into court, she had deliberately broken a prized
Venetian vase and whispered to herself--or any one who was
listening--that, if she emerged without discredit, she would never go
with him again. Nemesis had accepted the vase and played false on the
bargain. But, while she might fairly feel herself released from her
promise, she was oppressed by premonition that disaster would overtake
her if she risked her luck again with Webster.

"Where are you going to? I'm waiting for a telephone message," she
answered.

At that moment the bell rang; and, as she picked up the receiver, she
felt guilty towards Jack Waring; in part she had undertaken to drop her
"objectionable friends," in part she felt that, if he were with her, he
would stop her going.... But his clerk had been unpardonable....

Gaymer's voice invited her to dine and go to a theatre with him. She
accepted and impatiently replaced the receiver.

"I'll come for a short time," she answered and felt that she was defying
Jack. "I must be back for tea, though."

"Have tea my place. Madame Hilary coming. Know who mean? Perfect wonder
that woman. Doesn't use medium; makes you, me, any one medium; throws
you in trance, and _you_ do talking."

The _séance_ was more alluring than the drive, for Madame Hilary had
been famous in necromantic society for more than a month. Lady Barbara
had been generally forbidden by her parents to dabble in black magic,
and a special warning had been issued against Madame Hilary, whose
methods had made her notorious, if not as a new witch of Endor, at least
as an accomplished blackmailer.

"Is she good about the future?" Lady Barbara asked. "I don't want to be
told that I've lived in distant lands, sometimes among the palms,
sometimes in sight of the snows. I know that better than she does."

"_She_ don't tell you anything," Webster explained. "_You_ do all the
talking, and we listen. Better hear some one else first; people
sometimes more candid than they like--afterwards."

He chuckled maliciously and followed her downstairs. For an hour they
drove round Richmond Park, and, as the light began to fail, he turned
back to London and brought her to his flat by the Savoy in time for tea.
The drowsy joy of rapid movement through the air had calmed her nerves
and blown away her ill-humour; she was too tranquil to quarrel even with
Jack Waring.

As she entered the smoking-room of the flat, the early premonition of
disaster returned. It was an unwholesome place after Richmond Park on a
December day.... Webster himself, white-faced and orientally impassive,
in a frame of yellow down cushions and a heavy atmosphere of burning
cedar-wood, was a sinister mystery-monger and purveyor of forbidden
fruit. She came to him for excitements and experiences which the world
conspired to keep her from obtaining elsewhere. An unwholesome man....
If anything happened, she had only herself to blame.... Yet nothing
could happen, unless the new clairvoyant told her something horrid about
the future.... She was not going to run away from a clairvoyant....

The warm rooms, thickly curtained and heavy with scented smoke, were
already half-full. Sonia Dainton and Jack Summertown were on either side
of the club fender with cigarettes in their mouths; the Baroness
Kohnstadt, with something of her brother Sir Adolf Erckmann's build and
colouring and with all of his guttural intonation, was impressively
describing Madame Hilary's powers; Lord Pennington, with a tumbler of
brown brandy and soda in one hand, swayed insecurely on one arm of a
chair and discharged amorous darts at a weak-mouthed girl with big eyes
and a high colour, who giggled in apprehensive appreciation; on the
other sat Sir Adolf, bald, bearded and fleshly, competing with
Pennington for her attention. Involuntarily Lady Barbara paused in the
door-way. If Jack Waring heard that she had been to Webster's rooms on
such an errand in such company.... They were not worth it....

"Hullo, Babs!" "Babs darling!" "Liddle Barbara!" "How ripping!"

The usual chorus of welcome greeted her and mounted to her head. Sonia
Dainton was kissing her extravagantly. Sir Adolf lurched forward to
praise her looks and dress, Lord Pennington to repeat and laugh at any
phrase that she let fall. Doing nothing, saying little, simply by being
herself, she dominated them until the door opened a second time and a
gaunt woman in a clinging black dress and hat like an embossed shield
rustled into the room. Her great height and noiseless movements
diverted attention from Lady Barbara; she threw up her veil with a
clockwork gesture as though she were ripping it from her face. Webster
advanced with a bow and was preparing to introduce her, when she stopped
him with a second mechanical fling of the hand.

"Ah, no! You tell me who they are and then you say, 'Madame Hilary is an
impostor; she knew a little before--and she make up the rest.' Is it not
so? For an exhibition I like better to know nothing." Her eyes flashed,
as she looked round on one face after another. "You, Mr. Webster, I
know--your name, at least--but these others I know not at all. It is
well. And I like better for you not to tell me. But you are all waiting!
While I drink this tea, you shall decide who first is to make trial."

She sat down, unembarrassed by the stealthy examination to which she was
being subjected on all sides, and, unpinning her veil, shewed a narrow,
lined face with sunken cheeks, an aquiline nose and eyes that were
lack-lustre after their initial flash. Too well-bred to seem bored, she
displayed at least a want of interest which chilled the spirits of the
party and left her ascendant. Webster was flustered at having to
stage-manage the _séance_; for Sir Adolf was so diffident and Sonia so
unsympathetic that he had difficulty in finding volunteers. Lady Barbara
at once offered herself, but seemed impressed by his whispered warning
that she had better first see what surprising exhibitions people
sometimes made of themselves.

"Here, I'll start the bidding," cried Jack Summertown, jumping up from
the fender. "Don't pinch my simulation-gold watch, any one. Only fair to
warn you, ma'am," he went on to Madame Hilary, "that I think all this
jolly old spiritualism is a fake. What do I have to do? And may I finish
my goodish cork-tipped Turkish Regie?"

Madame Hilary, suddenly appreciating that she was being addressed,
seemed to awake and assume new vitality. Shewing neither offence nor
amusement at his scepticism, she motioned Summertown to a chair and drew
her own opposite to it.

"Yes, go on smoking. It does not matter." She looked round the room with
another clockwork movement, switched on a reading-lamp, so that the
light shone straight into her own face, and then plunged the rest of the
room in darkness. "All that is needed is for you to look at me, into my
eyes. Never take your eyes off mine. I like better for you not to try,
not to will yourself. I shall ask you questions, and you will answer
them. Questions about the past. I like better for you not to be
sympathetic. Try _not_ to answer my questions. And, when I have
persuaded you to answer them, I shall ask you more questions--about the
future. And you will answer them, too. And afterwards I will tell you
what you have said. So you will come to know the future."

She paused to draw breath, and Summertown, obediently looking into her
eyes, finished his cigarette and tossed the end into the fire-place. He
was still smiling a little; but the room was grown silent, and every one
was looking at him; the gaunt, narrow face before him, grimly serious,
discouraged levity, though it sharpened his desire to expose her as soon
as she began her tricks. And for that the easiest thing was obstinately
to answer none of her questions.

"You would that I explain?" The deliberate affectation of broken English
was the accepted convention of an English actress playing the part of a
Frenchwoman; every one in the room was conscious of the artificiality.
The voice was unmodulated and monotonous. "In all ages men have tried to
read the future. By the stars and by crystal balls and cards and numbers
and pools of ink.... What can a pool of ink tell you? The future lies in
yourselves. Within your bodies are seeds of new life--innumerable; and
each seed holds innumerable other seeds of new life--generation after
generation, seed within seed. He who put them there ordained that the
Future should lie buried in the Present, as the Present lay buried in
the Past--and as the Past lies buried in the Present! It is hard for Man
to unbury the Future. Man has not been ready to face the light, and I--I
who help you to see that light have never seen it myself. Even I do not
know how glaring is that light.... But, as the seeds of the Future lie
in you, so the knowledge of the Future lies there also. Man _knows_ all
the Future, as Man _holds_ all the Future within himself, but he has
forgotten. It is within his unconscious. _I_ do not know it, but I can
help you to remember. I can tell you nothing, not even your name, but
you can tell me everything about yourself, Past, Present and Future.
What is your name?"

Lady Barbara started with surprise when the abrupt question cut through
the sleepy drone of mock-mystic jargon. Summertown was trapped into
seriousness, for he answered promptly:

"John Antony Merivale-Farwell. I'm usually called Jack Summertown."

"Why are you called Jack Summertown?"

"Well, you see, Summertown's the guv'nor's second title. Thirty per
cent. on your bills, and not a dam' thing else."

He looked obediently into the unwavering eyes, but Lady Barbara felt
that his familiar colloquialism was a deliberate effort to break up the
atmosphere of pretentious mystery.

"And your father?"

"Well, he's rather at a loose end at present. He was Councillor of
Embassy at Paris, and they offered him Madrid, I believe; but he'd been
ill for some time and so he chucked in his hand. Oh, _who_ is he?
Marling. Earl of."

"You are married?"

"God, no!"

"You have been in love?"

Summertown hesitated and then answered quietly:

"Oh, well, yes, I suppose so."

"Tell me about it."

Lady Barbara, watching his face as he gazed into Madame Hilary's eyes,
became conscious of a change in expression; Summertown might have been
drunk. His eyes were glazed, his features set and his forehead moist; he
spoke cautiously, too, as though fearful of a trip in articulation.

"It sounds rather sordid," he began diffidently. "She was an awful
pretty girl--in a shop. Flower-shop. I palled up with her.... I expect
you'll think me an awful cad; I never meant to marry her. It would have
meant such a hell of a row at home.... To do myself justice, I told her
that. She knew who I was; she said that didn't matter.... The thing
lasted for a year--nearly. And most of the time I went through the agony
of the damned. Ask any one who thinks he knows me; you'll be told I
haven't a soul to save and I'm the village idiot and all that sort of
thing. All I know is--I wouldn't go through it again. I loved the girl;
and I always felt that she was all right till I came along--and then I
corrupted her; and though I sweated to get her to marry me, we both knew
it would be God's own failure.... And the end was the most sordid part
of the whole business. When I lay awake at night--I _did_,
honest--thinking I'd dragged her half-way to Hell, another feller turned
up. Number One. I was Number Two--or Ten--or Twenty.... That was
nineteen-eleven, but, if you sat up till midnight telling me how rotten
she was, you wouldn't be able to make me forget her. Wish to God you
could!... But we _were_ dam' well man and wife for a twelvemonth."

He laughed jerkily and grew restless, as though he were looking for the
usual cigarette. Lady Barbara felt an overbalancing pull and discovered
that she had been making her fingers meet in the soft flesh of Sonia
Dainton's arm. Madame Hilary was triumphing. None of them could say when
Jack Summertown had passed under her influence; apart from his pallor
and glazed eyes, he had not changed; but there was a collective,
sympathetic shudder through the room, as he told his stunted romance in
characteristic colloquialisms. "Hell of a row at home.... A
year--nearly.... All I know is--I wouldn't go through it again.... And
then I corrupted her.... Dam' well man and wife for a twelvemonth...."
And then the jerky, cynical laugh. It was Jack Summertown's manner of
describing an unsuccessful meeting at Hawthorn Hill.

"You cannot forget her--but you will find some one else?" The
unmodulated voice was pitiless.

"Oh, generally speaking, yes. I mean, one wants to keep the jolly old
family going. But I've not got much time with this war."

"This war?"

"Well, the general bust-up. I'm in the army, you know, and I shall get
finished off as soon as it starts. Goodish early door for me. Hardly
seems worth it.... At least, I mean, if the girl cares for you, it's a
bit rough to leave her a widow at the end of a week."

"Then you are going to be killed quite soon?"

Lady Barbara held her breath until she felt that her heart must stop.
The others were doing the same. Only Madame Hilary ladled out her
questions with a voice as mechanical as her gestures.

"Oh, almost at once."

"Stop!"

Lady Barbara could not tell whence the cry had come. Had they conjured
up a spirit? Was God Himself cutting short their quest? But she did not
believe in God.... There was a bustle of confused movement, followed by
stupefied inertia. Lord Pennington, after flooding the room with light,
was seen to be propping himself against the door; Madame Hilary sat
blinking rapidly, so like a lone cat surrounded by reluctant terriers
that little imagination was required to see the arched back and to hear
the spitting tongue. Lady Barbara gripped her chair with both hands,
overcoming fear. Only Webster, who had seen the experiment before and
exulted in the sense of shocked terror around him, contrived to purge
his face of expression.

There was a long silence.

"Well, that's that," gulped Pennington, with an unconvincing laugh.

Lady Barbara's brain was working so quickly that she had time to see and
reflect on everything around her. These men who were always drinking
made a sorry mess of their nerves; Pennington was hardly less
incapacitated than Webster had been when they dashed into the jutting
grey angle of wall. And Sonia, who did not drink but lived on
excitement, was almost hysterical....

"Reached end of chapter," murmured Webster, glancing covertly at the
late medium. "What deuce want spoil everything?" he demanded, in a
hectoring aside, of Pennington's late giggling companion.... "Who'd like
go next?"

Summertown had been peering lazily in search of cigarettes, but his
host's question roused him to activity.

"Don't be in such a hurry, old son," he called out. And, turning to the
hypnotist, "You were talking about the jolly old seeds. Big fleas and
little fleas...."

Madame Hilary glanced at him and then, carelessly, at the group between
the fire-place and the door. She was too well-bred to shew triumph.

"You tell me you doubt. Good!" she answered Summertown. "I try to
explain just my theory. Now, in every man there are seeds of new life,
and each seed contains seeds of other new life, of the Future...."

Webster waited until he saw Summertown nodding intelligently; then he
joined the group by the door.

"What do you think of it?" he asked, like a conjuror.

The Baroness Kohnstadt shuddered.

"Ach, derrible!"

"It's the same old game," said Pennington, with newly recovered valour.
"She pinned herself down to something fairly definite, but, before
anything comes along to kill Summertown, she'll have vamoosed and set up
in Harrogate as a beauty specialist. Agree with me, Lady Barbara?"

"I don't know what to think--yet," she answered. "We mustn't let her
tell him, of course...."

As she stood up, her knees were trembling.

"But nobody believes in it _seriously_," protested Sonia Dainton with a
white face.

"_I_ do."

They had been joined by Lord Pennington's giggling companion of the
armchair. Her eyes were bigger, and fear had washed away the colour from
her cheeks.

"Let me try next, Fatty," she implored Webster.

"Why?"

"I want to."

"But why?"

She moved out of earshot and waited for him to join her.

"I want to," she repeated. "I won't say anything that I oughtn't to."

Webster laughed harshly. He did not want to hear the girl unfolding her
history before an audience.

"Keep out of it, Dolly; only make fool yourself," he advised. "You're
such little coward----"

"I know!" She seemed to take the sneer as a compliment. "But I'm
gingered up now. I _want_ to know! I want to know if I'm going to die.
They said I was, but they only did it to frighten me and get me away to
a sanatorium. I'm going to find out!"

While Webster was still sluggishly trying to make up his mind, she
darted past him and presented herself to Madame Hilary. Summertown
yielded place reluctantly and joined the group at the door. Before the
lights were lowered, the Master of the Ceremonies found time to whisper,
"Cut it short. Others want turn, too. Leave out Past and Present; it's
Future she's interested in."

There was a rustle of dresses and a squeak of castors, as the audience
settled into chairs and the lights were lowered. After the same initial
silence the same droning voice pronounced the elementals of the creed.
"Though men have tried by the stars and by crystal balls, by cards and
numbers and pools of ink, they have not hitherto looked for the Future
within themselves...."

"How long does this tripe go on?" Summertown enquired so audibly that
the girl started and turned towards the shadowy group by the fire.

Madame Hilary pushed back her chair and rose to her feet with dignity.

"Please! I cannot continue--like this." At a murmured apology she
consented to sit down again, and the momentarily human voice became lost
in the professional drone of the mystic. "Keep your eyes on mine--so! It
is all I ask. I like better that you resist, that you determine not to
answer my questions. But, if you look into my eyes, you will tell me all
that I ask you. You must. You are telling me now! You are telling me now
your name! It is--that name?"

"Dorothea Prilton. I'm called Dolly May on the stage."

"And you have been on the stage since long?"

"Three years."

"And how old are you?"

"Nineteen."

"And why did you go on to the stage?"

"Oh, I always loved it! It's everything in the world to me! And a
gentleman friend said he'd introduce me to the manager of the Pall
Mall."

There was a tinkle of broken glass, as Webster's elbow swept an ash tray
to the floor.

"And you expect to play great parts? What are you acting in now?"

"Well, I'm out of a shop at present. It's such killing work, you know. I
had to break one contract and go into a nursing-home; and I've never
really pulled up since. One doctor says it's lungs, and another says
it's heart. I was never very strong, and my friend had an awful time
with me. Sometimes at the end of the show, he had to give me an
injection in my arm to pull me round. Of course, it saved my life, but I
think it affected the heart, you know. The doctor was very angry, but I
said to him, 'It's all very well for you to talk, but you weren't there
at the time; I was just dying.' I shall be all right when I've had a bit
of a rest."

"And you expect to play great parts?" Madame Hilary repeated.

There was no answer. As the silence lengthened, the audience looked
critically at her; she had spoken hitherto with the prattling candour of
her class, and the question was hardly an assault on her professional
diffidence.

"And are you in love?" pursued Madame Hilary without pity.

The girl looked at her in silence but still without any expression of
resentment or confusion.

"Are you never afraid of meeting some man and having to retire from the
stage?"

At the third silence Summertown observed loudly:

"This is a blinking frost, you know. I _said_ it was, from the
beginning. She can't make you answer, if you don't want to."

The penetrating voice brought Madame Hilary to her feet a second time.

"Mr. Webster! Where is Mr. Webster?" she demanded. "Please! I cannot go
on--like this. You ask this gentleman to go away, and I continue.
Otherwise, no! I cannot."

"Oh, I say, no offence meant, you know," Summertown pleaded.

"I cannot," Madame Hilary repeated firmly. "Mr. Webster----"

The sense of the meeting, expressed in murmured protests, was against
Summertown.

"Oh, all right! I'll go," he sighed. "You goin' to break away, Babs?
It's an absolute frost," he whispered. "Anyone seen a goodish billycock
or bowler, not to mention a cane, a rich fur coat--Oh, my God!"

He had turned on the light to look for his belongings and, while the
others ringed themselves about Madame Hilary with speeches of condolence
and apology, he alone had leisure to see that Miss Dorothea Prilton,
known on Pall Mall programmes as "Dolly May," sat dead in the chair
which he had occupied ten minutes before.



CHAPTER SIX

THE SHADOW LINE

     "A drunkard is one that will be a man to-morrow morning, but is now
     what you will make him, for he is in the power of the next man, and
     if a friend the better."

     JOHN EARLE: "MICROCOSMOGRAPHIE."


"I knew it.... Yes.... Of course...."

Lady Barbara found herself repeating the words aloud, though no one
listened to her. Now that disaster had come, she remembered her
premonition; and it gave her a start over the others in recovering
self-possession, so that she remained motionless instead of pathetically
trying to charm the dead girl back to life. Only Webster and Summertown
were making any show of keeping their heads. Madame Hilary had become
hysterical; Lord Pennington, mottled and tremulous, was charging
distractedly to and fro with a decanter of brandy; and Sonia Dainton,
shrinking from the body, sobbed quietly to herself by the fire, while
Sir Adolf towered over her, gesticulating with plump, white hands.

"Lock door," whispered Webster. "Tell 'em not s'much dam' row."

He felt the girl's pulse, hurried lumberingly into his bedroom and
returned with a shaving-mirror, which he held before her lips. Then he
closed the staring eyes and covered the face with a handkerchief.

"Heart failure," he pronounced. "Always had weak heart. Excitement. I
tried stop her, you _heard_ me try stop her!"

At the note of pleading in his voice, Madame Hilary's lamentations
redoubled in vigour, this time in the unmistakable accent of Essex.

"Before get doctor, better decide story put up," Webster went on more
collectedly. "Short and simple, _I_ suggest. All having tea here----Said
she was feeling tired----Went pale----Suddenly stopped middle
sentence.... Less said about Madame Hilary, better. Best of all, send
her away now. Know what coroners are."

At sound of the formidable word Lady Barbara clutched frantically at
Summertown's elbow.

"Will there be an _inquest_?" she whispered.

"Can't help it. That's bad enough, but, if there's anything of a _post
mortem_, we may find ourselves in the soup. 'Deceased died as result of
sudden shock.' _What_ shock? _Why_ shock? I don't at all know that we
can afford to let this woman go." He wrinkled his snub nose; and his
cheerful, rather dissipated young face was grave. "Don't at _all_ know,"
he repeated.

The ink-and-whitewash smell of the court came to life again in Lady
Barbara's nostrils; and she heard the coroner once more urging the
reporters like hounds on to their quarry. She would again appear side by
side with Webster to explain away another gratuitous death. Twice in one
year.... And it was not her fault.

"I can't stand it, Jack," she whispered. "I can't! I can't!"

He looked at her in surprise, for it was generally accepted that she
could never lose her nerve.

"Jove! yes. I'd forgotten," he answered. "Here, Fatty!" Webster hurried
to them anxiously, and Summertown became elaborately calm and practical.
"Look here, old son, _you've_ got to go through with this; the body's on
your premises. And Madame must go through with it, because they may find
all sorts of funny things at the _post mortem_. When all's said and
done, you and I didn't kill her, and there's no reason why we should get
the credit of it. _I'm_ in with you to the end. I think Pennington and
Sir Adolf and the Baroness ought to stay to make a quorum, but we'll
talk about that later. Point is--Babs must clear out before the vet.
comes; she's never been here, we know nothing about her; we must stick
to that and, if need be, swear to it. And there's no need to drag Sonia
into the business."

Webster reflected with slow mind, rubbing his fingers against the pad of
his thumb, as though they still felt the dead eye-lids of the girl who
had at last escaped him.

"Woman's tough customer," he warned them. "Blackmail you quick as
thought. And looks bad--much worse--, if any one stays away inquest."

"We'll trust that she's too much rattled," Summertown answered. "And she
doesn't even know who Babs is."

"Bet your life she does," Webster answered. Seeing Lady Barbara's
undisguised fear, he deliberately played on it, as his price for
allowing her to escape the inquest. "If she don't, dam' soon find out."

Future blackmail seemed a less evil than present exposure; and Lady
Barbara only wanted to break away from the sweet-smelling, hot room and
to avoid the sour-smelling, hot court. Summertown looked to her for an
answer; but her eyes were blinking quickly, and two tears rolled
unchecked down her cheeks.

"Here, if _you_ break down, you'll do us all in," he said, glancing
furtively round the room. "Sonia's no more use than a sick headache;
you've got to take charge of her and clear out before any one lodges an
objection. Make certain that you've got _everything_ before you go--no
incriminating muffs or gloves. Now remember! It doesn't matter a damn
where you've been, but you've not--been--here. I'll explain to the
others. Get home or somewhere and establish a good fat alibi; we'll give
you a start before we send for the vet."

With the shrill moans of Madame Hilary still pulsating through their
heads, he pushed them out on to the landing and locked the door. Sonia
ran headlong down the passage until she was caught and schooled to a
careless saunter down the stairs and through the hall.

"Come home with me," Barbara ordered. "Jack's quite right about the
alibi."

"But, Babs----"

"If you start talking, I shall scream!"

They found a taxi in the Strand and drove to Berkeley Square. Barbara
ostentatiously ordered tea, and they subsided into chairs without
speaking. The shock of death was spent and could not be repeated. Dolly
May--if that was her name--was dead; surprisingly, horribly dead, but
there was no more to be said about it, and Barbara could now recall
without a shudder the still face and staring eyes.... She wondered what
they were all doing now, whether the doctor had come.... And what had
really happened--not only to the girl, but to Summertown? Even death was
not so terrific as the power which Madame Hilary seemed to exert.

"Have some tea, Sonia, and try not to think about it," said Lady
Barbara, hoping to restore her own tranquillity.

There would be days of agony, while she waited to see whether she would
be called as a witness and required to explain her flight. Madame Hilary
was not the woman to drown alone; and, though the men had shewn
magnanimity and _esprit de corps_, one never knew what would come out in
court, one never knew how far to trust people whom the tolerant
Summertown himself always described colloquially as "a bit hairy about
the heel." Lord Pennington ... the upward-striving baroness ... Sir
Adolf ... Webster, who was an unplumbed pool of iniquity. She would
always be a little at their mercy; and, without trying to injure her,
people always gossiped.

Sonia Dainton abruptly set down her cup and buried her face in a
cushion.

"It was--Fatty closing her eyes," she explained with a gulp; and Lady
Barbara, in trying to comfort her, found herself crying in sympathy.

They were steadied by the bell of the telephone and a crisp voice, which
for once was refreshing in its self-assurance.

"Mr. Waring," it announced. "My clerk told me you were expecting me to
ring you up. Didn't you get my letter? I said I'd meet you by the
box-office at five to two."

Lady Barbara looked in bewilderment at her watch; less than three hours
had passed since her altercation with the Cockney clerk.

"I'm afraid I lost your letter," she answered, almost humbly. "Five to
two. I'll try not to be late."

"I warn you that I never wait for any one," Jack laughed. "Was that all
you wanted to talk to me about?"

In the first reaction from severe fright, she was prepared for an
outburst of anger against the first victim--Sonia, for breaking down
like a little fool; the Cockney clerk for his impertinence; and Waring
himself as the mainspring of all evil. She had only gone to the flat
because she felt that she was scoring a point against him. No one had
ever behaved with his indifference--which was more galling than blunt
rudeness; no one had ever equalled him in aloofness and
self-sufficiency. His stubborn unquestioning faith in himself won her
reluctant admiration. It was a new experience to find a man whom she
could not twist round her finger at first meeting; if _he_ had attended
the _séance_, she felt that Dolly May would still be alive; he
would--somehow--have intervened; perhaps he would even have persuaded
her to stay at home. She would give five years of her life to have met
any one with authority to stop her....

Sonia had ceased crying and was sniffing miserably at her handkerchief.
The sound irritated Lady Barbara to the verge of hysteria; if the little
fool could see what she looked like with pink eyes and a red nose....

"What are you doing?" she asked Jack.

"To-night? I'm dining at the club," he answered with the same crisp
assurance.

"You wouldn't like to dine here?" It was an impulse which she had no
time to examine, but Jack's voice, which she had never noticed before,
destroyed hysterical images and brought her in contact with reality.
"I'd promised to go to a play, but I'm not in the mood for it," she
added.

With her disengaged hand she wrote down "Gaymer" to remind herself that
she must be excused going to the theatre with him. If her name were
mentioned at the inquest, she did not want to hear the coroner
explaining to the reporters that she was in her stall before the doctor
had finished his examination of Dolly May's dead body; even if her name
went unpublished, she did not want Summertown to feel that he had stayed
at his post while she pusillanimously escaped and ran off to amuse
herself.

"Thanks very much," Jack answered, "but I don't think I will. You know,
I hardly ever dine out. And I couldn't talk up to your level for three
minutes."

"Well, shall I do the talking? I want somebody to talk to; I shall be
all alone."

There was a perceptible pause; and Sonia, finding the one-sided dialogue
uninteresting, looked at her watch and began collecting her furs.

"Well, I don't think I very well can, you know," said Jack, "if you're
all alone."

"Not in my own house? I must say, you are the most extraordinary person!
There _are_ men--strange as it may seem--who would give a good deal for
the chance of having me to themselves at dinner."

"I'm sure of it. You're wasted on me."

Candour and conceit were so nicely matched in Jack Waring that Lady
Barbara could not tell from his voice whether he was laughing at her.

"I've asked you _once_ to come," she sighed. "I'm so used to getting my
own way that I thought that would be enough." She broke off into a cough
and gave Sonia time to get out of the room. "If you want to see whether
I've got any pride, I haven't--just now. I ask you again. I told you I
wasn't in the mood to go to the play; I'm worried out of my mind. But I
don't fancy being alone all the evening. If it's too much _trouble_
to--talk up to my level, don't come. But I should like you to."

There was a moment's laughter--deliberately mocking or ingenuously
unrestrained; she could never make out whether Jack was naturally or
intentionally stupid.

"I can't resist the pathetic, Lady Barbara. What time shall I come?"

"We might dine about half-past eight. If you want to meet mother and
make certain that I'm not compromising you, come earlier."

The taunt was left unanswered; but it was noticeable that Jack arrived
in Berkeley Square at eight o'clock, when the car was at the door and
the door itself open. In the hall Lord Crawleigh was being helped into a
fur-coat, and a blushing young footman was paying the penalty of
inexperience, clumsiness and some one else's hasty dinner. Lady
Crawleigh steered a course round the storm-centre and approached the
stranger with the outstretched hand of hurried welcome.

"Mr. Waring? You must forgive our running away like this; the wretched
play starts at a quarter past eight. Babs will be down in a moment. You
won't keep her up late, will you? We've got to go on to a party at the
Carnforths, so I must leave you to see that she goes to bed in good
time. She's rather overdone."

With a flying introduction to Lord Crawleigh, she rustled down the steps
and into the car. Jack was shewn into the morning-room, where he
smoothed his hair, straightened his tie and settled down to the evening
paper, paying as little attention to the Japanese prints on the walls as
he had done in the hall to a pair of historic porcelain vases which
appeared from time to time at loan exhibitions and were beyond price. At
Oxford and in the Temple his attitude to art was one of toleration,
ungrudging and unpatronizing. "I suppose it's all right," he would say,
when Eric Lane tried to interest him in a new discovery. "Not my line of
country, though."

Lady Barbara came down, as he was finishing the report of a case in
which he had appeared that day in the Court of Appeal. He was too much
engrossed to notice that she was ten minutes late.

"'_Blame me not, poor sufferer; that I tarried_,'" she began. "I had
such an awful headache that I could hardly get up; and I thought it
would be straining our friendship if I asked you to dine with me in my
room. There's not the least need for you to ask if I'm feeling better,"
she pouted.

Jack laughed and laid his paper tidily on the table.

"Sorry! I--I warned you I wasn't a social animal. I hope you're all
right now."

"Better. I feel rather as if some one had been putting hot coals at the
back of my eyes." She paused and looked at him invitingly.


     _"'But thy dark eyes are not dimm'd, proud Iseult!
         And thy beauty never was more fair.'_


Some people _never_ take their cues."

"I haven't a book of the words, I'm afraid."

"And you've probably never heard of Matthew Arnold."

"Oh, yes, I have. He translated Homer or something. My tutor was always
quoting him."

"You're wonderfully banal at times, Mr. Waring."

"Well, I warned you that I shouldn't be able to stay the course," he
answered unabashed.

They dined in amicable dulness. Lady Barbara, who generally shewed a
knack of knowing what she wanted and going straight for it, could not
define what had made her invite him. His conversation was a minute-gun
fire of laboured conventional questions about theatres, the House of
Commons and her plans for Christmas. She lacked the lightness of spirit
to banter him about his Cockney clerk, still less to work up a scene out
of her conversation on the telephone. The humiliation of the Croxton
Ball seemed very far away; and, now that she was face to face with him,
she found it hard to believe that she had sat half the night staring
vengefully into the fire and plotting to punish her glib critic. He was
tough of hide as Fatty Webster....

The name, flashing through her mind, conjured up a picture which she had
striven to forget--a hot, scented room with men and women shrinking
against the walls, a dead girl in the middle and a convulsive,
hysterical witch opposite her. She wondered whether they were still
there, what the doctor had said....

"I hadn't time to see the paper to-night," she said. "Was there anything
in it?"

"I don't think so. We won our appeal--the Great Southern Railway case; I
don't know whether you've been following it--but they're sure to take it
to the House of Lords. Otherwise--oh, your friend Webster seems to be in
trouble again."

Lady Barbara felt as if he had struck her over the heart.

"What's he been doing?" she asked after a pause.

"Well, this time I think he was more sinned against than sinning. He had
some people to tea in his flat, and one of them was inconsiderate enough
to die on the premises."

"Oh, how dreadful!" She was quite satisfied with her inflection.
"Where's the paper? Herbert, will you get me the evening paper out of
the morning-room?"

"It's only a line or so in the stop-press," Jack warned her.

"But I want to see who was there!"

He looked at her closely, for her voice had risen in excitement. When it
was too late, she realized that it would have been more natural to ask
who had died. Before Jack's eyes her own fell, but she had time to
wonder again whether he was stupidly incurious or deliberately
secretive. There were moments when his "superiority" seemed more than a
manner, when she felt bare and trapped. The placid, round-cheeked smile
might have belonged to a cheerful ploughboy, but the commonplace grey
eyes were sometimes intelligent and always watchful.

When the paper came, she felt that he was looking through her, and her
hands trembled.

"Did you know the girl?" he asked.

"I met her once--for a moment. What a horrible thing to happen!"

"You must be glad you weren't there."

"What d'you mean?"

As the indignant, frightened question broke from her, she felt that she
was behaving like a stage criminal and betraying herself because the
audience expected it of her. It was a barrister's business to lure you
on with innocent questions.... She was convinced that Jack knew
everything and was playing with her.

"You always used to go about with him," he pointed out; and she wondered
what base satisfaction one human being could derive from torturing
another.

"It's curious the way you dislike people without knowing them," she
answered. "Now, shall I behave like a perfect Victorian and leave you to
your wine while I do a little embroidery in the drawing-room? I haven't
_got_ any embroidery and, if I had, I couldn't do it. Or would you like
me to sit with you?"

When it was too late, she knew that she wanted to escape and collect
herself before he went on with his inquisition.

"You won't smoke while I'm drinking port-wine, will you?" he asked
without answering her question; and his impudence determined her to
throw away the opportunity of retreat.

She prepared a crushing retort, discarded it for one more crushing and
suddenly realized that in her present state he could beat her and very
easily make her cry. If she cried, too, he would only think that she was
acting....

"Please let me have _one_ cigarette," she begged. "I'll go to the other
end of the room."

As she walked away to the fire-place and stood with her elbow on the
mantel-piece and her head half in shadow, Jack thought for a moment of
asking her to come back; but he was not wholly reconciled to the
practice of smoking among women, and Colonel Waring had taught him that
to drink a vintage wine with a tainted palate was even less excusable
than to enter a church without removing one's hat.

"Wouldn't you like a chair?" he asked by way of compromise.

"I prefer standing, thanks. Mr. Waring, I told you on the telephone that
I was worried out of my mind. I don't know how much you've heard, but I
was _with_ Fatty Webster when that girl died. Did you know that?"

The placid, plough-boy smile faded slowly; and, as he raised his
eyebrows, Lady Barbara appreciated that she was betraying herself
gratuitously.

"I only know what's in the paper. What happened?"

She retained enough judgement to see that she must now tell him
everything, enough prudence to exact a promise of secrecy. As she
described Madame Hilary and the _séance_, she could see prim disapproval
on his features, deepening with every name and incident in the story.
For a man with no great range of facial expression, he succeeded in
conveying categorical contempt for her manner of life, her friends and
herself; and she forgot her troubles in a warm rush of anger.

"Just let me understand," he interrupted, as the story drew to an end.
"Are you coming to me for advice, do you think I can help you? Or are
you just entertaining me with your latest escapade?"

Lady Barbara gripped the edge of the mantel-piece to keep control of
herself.

"Perhaps I thought I might get a little sympathy," she answered.

Jack lay back in his chair, pushing away his wine-glass and reaching for
his coffee-cup. He chose a cigar and pierced it; and every act in its
deliberation and absorbed care for his own comfort set her on fire to
ruffle his exasperating composure.

"I should have thought the others had a prior claim on any sympathy
that's going about."

"I'm afraid no amount of sympathy will bring the dead back to life," she
answered in a whisper.

"I wasn't thinking of her. But the others did at least stand their
ground."

"You mean I deserted my friends?" she demanded furiously.

"Well, of course you did,--if they are your friends. It wasn't your
fault, but it wasn't theirs, either. Because your own record of inquests
doesn't court enquiry, you're allowed to cut and run."

"I couldn't have done any good by staying."

He made no answer until he had found matches and lighted his cigar. It
was evidently important that the coffee and brandy and tobacco should
march abreast; evidently science and art went to the skilled lighting of
a cigar; a man--or at least Jack Waring--could not be expected to attend
to other people's troubles until he had made sure of his own comfort.

"Ah, there I disagree," he said at length. "It would have made all the
difference in the world. First of all you'd have proved that you _were_
the sort of person one can go tiger-shooting with--it wasn't a
particularly _proud_ thing to do, was it?--and then you'd have proved
to yourself that you'd got the moral courage to refuse a cheap
surrender; and you'd have learned that eccentric amusements have to be
paid for at blackmailing prices: you could go into court with an easy
conscience, if you'd been having tea at Rumpelmayer's and the girl had
died there. In the next place----"

Lady Barbara turned her head slowly and succeeded in stopping him
without saying a word.

"I should be careful, if I were you, Mr. Waring," she recommended, as he
paused.

"My dear Lady Barbara, you introduced the subject. You can't have all
the fun of posing as a candidate for sympathy.... If you'd stayed, it
would have changed your whole life. There would have been such an outcry
that you'd have been broken; people simply wouldn't meet you. Not only
Loring House would be closed to you----"

A coffee-spoon rattled onto the floor, as she turned on him again.

"I _won't_ be spoken to like this!"

"It may come yet, of course," Jack went on reflectively, hardly noticing
her furious interruption. "These things always _do_ get out----"

"Are you trying to frighten me?" she asked. But she was frightened long
before he entered the house. This was the kind of mishap to bring her
months of ill luck....

Jack was angry without shewing it or guessing the reason. The young
actress's death shocked him less than Lady Barbara's easy acceptance of
it. To her and to Sonia Dainton, to Erckmann and the baroness, to
Webster and Pennington, the dead girl was a nonentity from another
world; they were sorry that she had died so young, they were shocked
that she had died at all; but, had she been a Kanaka or Lascar
bunker-rat, they could not have troubled less to wonder whether she had
mother or sisters to mourn her; she was a super from the theatrical
underworld, and her ill-judged time and place of dying had put them
into a very embarrassing position. When Jack hinted at a social boycott
of Barbara, he was threatening, what he only lacked power to enforce;
she deserved punishment, and, if he could not punish her as she
deserved, he could at least get far away from her to a society which
took death seriously.

"I'm not sufficiently interested, I'm afraid," he answered with languid
boredom that thinly veiled his disgust.

"But you'd like to see me 'broken', you'd feel so superior----," she
taunted.

He looked at his watch and slowly pushed back his chair.

"Why you invited me I don't quite know," he mused. "Surely not to help
you out with one of your little dramatic scenes?... Now, about
to-morrow--will you be up to coming to this show?"

"No! And even I might think twice before going to a theatre while that
girl's still unburied. That's why I'm here now, why I gave myself the
pleasure of asking you to dine with me.... And you may be quite
comfortable in your mind; you won't ever need to risk your reputation by
being seen in my company again."

Jack could see that her nerves were sadly unstrung, but he could not
understand the restless vanity which always posed her in the limelight
ahead of the world in novelty and extravagance and yet so lacked
confidence that she was wounded if any dared criticize.

"I accept my dismissal," he said good-humouredly. Nothing would induce
him to give her the satisfaction of a parting scene. His training at
home, at Eton and at New College taught him that an Englishman might
legitimately display every quality but emotion. "I warned you that I was
not a social success."

"Have you tried very hard? You always talk to me as if I'd no more
feeling than that table."

Lady Barbara needed concentration to analyze him. She knew that a man
is usually cruel only to those whom he likes or loathes; and it dawned
upon her that, when an unsocial animal consented to meet her at all, he
would not try to hurt her unless he cared for her.

"I'm not going to join your musical-comedy chorus of adulators, when I
think you ought to be soundly whipped; I'm not even going to say, 'Oh,
that's Barbara Neave's way; she's always a law unto herself.' I think
that's the thinnest excuse.... Why did you insist on telling me about it
at all? It's like some one boasting that he smokes a hundred cigarettes
a day.... But your mother said I was to send you to bed early. Good-bye,
Lady Barbara."

She walked with him into the hall and watched his elaborate and
characteristic care in arranging his scarf.

"I seem to have failed again," she sighed; and this time there was an
unaffected wistfulness in her voice.

"What were you trying to bring off?" he asked harshly.

"I hardly know.... I'm _not_ trying to make a scene now, but don't you
think you've been a bit hard on me? I was a fool ever to have anything
to do with Fatty Webster: good. I was a fool to go to that _séance_:
good. If you like, I was a coward to come away. But what actually
happened was just bad luck, and you've been talking as if it was my
fault. I didn't enjoy it very much, I don't like thinking about it; it's
just possible that it was a very horrible shock. I wasn't asking you to
approve of it, but you might have been a little bit more sympathetic."

Her lips were trembling, and Jack remembered with consternation the
night of the Croxton ball when he had made her cry. Then and now he had
said nothing that he wanted to retract, but all reasonable discussion
ended when tears were brought in as an argument.

"It must have been beastly for you," he assented. "I should have been
more sympathetic, perhaps, if I'd thought that it would have any
permanent effect on you."

"Don't you think it will?"

"I shan't be there to see," he laughed. "I've been dismissed."

Barbara sighed and reminded him of her headache by drawing her hand
slowly across her eyes. Since the night of the ball, when he sat beside
her at the piano, he had forgotten how beautiful her hands were.

"You made me lose my temper. I'm sorry, if I said anything rude. There!
Do you want to be dismissed?"

The softening in her tone was infectious, and Jack smiled.

"I like you, when you're like this. But the more we meet, the more I
shall ruffle your plumage. Why on earth did you ask me to dine with you
to-night?"

Lady Barbara looked at him and looked away before answering. To put her
feeling into words was at once to overstate it; but she had hovered that
afternoon on a shadow-line and for the first time in her life she had
lost confidence in herself and reached out towards some one strong
enough to help her, perhaps strong enough to check her. It was an
impulse inspired by the contrast of Sonia sobbing in her chair and
Jack's assured voice on the telephone; the impulse would pass, when her
nerves were steady again, but her spirit was changed and no longer
self-sufficient.

"I wanted to tell you that I couldn't come to the theatre with you
to-morrow," she improvised and wondered whether he would trouble to
notice the glaring inadequacy of the excuse. She wondered, too, why she
had chosen Jack rather than another.... "Mr. Waring, once in a way I
give a party at Crawleigh; no officials, no politicians--just my
friends. I'm arranging one quite soon. Will you come? Just for the
week-end. It won't interfere with your work."

Jack hesitated and fingered his hat in embarrassment.

"You know, I'm no good at that sort of thing," he grumbled.

"But you like talking to me,--when I'm on my good behaviour."

"How long will it last?"

"As long as you're there," she laughed.

"In other words, you're going to make _me_ responsible?"

"Doesn't that appeal to your missionary spirit?"

Jack looked at her and decided that even a formal protest would only
feed her vanity. He stared abstractedly at her as though she were a
horse led out for his inspection. Suddenly she smiled, and, as her face
lit up with vitality and mischief, the haggard expression vanished and
left her beautiful. Perhaps the smile had come in answer to an
unsuspected light of admiration in his own eyes; perhaps she was a
better actress than he thought and could transform herself at will; no
one could gain her reputation as a coquette without earning it and
working for it.

"It isn't fair to abuse me for behaving badly," she pouted, "if you're
too lazy to make me behave well."

"I have a living to earn. You'd want one man's undivided attention," he
answered.

"But I should be very repaying."

"You'd be amusing for a time. But it would be a wearing life; I'm
doubtful even about this week-end."

"But you'll come?"

"If you haven't quarrelled with me or got into any fresh scrape by
then." He turned on the door-step to shake hands with her. "When you
marry, Lady Barbara, I shall send your husband my warmest
congratulations."

"Thank you. I think that's the first time you've come near doing me
justice."

"As a wedding-present," he continued, "I shall send him a little
silver-mounted dog-whip."



CHAPTER SEVEN

A MATTER OF DUTY

     "My lord master, you have heard the design I am upon which is to
     marry.... I humbly beseech you ... to give me your best advice
     therein." "Then," answered Pantagruel, "seeing you have so decreed
     and taken deliberation theron ... what need is there of further
     talk thereof, but forthwith to put into execution what you have
     resolved." "Yea, but," quoth Panurge, "I would be loth to act
     anything therein without your counsel had thereto." "It is my
     judgment also," quoth Pantagruel, "and I advise you to it."
     "Nevertheless," quoth Panurge, "if you think it were much better
     for me to remain a bachelor, as I am, than to run headlong upon new
     hare-brained undertakings of conjugal adventure, I would rather
     choose not to marry." "Not marry then," said Pantagruel. "Yea,
     but," quoth Panurge, "would you have me so solitarily drag out the
     whole course of my life without the comfort of a matrimonial
     consort? You know it is written Vae Soli; and a single person is
     never seen to reap the joy and solace that is found among those
     that are wedlockt." "Wedlock it then, in the name of God," quoth
     Pantagruel. "But if," quoth Panurge, "..."

                                _Rabelais: How Panurge asketh counsel of
                                           Pantagruel whether he should
                                           marry yea or no._


A week before Christmas, Loring cabled to his mother that he was on his
way back to England; in the spring of 1914 he landed at Southampton and
travelled unobtrusively to London while his yacht proceeded to Glasgow
for overhauling and repairs. And, from the moment when his cable was
received, an unconscious adjustment of relationships began,
crystallizing in a series of informal family councils.

Ever since the ultimatum from Surinam, Lady Barbara had not set foot in
House of Steynes or Loring House. It was plausible to pretend that in
Jim's absence his mother was not entertaining, but on his return all
three branches of the family decided that they could not afford the
scandal of an open breach and of a Catholic house divided against
itself. Lady Crawleigh enlisted the support of Lady Knightrider and made
an attack in force on Lady Loring. Thirty years before, the three
sisters had, each in her own way, been celebrated; Lady Crawleigh had
the good looks, Lady Knightrider the good temper and Lady Loring the
brains; and their marriages, one after another, to a Scottish baronet
and two of the richest Catholic peers in England were felt to be
fundamentally satisfactory. As they had begun, so they went on; Kathleen
Knightrider bore a daughter and a son, Eleanor Loring a son and a
daughter, Doreen Crawleigh three sons and two daughters, of whom the
younger died in infancy. The three husbands were above criticism in life
and position; if Sir Charles Knightrider was little more than amateur
landscape-gardener and ornithologist, Lord Loring was very nearly at the
head of the Catholic laity in England; while Lord Crawleigh's succession
of great offices, which he not only filled but adorned, would have
satisfied the most ambitious woman. If the individuality of the three
wives became merged in their husbands, they still made a strong social
combination.

"I hear Jim's on his way home," said Lady Crawleigh without preamble.
"When he comes, Eleanor, we shall have to make peace between him and
Barbara."

"I'll talk to Jim," answered his mother doubtfully. "But you know how
obstinate he is." She was divided between loyalty to her son and pity
for her sister, who could not enjoy having to plead like this for her
own daughter. "I do hope this will be a lesson to dear Barbara."

"I hope so, too," sighed Lady Crawleigh.

If she spoke without conviction, it was because her brain was giddy with
successive shocks. The secret of Dolly May's death was kept for exactly
five days after the inquest. Then a gaunt woman, giving no name,
demanded to see Barbara and, on hearing that she was in the country,
bearded Lord Crawleigh, who promptly threatened her with attentions from
the police. All previous courts of enquiry were trivial by comparison
with the inquisition now erected; but, as the attack developed,
Barbara's resistance developed equally, and she warned her parents that,
on the day when she came of age, she would move into a house of her own
where she could receive friends of every complexion and practice magic
of every colour. If the form of the threat was old, its clarity and
vigour were new; Barbara had less than six months to wait for her
majority and independence.

Lady Crawleigh was still reeling under the shock of one scandal averted
and a second in prospect, when her energies were claimed by a new
problem. From an untraced source came the report that Barbara was
becoming very intimate with young Waring. He had spent a week-end at the
Abbey, unobtrusively burying himself in the smoking-room for most of the
time; and Barbara had included him in big and small dinner-parties in
Berkeley Square. Save that he was a Protestant with only the few
hundreds that he earned, he was unexceptionable; Eton, New College and
the bar covered past and present, and for the future he stood second in
succession to Penley and his uncle's title; in temperament and character
he was reported to be dull and wholly dependable. It was a paradox of
Barbara's position, her mother felt, that, when the interlocked Catholic
families had been ruled out, she seemed to have no associates except
nonentities like Gerald Deganway and John Gaymer, who were family
furniture rather than friends, or young politicians, like George
Oakleigh, or literary freaks, like Mr. Arden, or the really rather
dreadful people like the stout young man with all the cars, Mr. Webster,
who was always getting her into one scrape or another: the less said
about them, the better. Barbara was lamentably gregarious in her
friendships, but in these latter days all girls were allowed so much
liberty, they seemed to know so much and to be so intolerant of
restraint....

Lady Crawleigh was not at present equal to a struggle on the question of
religion. The Church had become unyielding about mixed marriages; that
was the wretched Sonia Dainton's excuse for breaking off her engagement
to Jim Loring, and, when she had nothing else to disturb her mind, Lady
Crawleigh was haunted by the fear that Barbara, who was deplorably lax,
would make some terrible scandal by marrying a Protestant without
getting a dispensation. Of course, it would not be a true marriage, and
no Catholic would consent to know her,--but it was the sort of thing
that Babs would do.

The untraced rumour, like many another, travelled far before reaching
those most intimately concerned. Jack Waring had devoted so many years
to a middle-aged pose and the ostentatious avoidance of all social life
that his own friends commented in outspoken amusement on his
recantation. In the winter months of 1913 he began to appear at dances,
though he still refused to take an active part. "Who's the man with Babs
Neave?" quickly became "Who's the man who's always with Babs Neave?"
and, before long, "Is anything going to happen about Babs Neave and Jack
Waring?" Derision at the fall of a misogynist passed through speculation
to resentment.

"Jack simply monopolizes Babs nowadays," complained Summertown one night
in the New Year at a dance in his mother's house. He was aggrieved at
being unable to attract Barbara's notice and had summoned Deganway,
Arden and Oakleigh to a meeting of protest in the smoking-room. "Wonder
what she sees in him," he grumbled. "He's a good fellow and all that
sort of thing--capital company on a desert island, if you wanted plenty
of bar shop, but he's taking all the bubble out of her. I tried to rope
her in for my party at the Albert Hall, but, when she heard who was
coming, she refused. Damned offensive, I thought. Said that people had
been talking about her so much that she had to be very careful. And old
Jack nodded--you could see she was doing it to please him; it'll be an
awful chuck-away if she marries him."

"She will not marry him," Arden predicted. "If for no other reason, Lady
Lilith has still to discover a heart."

"What's she doing it for, then?" asked Oakleigh. "I'm very fond of Jack,
he's a thoroughly good fellow, but he's _rather_ a bore."

"What man can choose from among a woman's motives?" demanded Arden.
"Perhaps she finds a difficulty in getting rid of him. There was a time
when she was certainly intrigued, when she pursued him relentlessly.
Perhaps she feels a glow of respectability from his presence; one's
cook, if not a _cordon bleu_, was recommended to one as 'a regular
communicant.'... Perhaps she chose him to see what she could make of
him, as _le Bon Dieu_ chose the Jews. But she will not marry him.... One
has a certain instinct."

He shook his head sagaciously and dismissed the subject. But a new
mile-stone had been reached when four men could be found gathering to
discuss Jack's marriage to Barbara as even a remote possibility. Similar
discussions had for some weeks taken place in little groups round the
walls of the ball-rooms. Lady Knightrider, who had known Jack longest
and best, confided to a friend that he was an excellent influence, a man
who would stand no nonsense from the girl; he was fearless and unmoved
by Barbara's tantrums and had once spoken very sensibly when she revived
the absurd project of leaving her parents and taking a house by herself.
That evening Phyllis Knightrider epitomised and retailed a conversation
which she had not been intended to hear by saying to Barbara, as they
drove to the dance, "Mother's quite made up her mind that you ought to
marry Jack Waring. She says he's the only man she knows who can keep you
in order."

The attack was opened three hours later from the opposite flank, when
Gerald Deganway put up his eye-glass and stared at Jack with an
affectation of shocked gravity.

"My dear, every one's talking about you," he exclaimed. "It's becoming
quite a scandal."

"_What's_ becoming a scandal?" asked Jack.

"You and Babs Neave."

"What a pity it is that people can't mind their own business!"

Any one acquainted with Deganway knew better than to take his gossip at
face-value, but Jack was amazed to find that he had given material for
chatter and speculation even to Deganway. To be a friend of Barbara
Neave, as Arden once said, was like going for a walk with an arc-lamp;
but they had been frigidly circumspect and restrained. Two week-ends at
Crawleigh Abbey, perhaps six dinners in London and twice that number of
dances, where he looked in at supper-time and left after an hour,
covered their public intimacy. For a moment Jack was roused to violent
irritation towards Deganway, then he dismissed the irritation in
gratitude for the warning. There was no time to lose, if this kind of
nonsense was being talked, and he stationed himself at the door of the
ball-room and pounced upon Barbara at the end of the dance.

"You're not really hungry, are you?" she asked, when he suggested that
they should have supper together.

"I want to talk with you," he answered.

Barbara started imperceptibly. Jack was less self-possessed than usual;
of any other man she would argue from a varied experience that he
meditated proposing to her.

"I'll come down, if you like," she answered gently. She always achieved
success with Jack when her voice grew caressing and she promised to do
a thing, if he liked. "I hope I'm not in disgrace?"

"You? Oh, no. I'm going away on circuit to-morrow, though," he said,
tidying away a litter of dirty plates from the only unoccupied table.

"When will you be back?"

Jack helped her to a cutlet as though he were serving out rations,
sprinkled his own with salt, cut his roll in two, prospected for a clean
glass and poured out some champagne, which he tasted cautiously, with a
murmured, "'04 Bollinger! It's a crime to waste that on a ball!" For a
man not naturally greedy, supper was very absorbing.

"I shall be away for a week or two," he explained, precipitately adding,
"at least."

Barbara's eyes were on his face, but he had no attention to spare from
the cutlet.

"Ring me up, when you come back, and suggest a night for dinner," she
said.

"I shall have a good deal of work to do when I get back. I've been
getting very slack lately. _And_ dissipated; you've been making me keep
too late hours."

Barbara sighed wearily.

"As if I 'made' you do anything! Will you be back before Easter?"

"Oh, yes."

"Would you like to come to Crawleigh for Easter?"

He went through the same ceremonial with a second cutlet and then said,
without looking up:

"I shall be going to my people for Easter."

Barbara raised her eyebrows and turned half away.

"I apologize," she murmured.

"Why?"

"For bothering you with unwelcome invitations."

This time there was no hesitation, though Jack was conscious that his
voice and lips were unsteady.

"It doesn't do much good, does it?" he asked with a lop-sided smile.

"What doesn't?"

"Our meeting."

"I thought you liked being with me; and I thought it gratified your
missionary spirit," she added tartly.

"But does it do much good beyond affording a topic of conversation for
congenital idiots? I'm looking ahead, Lady Barbara."

"What does that mean?"

Jack glanced at her for the first time. He imagined that he could look
her in the eyes without embarrassment; but his hand trembled, and he saw
that he had spilt the champagne. She must have seen it, too; she could
be in no doubt of his meaning. He had intended to warn her that the
congenital idiots were coupling their names; and he had now to warn
himself that, if he saw any more of the girl, if she ever again looked
at him through smiling, half closed eyes, murmuring that she would do
what he wished because he wished it, he was quite capable of making a
fool of himself. It would not be serious, because any union between a
Catholic and the straitly reared son of bitterly Evangelical parents was
unthinkable; it would not be serious, because every one knew that
Barbara would soon have seven thousand a year of her own, provided
always that she married a Catholic, while he might hope very shortly to
be making seven hundred a year, which already had to pay for the rent of
chambers and club bedroom, share of clerk, subscription to Law Reports,
expenses of circuit, club subscriptions, food, drink, tobacco, clothes
and sundries. It would not be serious, but it might be very unsettling.

"You see ... I'm--a practising barrister," he explained. "That means
that I work for my living and am looking forward to doing so for the
best part of my life."

"And I've been wasting your time? I'm sorry, Jack. I like you, when
you're gentle and don't find fault with me. I didn't mean to be
selfish."

She had not thought it prudent to use his Christian name since the
disastrous night of the Croxton Ball.

"I've loved it," he answered. "I always told you that I thought a
tremendous lot of you. But I have to work. I sometimes think that, so
long as a man's decently dressed, a girl never bothers to think whether
he's got twopence a year or ten thousand," he added with a touch of
bitterness.

"Can't you manage Easter at Crawleigh?" she asked.

He picked up his gloves and offered her a cigarette.

"Don't you understand?"

"I don't understand about money; people make such an absurd fuss over
it. I understand that, as usual, you're making me ask twice for what
most men would give me without asking; and that's sometimes a little
humiliating. Still, you say I'm a law unto myself. Will you come?" He
still hesitated; and she leaned forward with her hand on his sleeve.
"Have I _ever_ refused to do anything you asked?"

"I don't think you have," said Jack slowly. "I--shall be delighted to
come."

He drove her home that night, wondering what she meant by saying in such
a context that she was a law unto herself. As the taxi left Berkeley
Square, he half thought of driving to the Temple and talking to Eric
Lane. But he had nothing to say and did not know what he wanted. He was
elated and a little frightened; never before had he so sorely needed
cold, brutal advice; and this question, which he did not yet dare to
define, was one which he would have to solve by himself. As he
undressed, he wondered what Barbara was doing, what she had meant,
whether she had meant anything....

He was away from London for three weeks; and in that time he
unhurriedly made up his mind to marry her. Lying awake in his berth on
the night train to Newcastle, he decided that he must have fallen in
love with her at the Croxton ball. As a bachelor his responsibilities
and troubles were confined within the four walls of his bedroom at a
very comfortable club; he lived like a prince on four or five hundred a
year; and he had never needed the companionship of a woman--least of
all, of a woman whom he had instinctively avoided for three years and
who quarrelled with him daily when they had at last met. He appreciated
now that they quarrelled because he could not bear to see her cheapening
herself, because he was already in love with her.

And she must have fallen in love with him at the same time; though he
lectured her until she broke down and cried, she begged him to come back
and give her another chance. The night when she first invited him to
dine with her marked her transition to certainty, but it was only when
they were parting that their two certainties engaged and interlocked.
While he pronged his cutlet and sprinkled it with salt, eyes prudently
averted, each discovered that the other was becoming a habit; he liked
her sudden petulance and sudden softening, her restless changes and
lightning vitality; and he wondered in sudden humility what she, with
her charm and quickness, could see in him. Her family, hitherto
friendly, would be disappointed; for she could marry any one, and they
would murmur that she had thrown herself away on a poor man who might,
indeed, gamble his way into silk, but would never rise to the Bench, the
Appeal Court or the House of Lords. She would forfeit her godfather's
fortune by marrying a Protestant; and, if they were to live at all, the
Crawleighs must come to their aid. Perhaps the Crawleighs disliked mixed
marriages as much as the Warings....

Jack turned on the light and frowned at the imitation maple-wood
compartment. He must be prepared for a struggle. _Imprimis_ the
theological history of the Warings began with Zachary Macaulay, diverged
into abolitionism, collected and tidied itself under Lord John Russell
and the No-Popery movement and came to an inglorious and unseen end,
when the family purged itself politically of a whig taint. Mr. Kensit
was a tough, awkward mouthful, and, in the absence of a more restrained
leader, the Warings did their good to Protestantism by stealth. The
colonel fought an honourable fight for the Geneva gown; he talked of
"clergymen" and "communion-tables," where others lisped papistically of
"priests" and "altars"; and there were heated and unconvincing arguments
in the vicarage library about the ornaments rubric. But, if they no
longer took a part in public ecclesiastical controversy, the family
would choke at Barbara's name. The colonel was vaguely disquieted when
Jack, under the guidance of Jim Loring, drifted into "that Catholic set"
(he refrained from calling them Papists out of consideration for Jack's
feelings, but he frequently abbreviated their definition to "R. C's");
to marry an "R. C." was hardly more venial than to marry a black woman
or to wear a ring in one's nose. And since this insolent _Ne temere_
decree....

Jack had heard it quoted, but had never sought enlightenment lest he
should pour oil on the sinking fires. Colonel Waring treated religious
controversy as his safety-valve and needed no encouragement. But it was
time for Jack to find out where he stood.

Val Arden was discovered unexpectedly in the hotel at Leeds, and Jack
invited him to dine with the bar mess after the first day of the
Assizes.

"One was persuaded to deliver a lecture," the novelist explained. "The
hard-headed men of the West Riding will think twice before repeating the
venture; but it was an experience for them, and one escaped with one's
life. The North is very remote. One is still remembered in London? Yes?
One's friends are in reasonable health?"

"They're bearing up," Jack answered. "Jim Loring's back in England."

"A sadder and a wiser man, one hears. Well, if a man wants romance, he
must be prepared to pay for it. One feels that it is worth the
inconvenience of three years' exile not to be married to Sonia Dainton.
You know the full sad story? No? It should be a lesson."

At dinner he weighted his gossip and airy moralizing with serviceable
information. Jack learned that a Catholic could only obtain dispensation
for a mixed marriage, if the non-Catholic undertook that all the
children of the marriage should be brought up in the Catholic faith. It
seemed an unequal stipulation, but the only alternative was for the
Catholic to defy the Church and to renounce his faith, which was no less
unequal. When Arden was gone to bed, Jack surveyed the problem from the
standpoint of his family, of Barbara and of himself. There would be a
bitter fight at Red Roofs and another at Crawleigh Abbey; but the
alternative was to give up Barbara. Neither of them submitted easily to
opposition.

He returned to London a few days before Easter, only concerned to wonder
how a man prepared the ground before asking a girl to marry him; he had
talked vaguely of admiration, but he had never made love to Barbara. And
he must find out whether the Crawleighs regarded him as a _persona
grata_. And he must explain to Barbara his financial position and the
kind of life that a barrister led; and they must have a talk about this
religious business....

Barbara herself, and the party which she had gathered for Easter at the
Abbey, gave him generous opportunity. With Loring and his sister,--both
persuaded by their mother "to give Babs one last chance"--with
Summertown and Sally Farwell, Pentyre, Victor Knightrider, Gerald
Deganway, Charles Framlingham and a leavening of the Crawleighs'
official friends to entertain one another, there was no difficulty in
slipping away unobserved. So long as Barbara distributed herself
equitably at luncheon and dinner, no one seemed to miss her at other
times; and, as Jack did not play bridge, some one had to talk to him in
the evenings.

She welcomed him with the mood and language of their last night together
in London.

"Well, I hope the practising barrister made a lot of money," she said to
him the first evening after dinner.

"I had rather a good assize," he answered. "My fair share at Leeds and
more than my fair share at Newcastle. In money, it wouldn't seem much to
you, but I'm quite pleased."

A word of congratulation launched him on a conscientious survey of his
fees and cases from the delivery of his first brief. In succeeding
conversation he threw further slabs of information at her by schedule,
talking of himself with simple-minded absorption. Finance was polished
off the first night; the Waring family, three times sub-divided,
occupied the following day, and with healthy relentlessness he
overhauled Catholicism in particular and revealed religion in general.

The conversation, if one-sided and monotonous, was at least amicable
until a smouldering brand from the theological bonfire, waved to life in
the kindling breeze of personality, set her ablaze.

"Of course, the whole bag of tricks wants overhauling," said Jack of the
Established Church and its liturgy. "When a fellow's ordained, he _says_
he believes all sorts of things that he doesn't, really. Every
congregation mouths responses like so many parrots, but if you tackled
any single member with a plain question, he'd have to admit that he
didn't believe the whole business exactly as it's set out in the
pleadings. Well, I've got a legal mind. If you say Christ _descended_
into _Hell_ and on the third day _rose_ again from the dead and
_ascended_ into Heaven, I want to know if you mean it literally or
figuratively? That's one of the beauties of _your_ Church; you don't
admit any doubt or vagueness."


     _"'What are the laws of nature, not to bend
     If the Church bid them?'"_


murmured Barbara.

"You believe that?"

"It was a quotation. I'm sorry."

"It's a logical point of view. With us you pick and choose. In the
marriage service it's becoming the fashion for a girl to say she'll
'love and honour' her husband. Now, the Prayer Book says, 'love, honour
and _obey_.' If I were a parson, I'd refuse to go on with the service
until she'd said 'obey.'"

"But if she doesn't mean to?" asked Barbara. "I think it's degrading."

"If it comes to a tussle, the woman has to give in; so why is she
degraded by recognizing it and promising beforehand?"

"She doesn't have to. You couldn't make me--even with a dog-whip."

Though he affected a laugh, Jack had many times regretted the phrase.
Barbara kept it in the forefront of her memory and persistently threw it
down as a challenge to herself, when her natural independence flagged.

"You'd obey me without that. You can't have two captains on one ship. I
don't suppose that any modern husband goes about saying, 'I order you to
do this'; he tries to dovetail their two lives into one----"

"Then there wouldn't be much obedience, if I always got my own way."

"That you certainly wouldn't do!" he laughed.

"What d'you mean?"

Jack looked down the long drawing-room and reflected before answering.
It was the last night of his visit to Crawleigh Abbey, and he was hardly
prepared for a declaration. Though he had conscientiously put Barbara in
possession of all material information, she had received it without
comment. In four days he had not brought her any nearer; sometimes it
seemed as if she were not trying to help him, and all that he had
achieved was to fall four days more in love with her. Instinctively he
felt that this was not the most favourable time for a parade of
authority; but he had defined his attitude towards every other relevant
issue, and it was tidier not to leave his task unfinished. Before
marriage or immediately after, he would have to indicate certain people
whom he did not care for her to meet, certain things that he did not
care for her to do. The theatrical connection, for instance, would have
to be cut; Colonel Waring often said that, thirty years ago, an actress
was never received at the big houses. Now there was a considerable
group, ranging from Manders at the top to quarter-bred anonymities at
the bottom, who regarded her as belonging to their world.

"If you were married to me, I should change your mode of
life--drastically," he answered.

"What do you find so very unsatisfactory in it?"

Her tone was in itself a warning; but, if she challenged him to make out
his case, Jack could not refuse the challenge.

"You're too big for your company," he began from the familiar text.
"Take me as a typical case. I knew of you years before I knew you; and
I--on account _of_ your friends, you know--I'd have gone miles to avoid
meeting you. To me--and the world at large--you were simply a girl who
forced yourself into the limelight and got up to mischief with people
that you simply ought never to have known. Since I've got to know you
and like you, by Jove, I'd give ten years of my life to get _un_said the
sort of things I used to hear about you. I remember thinking, before I
met you, 'If she were my _sister_....'"

"What kind of things did you hear?" asked Barbara quietly.

"I needn't particularize," he answered.

Barbara shrugged her shoulders and relaxed her attention, only to
concentrate it again as she found him particularizing in merciless
detail. There were crimes, misdemeanours and sins of the spirit. The
stolen car, the mangled chauffeur and the endless, unforgettable inquest
were dragged to the light; Jack spared her the coroner's rasping
comments, but he could not resist another allusion to the Surinam cable.
There was a raided roulette-party, when Summertown had helped her into
safety by the fire-escape. (She found time to wonder how he had heard of
it; either Val Arden or Summertown was running up a bill against
himself.) There was an embarrassing encounter at a night club, where she
had gone with Sir Adolf Erckmann's party: all would have been well, if
Sonia Dainton had not come with Webster and if Webster had not been
drunk. As it was, there had been the makings of unpleasantness. George
Oakleigh had taken Sonia home, Webster had become quite helpless; and,
in trying to dispose of him, they had all attracted a good deal of
notice. Then there was the episode of Madame Hilary. So much for the
crimes.

"You take a great interest in the movements of some one you despise,"
commented Barbara. She wondered why she consented to listen to him, but
she was unequal to the self-denial of going away while she was being
discussed.

"My dear girl, these things fly from one end of London to the other
almost before you've done them. You _won't_ recognize how well known you
are! D'you appreciate that I should let myself in for a first-class row
with my people, if I told them that we were friends? All rot, of course;
but there you are."

After the crimes, the misdemeanours--the innocent things which she was
"too big" to do. The one tiresome phrase was reinforced by others as
insistent and tiresome. Some one--probably his stiff little sister--had
taught him the word "grisette." "That may be all very well for a
grisette, but you...." Some one--probably his mother--had divided a
girl's behaviour into what was "hoydenish" and what was not; Barbara
felt that she had all the markings of a pedigree hoyden. He contributed
a few phrases of his own, assuring her gravely that this or that was
"simply not done, you know;" and, as other men drew breath before
embarking on a new sentence, he introduced every new count in the
indictment with an apology that was but a veiled further reproach. "I
expect you think I'm an awful prude.... I may be old-fashioned, but I've
always been brought up to believe...."

After the misdemeanours, the sins of the spirit.

"You admit that you're frightfully vain and spoiled," he began
pleasantly. "You admit that you expect every one to do exactly what you
want without even being asked...." He traced the deleterious effect of
such vanity on her character. Whatever was going on--from a pageant to a
sale of work--she must be in it; her photograph must be in every paper.
And, when there was no opportunity for public display, she made it,
forced it. Hence this chain of escapades; it was self-advertisement,
and, God knew, she was too big for that sort of thing.

At first Barbara listened in amazement; then she became so angry that
her attention wandered, as she debated whether to stalk out of the room
or to turn on him with all her resources of invective. But to run away
was to spare him his punishment. He should apologize for each word, on
his knees. And when he had made recantation, he could go.

"If you were my wife, I should have to change all that," he ended.

Barbara touched her cheeks and was surprised to find them cool.

"You've--rather made mincemeat of me," she sighed, because a sigh loosed
some of her pent anger, and she could not be sure of her speaking voice.
"Jack, in addition to the vanity, do you think I've got any pride?...
Let's go and see how the others are getting on. It's such a pity you
don't play bridge."

As he got up, Jack touched her hand.

"I say, have I said anything to offend you?"

"A fly isn't 'offended' when some boy pulls its legs out one by one.
_Please_ let go my hand, Jack! You must admit I've listened patiently;
I've not said a word in my defence--I suppose you think there's nothing
_to_ be said;--but I don't feel I can stand any more.... Or do you want
to make me cry again?"

Her eyes opened and shut quickly; and, by the time that she turned to
him, they were filled with tears.

"Barbara! It had to be said some time! But I honestly didn't mean to
hurt you. Listen----"

"Not in my own house! I _do_ count for something here! Don't make me
cry! Don't humiliate me before all of them! It's only to-night. You need
never see me again."

Her sudden abasement inflamed him as though he had struck her and she
were begging for mercy.

"Barbara! forgive me! I want to say something to you." Though both were
speaking almost in whispers, there was a change in his voice. Barbara
looked at him mistily through a film of tears and saw that he was going
to ask her to marry him before she was ready. When the time came, it
should be of her choosing; and they would not be at one end of a room
with three bridge-tables at the other.

"No! I want to talk to you. May I? It's my turn, Jack." As she smiled at
him, a tear trickled down her cheek, and she brushed it away with her
hand. He stared at her without understanding, for, though she could be
regal or pathetic, she seemed incapable of ill-temper or resentment.
"Don't you see that, with father, I was brought up in the limelight
since I was a child? Try to imagine how much I've always done and then
tell me if I'm likely to be content with--well, the very domestic life
you say your sister leads. Remember, too, that I've a passion for some
things, which you could never understand. You don't like Sir Adolf, no
more do I, but I'd go anywhere for good music. And, more than that, I'd
be friends with any one, if he had temperament and interested me. I want
the _whole_ of life.... If a thing's not _wrong_, I don't care whether
it's unconventional: if there's nothing wrong in roulette, if I play it
under my father's eyes at Monte Carlo, I'll play it in London; and, if
there's a silly law to drive an innocent thing under ground, I'll play
it under ground. '_Publish and be damned. Your affectionate
Wellington._' I admire people who are too big to mind what's said in the
servants' hall.... But don't let's wrangle on our last night! I'm sorry
if I've disappointed you."

As she took a step towards the bridge-tables, Jack felt that he was
losing her; yet he would only stultify himself by an apology.

"I'm afraid I don't put things very happily," he compromised.

"No more than that?"

"Well, it's your turn now."

"I could never criticize one of my guests."

She gave him time to see that no reply was possible, then took another
step towards the bridge players. More strongly than ever he felt that he
was losing her.

"I hope I shall be one of your guests again, Barbara."

She shook her head and smiled with tired gentleness. Jack discovered
that she was capable, in her quiet passages, of great dignity, which
contributed to his general conception of her as "big" and punished him
more completely than if she had lost her temper and made a scene.

"But you can't like hurting me.... And I've tried to be so sweet to you.
You don't want to come again?"

"But I do."

He hoped to hear her say "Why?" so that he could recover ground and
secure a good jumping-off place for their next meeting.

"Then I'll ask you. I told you at Croxton that I loved doing what people
asked. We shall be coming up to London next week. But I shall never make
you see my point of view."

"I think I've made you see mine."

Barbara turned away without answering, and Jack interpreted her silence
as surrender. She whispered good-night to her mother and went to her
room for fear of insulting him in public. Everything could be forgiven
except this last blatant, avowed assumption that he had bullied her into
submission. His punishment became a matter of duty.



CHAPTER EIGHT

A MATTER OF PLEASURE

     "But what will not ambition and revenge
     Descend to? Who aspires, must down as low
     As high he soar'd, obnoxious, first or last,
     To basest things. Revenge, at first though sweet
     Bitter ere long, back on itself recoils...."

     MILTON: "PARADISE LOST."


     "_My Dear Barbara,_

     "_I have seen so little of you lately that I don't know what your
     movements are. Are you expecting me at the Abbey next week-end? And
     shall I find you at Ross House on Friday? I particularly want to
     talk to you._

     "_Ever yours_,
     "JACK WARING."


The letter, written nearly a month after Barbara's Easter party, was
Jack's first documentary admission that a state of war had been
proclaimed and that he was tardily conscious of it. On returning to
London, Barbara invited him to dine, as she had promised; but she
invited so many other people at the same time that he had little
opportunity of talking to her. In the excitement and rush of the early
season, as she darted from dinner to play and from play to ball, it was
impossible to catch her in a serious mood. Jack followed at a
non-committal distance and tried to get her to himself occasionally for
a moment at supper; but, after he had made two of these abortive
attempts, she explained with gentle reproof that it was hardly fair to
expect her to give up dancing because he himself refused to learn; if
he wanted to see her, he could wait and take her home; she would not be
later than three or perhaps four.... After two experiments, Jack changed
his tactics; he could not stay up all night, if he had to be in court
next day at ten o'clock, and there was little intimacy or romance in
driving home with a girl who either dropped asleep or treated the taxi
as an omnibus for distributing her friends about London.

When they met, her good-humour and friendliness reassured him, but they
met so seldom that he made no progress. Letters were unsatisfactory, for
he was afraid of saying too much and always wanted to write "without
prejudice" at the head of the sheet. She never answered more than one in
three; and, though he wrote about himself and his work, she hardly
responded to his suggestion that she had a right to know what he was
doing and that he had no less a right to expect her to be interested in
it. This, he decided, was the fruit of twenty years' spoiling; the
effort--if need be, the abasement--must come on his side.

After a week in which he did not meet her at all, Jack convinced himself
that love could not be conducted on a limited liability basis; no man
achieved passion and saved his face at the same time. It would have been
easier to treat marriage like a casual invitation to dinner and to say
"Will you marry me? No? Well, it does not matter; I thought I'd just ask
you ..."; but a woman was not to be won until she saw that it mattered
more than anything else. After deep thought and with momentarily
increasing reluctance, he went to an address which he had found in the
_Morning Post_, paid three guineas and for a conscientious hour at a
time practised steps and pranced round a studio off the King's Road with
two fluffy sisters who taught him a little of dancing and much of
humility. From the first they despised his clumsiness and resented his
lofty refusal to talk, smoke, drink tea or take them out to dinner; but
their dislike and contempt were nothing to his own sense of shame. Once
back in the County Club, a man among men, deferentially--as became a
young member--asking the chairman of the Wine Committee whether they had
enough of the '84 Dow to sell it by the glass, he wondered what Mr.
Justice Maitland or old Bertrand Oakleigh would think if they dreamed
that he was lately escaped from an abomination called Effie, who
revolved in a sticky fog of cheap chocolates, and a vulgarity named Dot,
who called him "old boy." If Summertown or Gerry Deganway caught him
slinking away from chambers to be told that his knees were too stiff or
that he must hold his partner more tightly.... Jack blushed hotly and
wondered why he had not been taught to dance as a child.

And for all his pains he got little credit. At his next meeting with
Barbara, he chose one of her favourite waltzes and suggested that she
might "risk it" with him. In the infinitely small chatter of the tired
woman round the walls it was remarked for a week that Jack Waring, who
did not usually dance, might very often be seen dancing with Babs Neave.
Val Arden accosted him with surprise and congratulated Barbara in his
presence on having humanized him.

"But _I_ haven't done anything," she answered.

"You said it was rather pointless for a man to come to a ball, if he
didn't dance," Jack pointed out.

"And you did this to please me," she laughed. "How long did it take?
Only a fortnight? I wonder how long it would take you to learn bridge.
There's such a mob of people everywhere that I've made it a rule never
to dance till after supper. George Oakleigh's collecting a table now."

As so often lately, this was not the moment for a man to advance his
suit, but Jack could not decide whether Barbara, like all the girls in
these restless, neurotic months, was too much excited to be serious or
whether she was deliberately tantalizing him and deferring surrender to
set a higher value on herself. As secretly as he had learned dancing, he
set himself to master the leads and returns of bridge. Starting with
"Auction for Beginners," he proceeded painfully to "Advanced Auction
Bridge," and challenged his parents and sister to an experimental game
during his next week-end at Red Roofs. The experiment was not repeated;
Colonel Waring, who carried into bridge the formalism and irritability
of a whist-racked youth, told him that he did not seem to have a "card
head," and, after a night of helpless anger against the unreasonableness
of women, Jack launched his ultimatum to Barbara with an indignant
resolve that she should not trifle with him any longer.

There was little enough of the love-letter in his few words and
colourless phrasing, but Barbara felt a tremor as she read them. The
letter awaited her, with others, when she came home after a party; she
read it first, then poured herself a cup of cocoa, then read the others
and came back to it. This, then, was his capitulation to a woman of such
ill-repute that he dared not confess to his own parents that he even
knew her.

"_My dear Jack_," she wrote in reply. "_Yes, I shall be there on Friday
and look forward to seeing you._"

It read naturally, but gave her hypercritical mind the sense that she
was meeting him half-way; she would not let him say that his broadest
hint had been a warning.

"_My dear Jack_," she tried again. "_I've promised faithfully to go to
the Marlings on Friday; there's rather a panic there, because poor dear
Lady M. thinks that every one will desert her for Ross House--it's her
own fault for choosing that night. If I can possibly get away, I shall
look in for a few minutes. If not, we shall meet at the Abbey next day.
Of course, we're expecting you then._"

Though this read even more naturally, Barbara was not wholly satisfied.
She left the letter in the hall, then retrieved and carried it into her
bedroom to see how it looked by morning light. As she undressed, she saw
with surprise that there was an unaccustomed flush on either cheek and
that her lips were tightly compressed. Jack had hurt her even more than
she appreciated; and he was now going to be taught his lesson. The
"haggard Venus".... The sight of her thin face and deep-set, glowing
eyes made her feel a tragic actress in spite of herself. She was
word-perfect in the scene, for she had rehearsed it every time that his
bluff, sweeping condemnation had touched her vanity. No doubt he would
still try to be bluff and off-hand, but she was resolved to make him
plead humbly and to take back every reproach, one by one.

Barbara sat down before an open window in her bedroom; outside, the
silent night was like a hushed and darkened auditorium for her speech.

"But we've nothing in common! You know you hate the life I had. I'm
afraid I can't alter it, Jack. You'd take away all my friends, but they
interest me; I've got music and books and pictures in common with them.
Even if you got over your dislike, you'd hate to sit in a corner while
we talked about the things that do mean everything to me. And I'm afraid
I should always be shocking you. I've _told_ you that I _must_ have
every new experience; I'd sooner be dead than live a sort of half-life,
_afraid_ to do this, _afraid_ to do that--just because no one had done
it before. I've got too much vitality.... Jack, you've seen eagles in
captivity? Well! That's what would happen to me if I couldn't spread my
wings and soar, soar, soar.... If I married any one who didn't soar with
me. You wouldn't like to hear people say, 'She's grown so old and
lifeless since she married.'

"I can't make out how you ever came to fall in love with me, thinking
of me as you do. There are hundreds of girls just as pretty--much
prettier, in fact. Sally Farwell. Sonia Dainton. I'm vain and I'm not
going to pretend that I don't think myself much higher than _them_, but
it's the things which put me higher that you'll never appreciate--never,
never, never! You think they're wrong or cheap or vulgar.... Jack,
you're in love at present, you're not seeing clearly; but you know in
the bottom of your heart that you'll never change me. Well! Do you want
to spend the rest of your life with a woman you despise, do you want to
despise the mother of your children?... Yes, you actually used the
word--it hurt me so much that I'm not likely to forget it--but, if you
like, I'll try to forget it, I'll _say_ I forget it.... Of course, I
_forgive_! My dear, this is much too important for us both to have any
silly little personal feeling.... And, whenever you say I'm 'big,' I
hope it means that I've got a big soul, that I'm generous.... Dear, I'm
not asking you to apologize, but you admit you said that I was vulgar?
And now you say it's untrue? Well, _I_ haven't changed? It's love....
But love doesn't last for ever. To be happily married, you want common
sympathies, common tastes--something that will last for ever, when
love's burnt out.

"I suppose I ought to be--flattered that you think well enough of me to
want to marry me.... Sometimes you were a little hard on me.... But
flattery ... one's own _amour propre_ is so small.... I can't marry you,
Jack. No! Nothing you could ever say or do.... How you ever fell in love
with me, thinking as you do.... Or _did_, rather. You don't think quite
so badly of me now. But our happiness--for all our lives--No, please,
Jack; don't say anything! You must never speak of this again, of course;
I think it would be better for us not to meet. It's bound to be
difficult, you know ... difficult and painful. I don't mean that you're
to cut me in the street, but if we allowed ourselves to drift
_gradually_ apart.... And now don't think I'm heartless, if I tell you
that you'll get over this. Time heals all things, Jack. You're hurt now;
it's as if I'd hit your head and the blood were running into your eyes.
But in time.... We'll say good-bye now. You may kiss me, if you like,
Jack, but--I think you'd better not. The best thing you can do is to
forget all about me."

As she sat in a carved chair, whispering the words to herself, the drama
of the scene swept Barbara off her balance and left her breathless. The
flush had died out of her cheeks, and all emotion was concentrated in
the trembling whisper of her voice and in her eyes, tragic, tortured and
black, staring through the window into the silent auditorium of the
night.

And Jack, who called her theatrical, never admitted that she could
act....

The wind set her shivering, and she pulled the curtains together. The
rehearsal had excited her, and, when she got into bed, there were
gestures, which she felt she could improve, and phrases, which stood in
need of polish. Jack would not appreciate the subtilty of the scene; he
would go away--perhaps not quite so well satisfied with himself, but
vaguely grateful for her gentleness in blunting the edge of
disappointment. He would feel sure that she had been very wise, very
maternal; and, if any one questioned him out of curiosity or a desire to
be sympathetic, her bitterest critic would become her staunchest
champion. "It was rather a wipe in the eye for me," she could imagine
his saying, "because I was very hard hit; I am still. After all, there's
no one to compare with her.... But I thought she behaved awfully well;
and it couldn't have been easy for her; I'm not really sure that she
didn't feel it more than I did--I mean, she saw I wasn't enjoying
myself much and she did everything she could.... I was conscious at the
time that I'd never loved her so much, I'd never appreciated what I was
losing until I lost her. Of course, I always knew that she was
_big_...."

Many men had proposed to her, but none had done justice to his
opportunity. She wondered how Jack would begin.... Men never troubled
about a setting--or a time; they procrastinated and procrastinated until
the car was at the door or the train was starting. If she were in his
place, there would be splendour of setting and superb eloquence of
rolling, romantic phrases. There was colour in the world when Cyrano de
Bergerac swung down the street, quarrelling and making love, or when he
stood dying and already preparing his bow to the Court of Heaven. But
nowadays all emotion was starved; men were ashamed even of emotion's
gestures, the bloom and the beauty of language. Barbara picked up a
volume of Shakespeare and read where the book opened of its own accord.
"Put off your maiden blushes; avouch the thoughts of your heart with the
looks of an empress; take me by the hand, and say 'Harry of England, I
am thine': which word thou shalt no sooner bless mine ear withal, but I
will tell thee aloud 'England is thine, Ireland is thine, France is
thine, and Henry Plantagenet is thine; who, though I speak it before his
face, if he be no fellow with the best king, thou shalt find the best
king of good fellows.' Come, your answer in broken music.... You have
witchcraft in your lips, Kate: there is more eloquence in a sugar touch
of them than in the tongues of the French council."

Barbara sat up in bed, clasping her hands round her knees and thinking
of days when colour still shone in the world and when she made a part of
it. India still lived gorgeously. She could still conjure up her
triumphant arrival at Bombay, the roll of the saluting guns, the guard
of honour, the lined streets and majestic progress of the new
viceroy....

On the evening of the ball she was careful to dress in such fashion that
she should not seem to have taken any extra care, but her maid looked at
her with undisguised admiration, and at dinner Lady Crawleigh woke to
articulate enthusiasm. Barbara smiled to herself, as she put on her
cloak and fastened a spray of orchids in her dress. Every one seemed
eager and excited: her mother had more than once brought Jack's name
into conversation without venturing farther: and, of course, all the
world loved a lover. From Phyllis Knightrider she knew that her aunts
looked with hope and relief on the determined, steady young man who had
at last been found to keep her in order. She wondered what they would
say when he disappeared without explanation.... She wondered how Jack
would begin and whether he would come first to Lady Marling's to make
sure of not missing her. Catching sight of herself in a mirror, she
smiled again, though she was beginning to feel a little nervous. She
wondered how Jack had been spending the first part of the evening....

At half-past eleven he arrived to find her surrounded by four men of
whom each claimed that she had promised him the next dance.

"I came to see if you were thinking of starting for Ross House," Jack
explained. "Have you got your car here?"

"Mother's taken it on," she answered. "But Sir Deryk--you know Sir Deryk
Lancing, don't you? Mr. Waring--Sir Deryk's offered me his. We'll give
you a lift."

Jack hid his disappointment under an adequate bow and accompanied her
downstairs. Young Lancing's presence disquieted him. Though numberless
men made rival calls on her, there had so far been no serious cause for
jealousy; but Lancing had so much in his favour that Jack felt an insane
desire to establish something discreditable against him. He was young,
healthy, good-looking and highly gifted; Barbara had more than once
quoted him as an authority on music; he was something of an
archæologist; and his black-figure pottery at Aston Ripley was no less
famous than his collection of eighteenth-century miniatures. He was
worth between twenty and twenty-five million pounds, he was a baronet;
and he was unmarried. Their tastes harmonized; every one would say that
it was a most suitable alliance. And some would whisper that she had
come very near to throwing herself away on Jack Waring. People ought not
to be allowed to be so rich....

He strode bare-headed on to the pavement, feeling helpless and trying to
persuade himself that he was only nervous. As they drove to Ross House,
he watched and listened to Lancing and Barbara, envying them their ease
and wondering whether it was fair for two people to exclude the third
from conversation by choosing an impossible subject. Rimski-Korsakoff
... Ivan le Terrible ... Chaliapin.... While Barbara got rid of her
cloak, he consciously tried to make friends with Lancing; they had
apparently been at Eton together and had overlapped at Oxford. There was
no harm in the fellow; though he was unutterably bored and made no
attempt to hide it, he could not be dismissed as a conceited ass....
Barbara took an unconscionable time to shed one cloak.... And, when she
returned to the hall, a newly arriving horde was already engulfing her.

"The first one's mine, isn't it?" Jack called out anxiously. "You
promised it me in the car."

The anxiety was almost hysterical, and other people must be noticing it.

"Yes. And then Sir Deryk," answered Barbara. "Then Jack Summertown. Then
Gerry. George?" She gave Oakleigh a quick smile over an undulating sea
of heads and held up four fingers. "No, _missing_ four! Jim? Missing
five! What an _appalling_ crowd! I don't see any prospect of supper."

"May I have that with you--after Jim Loring?" asked Jack. Then he
lowered his voice. "I don't see much prospect of that talk with you."

The voice was peevish, and other people must be noticing that, too.

"My dear, you'll have enough of me this week-end. Take me upstairs
before I'm trampled to death."

As they pressed forward to the door of the ball-room, Jack gripped the
banisters to make sure that he was awake. At one moment he was staring
at the broad shoulders of the man in front of him, the next down his
collar; fluttering hands tidied away vagrant wisps of hair and buttoned
gloves. Waves of scent met and blended with the dominant sweetness of
the carnations which wound in clustering chains about the banisters.
Above and before them boomed a far-away voice, announcing names; and
between the shrill clatter of surprised recognitions came the
strangulated music of a frantic band.

"You'll certainly be trampled to death, if you try to get inside," said
Jack. "Let's sit it out somewhere."

She nodded, but, when he had shaken hands with the Duchess of Ross and
was trying to cleave a passage, Barbara was deep in conversation with a
pale, underhung youth; and he felt a second twinge of jealousy. She
talked until the music stopped, while Jack fingered his tie and strove
vainly to keep out of other people's way.

"You know him, don't you?" Barbara asked, when at last the rapt
conversation came to an end. "My cousin, Johnnie Carstairs. He's been
out in Rome for the last three years, but now he's being transferred to
the Foreign Office."

Jack nodded without speaking and continued to look for standing-room.
After his letter it was almost inconceivable that she should not know
what he wanted to tell her; yet she light-heartedly abandoned him for a
cousin whom she could see at any time, talking as though the fellow were
on his way to the scaffold; and their promised moment together was
relegated to the end of the evening; and in this hurly-burly it was
almost too much to expect that they could find an inch of space or a
minute of uninterrupted conversation.

"I can see _one_ chair at the far end, if we can get through to it," he
said.

"The music's starting," she answered doubtfully. "We'd better get back,
I think."

"No, they're playing the same thing. It's only an _encore_."

"Oh, then do let me have it with Johnnie! I haven't seen him for such
ages. You don't mind?"

She had spied a thinning in the crowd and was half-way to the ball-room
door before he had an answer ready. Noting the number of the dance, Jack
went downstairs and tried to be philosophical over a cigar; but his
nerves were unsteady, and, though there was an endless hour and a half
to wait, he had to hurry back every few minutes to make sure that he was
not missing the promise of supper with Barbara. It was irritating to be
so restless--and doubly irritating to feel that others were noticing it.
Jim Loring came into the smoking-room and settled himself for a
comfortable talk, only to find that his companion had run away
unceremoniously in mid-sentence. These people had no sense of the
important; life to them was powder and patches and dance music--less
than that, for they stayed up half the night to smoke furtive cigars and
ostentatiously shut their ears to the dance music. And Barbara was
flitting from one man to another, when their two lives were in the
balance.

In one of his wanderings to and from the ball-room Jack found Deryk
Lancing, ticket in hand, by the cloak-room.

"You off?" he asked with secret relief.

"Yes, this sort of thing bores me stiff. Can I drop you anywhere?"

"Well, I'm booked for supper with Lady Barbara."

"Oh, you might remind her that she cut me."

He moved away, whistling drearily to himself and leaving Jack grateful
for his absence. There was no rivalry to fear from Lancing. Gerald
Deganway came up, swinging his eye-glass distractedly and calling for
his hat.

"My dear, this sort of thing's killing me, positively killing me!" he
simpered. "This is my third ball to-night, and I've got to go to two
more. The Marlings, the Tavitons, this place, the Fenwicks--Oh, no! I've
been to the Fenwicks; I'm almost sure I started there. I shall be such a
wreck to-morrow, a mere bundle of nerves! But Helen Crossleigh will
never forgive me, if I disappoint her. _You_ don't look as if you were
enjoying yourself much. I believe some one who shall be nameless has
_cut_ you! I _believe_ that's it."

He laughed shrilly and dug Jack roguishly in the ribs with the gold knob
of his cane; then set a resplendent hat at a jaunty angle and fluttered
through the hall, murmuring, "Taxi! Oh, some one must get me a taxi! I
shall break down and cry, if I don't get a taxi."

Jack watched him smilingly but with cold rage in his heart. If he had to
wait hour after hour, fretting with nervousness and fuming with
impatience, he might at least have been spared the inane facetiousness
of Deganway.

"A little more of this, and something will happen to my brain," he
growled to Val Arden.

"It is the chatter of the Bandar-Log, aimless, restless, incomplete,"
was the answer.


     "'Here we sit in a branchy row,
     Thinking of beautiful things we know;
     Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do,
     All complete, in a minute or two--
     Something noble and grand and good,
     Won by merely wishing we could.
       Now we're going to--never mind,
       Brother, thy tail hangs down behind!'"


Jack nodded and tried to smile; but it was no matter for jest when he
remembered that he had himself chosen this time and place for asking
Barbara to marry him.

"One is reminded of our good Lewis Carroll's White Rabbit," Arden
observed, as he watched Deganway's flurried exit. "You play piquet? No?
One would have challenged you to a game. As against bridge, the absence
of vulgar abuse is noteworthy and welcome.... One likes to see the young
people enjoying themselves, but these entertainments are only moderately
amusing. One looked to Lady Lilith in old days to create a diversion,
but your dire friendship has sobered her. Of course, one has one's
bed...."

He sighed and tossed down the ticket for his hat. So many people were
leaving that Jack looked apprehensively at his watch and hurried
upstairs. Only one dance separated him from supper with Barbara; but,
when the music began, she had forgotten her promise, and he had to stand
for a quarter of an hour while she waltzed with Charles Framlingham. As
he went forward to claim her at the end, Summertown advanced from
another corner and forestalled him. There was nothing new in such
behaviour, and Jack realized that he would only look ridiculous, if he
shewed impatience or jealousy; but he felt that he was losing his temper
and that she saw it. The heat of the house tired him, and he was hungry.

"Wait _one_ more, Jack, and then you may take me home," she called out,
as she swept past him.

"Aren't you going to have any supper?"

"Oh, I'd quite forgotten about that."

She passed out of earshot, breathlessly and with shining eyes. If she
remembered that he wanted to talk with her alone, if she guessed what he
was going to say, he could not understand her behaviour; it was very
feminine, but it was also rude and extraordinarily inconsiderate,
exasperating him without in any way intensifying his love; if she
thought that he wanted simply to compete with Deganway in vapidness or
Arden in affectation, well, she was a fool; he had given her the
broadest hints. He caught sight of himself in a strip of looking-glass
and found that he was frowning; without that signal he knew that he had
lost his temper.

"I forget everything, when I'm dancing," was Barbara's nearest approach
to an apology on her return. "I promised to have supper with this child,
too; let's all go down together."

She went on ahead of them before he could say anything; and, as
Summertown shewed no sign of yielding to a prior claimant, Jack pulled
off his gloves with careful deliberation and followed her into the
dining-room. Though he tried to overcome his ill-humour, their minds
were not in tune with his. Barbara prattled unceasingly, Summertown kept
up a monologue of his own, and, when they tried to infect him with their
own lightness of heart, he could only nod or shake his head or smile in
dumb fury that she could play with him in the presence of a spectator.
Women, he decided, must be innately cruel, for, though she was clearly
trying to anger him, it was not mere mischievousness.

"I must have one more dance with this child," she cried at the end of
supper, with a glance of invitation at Summertown.

"Then I don't think I shall wait," said Jack.

The tempo of her dialogue was retarded for half a beat but her
expression was unchanged.

"Oh, but didn't you say you'd got a message for me or something?"

"I can give it you at the Abbey to-morrow."

She looked at him with amused surprise.

"Jack, you're not grumpy with me because I cut your dance--or, at least,
you say so? You may have another, and this child can come later. Let's
go somewhere where it's cooler and where I can have a cigarette."

It was a trifling encounter, but, inasmuch as she saw that he had lost
his temper, Jack felt worsted. He swore that he would keep control of
himself, however much she exasperated him. He was less tired and more
certain of himself than before supper, and for some reason his
nervousness had transferred itself to her. The change was apparent from
the moment that they were quit of Summertown. She became tense in manner
and a little frightened, no longer laughing; and he ceased to fancy that
his hints could have been wasted on her.

"Where are we likely to be undisturbed?" he asked, as they hurried
purposefully up the stairs. "You know this house better than I do."

"Oh--anywhere," she answered rather breathlessly.



CHAPTER NINE

THE JUDGEMENT OF SOLOMON

     "The King hailed his keeper, an Arab
     As glossy and black as a scarab,
     And bade him make sport and at once stir
     Up and out of his den the old monster....

     One's whole blood grew curdling and creepy
     To see the black mane, vast and heapy,
     The tail in the air stiff and straining,
     The wide eyes, nor waxing nor waning....

     'How he stands!,' quoth the King....
     'We exercise wholesome discretion
     'In keeping aloof from his threshold....
     'But who's he would prove so fool-hardy?
     'Not the best man of Marignan, pardie!'

     The sentence no sooner was uttered
     Than over the rails a glove fluttered,
     Fell close to the lion, and rested:
     The dame 'twas, who flung it and jested
     With life so, De Lorge had been wooing
     For months past; he sat there pursuing
     His suit, weighing out with nonchalance
     Fine speeches like gold from a balance.

     Sound the trumpet, no true knight's a tarrier!
     De Lorge made one leap at the barrier,
     Walked straight to the glove,--while the lion
     Ne'er moved, kept his far-reaching eye on
     The palm-tree-edged desert-spring's sapphire,
     And the musky oiled skin of the Kaffir,--
     Picked it up, and...."

     ROBERT BROWNING: "THE GLOVE."


Though he seemed to be leading the way, Barbara urged Jack by suggestion
up a side-staircase and through a billiard-room to a broad _loggia_
overlooking Greenhill Gardens. There were two chairs and a table with
cigarettes and champagne cup; the night air blew chillingly with a scent
of spring leaves, and the music reached them as a reverberation
mingling with the distant traffic of Piccadilly.

"I say, you won't catch cold, will you?" Jack asked.

Barbara smiled to herself. He would never have thought of the wind or of
her, if his match had not been blown out.

"Oh, we shan't be here long enough for that."

Jack lighted the cigarettes and settled himself elaborately in his
chair, with one leg thrown over the other.

"I wanted to talk to you. I think you know what it's about."

She had intended to be thrown off her balance with surprise, but the
bluntness of his opening did not invite ingenuousness.

"I hope I'm not in disgrace," she answered meekly. "You--rather frighten
me, when you're so mysterious. You're not going to say anything
unpleasant?"

"I hope you won't find it unpleasant. Look here, the best thing will be
for me to say what I've got to say, ... and then you.... I mean, if you
interrupt, you'll throw me out of my stride. Barbara, I've told you what
I'm earning; and one naturally hopes that it will increase almost
automatically year by year. As you know, I'm _not_ a Catholic----"

"Jack----"

He flapped one hand at her with nervous impatience, drew furiously at
his cigarette and looked away over the garden and house-tops to the
shadowy Park.

"You mustn't put me off my stroke, Barbara.... These are the two big
obstacles that all the world will see. Well, I can assure you that I
shouldn't be talking to you like this, if you hadn't--in a way--given me
the right to.... At first I couldn't stand you at any price whatsoever.
Then there was a night when I said to myself that I should have to be
careful. It was when you rang me up and invited me to dine with you
alone--after that business in Webster's rooms. At first I was perfectly
furious; you seemed to be taking that luckless girl's death so calmly
and thinking only of the hole _you_ were in. And then--I don't know;
something changed. I began to feel sorry for you, I felt extraordinarily
fond of you; I told myself that I should have to watch out.
Then--something you said--it was when you invited me to one of your own
special parties at the Abbey; I got the feeling that you liked me,
rather. Was I right?"

The question came so suddenly in the middle of his halting narrative
that Barbara started. So far the scene was not developing at all as she
had expected. She could interrupt, confuse, stop him; but there was no
way of bringing in the open-eyed amazement which she had planned; he
seemed to be putting the responsibility on her. And, when he brusquely
told her not to interrupt, she felt strangely disposed to obey him.

"Was I right?" he repeated, turning to look at her.

The customary self-satisfied smile had disappeared, and he was frowning.
Barbara chose to fancy that he must take on the same expression with a
fighting case in court.

"Yes, I quite liked you," she answered. "I always liked you, when you're
not trying to shew me that everything I say and do----"

He cut her short with a quick uplift of one finger.

"Good! Well, when you shewed me that, I took stock and began to look at
things from another point of view. I suggested to you--as fairly and
fully as I could--the chief obstacles; money ... and so forth. If
you--or your people, through you--had thought that insuperable, then
there was nothing more to be said. I felt I must give you the
opportunity of entering a _caveat_. I need hardly say that, knowing you
as I did.... I mean, if you wanted to marry a man, you wouldn't mind if
he were a beggar. Would you?"

The new question again startled her by its abruptness. She had a
misgiving that he was pressing her into a corner.

"Would you?" he repeated; and she half expected to hear him browbeating
her. "It's a simple question.... Yes or no.... I want you to tell the
jury.... Remember you are on your oath. Come now ... yes or no...."

"Of course not. But, Jack----"

He stopped her with another jerk, as she had foreseen.

"I knew that. The next thing was--I suppose 'suitability' is the best
word. I mean we lead different lives, our outlook's different in some
ways. I had to consider what chance of success we should have together.
Well, you sometimes say that I find fault with everything you do; I
think you see now that I've never said a word that your father hasn't
said to you a hundred times. It's what everybody was saying, and I think
everybody's glad to see that you've come round to their point of view.
We all felt that you were too _big_, you know...."

He hesitated and looked away, frowning again as he tried to remember the
sequence of his argument. Barbara shivered instinctively at his
hackneyed, hated phrase, but she was struck silent by the sheer audacity
of his patronizing assumptions.

"Jack----" she began, but he again held up his hand.

"I don't know whether I ought to have gone to your father," he resumed.
"It seemed rather getting hold of the wrong end of the stick to talk to
a woman's father before you've talked to the woman herself. Of course,
one naturally goes to him for his _assent_. I happen to know that your
people, like you, saw what was in the wind, and, as they were good
enough _not_ to pitch me into the street...."

"Jack! Please!"

Barbara leaned to him with her hands appealingly outstretched. In a
little while he would rob her of her last cue. By no abuse of language
could such pleading be associated with passion, but he was quoting her
against herself until it seemed as if she had almost begged him to
marry her.

"I've nearly done," he said, smiling for the first time; then he paused
to collect himself for a concise summary, and she could have laughed
hysterically at the spectacle of a plodding young barrister trying to
argue her into marriage. His voice had never changed in timbre; and, if
he had occasionally hesitated over a word, he had never lost the train
of thought. His chair was as discreetly remote as when he first sat
down, one leg thrown comfortably over the other; and he had not thought
fit to use one whisper of endearment.

"I don't want to hear any more!"

"You must."

"But, Jack, you're not in love with me!"

He laughed good-naturedly, as though he were humouring a child.

"I expect I'm the best judge of that. Well, you admit that I'm not
wholly repellent to you; the difference in religion can be accommodated;
I'm not altogether penniless. I want you to marry me, Babs."

"I can't."

She flung out the words as soon as he gave her a chance of speaking.
With his dogged, relentless attack, it was surprising that he left her
an opportunity of answering; she would hardly have been astonished if he
had taken her firmly by the arm and led her home to announce their
engagement.

"That means you _don't_ care for me?"

There was no sign of perturbation; but he was watching her closely. One
careless word would enable him to demonstrate that she had coquetted
with him for her vanity's sake; his memory was relentless, and she could
not pretend to convince herself that she had behaved merely as if she
"quite liked" him, when a hundred people were gossiping about them....
And he had a passion for demonstrating things; he seemed to be
addressing an invisible jury beyond the pillars of the _loggia_.

"My dear Jack, how could you ever _dream_ of marrying me--thinking of
me, as you do?" she demanded with a breathless attempt to start her
speech and to overwhelm his massive arguments with rhetoric and drama.

"Let's stick to facts. I do dream of it. I want to."

"But you disapprove of everything I do, you think I'm vulgar, cheap. Oh,
you've said it, Jack; you've used those words. They hurt much too much
for me to forget them easily."

"I'm sorry to have hurt you," he interrupted. "But I think you _have_
come round to my way of thinking."

"I'll forget them--I'll try to," she went on, gabbling her speech
murderously. "This is much too important for us to think about our own
wretched little _amour propre_; and, when you say I'm "big," I always
hope it means that I'm generous, forgiving. But, Jack, you despise
me--or you _did_--the woman that you want to be the mother of your
children----"

"You _have_ changed. Otherwise I shouldn't want to marry you."

Barbara walked to the edge of the _loggia_ and stood with her hands on
the stone parapet, looking down on to the shadowy foliage of the
gardens. She could no longer force into service the speech that she had
rehearsed and at any moment she might expect to hear him say--in his
horrible jury voice--"Then am I to understand that you never meant
anything seriously, that this was all an elaborate trick? Was that your
means of vindicating yourself? And do you feel that it has been
successful?" He shewed a disconcerting mastery and a no less
disconcerting restraint; she was not allowed to interrupt, and, when he
had posed a question, he held her to it, waiting silently for an answer
and blocking the loop-holes of irrelevancy.

"Why do you say you can't marry me?"

She turned to find that he was still by the table; he had risen as she
rose, but without following her, without disturbing his deadly,
businesslike composure.

"We should be miserable."

"D'you mean I'm wrong? _Don't_ you care for me?"

"'CARE'? I'm thinking about _love_! You don't know what love _is_! All
the time you've been talking.... So cold and collected.... If you were
in love with me, you'd want to take me in your arms, you'd be
transfigured, there'd be radiance, glory in your eyes, you'd hold me as
if you never meant to let me go!... You--you talked like a leading
article; you never even said you loved me."

"I thought we might take that as read."

"But look at you now! If you loved me, you wouldn't want to keep away;
you wouldn't be able to."

"I've got a certain amount of self-control."

"To resist something that's not a temptation?"

She came slowly back to him and stood gazing up into his face. As on the
night when she had darted from him at the Croxton Ball, her cheeks were
white and hollow, her eyes were nearly black; it was the morbid,
feverish beauty of a consumptive kept alive by force of will. The spray
of orchids rose and fell with her breathing, and he could have caught
and encircled her slender, boyish figure with one arm.

"You're looking _divine_ to-night," he murmured.

"Is _that_ all you've got to say?"

"No! I'm responsible for you at this moment. And, if I were you, I
should think twice before you blaspheme against the Holy Ghost again.
You don't doubt that I love you."

Barbara pressed her hands against her cheeks, throwing her head back and
closing her eyes.

"I wish I could," she whispered. "I was trying to, trying to make you
doubt it so that you wouldn't mind so much. If I could have made you
think that we were just friends.... Jack, you _must_--before it's too
late. You've made a mistake, you're exaggerating everything! Just
because you've hardly met a girl before, you think you're in love with
me. Because I'm pretty, because I amuse you ... I'll be ever so humble!
I'm nothing--nothing but a great friend. If you go away, you'll see it
like that; when you come back, we shall still be friends, but you'll
wonder how you ever imagined you were in love with me. You're not, Jack!
You must tell yourself you're not."

"I don't understand, Barbara."

"I'm trying to help you. I can never marry you; and I want you to see
that you're not losing anything. You don't _really_ want me. Oh, you
_don't_, Jack!"

"Why do you say you can never marry me? _Don't_ you love me?"

Barbara had expected the question for so long that it had lost half its
force before reaching her. Her mind moved quickly, as it had done all
the evening, and she could anticipate Jack's slow change of expression,
his dawning realization and then her punishment. There was no
give-and-take, when he lectured or attacked; no neatness of phrase, no
delicacy of sarcasm or irony, no intellectual joy of battle. He dealt
the bludgeon blows of one who seemed to boast that he was not clever but
tried to be honest. She felt suddenly frightened for her pride and for
herself; and she knew that he would beat her as conscientiously as he
had tried to win her.

"Love isn't everything," she answered.

"I'm waiting to be told what the obstacle is."

In another moment he would have summarized for the third time all
possible objections to the marriage and his own complacent disposal of
them. She could not bear that again.

"Jack, you're not a Catholic," she cried.

"I know. I told you that from the first. But we can arrange that; I'll
do whatever is necessary. It's a nuisance, because I expect your people
loathe the idea of your marrying a heretic as much as mine loathe the
idea of my marrying a Catholic. Fortunately, we can ignore them."

"I could never marry a man who wasn't a Catholic."

She clutched wildly at the promise of escape, and Jack betrayed emotion
for the first time in a gape of astonishment.

"But your own church--if you still call yourself a Catholic--doesn't go
as far as that."

"I don't care. It _should_. It's lying to your soul, if you believe one
thing and let children believe something else that you _know_ to be
false. There's no sympathy of spirit when each thinks the other wrong
and sneers privately.... I _can't_ talk about this, but you _see_ now
why I tried to stop you.... Jack, do take me home! I feel as if I
couldn't stand any more!"

She turned convulsively and hurried back to the parapet of the _loggia_.
Jack picked up a cigarette, which he regarded absently, frowning again.

"You could never marry a man who wasn't a Catholic?" he repeated.

"No. Jack, don't let's talk about this any more! If I'm to blame for
making you unhappy.... Oh, try to forgive me! If you let me think I'd
spoiled your life---- Please take me home."

He roused himself from contemplation of the gilt name and address on the
cigarette and walked with her into the house.

"Is your car coming back for you?" he asked with a detachment that she
admired.

"Yes. You can take it on, if you like. Or perhaps you'd rather _not_
come with me.... I suppose you won't be coming to the Abbey to-morrow?"

"I intended to."

"Jack, it can't do any good!"

"Do you withdraw the invitation?"

"I'd rather you didn't come. Later on we may be able to meet.... You
won't believe me now, but time is a wonderful healer----"

He interrupted her with a laugh of grating boisterousness.

"Is there anything to heal?"

It was after four o'clock when Barbara returned home alone from Ross
House; but, though she went quietly to bed, Lady Crawleigh interrupted
her undressing. The Duchess of Ross was the latest busybody to wonder
audibly whether young Waring was serious, and it was high time for the
girl to know that people were talking about her.

"There was such a mob that, when Jack and I had got away from it, we
didn't go back," sighed Barbara wearily, to explain her lateness. "I
wish Eleanor Ross didn't know quite so many people. Oh, mother, Jack
can't come to the Abbey this week-end. He's writing to you, but he asked
me to give you that message."

Lady Crawleigh picked up a pendant, head-band and bracelet of fire-opals
from their scattered hiding-places on the floor, trying not to seem
either too much surprised or too indifferent. Then she knelt, with a
cracking of knee-joints, to search for the missing half of a pair of
ear-rings. Barbara, she reflected, had evidently done one thing--or
perhaps the other--or even neither; mercifully she could not do both.

"He's really no business to chop and change like that at the last
moment," she complained. "What's happened?"

"He's kept in London," Barbara answered. "Don't bother to look for those
things, mother; Merton will be so disappointed, if there's nothing for
her to tidy. She always waits till I'm fast asleep, _really_ tired, and
then throws tepid tea at me with one hand and knocks over all the
furniture with the other.... I can hardly keep my eyes open. You'll let
me go to sleep, won't you?"

Lady Crawleigh scrambled to her feet and came to the side of the bed, an
undignified, shrunken figure in a blue _peignoir_ and satin slippers,
with grey-black hair secured in thick short plaits.

"My child, is anything the matter?"

Barbara was lying with one bare arm over her eyes, as though the light
hurt her. She had not waited to brush her hair, and the room was
littered with furiously scattered clothes.

"I'm only tired," she said. "I've never known anything so hot as that
place."

"Well, go to sleep." Lady Crawleigh shewed no sign of leaving the
bedside. "On the whole perhaps it's just as well that he _isn't_ coming
to the Abbey. Some one was saying to-night----"

"Mother, I'm not going to marry Jack!"

Lady Crawleigh's eyes opened with innocent surprise.

"My darling, who ever said anything about it?"

Barbara laughed hardly.

"You were going to, weren't you? I thought I'd save time. Jack.... I've
had a--remarkable evening, but I don't think I want to talk about it."

Lady Crawleigh changed the lights, but she continued to hover between
the bed and the door, picking up a glove here and a stocking there,
glancing stealthily at Barbara and flogging her imagination to guess
what had taken place. The girl was a little exacting with men, and there
might have been a quarrel; but it was rather drastic for Jack to default
from the Abbey at the last moment. He had possibly received an
unexpected rebuff; but then the rebuff was unexpected by every one, for
Barbara had shewn him all the encouragement that a woman could give.
Possibly she had encouraged him too much and received a rebuff
herself....

"Darling----"

"I'm _so_ tired, mother."

She seemed without resistance or power to assert herself, as though she
had been bullied and beaten. Lady Crawleigh felt a need to protect her,
as she had not felt it for ten years; Barbara was usually stoical with
bodily pains, and a wound to her pride or an ache at her heart was
shared with no one.

"Yes, darling, I won't keep you awake, but has there been any
unpleasantness? I mean, I have to think about the future--about inviting
him here."

"Oh, there's no reason why you shouldn't invite him. He can please
himself whether he comes or not."

Lady Crawleigh hesitated a moment longer, then tip-toed to the door and
turned off the lights. Nothing was to be learned from Barbara at
present.

No elucidation came from the letter of apology which she received from
Jack next day. He was unexpectedly detained in London, but hoped that he
might be forgiven and invited again some time later in the summer. It
was a question of private business, which would keep him very fully
occupied for some weeks. He would have given longer warning, if
possible, but the business had only come to him in the middle of the
night, as it were.... Lady Crawleigh tore up the letter impatiently,
then pieced it together and read it with perplexed attention. If there
had been no quarrel, no rebuff, no unpleasantness, he would not
underline this private business and hint that he did not want to be
invited to the house for the present; if there had been a quarrel, it
was incomprehensible that he should ask to be given another chance later
in the summer.

But for the phrase, "I've had a remarkable evening, but I don't think I
want to talk about it," Barbara might simply be tired. Certainly, she
was in excellent spirits next day, and the whole party at the Abbey
revolved round her and shone with her radiance. On their return to
London she threw herself as insatiably as ever into all that was going
on. The only difference now was that she never danced with Jack, because
he had disappeared; and she never mentioned his name. Others also
remarked his disappearance, and, though the excuse of private business
was bravely presented, they at least were not satisfied. Lady Crawleigh
suggested inviting him to a musical party, from which it might have been
noticeable to exclude him; Barbara raised no objection, but Jack replied
from his chambers that he was unfortunately compelled to refuse all
invitations at present.

It was mysterious and annoying, for an absurd amount of gossip was
swirling and eddying among the weary, chilled women who sat night after
night round ball-room walls. Deganway professed to have seen an
impertinent paragraph in the column of _The Sphinx_ headed "Riddles for
Our Readers"; and, for every one who enquired what had happened to Jack,
Lady Crawleigh knew that a dozen must be asking themselves why Barbara
had made so public an exhibition of herself, if she did not mean to let
anything come of it. And there was an added mystery and vexation when
Jim Loring said: "I've the best reason for knowing there's nothing to
worry about," in a tone which shewed that he was himself deeply worried.

He met his aunt on the morrow of a confession which lasted from ten
o'clock until two next morning. Jack had invited himself to dinner at
Loring House, stipulated that no one else should be present and pledged
his host to secrecy.

"I can't quite trust my own judgement," he drawled, when they were
alone after dinner. "A new factor, you know.... I haven't quite adjusted
myself to it.... I don't suppose it's any news to you that I want to
marry your cousin Barbara? Well, I've every reason to think she would
marry me to-morrow but for the unfortunate circumstance that she's a
Catholic and I'm not."

Loring involuntarily winced and looked away, recalling his own shipwreck
on a similar rock, the months of dull agony and the empty years of
wandering, which had but lately come to an end. It was the first time
that they had met alone, and Jim was more than three years older; new
lines were visible at the corners of his eyes, his face and body were
heavier and more inelastic. A note of bitterness broke over-often
through the habitual irony of his voice, as though his spirit were still
raw under its dressing of tolerant boredom.

"If any one knows anything on that subject," he murmured, "you've come
to the right man. Have you--actually put it to her?"

"Oh, yes. We're hung up on that. Barbara says that she could never marry
a man who wasn't a Catholic."

"But that's absurd! The Church itself----"

"So I told her, but she goes one better than her Church. Jim, I feel
that there's the makings of a first-class tragedy, if we're not very
careful ... and very clever. I want to marry her more than anything in
the world. There's nothing--I think there's literally nothing I wouldn't
do to bring it off. She--well, we went into it pretty thoroughly the
other night. I could see she was torn in two.... I--didn't press it. I
knew that, if she felt as strongly as that--in her bones--, I shouldn't
sweep her off her feet, however much she seemed to be convinced at the
moment. It didn't look like being permanent. I had to find some other
way out."

He paused and relit his cigar. The door was ajar, and Loring got up to
close it; then, instead of going back to his chair, he took a turn up
and down the library, with his chin on his chest and his hands thrust
deep into his pockets. Three years ago he had come back to that room
from his last farewell with Sonia Dainton; he has distractedly summoned
George Oakleigh to advise him and had paced up and down, up and down,
flinging half-smoked cigarettes into the fire-place. And Oakleigh, whom
he had invoked for help, would only tell him brutally that love was over
and that he must set his teeth and face it.... Now again no other advice
was possible.

"I'm dam' sorry, Jack," he muttered.

His voice quavered in sympathy, because their tragedies had so much in
common. He had never lost his heart to any one but Sonia, as Jack had
lost his only to Babs Neave; they had been immune for the first thirty
years of their life, and they were paying for their self-denial and
their affronting indifference to woman. Jack probably enjoyed exposing
his soul as little as he had done with George.

"It's rather a mess, isn't it?" said Jack.

"What are you going to do? Look here, we're old enough friends for me to
talk freely to you. It hurts like hell at the time, but one _does_ get
over it. As you know, I went abroad for some years and tried to forget.
I should be--_embarrassed_, if I sat next to Sonia at dinner to-night,
but I shouldn't get the same tug at the heart that I got when I just saw
her for a moment in the distance--at the Coronation. You'd better go
away."

Jack smiled and then turned his head, finally resting his chin on one
fist and staring at the empty fire-place so that his face should be
hidden.

"I'm not going away," he answered. "I've every intention of marrying
Barbara. I feel that we were made for each other."

"But what are you going to do?" Loring repeated, as he paused again.

"I propose to become a Catholic."

Loring started and sat down on the arm of a chair without speaking.
Jack's natural stolidity was a guarantee against melodrama.

"You can't do that, Jack," he said at length.

"We know several people who have."

"I won't criticize them, because they may already have been Catholics in
everything but name. They're entitled to the benefit of the doubt. But
you and I have talked religion a hundred times. It wouldn't be straight
dealing."

"Then I'm glad I've not talked religion with any one else. There'll be
no one else to give me away. _I'm_ entitled to the benefit of the
doubt."

"No one would believe you; Barbara certainly wouldn't; and you'd never
be able to impose on yourself. You'd always feel dishonoured, Jack."

There was a long silence, in which Loring was visibly the more
embarrassed. Jack smoked his cigar tranquilly, looking ahead of him at
the fire-place and not striving to pose either as hero or as cynic.

"My dear Jim," he answered at length, "if this were an _easy_ question,
where I could trust my own judgement, I wouldn't inflict my troubles on
you like this. I won't pretend I _like_ it. If you could suggest a
better way.... Now, when once the thing's done, there's no discussion; I
don't question Barbara's _bona fides_ and I won't let her question mine.
Any children will be full-blooded Catholics, and the question will never
be raised again. I've completed a formality; she will in fact marry a
Catholic, which is what she's sticking out for, and I'll see to it that
no shadow of difference ever arises from religion. It's not easy, God
knows. Incidentally, the entire world will say I'm marrying her for her
money and getting converted so that she shan't forfeit it. Always a
pleasant thing to hear.... However, necessity knows no law."

"That's tied round the neck of every crime and immorality in the
world's history."

Jack looked up with the first sign of interest that his face had shewn.

"You really think that would be a crime? I've come to you for your
opinion. A crime against Barbara?"

"Against yourself. I don't think it would affect her. Do you know
anything about the course of preparation before you're received into the
Church? You'll have to tell one lie after another, weeks and weeks of
them. And, when you've been received, you'll have to continue. D'you
propose to go regularly to Mass? Will you go to Confession?"

Barbara's reputation for laxity was widely known and disapproved.

"I'll do whatever my wife does," Jack promised.

Though he pretended to keep an open mind, he was inviting criticism only
for the satisfaction of demolishing it. Loring was still shocked and
doubly shocked that he could make no impression on his friend's stubborn
insensibility.

"Have you discussed it with your people?" he asked.

"I've discussed it with no one. It'll be hell for them, of course."

"They won't be taken in."

Jack smiled a little ruefully and took up his position in front of the
fire-place, facing his friend.

"They won't be taken in," he agreed. "They'll hate it. _I_ hate it. It's
a lie, a chain of lies. I don't expect that I shall ever be able to
invent excuses or tell myself a fairy-tale to get round it. The best I
can say is that it's the only means and that the end must justify the
means. I can't defend myself, Jim."

It was difficult to reason with a man who admitted every charge in
advance, and Loring was puzzled to know why they were arguing at all.

"You're committing a crime against yourself--and making your family
perfectly miserable," he pointed out. "I know people rob and murder,
when they're in love, but why come and tell me about it?"

"I wanted you as a barometer--for my own sanity. _Have_ I lost touch
with reality?"

"I think you're quite mad. I've been through it myself; and I was just
as mad. The best advice I can give you is to go away from Babs for three
or six months and see how you feel. If it's as bad as ever at the
end.... No, I'm damned if I take the responsibility of encouraging you;
I feel as badly about it as that."

Both started guiltily as the butler came in with a tray of decanters and
glasses, and Jack murmured, "Jove! It's getting late." When they were
alone again, he took a second cigar and flung himself into an arm-chair.

"We might make a present of this to Eric Lane," he said grimly, "for one
of his plays. I've never before been up against a thing where there was
so little chance of compromise. Or, if I have, I've always said,
"There's only one possible thing to do," and I've tried to do it. D'you
remember Raney's cheerful prophecy my last night in Oxford? Within ten
years we should all have made such fools of ourselves that we should
wish we were dead. Nine years ago. Your undergraduate is a sexless
creature; we none of us thought then that a mere woman could mess up our
lives.... Well, I've had a run for my money."

"There's only one possible thing to do here," said Loring emphatically,
holding him back as he tried to change the subject.

"You weren't such a sea-green incorruptible three years ago."

"When _I_ made a fool of _my_self.... There's no comparison. I was
prepared to flout the Church and marry without dispensation; it wouldn't
have been a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church, and the whole of
Catholic society would have cut me. But I never offered Sonia to change
one faith for another or to pretend that I had."

Jack sprang violently out of his chair and strode to Loring's sofa,
standing over him with legs apart and arms akimbo.

"But if she'd insisted? You've got to be honest about this."

Loring looked up at the unwontedly white face and burning eyes above
him; then he looked away, whistled to himself and shrugged his
shoulders.

"I'd have done it," he answered.

"Well, that's how _I_ feel now."

"And if Babs were married already?"

Jack turned away with a mirthless laugh.

"Damn you, Jim!" he cried.

"Not a bit of it! You _would_ stop short of some things."

"But then I should be injuring another man."

"He might rejoice to be rid of her. And here you're injuring yourself."

There was a long silence, and Loring tried to ease it by filling two
tumblers with brandy and soda. Jack returned to his chair, drawing
furiously at his cigar and rapidly smoothing the back of his head.

"I'm not going to give her up," he said at length.

"You can at least go away and think it over. Don't meet her. Work as
you've never worked before. Mark you, the best thing is to go _right_
away. She won't help you a bit. Women are cruel and women are selfish.
If she's made up her mind that she can't marry you, she'll do the next
best thing for herself and take good care that she gets all the time,
attention, affection that she can out of you. And your nerves will
crack. If you live within telephoning or writing distance, you're done
for. _I_ saw that for myself. When I got back to England a few months
ago, I only consented to stay in London when I heard that Sonia had gone
abroad. She'd have tried to get on _some_ kind of terms with me. If I'd
still been smashed up, she'd have wanted to have a look at her
handiwork; if I'd completely recovered, she'd want to see whether she
still had the power to cast a spell over me. And, if she felt she'd done
me a great wrong, she'd have wanted to vindicate herself. Women drown
bad consciences in self-justification. Will you go away?"

"I'll think about it. Jim, did _you_ know that Babs took her religion so
seriously?"

"No, but then I don't know her at all well."

"I'm taking all she says at face-value, allowing for a little natural
rhetoric----"

"Well, I shouldn't--with any woman," Loring interrupted. "Look here,
Jack. You and Babs have got yourselves into a tangle. You can get out of
it by refusing to see her again--which you won't entertain; or by
perjuring yourself--which I hope and pray you won't do; or by _her_
climbing down a bit. One of you has to make the sacrifice; and I'm
inclined to think Solomon would have said that, if she's not prepared to
climb down--you're not asking her to do anything that the Church
forbids--she's not in earnest, she's not worth having. Solomon would
have said that, if she put you in the second place, she didn't want
you.... I wonder whether she does. For all I know she's just made up her
mind to add your scalp to her belt. Why the deuce did she let you
propose to her--you did _actually_, didn't you?--if she meant to bring
up this objection at the last minute?"

"It was only when _I_ began to trot out the objections that she
recognized them. Jim, this is a question of instinct; whether a woman's
really in love with you or whether she's only pretending may be _felt_,
but no one can _prove_ it. I take it--though I've had no
experience--that there's always a moment when a woman surrenders, not
only in words but with all her being. If you'd ever broken in a horse,
you'd know what I mean. It's like that with her."

Loring raised his eyebrows in passing surprise at the comparison no less
than at Jack's assurance.

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," he said without conviction. "If you're
right, she'll climb down. If she won't climb down, it means she doesn't
want you."

Jack pondered for a while without answering; then he looked at his watch
and jumped up with a murmur of dismay.

"Jim, d'you know it's just on two?"

"I wonder what time it was when I'd finished pouring out my troubles to
George that night! I hope it's going to be all right, Jack, though a
mixed marriage is a hideous gamble. And Babs is a fair gamble in
herself. And I wish I felt as certain of her as you do. Mind, three
months----"

"I don't commit myself to any specific period," Jack interrupted, as
they went into the hall. Barbara had the obstinate vanity of a spoilt
and wilful child; after refusing to yield on one point, she was capable
of sacrificing even her own happiness to sustain her refusal.

"If she holds out for three months," said Loring gravely, "it'll mean
that there's something in her life bigger than you."

Jack laughed and ran down the steps into Curzon Street. That she wanted
him was never in doubt since her first advances at the Croxton ball.

"Good-night, Jim, and many thanks. You'll hear from me before I die."

"Best of luck, old man," Loring called back, with such heartiness as he
could force into his voice.



CHAPTER TEN

VINDICATION

     "Casilda: But it's so undignified--it's so degrading! A Grandee of
     Spain turned into a public company! Such a thing was never heard
     of!

     Duke: My child, the Duke of Plaza-Toro does not follow fashions--he
     leads them."

     W. S. GILBERT: "THE GONDOLIERS."


At the beginning of June Jack received a letter in a well-known
hand-writing from a familiar address.


"_Pump Court, Temple, E. C._

"_Have you ever done your duty by the University of Oxford? I mean, have
you ever taken your M. A.? I haven't, though I ought to have years ago,
and I'm sure you haven't, either. What do you think about going up next
Degree Day? I'll find out when it is and order rooms and pack your
suit-case and take it to Paddington and buy a ticket and generally
nursemaid you, as I used to do in the days before you were a social
success. I never see you nowadays either on the Winchester train or in
London; they say that you have deserted your various clubs for the
gilded saloons of Mayfair. Let me know what's happened to you. Ever
yours,_

_Eric Lane._"


Jack welcomed the diversion and wrote an enthusiastic acceptance. For
some months he had been too much occupied with Barbara to spare regrets
for Eric, but he was sorry to feel that they were drifting apart. And
the invitation gave him an excuse for spending a long week-end out of
London. Since the Ross House ball he had held no communication with
Barbara; since his unburdening of soul to Jim Loring he had avoided
every one who might ask him why he was in hiding or report to her that
he had been tracked down. Lady Knightrider tried once or twice to secure
him for dinner, but after a few failures she accepted his plea of
private work. And very soon the inquisitive had other food for their
curiosity. Arden concentrated his attention on a possible match between
Loring and Miss Hunter-Oakleigh; Summertown threw needful light on a
newly discovered intrigue between Mrs. Welman and Sir Deryk Lancing; and
Deganway confined his energies to scandalous speculation about a motor
tour which Sir Adolf Erckmann was conducting in South Europe with his
sister, young Webster, Sonia Dainton and others of less stable
reputation.

"Delighted to come" Jack wrote to Eric. "Let me know the day and the
train; everything else I leave to you. It's ages since I saw you."

However far the gossip had spread, it was unlikely to have reached Pump
Court. But, if he felt secure from impertinent questions, Jack would
have paid a high price to meet any one who could give him tidings of
Barbara. Until six months before, he had been content with his own
company, but the daily close intimacy had set up an itch for
confidences. He wanted to know how she was and what she was doing,
whether she was missing him. In three weeks there had been no sign of
capitulation. And he depended for news of her on chance paragraphs in
the illustrated papers. Eric entered the train at Paddington with the
current number of the _Catch_, containing a full-page photograph of her
in eastern dress. There was also an Albert Hall group in which she
figured with half a dozen of the very people who were not good enough
for her. It was disappointing, and others were disappointed too.

"_I've no news for you, but I've been thinking over this business a
good deal_," Loring had written two days earlier. "_I can promise you a
very friendly reception from the family, if and when you do adjust your
differences with Barbara. My aunt, Kathleen Knightrider, is in despair;
she says you were the only person who ever had any influence over Babs.
Now that you've disappeared, she's picking up with all the old lot.
Crawleigh's afraid to protest, because he doesn't want to precipitate a
row. She comes of age in a few weeks, and then no one can stop her...._"

Jack was wondering with vague dissatisfaction how much more time to give
her for making a move, when his hand was forced. On returning to London
after the week-end, he lighted on a photograph with the description,
"_Lady Barbara Neave, Who is Giving a Sensational Ball. See p. 7._" He
turned to the page indicated and read a gossipy half-column over the
signature of "A Woman About Town."

"_A mad world, my masters! But an amusing one, don't you think? The
oldsters say 'What next, what next?' but the youngsters always have
'next' up their sleeves, and it's always better than the last. Youth for
ever! We had the Shakespeare Ball, and the Regency Ball threw it into
the shade. Then the Young Bachelors took the field--and were driven from
it (with full honours of war, and all thanks to you, dear young
bachelors, for a glorious evening) by The Rest. Mrs. Leo Butler gave her
Night in a Persian Garden, and Lady Hessler retaliated with her Daybreak
Dance, which started at four--it's still going on, for all I know. A mad
world! And the oldsters are being attacked by the madness. These
'boy-and-girl' dances were squeezing them into the cold, so they gave a
ball to themselves where only the married could hope for admission. 'The
Hags' Hop,' said irreverent Youth and bided its time for revenge. And
now it is coming--in Ascot Week. I rub my eyes, for the World and His
Wife will be at the Bodmin Lodge ball, as they have always been and as
their fathers and mothers were before them._ Ascot Week? Bodmin Lodge?
_One would as soon compete with the Royal Enclosure as with the Bodmin
Lodge ball. Yet--it is not the whisper of my faithful little bird, but
an engraved card--'Lady Barbara Neave, At Home.' Fancy Dress, she says
in one corner. At the Empire Hotel. And my little bird tells me that it
will rival and outshine the Jubilee Ball at Devonshire House, when we
were all tiny tots. If I know anything of Lady Barbara, it will be the
ball of the season. Youth for ever! But it is a mad world. 'What are our
girls coming to?' the oldsters ask. 'A girl giving a ball!' 'And a
wonderful ball it will be,' say I. Best wishes, Lady Barbara!"_

Jack assumed that Barbara must be organizing a ball for some charity and
thought no more of the announcement until he met Loring at the County
Club that night before dinner and was hurried into the cool and deserted
billiard-room.

"I say, _have_ you seen about my precious cousin's latest freak?" Loring
began. "There's been the most colossal row!"

"I saw an announcement about a ball in one of the papers," Jack
answered.

"_One_ of them! She's got it in every rag in the kingdom, morning and
evening, penny plain and twopence coloured. Barbara's thorough; I'll say
that for her. There's no going back."

He paused to fan himself and ring for a glass of sherry.

"What exactly was the row?" asked Jack.

"Well, you know, she's coming of age next week; and the Crawleighs
thought it was a good opportunity for working off old scores. Nominally
it was to be Barbara's party, but, when they started on their list, she
found that some of her more objectionable friends were being cut out.
I've no doubt Crawleigh did it as tactlessly as possible, and Barbara
took it as a challenge. Both sides fought the question on principle,
Crawleigh lost his temper on principle, Babs--on principle--kept hers
and said that, if her friends couldn't come to the house, she'd give a
party for them elsewhere."

"Characteristic," Jack murmured.

"Very. It sounded like an empty threat, but that little devil--she _is_
a little devil, Jack. If I were in your place, I'd no more think of
marrying her than of marrying a wild animal--well, she was going to make
this an Austerlitz or a Waterloo--no drawn battles for Babs; she
deliberately chose the night of the Bodmin Lodge ball and invited
everybody she'd ever heard of. I got my card within twenty hours of the
original row."

"Are you going?"

Loring laughed grimly and postponed answering the question.

"She's thorough!" he repeated. "I was still at breakfast, when she came
in; I gather she's doing a house-to-house canvass. 'Jim darling, you're
coming to my party, aren't you?' she said. 'I want it to be a success.'
'I am not,' I said. 'I heard about the row and I think you're behaving
abominably.' 'It'll look bad, if my own--loving--cousin stops away from
my coming-of-age ball,' she said, her eyes simply gleaming with devilry.
'Jim, if you all go against me, you'll spoil my party, and father'll
think he's won. Then I shall go away and live by myself; and that
_would_ make a scandal, which you'd hate.' I told her that she was a
little devil--in case she didn't know it before. Then she came behind my
chair and put her arms round my neck; and I called her a number of other
things. Mark you, I dislike her; I think she's intrinsically unsound,
but I'm not in the least surprised that you fell in love with her; she
knows her job so well. She said with a tear in her voice--and in her
eyes; if you ever see her blinking quickly, it's just to make herself
cry.... All right, but you may as well know these things _before_ you
marry her--she said, 'Jim darling, I love you, but you _do_ make it hard
for us to be friends.' I told her again that I wasn't coming to her
ball. She sighed and began putting on her gloves. At the door she turned
round and said, 'Jim, you know the little paragraph "Among those
present..."? Sometimes it's "Among those who accepted invitations...."
_I'm_ going to have a special paragraph--"Among those who _refused_
invitations was the Marquess Loring."' Then she became a hundred per
cent. devil; she was thoroughly enjoying herself. 'I won't let it stop
at that! I'm going to have this thing properly advertised. In the
morning you'll see wonderful descriptions and pictures of the ball--and
that paragraph. And the evening papers will comment on it--all the
disreputable ones; I'm the greatest friends with all the really
disreputable papers. And next day you'll see pictures of yourself in the
disreputable daily papers--"Lord Loring, Who is Reported to have said
'Damned if I do!' when _his cousin_ Lady Barbara Neave invited him to
her ball." I don't want to do it; it'll be a great deal of trouble; but
this quarrel has been forced on me, and, if you drive me to it, I shall
go through to the end.'" Loring sighed and fanned himself again. "You
can't argue with a woman, when she's like that. I said I'd come. My
mother and Amy came in, and she talked them over inside two
minutes--left them with the idea that the Crawleighs habitually tied her
to the bed-post and took a cat-o'-nine-tails to her (I wish they would);
then she went off to continue the house-to-house canvass. It's
heart-breaking!"

Jack listened with relief to the end of the tale. He had feared
something worse, but he would almost rather hear of Barbara's
misbehaving herself than not hear of her at all.

"There's no great harm done," he suggested.

"It's a toss-up. She can't blackmail everybody as she blackmailed me.
God knows! you can do most things in the year of grace 1914, but an
unmarried girl, with parents living, _doesn't_ give balls on her own.
Any number of people have rather raised their eyebrows in talking to me
about it. If it's a success, there's about a six-to-four odds-on chance
that people will think it rather a joke, Barbara's latest freak. But, if
the thing's a failure, if any one starts a movement against it, then
Barbara will declare war on society. Don't make any mistake; this isn't
a fit of temper, it's a phase in her natural development. I've seen it
coming for a long time; she wants to be in the position where a thing
becomes right because she does it; she's always disregarded the law and
now she wants to make the law. If the girl only had _sisters_! They
_might_ keep her in order.... You know, there's a certain magnificence
about her; she's surrounded herself with every natural difficulty she
could find--Bodmin Lodge; she's raiding the Pebbleridge preserve in
broad day-light, she's asked Lady Pebbleridge to come on after her own
party. Fancy dress--she's set herself to rival the Devonshire House
ball.... Jack, is that the girl you want to marry? D'you imagine you'll
ever be able to control her? If you'd seen her standing by the door--it
was Joan of Arc giving the signal for battle."

"She can't blackmail me."

"What else is she doing now? She's blackmailing every one."

"Well, obviously I can't stop it until communications are
re-established."

"Then for the love of Heaven----No, I won't say that."

"Go on."

Loring looked at him closely and shrugged his shoulders.

"I wonder whether _you're_ responsible for this new outbreak of hers?
This is the way she used to behave a year ago and for some time before
that. Then she dropped it. Now she's started again.... My difficulty is
that I don't know if she cares for you, if she's capable of caring for
any one. This may be her vindication--to shew that she _can_ do
anything. Or she may be fond of you, she may feel she's lost you. She's
got the pride of a spoilt child. I think now, though I didn't think it
when you dined with me, that she'll never climb down voluntarily.
_Possibly_ she's trying to forget you."

Jack roused with a jerk and then dropped his head between his hands. He
had never imagined that she was as lonely as he had been.

"What d'you suggest, Jim?"

"I don't know. If she's gone Berserk on your account, I warn you that
she's in the mood to marry the first man in the street who's kind to
her. _I_ felt like that after the break-up with Sonia. This ball is only
a symptom."

Loring ceased staring out of the window and glanced down at his
companion. Jack was still sitting with his fists pressed against his
temples, motionless and silent. A member flung open the door, peered
round the room and withdrew. As the clock chimed eight, Loring looked at
his watch, scribbled a telephone message and rang for a page.

"You've shifted your ground since last we discussed this subject," Jack
observed at length.

"I don't know...."

"Oh, yes. You want me to stop the Berserk phase. You think I'm at the
bottom of it? Well, I've got my share of pride or vanity or whatever you
like to call it. I've asked her once, and she turned me down because I
wasn't a Catholic. I'm not going to call daily, like a milkman. Do you
want me to go to her and say I'm a Catholic?"

Loring shook his head resolutely.

"I'm not going to take the responsibility of that."

"Responsibility be damned! You've taken the responsibility of saying
that I've brought about all this trouble and that, apparently, I'm the
only person who can stop it. You're not naturally sanctimonious, Jim,
but you've got a wonderful passion for not committing yourself. Will
you take the responsibility of not repeating our conversation to
anybody?"

Loring looked up with startled eyes, but the door slammed before he
could answer.

For perhaps three days the success of "The Children's Party," as
Barbara's costume ball came to be designated, hung in the balance. Some
of those who might not have objected to the ball itself disliked
Barbara's association with it and the salvo of press welcome which
advertised a private party as though it were a public charity. But,
while her critics murmured, Barbara was telephoning, writing and driving
round London to divide and win over the enemy, always using the promises
of her first victims to persuade the others. If Lady Loring consented to
come, who less exalted had the right to raise her voice? Because it had
never been done before, was that a reason why it should not be done now?
Novelty and organization effected much, curiosity more; for Deganway,
with his genius for discovering other people's secrets, published abroad
that there had been civil war in Berkeley Square and that the ball was
Barbara's declaration of independence.

"The Crawleighs simply don't know what to do!" he exclaimed gleefully on
the fourth day of the campaign. "Positively _everybody's_ coming--except
the Pebbleridges, of course; I saw Harriet Pebbleridge yesterday, and
she's _perfectly_ furious."

"One was told that the parents were formally invited," said Val Arden,
"but it was made clear that they must comport themselves as guests. Lady
Lilith would receive alone. You are thinking of looking in, George? Yes?
One had some difficulty in deciding on a suitable costume. A Modern
Financier--after our good Sir Adolf Erckmann? Were one's health more
robust, one would be tempted to give a party 'As Others See Us' and to
insist that one's guests should each personate a friend. Chastening,
chastening! One would expose oneself to indifferent parodies by Lady
Maitland, whom one has had the ill fortune to offend...."

For ten days the theatrical costumiers were kept busy. Historic dresses
were disinterred, chain armour was taken down from the walls; and there
was bitter rivalry between those who simultaneously selected the same
character. When every one had made his choice, Barbara intimated that
she would like photographs of all; and for another week the studios were
thronged. It was agreed at the outset that no one would go to Bodmin
Lodge and the Empire Hotel on the same night; and, as the discussion of
costumes ruled out every other interest, Barbara found herself besieged
with requests for invitations; to be omitted was to be disgraced; and
she had the gratification of sending belated cards to more than one
critic who in the first excited hours had protested that brute force
alone would send her to the Empire Hotel under such auspices.

"It's her Austerlitz and my uncle's Waterloo," said Loring to Jack, when
they met two days before the ball. He was careful not to ask what his
friend had been doing since last they met. "It's her great vindication;
Crawleigh's _asked_ to be allowed to come--to avoid a scandal. She's
stampeded London; everybody's accepted, and I believe they'll all come
for fear people will think they've not been invited. It's as bad as
that."

"There's one person who didn't accept," said Jack, with a crooked smile.

"She invited you? Well, it would have been rather pointed to leave you
out. And she wouldn't be human, if she didn't want you to see her in her
triumph."

"I shall depend on you to tell me all about it," said Jack.

"Oh, I shall just shake hands with her and then go straight home to
bed."

As the day approached, the excitement redoubled until Barbara herself
began to fear an anticlimax. Only the need of registering her triumph
prevailed over physical exhaustion and sustained her in the stifling
hostility of Berkeley Square. Her father and mother drove with her to
the hotel and were formally announced. They would have liked to loiter
near her and to suggest that they were the hosts and were indulging
their daughter's whim, but Barbara urged them into the ball-room and
returned alone to her place at the head of the stairs. There for an hour
she received and tried to keep count of her guests. Congratulations
poured in upon her; she was complimented on her enterprise, her looks,
her dress.

"No one but you would have _thought_ of doing such a thing," cried Lady
Maitland admiringly.

"Oh, I expect a great many people thought of it, but I was the only one
who _did_ it," she answered, and the phrase comforted her.

Bobbie Pentyre, who had been sent to spy out the nakedness of Bodmin
Lodge, arrived late with the report that it was almost deserted and that
Lady Pebbleridge, black with rage, had announced that she would never
give another ball, if people deserted her at the last moment like this.

"She said that your leavings weren't good enough for her," he added. "I
thought that was rather rude to the people who had toiled all the way
out to Knightsbridge, so I handed it on to any one who I thought would
be interested, and that emptied the house quicker than ever."

"I'm sorry if her party's a failure," said Barbara, "but--if people
prefer coming to me...?"

She walked with him to the door of the ball-room. The crowd was too
great for dancing, and her guests were parading four abreast, until she
should give the signal and march at their head to supper. Inside the
doorway her father was standing in the robes of John, first baron, Lord
High Chancellor of England. She went up to him and slipped her arm
through his.

"Am I forgiven, father?" she asked with a smile. "You know how I hate
people to be angry with me."

"It's all very well to ask for forgiveness when you've got your own
way," said Lord Crawleigh with a vengeful tug at his blonde moustache.

"But, if I want my own way, haven't I inherited that from you?" she
asked gently. "It's no good trying to bully me, because I won't be
bullied. You admit now that there was nothing very sinful in this ball?"

"I didn't say it was sinful," Lord Crawleigh returned sharply. "I said
that such a thing had never been done before. There was no precedent."

"But every one will do it now!" she cried proudly. "That you won't see,
father; I _establish_ precedents."

"I don't see it and I won't see it."

Barbara sighed and looked down on him with half-closed eyes and drooping
mouth.

"Don't you like to see me happy, father? Won't you kiss me and say I'm
forgiven?"

Lord Crawleigh stiffened and drew away, as Loring came up from behind,
pushing open his visor.

"Well, I've kept my promise, Barbara," he began coldly. "The prodigal
daughter scene didn't go with much of a swing, I thought."

"The prodigal son never promised not to be prodigal again. He was tired
and hungry, poor boy, and nobody cared for him. _I'm_ tired, too; I've
been standing ever since a quarter past ten. And I'm hungry. Would you
like to take me down to supper?"

Her pleading voice seemed to bring to the surface everything that was
hard in Loring's kindly nature.

"Not in the least, thank you, Barbara," he said, "after the way you
blackmailed me into coming here. I've kept my promise and I should be
half-way home by now if I hadn't run into Violet Hunter-Oakleigh. I'm
having supper with her."

"Ah, I invited her specially to please you. Every one says you're in
love with each other. She's a dear girl, but I think she's got fatty
degeneration of the conscience." She looked thoughtfully at her cousin,
and her face lit up with a mischievous smile. "Jim, darling! I only said
that to see if it would make you angry. So you are in love with her?
Well, I'm really very fond of Violet, even if she does cross herself
when I come into the room.... If you knew how absurd it was to look
angry in that costume! I'm not having a great success with my relations
to-night. Sometimes I wish father were just a little bit fonder of me."

Loring turned away in disgust.

"You tried repentance with him, and it didn't come off. For heaven's
sake don't try the pathetic with me. I'm not a responsive audience."

"Nor a very intelligent audience either, perhaps. You never know when
I'm sincere. I _do_ feel it most frightfully that I never seem to get on
properly with mother and father; I love them--and yet I can't live their
life. The last three weeks have been horrible--one scene after another
until I was worn out; I was sent to Coventry. And to-night I felt
dreadfully tired and, though the ball's been a success and everybody's
been sweet, I felt horribly lonely; people were calling me 'dear' and
'darling' and saying how beautiful I looked, and all the time nobody
really loved me--heart and soul. I was quite sincere; I wanted to be
friends with father. Jim, won't you take me down to supper? I want to be
friends with you."

She looked up to him with beseeching, tired eyes and disarming pathos.
Loring surveyed her gravely for a moment and then broke into a laugh.

"So it was all leading up to that? My dear Barbara, if any one loved
you--heart and soul--which you wouldn't deserve, you simply wouldn't
recognize it.... I've already told you that I'm having supper with
Violet."

"And you won't--ask her to excuse you?"

"No."

"She'd let you go, if you reminded her that this is my birthday party."

"I shan't remind her."

Barbara threw up her chin and clasped her hands behind her.

"You think I can't _make_ you take me in to supper?"

"I'm quite sure of it."

"I see. Well, ride your ways, Laird of Chepstow. They are waiting for me
to head the procession. You had better take my place--with Violet. Tell
them that I am not going down. And, if they ask why, say that I begged
my cousin Lord Loring--as a present to me on my twenty-first
birthday--to take me down to supper. Say that I was tired and hungry.
You needn't say that you refused; they'll guess that."

She walked a few steps into the room; and Loring, after a moment's
hesitation, followed her.

"Do behave yourself, Barbara," he whispered irritably.

"Am I misbehaving? No one else seems to have noticed it ... George! I
haven't the least idea what you're supposed to be, but you look
adorable."

"I'm a Spanish nobleman, _temp._ Philip the Second," Oakleigh answered.
"You know, Armada and all that sort of thing. Barbara, I've been
commissioned to tell you that the poor old Duchess of Ross is faint with
hunger."

"Ah, poor soul, so am I! Are you taking her down? How sweet of you!
She's so greedy and so malicious. I believe I told the band to play us
in with "Pomp and Circumstance." Form them up, George, and tell Murano
to begin."

"But you'll have to lead off."

"I'm not going to have any supper."

"Why not? You deserve it, if anybody does."

"I've not found any one who'll associate with me at supper."

"D'you mean that every one's paired off and left you? That's monstrous.
Look here, I don't like to leave my present partner stranded, but, if
you can hold out for twenty minutes, may I come back and take you down?"

Barbara looked at Loring out of the corner of her eye and thanked George
with a tired smile.

"I shall be too faint to eat anything by then," she answered. "But it
was sweet of you to offer, and you're a living lesson in manners for my
cousin."

Oakleigh looked from one to the other.

"Hullo! Have you two been quarrelling?"

"No, it's my fault. I've offended him," Barbara explained. "You see,
it's my birthday, and, ever since I was a baby, everybody's done
everything I wanted on my birthday. I wanted to have supper with Jim, so
I refused Bobbie Pentyre and Charlie Framlingham and Johnnie Carstairs.
Then I asked Jim, and I'm afraid he thought that a girl oughtn't to ask
a man to take her to supper--even her own cousin, at her own ball, on
her own birthday."

There was a conciliatory laugh from Oakleigh, but Loring frowned with
ill humour.

"That's not true, Barbara," he said.

"I'm sorry, Jim; it was the only reason I could think of. When I first
asked you, I didn't know you were engaged."

The two men looked at each other; and Barbara smiled a welcome to
Summertown, who came forward cautiously, with the tail of his eye on a
trailing sword.

"I say, Babs, Murano wants to know whether he's to play the jolly old
march-past."

"Oh, yes! Tell him to begin. You've got some one to take down to
supper? Good boy! Will you lead off? I'm not going down."

Summertown's sword flashed to the salute and rattled clumsily back into
its scabbard. He returned to the orchestra, and Loring, after a survey
of the room to find his partner, followed quickly after him. Oakleigh
laid his hand persuasively on Barbara's wrist and lowered his voice.

"Your ball's been such an astounding success that I hope you're not
going to spoil it for the sake of a quarrel with Jim."

Barbara pressed his hand gently.

"Dear George! I'm so fond of you! You always speak with the sweet
reasonableness of a man with numberless troublesome little brothers and
sisters. Don't worry about me! It may be a wrong-headed sort of pride,
but, when I've _asked_ a man for a thing, I'd sooner starve than take it
from anybody else."

Over the drone of voices came the tap of the leader's baton. George
shuffled from one foot to the other, shrugged his shoulders and hurried
away with a lop-sided smile. The middle of the room quickly cleared
until Barbara was left by herself, with the procession pressed in twos
by the walls. As the first chord was struck, Summertown called out:

"Once round and then down, Babs?"

"Oh, twice, I think," she called back. "I want to see you all."

As the couples moved forward, she retreated to an armchair on a dais by
the door, smiling down on them and returning their bows. There was a
stiff nod from her father, walking with Lady Maitland, and a sweet,
perplexed smile from her mother, who was with Lord Poynter. Oakleigh,
with the Duchess of Ross on his arm, again shrugged his shoulders, but
she had little attention to spare for him; immediately behind, Violet
Hunter-Oakleigh was walking with Val Arden.

Barbara looked quickly round the room, and, as the procession completed
its first circuit, Loring came up and stood beside her.

"I told Violet it was your birthday," he said abruptly.

"And she let you go? I told you she would!"

"Oh, no one's likely to fight over my body! And Violet's too well-bred
to make even a veiled scene. Besides, I think she understood--to the
uttermost farthing."

"Then there's not the least need for you to be grumpy. Sit down on the
arm of my chair, but don't topple me over. Have you ever seen anything
quite so grotesque as poor Johnnie Carstairs? In case you don't know,
he's supposed to represent Danton."

"I daresay. I don't want to talk about Johnnie Carstairs. Barbara, I've
had enough of these antics."

He stood stiffly at a distance, towering over her and refusing to see
the hand that invited him to her chair.

"Jim, are you angry with me?" she asked in surprise. "Remember, you
challenged me; you ought to take a beating in good part."

"Oh, I don't greatly care how you behave to me, but I resent being made
an instrument of rudeness to others. You've got to apologize to Violet."

"For giving her Val Arden instead of you for a partner? My dear, you're
about equally tiresome in different ways, but Val is far more amusing. I
rather expect Violet to come up and thank me. Do you like to challenge
me over that?"

"I've no doubt that, if I challenged you to play leap-frog with Murano,
you'd do it. I don't challenge you to do anything."

Barbara laughed softly.

"Is my impetuous cousin learning prudence? Jim, you're a dreadful old
blusterer! From the distant security of Surinam you can be valiant--and
hideously cruel--Oh, yes, I've got a memory--like other people--and a
skin to be flayed--like other people--and feelings to be hurt--like
other people. And it hurts to be hit from behind when you're down--and
hit by your own family. You're not so valiant at close quarters--either
three weeks ago or to-night."

The tail of the procession was drawing near, and she rose and stood
ready to fall in.

"I didn't send that cable to hurt you particularly," said Loring. "I was
so disgusted that I didn't want to have you inside the house."

"Yet I'm always coming to lunch and dinner--even to breakfast
occasionally."

"Yes, your mother interceded for you. It won't work a second time.
Please understand that you are not a _persona grata_ at my house."

Barbara laughed mischievously and then became menacingly emphatic.

"If that's another challenge, my impetuous cousin doesn't seem to have
learned prudence! Jim, as a rule I don't interfere with you, and, if you
won't interfere with me, there's no need for us to quarrel. You were
good enough to call me a devil the other day; well, if you want your
quarrel, you shall have it. But you'll be beaten. I've beaten you
to-night, I've beaten father. I've _won_. And I've won because I go
straight ahead and, when I threaten a thing, I do it. Men seem only to
bluster. You. And father. You all think you can bully me. A man once
said to me that, when I became engaged, he'd send all good wishes or
something--and a dog-whip to my husband as a wedding-present."

"Jack Waring said that."

"Did he tell you? When?"

"I've forgotten. We've discussed you more than once, and I've given him
a very candid opinion of you."

Barbara tossed her head, but her eyes were enquiring.

"What did you say?"

"Oh, it varies from time to time, as you shew yourself in different
lights. Until this evening I didn't fully appreciate how vindictive you
could be."

"And you're going to add that--with two more strokes of your delicate
brush? I'm afraid Jack thinks too highly of me to be convinced by your
picture."

"Well, I'd hardly say that."

"He doesn't talk about dog-whips any more. He doesn't abuse me and bully
me. It's no good, Jim. The moment any one tries to coerce me--it's like
slapping your hand down on an open wound; you set every nerve quivering
in rebellion. If you were gentle and kind ... George Oakleigh was
charming to me after you'd gone; I'd have done anything for him. I'd do
anything for you, if you behaved like that. I don't want to quarrel with
you or with any one; you'd find me great fun, if you'd only be friends.
Fancy going on like this--and on my birthday, too!"

"After to-night I have no wish to be friends."

For an instant her eyes narrowed and her lips hardened in a thin
straight line. Then she broke into a laugh.

"Well, for to-night at least let's keep up appearances!"



CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE LAUREL AND THE ROSE

     "And some say, that it was at that time Pyrrhus answered one, who
     rejoiced with him for the victory they had won: If we win another
     of the price, quoth he, we are utterly undone."

     PLUTARCH: "PYRRHUS."


The season ended in a riot of sound and colour before Jack received his
promised report on the "Children's Party." In the last week of July
Bertrand Oakleigh gave a dinner in Princes' Gardens to celebrate Deryk
Lancing's engagement to Mrs. Dawson and Loring's to Miss
Hunter-Oakleigh. It was Jack's first public appearance outside a club
since the Ross House ball, and he was riddled with questions by his
friends, who wanted to know whether he had been ill and, if not, why he
had been in hiding for two months. Before dinner began, he escaped into
a corner and asked if there was any hope of seeing Loring privately
before he went to Monmouthshire.

"I should like a talk with you some time," he added.

"Yes, I know you would," Loring answered, smiling a little wistfully.
"I'm taking Vi down immediately after lunch to-morrow, but, if you care
to come round to-night----? We'll get away as soon as we can, and, after
I've taken her home, I'm at your service for as long as you like."

"Thanks. I'll be at your place between half-past eleven and twelve. When
are you going to be married?"

"At the beginning of September, if there's no hitch. I see from
to-night's papers that there's every possibility of a row between
Austria and Servia, which is a bore, because we wanted to spend our
honeymoon in Dalmatia."

When Loring entered his library at midnight, Jack was contentedly
smoking a cigar and looking at a richly illustrated book on trout-flies.
Closing the book, he accepted a brandy and soda and took up his stand by
the fire-place.

"I heard you say you were giving a party at Chepstow," he began. "I was
wondering whether Babs was going."

"Allowing for her rather erratic temperament, I should say 'yes.' I
didn't want her, but she's invited herself." Loring described the
'Children's Party,' ending, "After that, I decided to have no more to do
with her, but I was reckoning without Vi. As soon as the engagement was
announced, Barbara called and virtually persuaded her that _she'd_
arranged the whole thing by inviting us both to her ball and opening my
eyes to the fact that I was in love. I wasn't in the mood then to
quarrel with my worst enemy, so I said she could come.... Jack, have you
seen or heard anything of her lately?"

"Not since Ross House. What's she been doing?"

"Oh, nothing in particular. She's won her laurels, and there's no
temptation. When all's said and done, the Children's Party was a big
idea. She's made a unique position for herself; there's no one of her
age, there's not an unmarried girl in England, who can compete with
her--my sister Amy, Phyllis Knightrider, Sally Farwell, even Sonia, who
makes the running for her; there are precious few married women, even
among the political lot and semi-public hostesses, who can touch her;
and, when it comes to a tussle between a girl of twenty-one and a woman
like Harriet Pebbleridge, who's as solid and well-established as the
Nelson Column, it's Barbara who wins. I'm told she's had a perfect crop
of invitations to become visitor or patroness or vice-chairman of
different things; she rules over committees on anything from a national
theatre to an art guild--and does it uncommon well, I believe.... How
do you stand with her now? You're very likely to meet, if you pay your
annual visit to Raglan."

"That's why I asked. I want to."

Loring was conscious that he had been talking rather volubly to postpone
what he knew Jack had come there to discuss; inevitably advice would
have to be given, an opinion expressed, responsibility shouldered.

"Apart from a formal invitation, she's made no effort to meet you? Jack,
I _wonder_ whether she's been playing the game with you. It's
incomprehensible to me that a girl should let you get to the point of
proposing and then fall back on something that's either non-essential or
else so important that she ought to have warned you beforehand."

"I'm afraid you're rather biassed against poor Barbara."

Four years earlier, Loring knew that he would have been as immovable, if
any one had suggested that Sonia had a blemish. Oakleigh had tried and
failed; but he was right in trying....

"If you've said anything that's rankled.... She's vindictive, as she
shewed by making a scene over the cable episode twelve months later. And
she's full of mischief. And you, who take things rather seriously,
probably don't appreciate that nothing matters to her except the
moment--and her vanity. In effect the only thing she could find to say
about you that night was that she'd cured you of criticizing her and
talking about dog-whips. You've not seen her for a couple of months; why
not wait a bit longer? As I told you months ago in this room, if she
_wants_ you, she'll contrive to meet you in some way."

"With her vanity?"

"Yes, if she cares for you more than for her vanity. You see that I
can't very well keep her away from Chepstow, but I think you'd be wise
to postpone your visit to Raglan."

The book of trout-flies was becoming irksome. Jack lifted it from his
knees and restored it to its shelf. Then he ranged for a moment in front
of the glazed cases, reading the titles and whistling to himself between
his teeth.

"It's too late. I've taken the plunge," he said at last, without turning
round. "I don't propose to discuss it with you, Jim; but I shall
certainly come to your party, and the only thing I ask you to do is
_not_ to tell Babs I'm coming. I want to pick up the swords exactly
where we dropped them. You've nothing more to tell me about her? I've
been kept on short commons of news lately."

The last few days had been so crowded with his own new happiness that
Loring had lost count of time; he had forgotten that everybody else was
not standing still; he had almost forgotten that the world held any one
but Violet and him.

"I--wish--to--God you hadn't done it," he cried in spite of himself.

"There was no point in waiting."

"And if you're wrong?"

"But I'm not."

Jack's face, as he turned from the books, was composed and assured.

"She never promised to marry you, if you _did_ become a Catholic,"
Loring persisted. "You're banking so frightfully on some mysterious
instinct."

"I'm as certain of her as you are of Miss Hunter-Oakleigh."

"I was certain of Sonia four years ago. _If_ you're wrong?"

Jack was silent for many moment before answering.

"Well, she and you and I shall know about it; and none of us will have
much interest in talking about it.... For the rest--well, my poor family
will be spared a nasty jar."

"You haven't told them yet?"

"No, I thought I'd wait till I'd got something to shew for my apparent
lapse from sanity."

When they parted, it was Jack who went to bed with a tolerably tranquil
mind and Loring who first tramped the library like a caged beast and
then put on his hat and wandered aimlessly into the streets. He was no
nearer conviction when Lady Knightrider called next morning to warn him
that there had been some unexplained friction between Jack and Barbara
earlier in the season and to ask whether it was politic for them to meet
at Chepstow.

"Jack knows she's going to be with us," was all that he could answer.
"He asked specially; he's very anxious to meet her again."

"Oh, well!... I only wanted to be sure that there was no
unpleasantness."

"Unpleasantness?"

Loring laughed incredulously; but, when his aunt was gone and he
returned to his letters, the word echoed maddeningly.

As Jack had asked that Barbara should not be warned in advance of their
meeting, the Chepstow party had to be handled strategically at
Paddington. Lady Knightrider and Phyllis, Charles Framlingham and Jack
were in a reserved carriage at the back of the train, and Barbara was
deftly flanked by an obscuring bodyguard consisting of Arden, Deganway,
four maids and a footman. Whatever the outcome of their meeting, her
sense of the dramatic would have been excited if she had known that Jack
and she were in different parts of the same train, travelling to the end
of England for the last round in their long contest. For himself, Loring
only wished that he could get rid of Barbara and of her elaborate
atmosphere of mystery and intrigue; if she decided to marry Jack, he
would rather not have it said by the Warings that he had abetted their
son in a course which they would never condone: if there were any kind
of unpleasantness, he would sooner have it happen elsewhere than at
Loring Castle.... And in the meantime Barbara sat in her corner,
sparring impartially with Deganway and Arden.

It seemed for a moment that he might get his wish and avert the meeting.
Lady Knightrider wrote two days later to ask whether the arrangements
for the ball held good. Her son had written from London to say that "a
man in the War Office" did not see how hostilities could be prevented.
The word was to be interpreted in its widest sense; an outbreak between
Austria and Servia was inevitable, and it was no less inevitable that
Russia should come to the support of Servia and Germany to the aid of
Austria. Then France would throw in her lot with Russia, and Great
Britain with France. The sequence was automatic and inevitable. The
diplomatists might possibly find a safety-valve, but, unless they did,
there would be war, "and that," proclaimed Victor Knightrider, "is where
we come in."

"_It's all so unnecessary and so dreadful_," wrote his mother, "_that
one feels almost wicked to talk of things like dancing until we see what
is going to happen. Of course, you understand that, if the ball takes
place, I shall come; I'm so happy about you and dear Violet that nothing
would keep me away from a gathering like this. But, if you decide to
postpone it till a less stormy day...._"

Loring debated with himself and with his mother, before deciding to
leave his arrangements unchanged. No one could pretend to be satisfied
with the political outlook, but war on Victor Knightrider's
all-embracing scale was inconceivable.

"_Unless there's any change for the worse before Friday_," he wrote in
reply, "_I propose to go on._"

The papers, morning and evening, confirmed him in his optimism. A world
at war had only to be imagined in order to be dismissed. It was not
until the late afternoon before the ball that George Oakleigh, O'Rane
and Summertown, deriving their information from different sources and
speaking with different degrees of conviction and gravity, persuaded him
that, even if the incredible did not take place, at least a great many
intelligent observers thought that it would. At Raglan no one shared
Lady Knightrider's alarms. Phyllis and Framlingham were as much resolved
not to be cheated of the ball as Jack was determined to meet Barbara. He
assured his hostess that Victor was only trying to make her flesh creep.
For two days Framlingham and Phyllis played tennis or motored together,
and for two days Jack walked up and down one bank of the stream that
bordered the Knightrider property, meditatively thrashing the water and
smoking one pipe after another. His luncheon he carried with him when he
left the house after breakfast; on both days Lady Knightrider drove
through the woods in her pony-carriage with a tea-basket and drove back
again because she lacked courage to ask him about Barbara.

On the morning of the ball, the optimism of the preceding days declined
sharply. The news could hardly be called worse, because the papers
contained nothing but the death-rattle of the Buckingham Palace
Conference. But a presentiment of evil sprang up and was fed by crazy
invention and baseless gossip. Victor wrote again with extracts from the
prophecies of two journalists, the private secretary to a minister and
the same "man in the War Office." Jack received a gloomy letter from
Eric Lane, and Framlingham was warned to keep himself within reach of a
telegraph office.

"It's too late for Jim to stop the thing now," said Jack.

"He'd have been wiser to stop it at the beginning of the week. Of
course, he can't be expected to feel quite as I do. If we go to war, the
Guards will be sent out before any one. And that means Victor."

It was tea-time before she desisted from the last of her vacillations,
and the car was ordered to the door. Wrapped in coats and dust-rugs,
they drove through Raglan in blazing sunlight and reached Loring Castle
as the first stars appeared. The men were still in the long
banqueting-hall, and Lady Knightrider put her head in at the door to ask
whether she might drink Jim's health. Jack stayed behind in the hall,
trying to get his bearings in a strange house. A sound of voices came to
him through an open door on the opposite side, and, without waiting to
take off his coat, he walked on tip-toe and looked in.

Barbara was standing by the fire-place, a coffee-cup in her hand,
talking to Violet Hunter-Oakleigh. Slender and tall, a study in black
and white, ghostly and arresting, she might have incarnated herself from
an Aubrey Beardsley drawing. Her dress was raven's wing and silver, not
unlike the one that she had worn at Croxton; there was a gleaming band
around her hair, and silver heels to her shoes. As he looked at her,
Jack remembered Loring's phrase in describing a distant view of Sonia at
the Coronation, after their engagement had been broken off. He felt that
same "tug at the heart" and told himself that he must be steady; though
Barbara did not expect him, he felt sure that she would betray little
surprise and no embarrassment.

Lady Loring was seated near the door, and, as they shook hands, Barbara
turned and caught sight of him. He could not see whether her expression
changed, but in a moment she had left Violet and was coming across the
room to him.

"I never expected to see you here!" she exclaimed, holding out her hand
and watching him with eyes that were unreflecting pools of deep blue.

"I'm staying with Lady Knightrider at Raglan, and she brought me over,"
he explained.

"I thought you must have gone abroad or something. You've quite
disappeared lately."

"I've been rather busy."

"No one seemed to know what had happened to you."

As Lady Loring moved away, he examined her critically.

"You're looking very well, Babs. And I've heard a great deal about
_you_."

"You always had a talent for that," she laughed. "And for commenting
very freely on what you heard. What have you been doing with yourself?"

"I'll tell you at supper, if you'll consent to have supper with me."

He was speaking in the tone and terms that he had used in the old
days--before the Ross House ball, before the disastrous Easter gathering
at Crawleigh.

"I've promised it to Val Arden," she answered in the same measure. "And
two other people, now that I come to think of it."

"Well, promise me--and keep the promise."

"But why should I disappoint them?"

"I feel you owe it to me, after we've not met for so long."

Barbara could not wholly hide from him that she was puzzled.

"I'll--see," she said.

"You used to be more gracious; you used to say, 'Yes--if you want me
to.'"

"That was in the old days," she answered quickly and saw, too late, that
she had needlessly raised the temperature of the discussion.

"Nothing's happened to change it, I hope," said Jack easily.

After the first embarrassment of the meeting, he felt that he was
holding his own and that Barbara was mystified and uncomfortable.

"Jack, you've not forgotten our _last_ meeting?" she asked.

"It was at Ross House. We had supper together then----"

"Well, you don't want to--repeat it, do you?" she asked deliberately.

"I want to have supper with you again."

She was undecided whether to be distressed or intrigued. Jack could
always arouse her combativeness by criticizing, or--as now--by coolly
taking her for granted. But she did not want to repeat the Ross House
scene. He had an unpleasant faculty of frightening her--and yet to be
frightened by him was not wholly unpleasant....

"You can find some one else far more amusing," she suggested.

"I don't even know who's here."

"But you didn't know I was going to be here."

"I asked Jim--five days ago.... I came straight in here without even
taking off my coat. Barbara, may I have supper with you?"

Insensibility, which was his chief characteristic, counted for much. A
brazen desire, which she could understand, to treat the Ross House
meeting as if it had never occurred might count for more. Barbara would
sooner have bandied epigrams with Val Arden or flirted with his
supplanter, but she felt that she would be unable to sleep until she
knew why Jack had disappeared for more than two months and then followed
her to a remote castle in Monmouthshire--and why he came to her, like a
needle to a magnet, without waiting to get rid of his scarf and coat.

"I'll have supper with you, if you want me to," she said.

A sound of voices behind him warned Jack that the men were coming out of
the banqueting-hall, and, as he hurried to get rid of his overcoat
before any of them could grow inquisitive about his surreptitious visit
to the drawing-room, the doors were flung open and the first cars
rolled into sight. Loring threw away the end of his cigar and ran
upstairs to help his mother receive their guests. A group of men
gathered round the open fire-place, pulling on their gloves and waiting
for the rest of their parties. Jack stood with them for a few minutes,
wondering what to do with himself until supper. He was in no mood to
dance or to debate the possibility of war or to chatter about Jim's
engagement or to discuss what he meant to do during the vacation. He
could only think of one thing at a time and he had not determined
whether they were to publish the news then and there or to wait until
they were back in London. He would have liked to proclaim it at supper
and to see every man and woman rising to drink their health, but he
decided, on reflection, that he must talk to Lord Crawleigh before
making the announcement.

Phyllis Knightrider and her mother came out of the drawing-room and went
upstairs. He followed them and, in duty, asked for a dance; but, as soon
as it was over, he escaped to the terrace in front of the castle and sat
down by himself as far as possible from the door. Barbara's curiosity
was piqued; and, if he met her before supper, she would disturb him with
artless little questions instead of waiting to hear the whole story.
Yet, if she would trouble to think, there was no room for curiosity.

"You are dancing? No?" said Val Arden behind him. "One can offer you the
half of a tolerable lair, not too near the music and adequately
provisioned."

He led the way to a recess overlooking the ball-room and waved his hands
towards two armchairs and a table with cigars, coffee and liqueurs.

"Aren't you dancing either?" Jack asked, as he sat down.

"These young women may be less energetic in three, four hours' time. One
is waiting for the requisite mood of abandonment. One rejoices to meet
you again after this long time, even at the cost of losing Lady
Lilith's companionship at supper."

"Well, I think I deserve it," Jack answered. "I haven't seen her for
months."

"She is a little _difficile_ to-night. 'Out of temper' would be too
strong a phrase. But, you may observe, even the urbane Summertown is out
of favour."

Barbara swept by them, as he spoke, and both heard her exclaiming
petulantly, "You're very tiresome to-night! I shan't dance with you any
more." Both saw them parting at the door; Summertown laughed
imperturbably, Barbara ran away and did not appear again until the
beginning of the next dance.

She had found time to quarrel with four of her partners by eleven
o'clock and was prepared for a fifth and all-atoning quarrel with Jack
as soon as he claimed her for supper. The party at Loring Castle had
been delightful, until he came; for the last two months in London she
had felt like a released prisoner. Now the shock of meeting him again
had spoiled her evening; and, when she wanted to enjoy herself, she
could only worry her brain to find out why he had come. In the Ross
House encounter she liked to think that, by all public tests, she had
beaten him; but her victory brought her little satisfaction. When she
reconstructed the scene, something that was suspiciously like conscience
disturbed her. To pretend that she could not marry him because he was
not a Catholic was more serviceable than true. And to pretend that
religion meant anything to her was almost blasphemous, the sort of thing
that might bring her months of ill-luck. Any other excuse would have
been better, safer; at least she would not be inviting a judgement on
herself. Some things did undoubtedly make Providence angry; and she had
thought seriously of writing to Jack and saying that religion was not
the stumbling-block, that she had been flustered until she did not know
what she was saying. But then he would start again from the
beginning....

He had frightened her at Ross House with a simple and massive resolve to
get his own way; and it was fear rather than curiosity or annoyance
which was spoiling her evening for her. First he would arrange a
meeting, then discharge a proposal, then retire for more ammunition,
then arrange another meeting, and then.... She felt sure that he was
going to propose to her again.... It was so characteristic of his
methods that he should come early, engage her for supper--and then
disappear. If she "forgot" her promise and supped with some one else, if
she went to her room and locked the door, he would only wait until she
reappeared or else engineer a meeting in Scotland or the Isle of Wight;
he could not be avoided indefinitely.

Loring found her standing by herself at an open window and told her that
she was looking tired.

"Supper's just starting," he added, and she felt herself wincing. "I
needn't ask whether you've got a partner for it."

"I don't know that I want any supper," she answered, looking round over
her shoulder. There was no sign of Jack, but punctually at the first
note of the next dance he appeared from space and claimed her.



CHAPTER TWELVE

AN ERROR OF JUDGEMENT

     "And I,--what I seem to my friend, you see:
       What I soon shall seem to his love, you guess:
     What I seem to myself, do you ask of me?
       No hero, I confess.

     'Tis an awkward thing to play with souls,
       And matter enough to save one's own...."

     ROBERT BROWNING: "A LIGHT WOMAN."


"Shall we go down before the crowd?" Jack asked.

"Oh, don't let's miss this!" Barbara begged. "'Dixie, all abo-o-ard for
Dixie! Dixie! Take your tickets here for Dixie.'"

"I've found rather a good table in the musicians' gallery," he confided.
"If we go now, we shall get it to ourselves."

"Let's go downstairs like everybody else," Barbara proposed hastily. As
he revealed each new stage of careful preparation, she dreaded being
left alone with him. "Are you very greedy, Jack, or only hungry? I love
that one-step. Why did you drag me away in the middle?"

They entered the banqueting-hall to the jig and stamp of rag-time
overhead; Barbara was still humming, as she drew off her gloves and sat
down opposite him at a corner-table.

"You ought to be grateful to me for getting you a table before the rush
starts. I can't stand rag-time, myself. It's killed decent dancing. What
are you going to eat, Babs?"

"Oh, anything." She wished that the tables were nearer together and that
the room were fuller. They were remote enough for Jack to become very
confidential, if he wished; and it was impossible to talk him down, if
he formally asked for five minutes of her undivided attention and
forbade interruption. She sought inspiration in vain from the vaulted
roof and high-placed gallery, the tattered standards hanging in double
row into the middle of the room, the rough stone walls half-covered with
panelling and the stained-glass windows at either end. To discuss
architecture with Jack was unprofitable at any time. "I _never_ expected
to see you here," she told him again. "What have you been doing since
last we met?"

"When did we meet last?" he asked her once more, with a nonchalance that
made her look at him in amazement.

"It was at Ross House, soon after Easter," she answered with rare
precision. "Don't you remember?"

"Oh, perfectly. I wanted to be sure that you did. It was hardly an
evening that I should forget in a _hurry_."

Barbara was frightened and relieved at the same time. His deliberation
and absence of embarrassment disconcerted her, but, in so far as his
manner was vaguely threatening, she was vaguely comforted. If he wanted
to punish her, she was well able to take care of herself; and she would
far sooner hear reproaches than pleadings, though for once she would
soonest of all be spared any kind of altercation.

"And what have you been doing ever since?" she asked again.

"I've just been received into your Church," he answered.

Overhead the music stopped to the accompaniment of a double stamp; it
was as though the very orchestra were dumbfounded. After a moment's
clapping, it started again, and Barbara sat through the encore with
averted eyes and a frown of preoccupation, putting crumbs of bread into
her mouth and eating salmon which nauseated her. She was conscious of
mental cramp--and of nothing else, save perhaps that Jack was probably
looking at her to mark how she received the news. When the music stopped
a second time, there came a sound of voices from the stairs; and he
glanced apprehensively over his shoulder as the first couples entered
with flushed faces, pulling off their gloves and fanning themselves.

"Will you marry me now, Babs?" he whispered.

"I--_can't_!"

It was something to find that she could speak at all; but, if he began
arguing, she was helpless. Rallying in desperation, she beckoned to
Arden and Phyllis Knightrider.

"There's a table here," she pointed out. "Come and sit near me, Val, to
shew that I'm forgiven for breaking my promise."

"One thought for a moment of starving oneself to death on your doorstep
in alleged Oriental fashion," drawled Arden. "It would have entailed
distressing privations, however, and one was persuaded by Miss
Knightrider against one's more romantic judgement."

If Barbara could create a diversion, Jack determined not to be thrown
out of his stride by it. He began to eat his supper with a show of
relish which he felt to be incongruous after Barbara's emphatic and
unqualified refusal. There was nothing else to do, and it made the
absence of conversation less marked. Barbara had sent her salmon away
unfinished and, refusing everything else, was beginning to fidget with
her gloves; but, if he remained there all night, Jack was resolved to
outstay Arden and to keep Barbara there until she had explained herself.
In time she allowed him to give her some fruit. With every new couple
the high babble of conversation and laughter swelled in volume until
they were isolated in their corner. Behind the screen of voices Jack
leaned forward and touched her wrist until she looked up.

"You say you can't. Why not?" he asked.

The words and tone were as she remembered them more than two months
earlier, but this time there was no escape.

"Because I'm not in love with you."

She nerved herself to look him in the eyes so that he must be convinced
in spite of himself. For a moment there was no change of expression;
then, though the grouping of the features remained unaltered, the face
seemed to stiffen; lines discovered themselves from nose to mouth, and
the lips grew set and thin. Barbara gripped the seat of her chair with
both hands. Greater even than fear was respect for a man who could
control himself; for the first time she wished that she loved him,
because he was "bigger"--to use his pet word--than she had thought; she
would not mind telling him so, if it would do any good; she would not
mind telling him that he was bigger than she was, but nothing could do
any good now.

Jack tried to speak, and she saw that he had to sip champagne before the
words would come.

"That was not the reason you gave," he said at length.

"It's the true reason."

"Then the other was a lie? Jim thought it might be, but I said I knew
you too well for that. Then you've been lying to me all along? You never
intended to marry me?"

"No."

The hateful charge was used as a dispassionate definition. Jack refused
to grow angry, and Barbara felt her resistance wearing itself out
against him.

"Jack----"

He enjoined silence with the slightest movement of one hand and
reflected unhurriedly.

"You always said that money didn't weigh with you.... I gave you every
chance of slipping in a friendly warning.... Why did you do this,
Barbara? If you never meant to marry me, why did you _deliberately_----"

While he continued to speak with frozen self-restraint, she felt that
she could not bear the end of his sentence.

"How was I to know?" she interrupted; and there was a note of sincerity
in her voice, for she had never imagined that he loved her to the point
of perjuring himself. "You say you gave me a chance of warning you....
How was I to know? Up to the end--that night at Ross House--you were
abusing me and finding fault with me. You dared to tell me you'd said
nothing that my father hadn't said a hundred times! If you thought you'd
changed me.... You must have been mad; I let you abuse me because it
wasn't worth arguing about, I knew I was right, I've proved I was
right.... I know I haven't changed you and I never shall. You always
despised me so much, you said I was vulgar, shallow, vain, heartless....
Did you expect me to understand that that was your way of shewing that
you were in love with me?"

Jack touched his lips with one finger.

"We needn't take the _whole_ room into our confidence," he whispered.
"So this was your revenge? I congratulate you, Lady Barbara.... Or were
you convincing me of my mistake? Oh, I beg your pardon! I didn't see you
hadn't finished eating."

He laid his cigarette beside his plate and turned half round. Every one
else seemed to be enjoying himself prodigiously. Twenty shrill-voiced
conversations met and struggled; laughter swelled and died away. Some
one proposed Jim's health and tried to coerce him into replying. Lady
Loring appeared for a moment in the musicians' gallery, smiled
contentedly on her handiwork and withdrew. Their lightness of heart was
hard to bear, and the ecstasy in Violet's eyes was insupportable. Jack
turned back to his own table. He was not going to marry Barbara; if he
repeated it often enough, he might come to believe it; he was
desperately tired and could not think what to do next.

A sudden hush, followed by a scrape of feet and the creak of moving
chairs, greeted the opening bars of a waltz. Plaintive voices enquired
for lost gloves, and in another minute Jack and Barbara had the room to
themselves. She gripped the chair harder, bracing herself to receive her
punishment; and, as he sat half asleep, she could have complimented him
on his refined cruelty in making her wait for it. Gradually he seemed to
see that the room had emptied, to guess that she expected him to speak;
his expression changed, and, with it, her own dumb readiness to take
whatever he might choose to mete out. There was still no anger, hardly
even resentment; but his mouth was pursed in disgust, as though a toad
had leaped on to his plate. Barbara felt herself aflame with desire to
justify herself.

"I've finished now, if you want to smoke," she said. "Jack, I don't want
to reopen this, you _must_ see that it would be hopeless! You disapprove
of everything I do. You may be right: we won't discuss that. I'm a
gipsy, and you're--I don't know what you are."

Jack reminded himself again that he was not going to marry Barbara. For
three months and more he had never doubted it; when Jim Loring frowned
and hesitated and let fall apprehensive uncertainties, he had answered
with easy confidence, as though challenged to declare his belief in the
solar system. Three minutes, or less, was a short time for readjustment,
but he was beginning to repeat the sentence with his brain as well as
with his lips. And so far he had not publicly disgraced himself in any
way....

"I don't think we'll discuss anything," he said.

Barbara moved her chair, but he did not seem to notice it: he noticed
nothing, and the silence was unendurable. She asked for a cigarette, and
he gave her one, silently lighting a match.

"I'm--sorry, Jack," she said at last.

"You're losing nothing," he answered.

"I'm sorry for your sake."

"Ah, you can't afford the luxury of a conscience, Lady Barbara."

"I thought you must have seen--after that night at Ross House...." she
began hurriedly, but her voice and courage died away. "Lady" Barbara
choked her.

"You took pains that I shouldn't see. We needn't go through this again?
I took you at your word. You suggested one obstacle--one only,--and I
removed it."

As he stood up, she saw him sway and for the first time understood the
size of what she had done. She and Jack did not believe that immortal
souls existed or could be imperilled, but if there _were_ a jealous God
who refused to have His name taken in vain....

"Jack----"

"Shall we go up-stairs?" he asked.

"I haven't finished my cigarette."

She tried to speak again, but stopped at an outburst of singing in the
hall. "Geor-gie, what did you buy, what did you buy for Maud-ee?"
Summertown and Framlingham waltzed into the room and swung recklessly
between the tables to an accompaniment of falsetto small-talk. "Jolly
floor, what? Have you been to many floors this season?" "Oh, hardly any,
Miss Framlingham. I'm _quite_ a little country mouse. Here, I say,
what's the matter with this table?" Summertown subsided by the door, and
Framlingham scoured the neighbourhood for food and drink. Their noise
and high spirits were disturbing, but after one impatient glance over
his shoulder Jack turned round and looked at Barbara. She was sitting
lost in thought, with her chin on her hand, staring at the bubbles as
they rose in her glass--puzzled but at ease. The long, exacting season
had made her more haggard than ever, but Jack had learned to love and
yearn for this wan, fragile beauty; her eyes were bigger and darker than
usual, and a faint languor gave her added dignity. If he went on looking
at her, Jack felt that he might strangle her in a passionate gust of
jealousy and self-pity.

The horn of a car sounded through the open windows, and he looked at his
watch.

"Lady Knightrider wants to leave early," he said. "We've got rather a
long drive to Raglan."

"Don't go for a minute, Jack. I've got something to say to you."

It was that imperilling of soul--if there were souls and if they could
be imperilled. Reparation was needed, but, unless she promised to marry
him.... He would hardly want to marry her now....

"Can you spare me another cigarette?" she asked.

He handed her his case and sat down, waiting without a change of
expression. Since he was not going to marry Barbara, everything else
seemed wonderfully trivial. He rather hoped that she was not going to
explain or apologize, because he was too tired for a scene, too tired to
argue, too tired even to nod or say "yes" and "no" in the right
place.... There was no point in sitting there, if she had nothing to
say. And three hours earlier he had decided that, all things considered,
it would be more proper not to announce their engagement until he had
Lord Crawleigh's formal assent....

There was a sound of other voices in the hall, and George Oakleigh
appeared in the doorway. He looked anxiously round the room and pounced
upon the bachelor supper-party at his elbow. After a moment's earnest
whispering, Summertown banged his fist on the table until the glasses
rang.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, Hell," he cried. "One good
thing--you're in this, too, Charles, my lad."

Framlingham emptied his glass and refilled it unhurriedly.

"To declare war in the middle of supper is not the act of a gentleman,"
he pronounced.

The phrase drove away Jack's mental drowsiness; Barbara forgot that she
was even trying to think of anything to say; both sat upright. The
possibility of war had long faded from their minds, and they welcomed it
as a distraction.

"Is it declared?" Jack asked.

"Not yet," answered Oakleigh. "And we'll hope it won't be. But things
are looking pretty serious, and Summertown's uncle has called with a car
to fetch him back to barracks. I'm going to mobilize all of our
soldiers, but I don't want any fuss, or we shall spoil Jim's party. Help
to keep things going."

He hurried away, and Barbara looked blankly at Jack. "War!" she
murmured. He said nothing; but his eyes, dull a moment before, were
shining with excitement. He looked at his watch and rose quickly to his
feet.

"Good-bye, Lady Barbara."

"But you're not a soldier!"

"I must get back to London. I'm going to ask Summertown for a seat in
his car and then I must have a word with Lady Knightrider."

He hurried away with scant ceremony, leaving Barbara standing by the
table. She began to collect her gloves and handkerchief, then sat down
and tried to think dispassionately. It did not matter that she was
beaten and that he could add "liar" and "coquette" to his other charges.
He would never tell any one how she had behaved.... But he had run away
without punishing her, and she wanted to be punished. Punished by _him_;
she could not hand herself over to Providence. For a moment she tried to
persuade herself that he was lying. But Jack was incapable of lying. Yet
for weeks he must have lied with a grim and sanctimonious face. The
world was standing on its head! She pictured his methodical, deliberate
conversion--the first interview and first lie, the elaborate instruction
in ritual and doctrine until he had told enough lies to convince the
priest, the final reception into the Church with a final lie that would
infallibly imperil a man's soul, if there were such things....

One sentimental idiot had shot big game in Uganda, when she would not
marry him. Another had kept his bed for a week, pretending a broken
heart. Jack said little; but, as she squandered his devotion, she felt
that it would never come again. Perhaps her fear of him was the shell of
love; certainly she would not have wasted ten minutes on a man who meant
nothing to her. "Di'monds an' pearls.... Di'monds an' pearl I have
thrown away wid both hands--and fwhat have I left? Oh, fwhat have I
left?" The words came in one of Kipling's stories, surely.... But she
could not remember.

The hall filled again with the sound of voices, and she hurried out
rather than let herself be seen sitting alone and unexplained. Six young
officers were hastily wrapping themselves in overcoats and golf-cloaks
under the patronizing direction of Val Arden.

"They cast lots for one's raiment," he observed to Barbara, "and
Summertown had the good fortune to draw one's violet-silk _surtout_. One
could not wish it a worthier occupant. There used to be an inside
pocket, and one recalls putting into it a trifle of _cognac_. They also
serve who only stand the drinks."

Summertown was being dressed by his sister, who looked frightened in
spite of his easy flow of facetious reassurance.

"Bless you, _I'm_ all right!" he cried. "They wouldn't hurt a little
thing like me, I should run away between their feet and get taken
prisoner. You'll hear of me next as the regimental pet of the Death's
Head Hussars. By the way, does anybody know who we're supposed to be
fighting? My jolly old uncle never let that out--sly old dog! Good-bye,
Babs! See you again soon."

As they shook hands, she suddenly remembered the scene in Webster's
rooms when Jack, under the spell of Madame Hilary, talked of a war,
which was hanging over their heads, and of his own instant death.

"Oh, my _dear_, I wish you weren't going!" she cried with such emotion
that Sally Farwell stared at her.

"So do I. 'Haven't finished supper yet. Charles, my lad, d'you think
that, if we went back for just a _little_ one, we could manage to get
left behind?"

Barbara turned quickly and walked towards the door. She knew that
Summertown would be killed.... Her scepticism was a schoolgirl's; she
refused to believe things because she was too ignorant to understand
them. For aught she knew, there might be a Soul of Man, for which Man
could be held to account....

Jack was talking earnestly by the steps, an overcoat and rug over one
arm.

"I know nothing about the army," she heard Oakleigh say. "But any one of
these fellows would tell you. Or you can try O'Rane. He was saying after
dinner--in all seriousness--that, if Austria declared war, he'd raise a
Foreign Legion and go and fight for Servia. He was through one of the
Balkan wars, you know. But I can't believe there _will_ be any fighting;
it's on too big a scale, you'll have the whole world in flames. In your
place I should do nothing for the present."

"But, if we _are_ brought in, we shall have to raise every man we can
lay hands on. I _am_ partly trained; I was in the corps at Eton."

"I shall believe in war when I see it."

Barbara walked past them down the steps. She had not tried to catch
Jack's eye; but he had seen her, and she hoped that he would follow her.
The broad terrace was littered with chairs, as the deck of a steamer
might be; but the night was turning cold, and she walked to the stone
steps at the end without seeing any one. Then she heard the sound of an
engine starting, and a muffled procession marched to the car. The murmur
of subdued altercation reached her. "Charles, my lad, you're taking up
too much room...." "I'm all right, I'll sit on the floor."... "That's a
goodish hat Phil's wearing! Phil, if you perch on the radiator, you'll
lend tone to the party...."

She watched Jack coming slowly down the steps. An apology would be
merely insulting. There was only one possible reparation, and, though he
might not accept it, she must at least offer it; if he flung it back at
her, she would feel less guilty. Another hour, and she could think this
to rights. But George was already calling the roll.

"Come along, Jack! You're keeping the whole show waiting," cried
Summertown. "'The stars are setting, and the caravan starts for the Dawn
of Nothing. Oh, make haste!' Or words to that effect."

Barbara took a step forward, as Jack shook hands with Oakleigh and ran
across the terrace to the car. He might wound her vanity again, if she
could solace her soul with the knowledge that she had promised him all
that she had to give.

"Jack!"

Her voice was a timid whisper; the audience of jostling, laughing young
officers daunted her. What would they think of her, standing alone on
the terrace, running up to the car and insisting that she must speak to
Jack?

George came down the steps and slammed the door. "_Right_ away!" she
heard, and the car moved slowly towards her. At the corner of the
terrace the head-lights swung dazzlingly on to her, and she threw up her
arm as though they would blind her. Some one began to sing, "Dixie! All
aboard for Dixie!" A voice murmured drowsily, "Dry up! I want to go to
sleep." The gears changed with a grind; Barbara looked up to see a
single red tail-light.

"Jack! Before you go! I want to speak to you!"

She was calling with all her strength now, but the beat of the engine
drowned her voice.

"Jack! _Please_, Jack!"

She hurried down the stone steps at the end of the terrace and ran a few
paces along the drive, repeating his name with a sob and stretching out
her arms to the vanishing pin-point of red light.

George was still standing in the door-way when she returned at a limp.
For a moment she was afraid to speak lest she began to cry.

"I've got a stone in my shoe," she announced at length.

He smiled and offered her his arm.

"You're looking tired, Barbara. Have you had any supper?"

Only the kind and well-intentioned could ask innocent questions which
hurt like the thrust of a needle under a finger-nail. At one time it
seemed as though she would never escape from the banqueting-hall.

"I've had supper, thanks," she answered, resting one hand on his
shoulder, as she felt for the stone in her shoe. Then she remembered a
similar act and attitude, when she and Jack stood breathless at the end
of the Croxton village street on the night of their first meeting; and
she limped to a chair. "It's dreadful to see all those boys going off. I
feel that _some_ of them will never come back."

"But we aren't even at war yet," George protested.

"Everybody seems to think we soon shall be. Didn't I hear Jack Waring
talking to you about trying to get a commission?"

"Well, he wants to be prepared, of course. It's a military family, you
see."

They walked upstairs together and stood in the doorway of the
ball-room. Colonel Farwell's car had come and gone very unobtrusively;
no one seemed to miss the absentees, and Loring and Mayhew, O'Rane and
Arden were holding the party together with tireless energy and zest. At
three o'clock Lady Knightrider and those who had long distances to cover
reluctantly sent for their cars, but the house-party and its near
neighbours danced indefatigably. At sunrise the curtains were flung
aside and the lights turned out; the last of many suppers was eaten on
the terrace at half-past four, and at five O'Rane organized a slow
march-past of the remaining cars in honour of Loring and Violet who
stood on the top of the steps, bowing with weary joyousness their
acknowledgement of the last toast.

Barbara had been compelled at first to do her share of dancing, but,
when the band escaped to catch an early train back to London, she took
possession of the piano. It was again horribly like that first night at
Croxton, when Jack sat in some embarrassment by her side on the dais;
but at least she was not expected to talk or to pretend that she was
enjoying herself. When Arden joined her, she resigned the piano to him
and slipped upstairs to her room. She was down again a moment later,
trying to decide whether it was more intolerable to be with others or
alone. Her room was too tranquil and cool; she had been so happy, as she
dressed, so determined to enjoy herself;--and she had nothing on her
mind. Through the open window she heard Arden's hand and voice at the
piano, punctuated by burst of cheering from the strip of drive under the
terrace. The engines of the cars thrashed and beat, then grew calm and
jerked into sound again as one after another shot forward; Loring and
Violet were hoarse but inexhaustibly happy, and, as Barbara ran
downstairs, she told herself that she too wanted to congratulate them
again; in their present state they were too rare to be wasted.

"What's the next item, Jim?" panted O'Rane, as she came on to the
terrace. His hair was disordered, his shirt and collar crumpled and his
arms full of the champagne glasses which the departing guests had tossed
to him after the final toast. But he was ready to go through the night's
revelry from the beginning. "I'll race you to the river and back!"

"My little man, I assure you that you will do no such thing," Loring
answered. "If any one wants to dance any more, you can play to them; if
any one wants anything more to eat and drink, you can supply their
wants. _I_ think it's high time we were all in bed. _You're_ certainly
going indoors before you catch cold," he said to Violet. "And you,
Sally. And you, Babs."

He rounded them up until Barbara alone remained behind with the chill
wind of early morning beating on her bare shoulders and chest and
blowing unchecked through her gossamer clothes. After the earlier
insufferable heat, this cold air with its burden of dew and
night-scented stock wrapped itself round her body like a bandage laid on
burning flesh. It purified, too, like a mountain torrent of melting snow
pouring over her arms and breast. Some girl in a book--it was by
Gissing, but she could not remember names to-night--had bathed naked in
the sea by moonlight--to cleanse her spirit because she had suffered men
to touch her body; this wind, as yet unwarmed by the orange sun of dawn,
served her in place of the kindly sea....

"If you _want_ triple pneumonia, Babs, that's the way to get it," said
Loring.

His voice suggested a new train of thought, and she pursued it without
answering. Some young wife in a book--it was by Balzac, but she could
not remember names to-night--broke her heart because she fancied that
her husband had ceased to love her; no longer caring for life, she
worked herself into a violent sweat and stood in the dew by the brink of
a pond until she had given herself consumption.... But to take refuge in
suicide was to shew that you were unfit to have been born, that you were
unequal to life; this, even this night of horror, was a thing to be
mastered; Barbara luxuriated in life as a thing to be dominated and
enchained like a destroying flood or fire....

"It's such a wonderful morning, Jim," she said, as she turned.

"Yes, but, as we've managed to get through one whole night without
quarrelling, don't catch a chill at the end and put the blame on me. I
thought, all things considered, that it went off very well."

"I suppose so.... Jim, when I'm responsible for a thing, I never put the
blame on other people. You can't deny me courage."

"My dear girl, I can't remember a single occasion on which you've taken
the blame for anything. Perhaps you'll reply that you never _were_ to
blame for anything, and we might argue about that for a very long time.
Come to bed; you're shivering."

She walked with him into the house and looked wonderingly at the clock,
while he barred the door behind them. Six! It seemed hardly worth while
going to bed....

"Are you tired, Jim? Too tired to smoke a cigarette and listen to me
blaming myself?"

Loring's heart seemed to sink. He had seen her with Jack and he had
listened to an eager but unconvincing story designed to shew that, in
Jack's eyes, it made all the difference in the world whether he motored
to Gloucester and arrived in London in time for breakfast or breakfasted
at the Castle or in Raglan and returned to London by a morning train.

"I'll listen--with pleasure," he said.

Barbara looked for a comfortable seat and led the way to a sofa in the
smoking-room.

"I believe Jack Waring has discussed me with you?" she began.

"I think he's told me everything that was to be told," answered Loring.

"Including to-night?" It was an idle question, for Jim would have been
more Rhadamanthine if Jack had described the last disillusionment.
"Well, you know he asked me to marry him; and I refused, because he
wasn't a Catholic. He _is_ a Catholic now--in name; he asked me again
to-night, and I refused again."

"Why?"

Men preserved a rare sex-loyalty. Loring's tone was Jack's; his face was
setting with the same rigidity, and he would shew as little mercy.

"I didn't feel I was in love with him."

"Were you ever in love with him? A good many people thought you were."

Barbara pondered deeply over her answer.

"I could never be in love with any one who wasn't gentle with me....
I--rather admired Jack, because he was clean and honest and had the
courage to say things that I'd have hit another man for----"

"But you were afraid of him," Loring murmured. "Go on! You wanted to
shew him how wrong he was----"

"I owed it to myself to shew him what I was _really_ like, not what the
halfpenny press thinks I am. He fell in love; and then, when he asked me
to marry him, I lost my head----"

"But you never told him that you weren't in love with him," Loring
interrupted again.

Barbara's eyes fell.

"I'd lost my nerve as well as my head," she sighed. "He'd have thought
so much worse of me. I didn't see him after that until to-night; I
hoped it was all over. I told him again that I couldn't marry him and
then I told him the truth--that I wasn't in love with him. And
then--then he saw everything.... Jim, I'm not asking for mercy from him
or you or any one; I'm telling you the truth and I want to be judged on
that. Until to-night I honestly didn't know how bad it was, I didn't
know that I was anything more than some one who attracted him----"

"You accursed women never do!" Loring broke in. "Well, go on! You played
with him and led him on and checked him till he proposed--men,
hard-headed men who aren't drunk, don't propose when they're merely
'attracted'--he proposed, and you told him an extremely ingenious lie
which I should have thought your extravagant superstition might have
kept you from telling. _Then!_ Then, when he pays you the compliment of
thinking you a woman of honour, you admit it's a lie. Go on, Barbara!"

She shook her head slowly and leaned wearily forward, resting her chin
on her hand.

"It's no good, Jim. If any one hits you often enough in the same place,
you cease to feel. You want to hurt me--I don't wonder!--but you can't;
I'm too bruised. No, _he_ said hardly anything. It wasn't necessary to
_say_ anything; he knew...."

Loring strode to the table, picked up a cigarette and flung it back into
the box. He found that Barbara was watching him with wonder in her eyes
and waited till his indignation was under control.

"And so you got a new emotion," he sneered. "Two, in fact. You played
cat and mouse with a man's happiness; and then you had the morbid
pleasure of letting yourself be flayed alive.... I should think it will
be your last emotion for some time."

"As you like, Jim. But it'll be easier if I tell you everything and
_then_ let you criticize.... Jack hardly said a word. It was sinking
in; and it was sinking in with me, too. I'm not a coward, Jim----"

"Oh, leave your vile little posturings out!"

"I'm not a coward," she repeated patiently. "Standing out there a moment
ago, I thought how _easy_ it would be to get pneumonia and die and end
everything--_Don't_ say 'another emotion'! A coward _would_ have. But
I'd decided to accept the consequences. I was on the point of telling
Jack he could marry me, if he wanted to, when that car came and
everybody started running about.... I tried to catch him before he left,
I ran after the car.... That's all, Jim."

Looking at her, he saw that she was indeed too much bruised to feel.

"And now?" he asked.

Barbara shook her head hopelessly and stared across the room out of the
window.

"He can do what he likes with me. He can marry me and beat me. He can
sit--dear God! he can sit as he sat to-night, looking at me as though I
were a bundle of rags and sores that had thrown its arms round him. He
can tell people.... Or he can keep me to himself and sneer and torture
me when he's in the mood. He can take me and break my heart and fling me
away after a week, if he likes. There's nothing, nothing I won't do!"

Her vehemence startled him for a moment, but her tone and phrasing were
too rhetorical to be convincing.

"I admire your capacity for getting the last ounce even out of
repentance," Loring murmured.

For a moment Barbara did not seem to have heard him; then she got up and
walked out of the smoking-room and across the hall to a studded oak
door. She rattled the handle for a moment and then came back.

"Where's the key of the chapel?" she demanded. "You believe in
something, I suppose? And I suppose you admit that even I would stop
short of _some_ things. Give me the key! I'll swear to you on the image
of the Blessed Virgin----"

"I don't think I should dip any deeper into that kind of thing if I were
you."

"I'll swear by anything! You see those two matches? That's the sign of
the Cross. I swear by the Cross that I'll offer myself to Jack! And he
can do what he likes with me."

"Wouldn't it be rather a waste of breath to talk like this to Jack?"

"You mean I'm not in earnest? I swear to you, Jim, that I'll _beg_ him
to marry me, if he still wants to."

The clock struck half-past six, and Loring shivered.

"I wish to God you'd died before you ever met him!" he muttered. "What
the devil's the good of telling me all this?"

"If I hadn't told you, nobody'd have known. _Jack_ wouldn't tell. I
wanted to commit myself before I had time to go back. Now I'll give the
whole of my life trying to make him happy, to atoning...."

Loring caught her wrists and gripped them.

"Leave him alone!" he cried. "It would be suicide if you married after
this."

"If he wants me...." Barbara began again. "Jim, can't you see that I'm
trying to save my soul? He can have everything. I'm quite young, and he
can have all my youth and life, my looks, anything that I've got,
anything that I am. He can take it all--or he can fling it all back at
me."

She stretched out her hands to him. Loring pulled her to her feet and
led her to the door.

"Leave him alone!" he repeated roughly.

Barbara left by the ten o'clock train, while the rest of the house-party
was still in bed. Her maid was well used to sudden changes of plan, but
she ventured to point out that the family was at the Abbey and that the
house in Berkeley Square was closed.

"Well, it will have to be opened, then," said Barbara.

She had not gone to bed, and there were dark rings round her eyes; but
she was clear-headed and determined. Her maid tried to tempt her with
breakfast before their long drive, but Barbara did not want to eat until
she had seen Jack. In the train she could hardly keep her eyes open;
but, until she had seen Jack, she did not want to sleep. Every one
seemed to be hurrying to London, as though there would be later news of
the war there; and she heard a far away babble of what Lichnowski had
said, what Kuhlmann had proposed for localizing the war.... But she was
wondering only what Jack was about. The luncheon-car attendant slid open
the door, but she shook her head at him; the idea of food nauseated her,
and she was glad to have the compartment to herself for half an hour.

When her fellow-travellers returned, they found her with her head
against the window and her arms limply by her side. One of them hurried
away for water, and, when she shivered and opened her eyes, some one had
laid her flat on the seat, and a voice--the first kind voice that she
had heard for days--was saying:

"Carriage a bit hot for you? Or perhaps you're not a good traveller. I'm
a doctor--or used to be. Just going up to see if the War Office wants
volunteers in case of war. I saw you didn't come along to lunch; when
did you last have anything to eat?"

"I've really forgotten," Barbara answered.

"I thought so. Well, a cup of coffee and a biscuit, eh? And I'll try to
get you a little more room."

He whispered to the men who were standing in the corridor and
distributed them in the other compartments until he and Barbara were
alone. After the coffee she felt less sick and from Swindon to London
she was able to get some sleep. At Paddington the doctor wanted to take
her home, but she protested that her maid could do all that was
necessary, and he left her with an urgent recommendation to bed.

Barbara thanked him for all his kindness and ordered two taxis. One took
the maid and the luggage to Berkeley Square; in the other she drove to
the County Club and enquired bravely for Mr. Waring. The porter replied
that he had left the club immediately after luncheon, and she made her
way to the Temple. Hitherto she had not dreamed that there would be any
difficulty in finding him; but Middle Temple Lane, narrow, cold and
almost empty, daunted her. It was the first of August, and the rows of
names painted at the foot of each staircase looked ownerless and
impersonal as grave-yard head-stones in the general desolation. As she
pattered up two flights of stone steps to Jack's chambers, the giddiness
which had overtaken her in the train returned and stopped her short with
a pain in her side. The walls were advancing and retiring, the banisters
swayed and the floor of the landing heaved gently like a pitching boat.

When she felt steadier, she knocked at the door and waited patiently
until she heard feet shuffling in the distance. A pink-faced elderly man
informed her that Mr. Waring had gone away for the Long Vacation; he
spoke with a strong Cockney accent, and Barbara decided that he must be
the clerk with whom she had contended by telephone and whom she had
imagined to be obsequious and yet sinister, with red eyes, short hair
and bitten nails, a second Uriah Heep.

"Do you know where I can find him?" she asked.

"The first address he give me was at Raglan----"

"Ah, but he came back to London last night. He's not been here to-day?"

"No, miss."

"Do you know his address in Hampshire? Do you think you could telephone
to find out whether he's there?"

The clerk scratched his head and referred to a list of numbers pinned in
the passage by the telephone. Barbara had disturbed his afternoon sleep,
but she was an uncommonly pretty young woman, some one to relieve the
monotony of the moribund chambers; expensively dressed, too, and one who
would liberally repay a little trouble. His curiosity was whetted by her
coming to see young Waring; still waters ran deep....

"If you'll come in and sit down, miss," he suggested hospitably. "What
nime shall I siy?"

"Lady Barbara Neave. You needn't--I mean, I don't want to speak to him.
It's just the address."

"I see. Had the pleasure o' talking to you once before on the 'phone, my
lidy."

"Ah, yes."

Barbara walked into a shabby room with two scarred writing tables, a
threadbare carpet and four hard little armchairs. One wall was covered
by a book-case filled with Law Reports, old, discoloured volumes of the
"Annual Practice" and standard works on Pleading, Criminal Law and
Procedure, Real Property and the like. A few pounds would have freshened
the dingy room out of recognition and perhaps even given it a personal
note, but Jack was insensible to beauty and ugliness alike; he noticed
the peeling yellow wall-paper as little as he noticed the intoxicating
afternoon sun on the river; he had nothing in common with her.... She
remembered the promise which she had made to herself and began to look
at the papers on his table--long, white bundles tied with pink tape and
engrossed with old-fashioned lettering which she could hardly read.
These must be briefs, set out to look imposing, for many were grey with
dust. There was an unexplained red sack, embroidered with his initials
and fastened with a red cord; and a small black box with his name in
white letters, containing an absurd wig. This was his life, a life which
absorbed him....

Outside in the passage the clerk began a sing-song monologue.

"Trunks, miss, please. Trunks, if--_you_--please. Is that Trunks? I want
Lashmar four seven. This is Holborn double four nine double-two. No!
_Nine!_ Double-four nine double-two. Thank you." He shuffled into the
room and smiled familiarly at Barbara. "They'll call me when I'm
through. Now may I get you a cup of tea, me lidy?"

Barbara thanked him, but refused the tea. The Cockney accent was
intensified when he spoke on the telephone, and it reminded her once
again of the winter afternoon when she had tried to drag Jack away from
a consultation, the afternoon of her visit to Webster's flat. If she had
stopped then, there would now be nothing to regret or to repair. Her
fatal step was to invite him to dinner that night merely because she
wanted the support of some one solid and well-balanced. Since that day
she had never been able to decide how she felt towards him; she had been
unable to tell Loring a few hours before. If, instead of always
frightening her, he could have shewn a little gentleness.... George
Oakleigh, to whom she was nothing, always helped her into a cloak as
though she were the most fragile and precious thing in the world; and
she became rebellious and reckless, when any one was harsh to her. Jack
would order her home after a ball like a drill-sergeant; George came up
two minutes later and said, "I wonder whether you'll let me take you
home? You're looking so white and tired." It was more than a difference
of manner. Jack never realized that a girl could be hungry for
tenderness, but love was nothing without affection.... And love was
always easier to give than affection.

The telephone rang, and the clerk reported that Mr. Waring was not in
Hampshire nor expected there for nearly another week. As Barbara walked
downstairs and drove home, she tried to think of any means of getting
into touch with him which her tired brain had not already suggested. At
worst she could always write, but she wanted to throw her pride at his
feet to be trampled and bruised, she wanted to look him in the eyes
without flinching or begging for mercy....

In the train it seemed as if the whole world were coming to London, but
London was now empty of every one that she wanted to see. Summertown,
who might have useful information, could not be found in his rooms or in
barracks; Framlingham was "expected back any minute." She called a
second time at the County Club, but Jack had not returned. And, after
dining by herself in her bare, half-resurrected bedroom, she telephoned
with carefully disguised voice. At the third failure, she abandoned his
club; to welcome humiliation from Jack was hardly the same thing as to
accept it from hall-porters and page-boys....

Though she was a night's sleep in arrears, she could not lie still in
bed. An old French clock with a squeaking, high note that reminded her
absurdly of Jack's clerk, struck midnight, one and two. She turned on
the light and reached for her writing-case.

"_I don't apologize, because no apology is adequate; I don't seek
forgiveness, for, though I honour and admire and wonder at you and your
devotion to some one who never deserved a thousandth part of it, I don't
believe any one has the greatness of soul to forgive me. I am writing to
say that, if you still want me, I will do whatever you ask. I can never
make amends. But I will try with all my heart and soul and mind and
strength._

BARBARA."

She threw the letter into the writing-case and turned the key. A second
sleepless night followed the first, but she was buoyed up by excitement
and the sense of a purpose to fulfil. The Sunday papers dragged war from
the middle-distance into the foreground, and, as she walked in a parched
and unfamiliar Park before luncheon, she felt that Jim would not be able
to keep away from London much longer. On Monday morning she heard that
he was returning next day, and on Tuesday afternoon she called at Loring
House.

"Jim, I don't care what you think of me, but you've got to help me," she
began.

He saw a pinched face lit by feverishly bright eyes, whose pupils
contracted and dilated as he looked into them.

"I'm afraid this has rather come home to roost, Babs," he said gently.
"I'm sorry; honestly, I am."

She was so broken-spirited that he found himself drawing her to him and
kissing her forehead. At the touch of his lips her muscles relaxed until
he was supporting her weight with one arm.

"Ah, kiss my eyes, Jim!" she whispered. "They're aching so terribly! I
want to sleep; and I'm haunted.... What am I to do? I can't find him!"

"I shouldn't try to. Babs, you know Jack always had the pride of the
devil; he's probably very sore. And this is the first time that a woman
has played any kind of trick on him; I don't suppose it'll be the last,
but you can be sure that he feels that the bottom's been knocked out the
universe."

"But I want to help him! If I _can_ give him anything----"

"He doesn't want you now."

"After doing what he did? Jim, if I'd loved a man as he loved me, I'd do
anything to get him, to get him back! There'd be nothing left in life
without him!"

"One thinks so at first. But, when love dies, resentment is a workable
substitute. Leave it alone, Babs. I must run away now, because I want to
talk to the War Office about taking a commission, if war breaks out.
Jack's doing the same.... By the way, I'm standing by to have House of
Steynes and the Castle and the place at Market Harborough turned into
hospitals. If you want something to do, you can apply to be taken on as
a nurse. In six months from now, when the war's over and forgotten,
it'll be time enough to move. I begged Jack to go slow and think the
thing out, because--frankly, Babs--I didn't know what you were up to;
and I beg you to think and go on thinking and to wait till you're cool.
You _hardly_ know what _you're_ doing now; and, if I know anything of
men, Jack's a raving lunatic."

He moved haltingly to the door. Barbara followed with bent head.

"And you want me to leave him like that?"

"You can't mend things at present--if ever."

"And in the meantime he may take a commission and go out----"

"And be killed," said Loring, as she hesitated. "Let's face it."

"And be killed," she replied. "Jim, I can't sit with my hands folded....
What d'you think Judas Iscariot felt like during the Crucifixion?"

Loring shrugged his shoulders and opened the door for her without
answering. For the first time that day he doubted her sincerity. It was
terribly in keeping with her love for the dramatic, the bizarre, the
sensational, the gigantic for her to be comparing herself with Judas
Iscariot....



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

A NOTE OF INTERROGATION

     "Fenced by your careful fathers, ringed by your leaden seas,
     Long did ye wake in quiet and long lie down at ease;
     Till ye said of Strife 'What is it?' of the Sword, 'It is far from
       our ken';
     Till ye made a sport of your shrunken hosts and a toy of your armed
       men.
     Ye stopped your ears to the warning--ye would neither look nor
       heed--
     Ye set your leisure before their toil and your lusts above their
       need."

     RUDYARD KIPLING: "THE ISLANDERS."


"You've probably stirred up an ant-hill with the end of your stick
before now," said Eric Lane, shading his eyes and shifting himself in
bed until he could catch a glimpse of the Lashmar Woods in their riot of
autumn colour. "I feel that's what the Almighty has done here; we're
scattered in every direction, running about in wild confusion without
knowing in the least what any one else is doing. I feel amazingly out of
everything."

He had already been seven weeks in bed at Lashmar Mill-House and was
white-faced and cadaverous, with bloodless lips and immense sunken brown
eyes. This was the worst breakdown that he had undergone since he was a
boy; but all danger was now over, and his voice was beginning to recover
its strength and music. Jack had walked over to sit with him. It was
their first meeting since they journeyed to Oxford together for their
degrees; Jack had been training in London and was wearing for the first
time the uniform of a second lieutenant.

"How soon are you going to be allowed up?"

"In another week," Eric answered. "I don't know when I shall be able to
start regular work again. I've had to chuck the paper. I don't think
they were sorry to get rid of me: there's been drastic staff reduction
in Fleet Street since the war. It's rather a bore, though. _If_ my
play's produced in the spring, _if_ it's a success, I may have some
money; otherwise I must live on my hard-earned savings and try to find
work. One of the government offices might take me. You know that
Oakleigh's in the Admiralty?"

"Yes, and O'Rane's enlisted; and Jim Loring's a staff captain; and that
swine Webster is driving a car for the Red Cross. Even the egregious Val
Arden's taken a commission. I rather respect him--for the first time in
my life; he looks three parts gone in consumption, but he got round the
doctor. He wasn't going to have people saying that he was a funk, and I
think he felt that he'd led a footling life and that this was the
opportunity of shewing what he was made of. Most of us are feeling that
we've wasted a good deal of our time.... What did they spin you for?"

"Overstrained heart. And, when I was examined, of course I was about
half an hour removed from my final collapse--which I think we will not
discuss.... Did you know Deryk Lancing? It was horrible about his
death."

"Yes, I've been wondering whether it _was_ an accident," said Jack. "He
was so full of nerves that I should never have been surprised to hear
he'd gone off his head. But what an opportunity the war would have been
for him! Oakleigh told me that he was always worrying about his money
and wondering what to do with it. Well, the beauty of being in the army
is that you can't think about yourself; you're a tiny part in a gigantic
machine, and your individuality doesn't matter a damn to any one....
When you think how every man and women you know was attitudinizing and
thinking about his own personality--Jack Summertown, Val Arden,
Deganway.... And the women were worse than the men. Everything
sacrificed for effect. Every one looking for new emotions.
Sensationalists.... You tried your personality on a new diet of
excitement every day. How amazingly _small_ it all seems when you
measure it by a war of this kind! Even the biggest thing of all. A man
devotes months and years of his life to engaging the affections of a
woman----"

"Well, that charge can never be brought against you," Eric interrupted
with a laugh.

Jack bent down and spent some moment in knocking out his pipe against
the fender. His parents and sister still did not know that he was even
acquainted with Barbara; but Eric might well have heard gossip from
Oakleigh or a dozen others.

"Well, take Loring's case! _He_ spent years over that business with
Sonia Dainton. Then he got sane. Then he fell in love with Oakleigh's
cousin--engagement announced, flourish of trumpets, an immense ball in
honour of the occasion. The war comes along, and it all fades into the
background. I suppose they'll be married as soon as it can be arranged,
but the war's the important thing in his life now. He's transferring to
a service battalion as soon as he possibly can; with any luck he'll get
killed.... By the way, you saw that Jack Summertown had been knocked
out? In the first casualty list of all. _And_ Archie Stornaway. _And_
Charles Framlingham. All three heirs to peerages, and two of them were
staying with the Lorings at Chepstow when I was there. If you'd been
told a year ago.... But, by Jove, this is pretty much what O'Rane
prophesied _ten_ years ago. What was his bet? One or two of us have gone
under, one or two are dead--with more to follow. One or two married. One
or two have made pretty fair fools of ourselves. O'Rane himself has done
well. And you're going to be our new playwright. _I_ wasn't doing badly
at the bar.... It all seems so small now."

Lady Lane came in with tea, and soon afterwards Jack left. He was due
back in London to dine with Loring, who had written mysteriously to beg
him, as a great favour, to arrange a meeting the moment that he found a
free night. Jack guessed that Barbara was in some way connected with the
request, but he could not imagine what she wanted. For two months he had
divided his time between drilling and being drilled; there were new
friendships to form and new confidences to exchange; the questions that
mattered were the etiquette of the mess and the ethics of saluting--as
they had once been the code and spirit of a public school and, later,
the tone and rule of decorous society. Was the battalion to be sent out
as a whole or used for drafts? Undoubtedly you would secure greater
unity and _esprit de corps_ by keeping it intact; but the men were not
all equally trained, and the latest comers would set the pace for all.
There were heated debates between the rival sects, and the colonel was
claimed by both sides alternately. Once or twice Jack stepped aside and
smiled at the picture of himself working under a captain of nineteen and
taking a warm interest in mess politics. It was hardly the end that he
had imagined; but at least he had worked himself into iron condition
until his nerves were under control and he was too tired for
introspection. Loring's invitation was the first test of fortitude; the
library recalled their debates of other days, and, if he went there from
friendship, he was determined not to exhume something that had been
killed at Chepstow and buried by the war.

"I'm glad you were able to come," Loring began. "I'll say what I've got
to say and get it over as soon as possible. I'm not doing this on my own
initiative. Have you seen Barbara lately?"

"Not since your party. Jim, I'd sooner not hear another word on this
subject----"

"I'm afraid you've got to, old man, for my sake. She's in London and
she asked me to give you this with my own hand."

He held out a letter, and Jack looked at it in silence. The envelope was
addressed in pencil; the upright awkwardness in some of the characters
told him that it had been written, like so many others, in bed; a few
words were smudged, and this, with the bent corners, suggested that it
had probably been composed some time before.

"I don't want it," he said after a long hesitation.

If the mere sight of familiar handwriting could hurt him, he was
resolved to take no further risks with his painfully acquired fortitude.

"You must take it," said Loring. "I don't care what you do with it."

Jack shrugged his shoulders, unbuttoned a pocket of his tunic and
slipped the letter inside, as dinner was announced.

"How soon are you chucking up your staff job?" he asked, to kill any
further discussion, as they walked out of the library together.

When Jack returned to camp, Loring called on his cousin in Berkeley
Square. House and family were in tumult, for, when the Abbey was handed
over to the War Office, Lord Crawleigh was driven to spend the autumn in
London and he returned to find that it was one thing to urge his younger
servants into the army and another to be left without a single
able-bodied man to prepare for his coming. His wife was wholly immersed
in the management of her hospital; Barbara was training for her
certificate; Neave and the two younger boys had been given commissions
in the Guards, and daily life was so uncomfortable that he decided to
share his discomfort with the nation and to explain the origin and
meaning of the war in a series of addresses throughout the country.

"Well, Jack dined with me to-night," Loring began. "I gave him the
letter."

"Yes?"

"He didn't want to take it at first, but I told him I'd promised to give
it him with my own hand."

Barbara was unnerved by waiting, but she contrived to mask her curiosity
with indifference.

"What did he say?" she asked.

"He put it into his pocket."

"He didn't read it?"

"Not then."

"And he didn't say anything? What did he look like?"

"He was like he always is; no one would call Jack demonstrative."

For all her studied indifference, Barbara shuddered involuntarily.

"I know. He frightens me when he's like that," she whispered. "If he
ever flared up for a moment, I should feel that we were more evenly
matched.... He _will_ read the letter?" she persisted.

"My dear Babs, how can I tell?"

"Oh, of course you can't, but the waiting's so awful," she cried. "You
know what was in it? I kept my promise--the promise I made on the Cross
at Chepstow. If he wants me----"

"Well, if he does? You still don't love him?"

"I don't know. He fascinates me.... But that doesn't matter, I've given
him my promise----"

"It seems to me to matter very much," Loring interposed drily. "I've
grown quite fond of you lately, Babs, and I don't want to see you
unhappily married. Or him, either. You say you don't know whether you're
in love with him, but there's a simple test: if you were free in every
way and could choose among all the men in the world, would you fly to
Jack like an arrow to a target?"

"I don't know.... I think he might _make_ me come to him."

"Against your will? Babs, you've either lost all your personality or
else you're in love with him."

She shook her head in perplexity, frowning and smoothing out the
wrinkles with the back of her hand.

"I don't know that it would be against my will. I can't make out. He
never loved me as I _wanted_ to be loved.... I never feel that Jack
could be gentle.... Do you know what I mean, Jim? There are some people
who seem to take loving for granted. They can't waste time on the little
daily tendernesses that are the glorious great tendernesses...." Her
voice faded away, and she sat staring in front of her until a change of
thought made her face resolute. "But it's not for me to find fault. If
he wants me...."

"I wish to God I could do something to help," said Loring.

"I must just wait, I suppose. I wish I knew what _I_ wanted....
Sometimes I feel I'm going mad, Jim. I _can't_ get rid of his eyes, I
_can't_ forget the change that came over him when he _began_ to
understand what I'd done.... Has he gone back to camp? When d'you think
he'll write?"

"My dear girl, you might just as well ask me how long the war's going
on! Perhaps he won't write at all."

"What d'you mean?"

Loring sank lower into his chair and stared at the ceiling.

"I've been trying to think how I should feel in his place," he said. "If
he was simply infatuated about you, he'd go on believing in you until
you'd married some one else. On the other hand, he's ignorant enough of
women still to idealize them; and there's no bitterness like the
bitterness of your disappointed idealist. He may try to cut the whole
thing out of his life; he may tear your letter up unread, he may read it
and throw it in the fire without answering it.... What are you going to
do then, Babs?"

"I belong to him until he throws me aside," she answered. "On my honour
and oath----"

"I wish you weren't quite so ready with your extravagant oaths," he
interrupted. "You'll get into trouble one day. Jephthah took a similar
vow and lived to regret it.... Well, Babs, if there's anything I can do
to straighten things out, let me know."

He got up and prepared to go. Barbara sat with her hands pressed between
her knees and her head bent.

"I must wait," she whispered. "You go, Jim; I'd sooner be alone. You go!
I'll--just wait."

Loring looked at her for a moment and then went downstairs. He could
have sworn that she could see her own drooping head and tired eyes in a
mental looking-glass and was enjoying her doubt and misery; as likely as
not, she would describe it to Jack, if they met. "Jim went away. I said,
'You go. I must wait.' And I waited...." A little of Jephthah's
daughter, the Lady of Shalott, Monna Vanna and Sarah Curran; tragic
pathos, tragic constancy, tragic hopelessness. By giving her the cue of
Jephthah's daughter, he had helped to destroy the illusion of
sincerity....

Barbara sat by herself for a few minutes and then rang for her maid and
began to undress. She had never dreamed that Jack would not answer her
letter. Though written on the night after she had failed to find him at
the Temple, she had kept it locked away for nearly two months, afraid to
send it and unable to say why she was afraid. Then Sonia Dainton had
called on her and, standing by the window with her face averted, had
talked of Jim's approaching marriage. "I hear he's going out to the
front fairly soon," she began. "I want to part friends with him--in case
anything happens. D'you think he'd see me?" "You can only try," answered
Barbara. That was a fortnight ago; some weeks later, on the eve of the
wedding, Sonia called at Loring House to beg and to receive
forgiveness. In the meantime Barbara profited by her own advice to force
herself into communication with Jack. It was all that she could do, if
she hoped ever again to know self-respect or even a quiet conscience.
She could make amends and give him his chance to embrace or spurn her;
that he would ignore her she had never imagined.

The hospital at the Abbey opened three days after her conversation with
Jim; and Barbara at once volunteered for night work. Ever since the
party at Chepstow she had been unable to rest; Jack's haggard face and
fixed stare invaded her dreams, and, when she slept, it was to wake up
repeating some phrase that she had used to him. By going to bed in
daylight and lying with the blinds up and the sun on her face, she never
wholly lost consciousness; her brain was sentinel enough to rouse her,
if she began to dream of the banqueting-hall at Loring Castle....

When Jim's wedding took place, she wrote to offer him good wishes and
added in a postscript:

"_I have had no news._"

He wrote back,

"_I have not seen him since that night. In a case like this, isn't
silence itself an answer? George heard that he was possibly going out
with a draft, but I believe this has been contradicted. Is there
anything I can do? I'll try to get hold of him, if you like, and ask him
what he's up to, but, while I don't mind exposing myself to a rebuff, I
don't see myself leading you by the hand to have your face slapped by
any one...._"

"_Thanks, it's best to do nothing_," Barbara answered. "_I should be
hurt if he thought I was forcing myself on him._"

At the beginning of 1915 Jim wrote on his own initiative.

"_I hear Jack's gone abroad. George is my authority; I didn't see him
myself. I think you may feel that this squares the account. On the whole
I'm glad; and, if you feel as you did when last we discussed this, it's
the best thing for you._"

A few weeks later Jim went abroad himself. So long as he was a channel
of communication, Barbara waved away the necessity of deciding what to
do if she were left with what he called a "cheque drawn but not
presented." Without him, loneliness sapped her courage; and she wrote
three extravagant letters, which, in the act of writing, she knew that
she would never send. Then she tried to forget. Then she centred her
hopes on seeing him, when he came home on leave....

A week before he was expected in England, Amy Loring called in Berkeley
Square to say that Jim was "missing." George Oakleigh had the news from
the War Office, and every one might be told except Violet, who was
expecting a baby.

"_At this rate I sometimes wonder who will be left alive_," Lady
Crawleigh wrote to Barbara. "_Sonia has had one of her brothers killed
and the other wounded. Valentine Arden has been killed. Young O'Rane has
come back slightly wounded but without his sight. No one can ever take
their places. They are all equally splendid.... Poor Mr. Arden and Jack
Summertown.... Though a man may have been frivolous before, that does
not seem to keep him from shewing his true worth when the occasion
arises.... The war has been a great opportunity...._"

Barbara's first thought was that, if Jim too were killed, there was one
person the less to share her secret. She was aghast to find herself even
playing with such consolation; but, as the weeks of silence became
months, she lost hope. With every new death or mutilation she was
becoming less and less equal to the great opportunity. Though she could
work as hard as any one, she came no nearer to justifying herself or
making atonement. The officers in the hospital sometimes refused to let
her do anything for them, because she had already worn herself out with
doing so much, but she was never tired enough to forget. Until she had
placated Providence, she would not be allowed to forget. And Providence
rejected her offering.

In the summer she heard that Sonia Dainton was engaged to be married to
David O'Rane.

"_He and I were sort of engaged when I was sixteen_," Sonia began. "_Of
course, neither of us took it seriously. At least I didn't, as soon as I
was old enough to think at all; perhaps_ HE _did. He_ SAYS _that he
always knew he was going to marry me and that for all practical purposes
we_ WERE _married from the time when I was sixteen. When I was engaged
to Tony Crabtree--I wasn't properly engaged; I don't believe I ever
thought I should marry him; but I was very young, and it was exciting to
be engaged. I believe_ NOW _that Tony only wanted to marry me because he
thought I should be such an asset to him in his career; thought of
course he was very much in love with me--David says that he knew all
about it and didn't trouble himself more than if his wife were flirting
with a man at dinner. Poor darling, he was very unhappy about Jim,
because he thought I might really marry him; but yet--he says--at the
bottom of his heart he always knew I shouldn't. Aren't men ridiculously
vain? But, Babs, isn't it wonderful to think of him waiting all those
years, standing aside, never trying to influence me, always quite
certain that_ ONE _day he'd marry me? Some time I'll tell you the whole
story and how he came into the_ HEART _of Austria, when war'd been
declared, to rescue me. He was terribly wounded at the beginning of this
year, and the doctors say there's no possibility of his ever getting his
sight back. You can imagine what that means; but he says he'd go through
it all again, if that were the only way of getting me! George told me
that, when David was delirious in hospital, he kept calling out my name
night and day. It's wonderful to be loved like that!_

"_We shan't have any money worth speaking of, and darling David thinks
he's committing the most awful crime in wanting to marry me at all. 'A
blind man with no visible means of subsistence ought to be quietly
knocked on the head,' he says. When he got back to England, he wouldn't
come near me, he wouldn't let me come near him; he says he couldn't
trust himself. And, poor lamb! I'm getting quite tired of hearing him
say that I'm throwing myself away and that I_ MUSTN'T _marry him....
But, then, when he tells me that, ever since he was blinded, he's never
seen anything except me, there's no arguing about it, is there?_

"_He's gone back to Melton as a temporary master, and we're going to be
married in the school chapel. I should insist on your being one of my
bridesmaids, if I were having any, but it's going to be the quietest
wedding in the world. But I want you to think of me, Babs darling, and
offer me your blessing. I'm so very happy...._"

Barbara read the letter twice and tried to forget it. Sonia could not
tell her too often how many men had been in love with her and how much
David adored her; there was little mention of love on the other side,
only the eagerly snatched tributes to a colossal vanity. Every one knew
that she had no heart. She justified herself and explained away her
early engagements and broken promises with a light brush. Women would
justify themselves, whatever they did! And Sonia was marrying with both
eyes on the auditorium, listening delightedly to the protests that she
was wasting herself. She was enjoying her sense of reckless generosity;
and, perhaps, like Val Arden and the others who hoped to atone by one
sacrifice for an empty life, she would welcome the sacrifice even
without the audience....

It was a heartless, horrible letter. If Barbara had been invited to the
wedding, she would have refused to go. She wished that she _had_ been
invited.... Yet Sonia was only doing what she had failed to do. Jack's
devotion was no less than O'Rane's, and she had thrown it away; she was
trying to atone for everything in one sacrifice, as Sonia had already
done. She might have been happy, like Sonia; she might have outstripped
Sonia by discovering a heart. Every one was falling in love and
marrying; it was time to discover a heart. Val Arden told her, when she
was sixteen, that this would be her greatest emotion....

The next day Barbara asked for leave to go up to London and choose a
wedding-present. She avoided her family, for her looks did not court
inspection and she could not afford to be torn away from the hospital.
The life at Crawleigh Abbey suited her too well to be disturbed; though
sometimes, as she came off duty and undressed in broad daylight, she
wondered when and how her strength would break. The other nurses never
wearied of telling her that she looked ill; the mirror shewed that her
body was wasting, even if she had not felt that even her stockings hung
loose. And there was a cough which had come mysteriously and as
mysteriously refused to go.

On her arrival at Waterloo she telephoned to George Oakley and invited
him to lunch with her. He, if any one, would have news, he was fond of
her; and, ever since Sonia's engagement, she had felt that something was
wanting until she commanded an equal devotion and gave an equal
surrender. Of her, too, people were saying that she had no heart; she
was ready and more than ready to fall in love.

"My child, you _do_ look a little wreck," George exclaimed, when she
called for him at the Admiralty. "This is a sad business about Jim. I
was very sorry for you all."

"You don't think there's any hope?"

"I tell his mother and sister that he's sure to turn up. If you ask me
whether I believe what I say.... It _is_ a holocaust and a half! O'Rane,
Jim, Tom Dainton, Summertown--Lady Maitland's eldest boy is back
wounded. And with the rest you feel it's only a question of time. Val
Arden lunched with me three days before he was killed, and I felt that
he _wanted_ to be killed. The thing had got on his nerves till he knew
he couldn't stand much more of it without going out of his mind. Other
people, again, seem to take the war like a game of rather irregular
football." He hesitated and then tried to go on without allowing a
change to come into his voice. "Jack Waring came to see me last week,
and I'd swear that he was enjoying the whole thing."

Barbara's pulses hammered at sound of the name, and she dreaded to seem
too nonchalant.

"How was he?" she asked, though it was rather of Val Arden that she was
thinking. Perhaps Jack, too, welcomed the chance of having everything
ended for him. She remembered that his eyes had suddenly shone, when
George came, grave-faced, into the banqueting-hall; he was making plans
for taking a commission three days before war was declared and three
minutes after he left her. It was in truth a new emotion to feel that
she might have driven him to constructive suicide....

"Positively keen to get back," said George. "Didn't...?" He was going
to ask, in some surprise, whether she had not seen him; the ball at
Chepstow seemed to have healed any breach between them. But it was not
his business. "Your mother tells me that your hospital is being closed,"
he substituted.

"Closed?" Barbara echoed in dismay.

"The War Office finds it difficult to work."

"But mother never told me! Oh, George! that's too awful! I can't get on
without it. I _must_ have something to keep me busy. If I start
thinking----"

His eyes opened so wide that she checked herself.

"My dear, the war's getting on your nerves," he said significantly.
"Doesn't Lady Crawleigh----?"

Barbara blamed herself bitterly for letting her voice get out of
control; it was always happening....

"George, promise me you won't say you've seen me!" she begged. "I didn't
tell them I was going to be in London. I know I'm disgracing you by
looking like this, but, if mother saw me, she'd take me away; and I
should die, if I didn't have work to do."

"I see. Well, I'm not a doctor, but you'll die remarkably soon at your
present rate. D'you know what I'm going to do when we leave here?"

"Drop me at Cartier's, I hope."

"If you like. And that's handy for Berkeley Square. I'm going to your
mother and I'm going to tell her what I think of your general
condition."

"George, if you do that, I'll never speak to you again! And really, you
know, it _isn't_ any business of yours."

"Except that I happen to be very fond of you. And, if you get ill....
Dear Barbara, to please me, will you see your doctor before you go back
to hospital?"

Barbara had so long looked on George as a kindly and comfortable bit of
universal family furniture that she was startled by the unexpected
softening of his voice. Perhaps he, too, felt that it was time to
cultivate a heart and to fall in love. She smiled with an approach to
happiness. Any hint of tenderness in a man's voice made her like a
flower opening its petals to the sun.

"D'you like me, George?" she asked.

"Not when you're looking like this. Now I only want to slap you and send
you to bed. Will you go to your doctor?"

"If you like, I'll say that I'm going to him----" she began.

"That's all I want," he interrupted. "If you gave a promise, however
extravagant, I should know that you'd always keep it."

She raised her eyes to his and looked swiftly away.

On the day after her return to the Abbey, the hospital was filled with
rumour and gossip. No new cases were to be taken; and, as soon as the
last bed was empty, commandant and doctors, nurses and orderlies were to
be transferred to the new government hospital at Sunbury. Lady Crawleigh
came down without warning to arrange for the reconversion of the house.
In the middle of the afternoon she went into Barbara's room to find her
with drooping mouth and wet eyes, crying in her sleep. The commandant
was flushed from her office and invited to explain; without waiting for
the hospital to be closed, Barbara was personally conducted to London
and sent under the care of Lord Crawleigh's sister to the sea. She made
no resistance; she did not even tell her parents that she was twenty-one
and that she refused to be ordered about. She seemed no longer to matter
either to herself or to any one else....

Before coming off duty for the last time, she said good-bye to each of
her patients and found herself presented at the first bed with a
pendant.

"We had to get it in rather a hurry," explained the spokesman. "But we
hope you'll like it. We all wish you weren't going, Lady Barbara. It's
not worth being in hospital without you."

"You dears, _I_ wish I wasn't going," Barbara cried with a quaver in her
voice. "Good-bye, and bless you all! No, I _won't_ let you kiss my hand!
I'll kiss yours."

She walked from bed to bed, smiling until she reached the door; then her
composure deserted her, and she ran out crying. It was her fate to make
people fall in love with her, whether she tried or not--her fate, too,
never to be in love with any one herself. Jim, of course, would have
called this another experiment in emotion; he would have been very
scornful about the presentation and her tearful farewell, reminding her
that Florence Nightingale, her great prototype, had her shadow kissed,
as she passed down the ward. And next day, as she might almost have
foreseen, there were photographs of her in uniform: "_Lady Barbara
Neave, who has been doing splendid war-work at Lady Crawleigh's hospital
in Hampshire._" For the first time in her life she wanted to be left
alone and unnoticed, so that she could get into a train or walk about in
London without being recognized.

Under the hourly care of a doctor she was no longer allowed to keep
herself awake for fear of dreaming. But there was nothing to occupy her
by day, and she brooded eternally on the workings of Jack's mind. A
letter from Sonia started the train.

"_Bobs darling, the bracelet is divine! Thank you ever so much for it! I
didn't write before, because we've been so frightfully busy. I expect
you saw that we were married last week. Babs, I'm so happy! I'm at_
PEACE _now. With David I feel so secure. I always_ USED _to think that I
should feel circumscribed, but the_ COMPANIONSHIP'S _so wonderful that I
don't want anything more. At least, I want to have children--lots and
lots of them; and I want David to go on loving me, as he does now; and I
want it always to be summer. But I wouldn't change David for any one in
the world; and I wouldn't be_ NOT _married._

"_Looking back on it all, I don't_ REGRET _anything and I suppose I
enjoyed myself, but it seems rather hollow now. We shall lead a very
quiet, humdrum life and we shall be frightfully poor, but I think that's
where the_ PEACE _comes in. If I'd married poor Jim--though I know he'd
have been the most adoring husband--I don't believe the privilege of
being 'the beautiful Lady Loring' (if anybody had troubled to call me
that!) would have compensated all the ceremony and fuss. I never felt a
thousandth part of the love for Jim that I feel for David. I suppose
that's the difference. All I ask now is to have David's love for ever
and to give him every ounce of mine and to make our lives one. It's a
silly thing to say, but, before I married, I never imagined how
extraordinarily two lives DO become one. We each of us know what the
other's thinking of; we carry on conversations where we only seem to_
SPEAK _one sentence in three--everything else is understood. My dear, we
are so happy! You know how I love you, Babs; I only hope that you'll be
as happy as I am._"

For all its irritating italics and ill-defined emotion, the letter
unsettled Barbara. She, too, would like to have children--"lots and lots
of them"; the papers pretended that this was an age-old world-instinct
and that Woman--in the abstract--was being impelled by an abstract
Nature to repair the life-wastage of the war; hence they deduced the
absurd scandal of the "war-babies," thus they explained the abundant
crop of "war weddings." Barbara's intelligence rebelled against
world-instincts as much as against abstract Woman and abstract Nature.
She wanted children because she wanted something of her own to love, and
her untapped reservoir of devotion had overflowed when she was nursing
the boys who pretended that nothing was the matter, when she could see
their eyelids flickering with pain. She yearned to lay their heads on
her breast and tell them to cry because it would do them good and
because she wanted to comfort them.

And she did not see why Sonia should have so much happiness.... "_We
were married.... We've been so frightfully busy.... We shall lead a very
quiet, humdrum life and we shall be frightfully poor.... We each of us
know what the other's thinking of...._" Barbara writhed at the
possessive, participating plural. She was ready to be poor and to live a
quiet humdrum life, if she could share it; she appreciated the _peace_
of marriage, so often underlined by Sonia, because it was what she
hungered to feel. Eight months had passed since Jack went abroad, twelve
since they parted. When she heard that he had been home on leave without
communicating with her, she felt sure that he would never communicate
with her; but, when the war ended, she must tender her promise again. In
the meantime she might fall in love with some one else....

The memory of Jack in the banqueting-hall at Chepstow was replaced by a
picture in which he stood, silent and forbidding, between her and some
one whom she strove passionately to reach. The image haunted her until
she jettisoned her last fragments of pride and wrote to him again.

"_I sent you a letter nearly a year ago and I have never had an
answer_," she began. "_I don't think you can have read it, because it
would be such a horribly cruel way of punishing me, if you read it and
paid no attention. I don't think I asked for mercy or forgiveness,
because I didn't deserve either; but, though I behaved unforgivably, I_
DIDN'T _appreciate until it was too late quite what I was doing and
quite how much you loved me. I don't want you to think I'm_ EXCUSING
_myself; I want you to understand that perhaps I do appreciate rather
better now and that I'm ready, as I was then, to do anything in the
world that you ask. I've taken a solemn oath. You may accept it
generously or refuse it generously; or, if you like, you can just
humiliate me--you know I'm vain and you know that's where you can punish
me best. Don't play with me! Sometimes I think I'm going out of my mind.
I want you to be just and, if you can, to be generous; it will be
generosity, if you are able to say that you forgive me, and it will be
justice, if you remember that I apologize and ask to be forgiven and
offer to do anything that you want--and that there's nothing more I_ CAN
_do. I don't_ DESERVE _consideration, but I need it_."

Barbara knew that she was too uncertain of herself to trust her own
judgement, and the letter was put aside until her mood of abject
humility had passed. When she read it again, the terms of her own
abasement set her cheeks flaming, but there was no other way of winning
peace. She allowed five days for the letter to reach him and another
five days for a reply. For the first two nights she never slept; on the
third day Dr. Gaisford was summoned, and that afternoon she was
despatched to the sea for another three weeks' rest. While there, the
tenth day came and went without any reply. Barbara added an eleventh,
because letters lost a day in forwarding. It was no less barren than its
predecessors, but news came in an unexpected form on the twelfth.

"_George has been dining_," wrote Lady Crawleigh, "_and I'm sorry to
say that he was once again the bearer of bad nexus. Poor Jack Waring is
the latest. He is reported missing. George had it from the family,
though it hasn't appeared in the papers as yet, and he told us in case
we wanted to send a line of sympathy. I don't know Mrs. Waring, of
course, but I felt I had to tell how sorry we all were. She replied at
once with what I thought was a very brave letter. It's a great shock,
but she's quite convinced that he's all right. Well, I'm afraid that,
after our dear Jim's death, I don't put any faith in these 'missing'
cases...._"

Before she got to the end of her mother's letter, Barbara knew that her
first and strongest feeling was relief, though she dared not put it into
words. She wondered for the thousandth time why she had allowed Jack to
gain so strong an influence over her, then ceased wondering for fear of
persuading herself that perhaps, after all, she had loved him.... And,
if there _were_ immortal souls, if a man died with a lie to God still
unexpiated....

On her return to London she sought details from Oakleigh, but he could
only tell her that the company had been almost entirely wiped out. Two
subalterns were reported to be prisoners; but the Warings had received
no news of Jack, nor did the subalterns mention him.

"I'm afraid he's gone, too," George sighed. Then he took her hand and
pressed it gently. "I can't say anything that will do any good----"

"When will they know for certain?" Barbara interrupted. She was shocked
to find him treating this as her exclusive, personal loss.

"Well, you never know for certain until some one reports that he's
actually seen him dead. That, of course, was what happened with Jim.
Until then, I suppose, one _is_ justified in hoping...."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE ANSWER OF THE ORACLE

     "Why, which of those who say they disbelieve,
     Your clever people, but has dreamed his dream,
     Caught his coincidence, stumbled on his fact
     He can't explain, (he'll tell you smilingly)
     Which he's too much of a philosopher
     To count as supernatural, indeed,
     So calls a puzzle and problem, proud of it
     Bidding you still be on your guard, you know,
     Because one fact don't make a system stand,
     Nor prove this an occasional escape
     Of spirit beneath the matter: that's the way!
     Just so wild Indians picked up, piece by piece,
     The fact in California, the fine gold
     That underlay the gravel--hoarded these,
     But never made a system stand, nor dug!
     So wise men hold out in each hollowed palm
     A handful of experience, sparkling fact
     They can't explain; and since their rest of life
     Is all explainable, what proof in this?"

     ROBERT BROWNING: 'MR. SLUDGE, "THE MEDIUM."'


It was not until his name appeared in the Roll of Honour as "missing"
that Barbara appreciated how eagerly discussed she and Jack had been.
The discreet sympathy of her relations would have been bewildering if
Lady Knightrider had not explained it.

"I hurried round the moment I had the news! My darling child, you've got
to be very brave!" she faltered. "I know what you and Jack were to each
other."

"Aunt Kathleen, I don't think I can talk about this," Barbara
interrupted quietly.

"No...? It sometimes helps. I was always very fond of dear Jack, and
you _know_ how I love you! But I only came to tell you that you mustn't
give up hope----"

"Thank you, dear!"

Barbara realized suddenly that she was being forced into an assumed
intimacy which would have been comic at any other time. It was
impossible, however, to begin explaining to Lady Knightrider.

"Did you see him when he was home on leave?" her aunt continued with the
persistency of one who, having come to harrow and to be harrowed, did
not propose to be baulked.

"I've not seen him since that time a year ago."

"Ah, no! You've both been so busy. His poor parents----"

"They're the people to be sorry for," said Barbara.

"Darling, you're quite wonderful!"

Barbara had used the words to deflect the conversation from herself, but
her aunt gave her credit for such stoicism that she took a step towards
the door for fear that in another moment she would break into a scream.
Lady Knightrider followed her, and in the hall they met George Oakleigh,
embarrassed and trying to carry off his embarrassment with an air of
earnest bustle.

"I'm absolutely at a loose end to-night, Barbara," he began. "I believe
somebody must have made peace or something; the Admiralty's not been as
slack as this since the first day of the war. I wondered whether you'd
care to come and have dinner somewhere."

"It's sweet of you, George, but I've promised to dine with Aunt Eleanor
and Amy. Is to-morrow any good to you?"

"I believe I'm dining out, but I can scratch that. Yes, to-morrow. I'll
come and pick you up about eight. Now I must simply fly!"

"Back to work? I thought things were so slack?"

"M'yes, I said that, didn't I?"

"And it served its purpose. They'll be slack whenever I say that I want
you; and you'll sit up half the night afterwards. Thank you, George. But
I wish you didn't make me feel so horribly unworthy of your sweetness."

He turned away and fidgetted with the badge of his cap.

"'Sweetness' be blowed! This war's such a ghastly business.... Sometimes
one wants a little companionship. I'm glad you can come to-morrow. Keep
a brave heart, Barbara."

It seemed sacrilegious to accept so much sympathy, and, as he hurried
into Berkeley Street, she was tempted to run after him and explain. Once
she read of some one who murdered a man and went to the widowed mother
to confess his crime; his delicacy in telling her of the death caused
him to be regarded as her son's dearest friend, and, when the murder
went undiscovered, the murderer accepted the situation and attended the
funeral as chief mourner, with the widowed mother leaning on his arm....
If Lady Knightrider and George fancied that she had loved Jack, she must
accept the situation; it might be sacrilegious, but, on the other hand,
if any one said "Did you love Jack Waring?" she could not honestly give
a categorical "No."...

And there would be more sympathy--and sacrilege--at dinner. Barbara knew
that she had only been invited that Lady Loring and Amy might try to
comfort her. Neither referred to Jack by name; but they were more gently
affectionate than usual, and she was left to discuss him or not, as she
liked. Lady Loring told of the steps which she had taken and the offices
which she had approached to gain tidings of her son. George had set
enquiries on foot through the Spanish and American Embassies, the
Vatican and The Hague; but they were barely instituted, when the War
Office received indisputable evidence of death.

"Connie Maitland was very anxious for me to go to a clairvoyant," Amy
put in. "She says Mrs. Savage in Knightsbridge is wonderful. When her
boy was wounded--before she heard about it--she had a sort of
presentiment that something was wrong, so she went there, and Mrs.
Savage told her that he was wounded but that it wasn't serious. I
believe she actually said that he was wounded in the head, but Connie
may have added that."

"Did you try her?" asked Barbara.

"No." Amy hesitated and looked uncomfortable. "I'm always afraid.... I
believe, if we were _meant_ to have that kind of knowledge it would come
to us in some other way.... And, if anything terrible's going to happen
to me, I'd sooner not hear about it beforehand."

Barbara whispered the name to herself and determined, if need be, to
find out more about the woman. Since her tragic _séance_ in Webster's
flat, she had decided to play with fire no more; but she could never
forget the sight of Jack Summertown, staring a little glassily but
speaking with his natural voice and talking so freely of an imminent war
and of his own approaching death that none dared tell him what he had
said. It might be coincidence that his name had appeared in the first
casualty list; but more than coincidence was needed to explain why he
should have talked at all of a future war.

"But uncertainty's the most terrible thing of all," Barbara murmured.

"It _has_ to be borne," said Lady Loring gently, after a pause. "And
sometimes for a long time."

Barbara nodded. It was useless to tell them that she had already waited
a year to find out whether Jack wanted to marry her.

The next night she dined with George Oakleigh, who told her that he had
taken tickets for Eric Lane's play.

"Oh, George, I don't know that I _want_ to go to a theatre," she said
doubtfully. "I've not been for so long----"

"Isn't that all the more reason? You're the best unpaid dramatic critic
in London; and I want to know what you think of it. Eric's a great
friend of mine. I particularly want you to meet him.... Don't come, if
you'd rather not. But I've got a box, and, if the play bores you more
than my conversation, we can talk in peace."

They compromised by arriving late, but Barbara was not in the mood to
enjoy herself. It was a well-constructed play with dialogue of
distinction and a good sense of the theatre; the characterization, she
complained, was insufferably romantic.

"I congratulate your friend on a great commercial success," she said,
"but I don't want to meet him. Listen to the applause! Every single
character is so unmistakably labelled that the audience greets them like
old friends. The theatre's so conventional that, if you tried to shew
men and women who were higher _and_ lower than stage standards, the
critics would say that your characters were freaks. On the stage a woman
may be jealous or high-minded or a mixture or a saint or a
thorough-going, melodramatic villainess, but she's always a child, a
kitten. Men idealize us so hopelessly! We're dear little fluffy, rather
silly things, with silly little mental kinks of vanity or motherliness;
no man understands how mean a woman can be, the lies she'll tell and the
crimes she'll commit from motives which she'd be afraid to confess. Your
friend Mr. Lane has never met a woman."

"You're hard on your sex," George commented.

Barbara shook her head sadly.

"I've seen it--without its rouge and powder. Look here, Sonia's a friend
of yours and of mine; we both know how she behaved to Jim, but you'd
never dare put her into a play, because the audience won't accept
anything that offends against its standard of human dignity, it won't
accept realism which makes people unconventionally mean, it won't
believe that any one who's pretty enough to attract can have a really
deceitful, petty spirit. Sonia was getting rather a bad name before the
war, but she marries a man who's lost his sight, and every one says that
the other part was just froth and that this is the true, noble
Sonia--just as nine women out of ten become true and noble at the final
curtain. Sonia married that man for effect!"

"I don't think you can have seen them together," George suggested.

"If it pays, a woman can always make herself think she's in love with a
man--for a time. I daresay she thought she was in love with Jim; it
would have been a sensational marriage, and she'd just made a fool of
herself with that other man, the barrister. This, in another way, is a
sensational marriage, and she feels she's justified herself. It's no
good shaking your head, George; you don't know what romances a girl
makes up for herself. _I_ should do it. As long as women are exposed for
sale in a shop-window, they'll do anything to keep up their price. They
think it's self-respect; and you men admire them for their pride."

George drew her hand through his arm and walked to Berkeley Square
without speaking. From her unwonted bitterness he guessed that she was
trying to harden herself in advance for the news of Jack's death; every
one had to choose his own form of consolation.

"When will you dine with me again?" she asked, as they reached her
house.

"I'm going to the Abbey for the week-end. Any time after that."

"Then what about Monday? I'll pick you up at the same time."

When the day came round, Lady Crawleigh telephoned to say that the
dinner must be postponed, as Barbara was ill in bed. She had fainted in
the train and would have to take a complete rest; no plans had yet been
made, no details or explanation were vouchsafed. Indeed, Barbara would
only say that she had found herself stretched on the seat of the railway
carriage, while a strange man forced brandy between her lips.

Any fuller report would have increased the already excessive alarm. The
bare facts were that Barbara had entered the train at Crawleigh and
remembered nothing until she recovered consciousness a few miles from
Farnborough. A young man, who explained that he had got in at
Winchester, had picked her up from the floor and taken charge of her
until her maid appeared at Waterloo.

When she had been put to bed, Barbara began to recall and reconstruct
forgotten incidents. She had felt giddy and had tried to open the
window.... At Waterloo the young man had insisted on carrying her, and
she had protested that she was too heavy. "I'll take great care of
you."... "You are very good to me."... Scraps of their conversation
floated through her head, and she remembered that he had a caressing
voice which soothed her; they had talked, but she was three parts
asleep. Half-way along the platform, he put her to rest on a seat. "I'm
supposed to have an overstrained heart," he told her, "so I don't like
to take liberties with it." Barbara tried to see his face; but he was
bending over her, and the light was behind him. And then he had
disappeared before she could thank him. "I do hope you'll be all right.
I've given your maid my flask in case you want any more brandy.
Good-bye." Barbara remembered making a great effort to rouse herself and
look at him; but he had dived into the crowd without even telling her
his name. The flask was engraved with a monogram which seemed to be E.
L.; that and his voice were her only clues.

In her oversensitive condition, the voice was haunting. When she fell
asleep, Barbara heard it again; and in the morning she gave orders that,
if he called for the flask, he was to be asked his name and address.
Then she tried to remember whether she had told him anything which would
enable him to identify her; there was a label on her dressing-case, but
he might not have seen it; as soon as her maid and car appeared, he had
no need to ask where she lived. Barbara felt a pang of disappointment at
the thought that she might not meet him again. Two days passed, and no
one enquired for the flask; she decided to wait until she was allowed
out of bed and then to advertise in the _Times_. "E. L. Will the
gentleman who rendered assistance to a lady who was taken ill on the
3.40 p. m. between Winchester and Waterloo communicate...."

She was drafting the advertisement when her mother came into the room.

"My darling, you oughtn't to be writing," protested Lady Crawleigh. "Let
me do it for you, if it's important."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," Barbara answered.

She tore up the paper and lay back in bed. There was nothing to conceal,
but she did not want to talk about her nameless and mysterious rescuer.
Every one would laugh at her, if she said that she had fallen in love
with a voice; and, if she chose to weave a romance for herself, it
passed the time and was no one else's business. When the advertisement
appeared, "E. L." would write to a numbered box at the _Times_ office;
she would ask him to call so that she could thank him in person. And a
charming friendship might result. No one could have carried her more
tenderly or behaved more delightfully.... And, as long as she amused
herself with speculating about him, she could avoid thinking of other
things.

"George has brought you some flowers. He wants to know if you feel up to
seeing him," said Lady Crawleigh.

"Oh, George! Yes!"

He was almost the only one of her friends whom she was willing to meet
in her present mood, though his arrival interrupted the romance which
she was constructing. He was also the only one of her friends who knew
or had troubled to find out that she was ill. Apparently he was fond of
her.... And she was quite ready to be fond of him.

"I hope you're better," he began. "I mustn't stay more than a moment,
but I saw some roses in a shop and I thought they were as good an excuse
as any other."

"You felt you needed an excuse?"

"I wanted very much to see you; and I hoped these might mollify your
mother. Babs, I thought you might like to know that I met Colonel Waring
to-day and we're having some enquiries made through the American
Embassy. Jack was such a friend of us all...." he added vaguely.

"Oh, I do hope that they'll be able to hear something."

"Yes." George looked round the room and held out his hand. "I promised
your mother I wouldn't do more than put my nose in at the door."

"But I _want_ you to stay!"

"And, dearest Babs, you know that's what I want to do more than anything
in the world. But I mustn't tire you, and you mustn't tempt me." He
lifted her hands from the sheets and bent quickly to kiss them. "You
poor child!"

Barbara felt that this time she must explain, if she was not to be
maddened with sympathy.

"You mustn't pity me, George," she began.

"I pity any one who's in suspense.... The colonel's absolutely convinced
that Jack's all right. Good-bye, Babs."

As he turned abruptly and hurried out of the room, Barbara covered her
eyes. George was not only fond of her, he was in love with her; and he
had come on purpose to encourage her, against his own interests, with
hopes of Jack's safety. There was a dramatic irony in his coming; there
would be a further dramatic irony, if she fell in love with him for his
sympathy about Jack and then heard that Jack was safe and sound. Or,
indeed, if she fell in love with any one else. Because she was
overwrought and full of fancies, the shadow of the man in the train was
more real than George's substance; the one voice she could remember and
reproduce, but George's might have belonged to anybody.... This was her
old fear of the punishment which Providence had in store for her, the
image of herself passionately reaching out towards some one and finding
her way barred by Jack's inexorable ghost.

Suspense. "I pity any one who's in suspense."... It was the uncertainty
of the last year which had worn down her strength. And Lady Loring told
her to be patient.... Barbara's mind went back to her dinner of a week
before and to Amy's chance reference to a new clairvoyant. Mrs. Savage
of Knightsbridge.... No other address had been given, but she could find
that from Sonia. All her life Barbara had treated impulse as a thing to
be welcomed, a hint from destiny, a voice from the darkness. When she
awoke next morning, it was to wonder why she had waited so long. On the
first day that she was allowed out of the house she went by herself to
Knightsbridge and asked, without giving her name, for an interview.

At another time the setting and her own preparations would have amused
her. By putting on her most inconspicuous dress and hat, by veiling
herself and by sinking her voice to a whisper, she trusted to escape
recognition; unconsciously she also induced in her own mind a mysterious
expectancy, which was intensified by the atmosphere of the room into
which she was shewn. There were no windows, and it was lighted from the
ceiling; three low couches ran round the walls, which were covered with
yellow silk hangings; occasionally the hangings moved weirdly, as though
some one were peeping behind them. Though there were three women already
waiting, they were as silent as if, they were watching by the dead; and
it had been ingeniously arranged that, while they waited, there should
be nothing to distract their attention from the coming invocation of the
unknown. They, too, were dressed inconspicuously; they, too, wore thick
veils; and the suggestion of stealth and mystery, which they had
received from the room and from those whom they had found there, they
handed on to the newcomer.

Barbara's nerves were still unstrung, and she had less control of
herself than in the old days when she went to the Baroness Kohnstadt's
_séances_; then she had gone to be thrilled, but now she was tempted to
tell the maid that she could not wait and would come back some other
time. But, if she ran away, the other women would guess the reason, and
she could never allow another woman to know that she was frightened....

They were staring at her from behind their veils, and she stared coolly
back at them until the maid returned and whispered to one that Mrs.
Savage could now see her. The hangings moved again; it might have been
the draught from the open door, or Mrs. Savage might be having a
preliminary look at her clients; certainly it was disquieting, for no
one liked to be watched without seeing the watcher.... When next the
maid came in, Barbara looked at the clock and noted that interviews
lasted for half an hour. She wondered what method the clairvoyant
followed--and became suddenly sceptical and disgusted with the whole
enterprise. She had done it so often before! Her hand had been read, her
character told from her writing; one woman had taken her handkerchief
and pressed it to her forehead, another had stared raptly into the
time-honoured crystal ball; she had tried _planchette_ and rappings; and
from it all she had won nothing but an afternoon's excitement....

It was five o'clock; the last of the women had gone, and Barbara was
alone. She pretended to examine the embroidery of the silk hangings and
contrived to look behind them, but there was nothing more alarming than
an expanse of discoloured plaster. Nerves, again.... But the silence and
the waiting were hard to bear; the room was hot, Barbara wanted tea, and
one of the women had been using a cheap, disagreeable scent which
lingered intolerably. Nothing but a refusal to yield to her fear kept
her from running away. She was trying to determine what questions she
would ask the clairvoyant, when the maid returned.

"Mrs. Savage says she can see your ladyship now."

Barbara started and nearly cried out; but the maid was watching her, and
she passed through the door with elaborate outward unconcern. The
second room was similar to the first, for, though there was a window, it
was thickly curtained, and the only light came from a standard lamp in
one corner. For a moment Barbara could see no one; then Mrs. Savage came
forward in a yellow dress which was invisible against the silk hangings.
She wore a low yellow turban, covering her hair and half her forehead,
and stood with her back to the light.

"Good afternoon, Lady Barbara," she said. "Won't you take off your
veil?"

The voice was unfamiliar, but after a moment Mrs. Savage lighted a
cigarette and shewed cavernous dark eyes and an aquiline nose set in a
curiously narrow face which looked as if the cheek-bones had been
crushed together.

"Madame Hilary!"

"Won't you have a cigarette?"

She held out a case, and Barbara took one to gain time. So much had
happened since the meeting in Webster's room that it no longer troubled
her. The woman was certainly a blackmailer, as she had almost proved
when she went to Lord Crawleigh and asked for "temporary assistance."
There would, of course, be a terrible scene, if it were ever discovered
that Barbara had been to her again, and Mrs. Savage would quite possibly
threaten blackmail, if she saw her course clear. On the other hand, now
as before, the relative positions were equally strong and equally weak;
if she even hinted at a threat, she could be reported to the police....
After the two hours of dreary waiting, Barbara felt stimulated by the
prospect of an encounter.

"I never imagined it was you," she said.

"What may I have the honour of doing for you?" asked Mrs. Savage.

Barbara thought for a moment of saying vaguely that she had made a
mistake and of escaping as soon as possible. But after the strain of
waiting she now felt deliciously free from fear. And "Mrs. Savage" or
"Madame Hilary" was not as other clairvoyants; the incident of Jack
Summertown proved that; and the opportunity of consulting her was too
good to be thrown away. Barbara felt that she was not entitled to throw
it away; had she not almost been guided there? Was it coincidence that
Amy Loring, of all unlikely people, should have given her the name at
all? Was it coincidence that, when there were scores of women plying the
same trade, she should come straight and without choice or deliberation
to this one?...

"I'd heard about you," Barbara explained. "I didn't know who it was, of
course, but I wanted to consult you."

She hesitated and tried to determine what she wanted.

"Yes?"

"I didn't know who it was," Barbara repeated. "But I'm glad to find it
_is_ you. Do you remember the man in Mr. Webster's flat?"

"Lord Summertown?"

"Yes. Do you remember what you told him?"

"I told him nothing. It was what _he_ said."

"Well, yes. He said that he was going to die quite soon, that he was
going to be killed in a war. Well, that was months before there was any
talk of war. Do you know what's happened to him?"

Mrs. Savage shrugged her shoulders a little impatiently, as though such
questions were a waste of time.

"He was killed in the war," she said.

She spoke as if she took credit for it, and Barbara shivered.

"Yes.... I saw him just before he went back to barracks. I never saw him
again, but I _felt_ then that he was going to be killed. How did you
know?"

"He told me, as you heard."

"Yes, but...."

Barbara frowned and sat down, rubbing her forehead gently with her hand.

"_I_ tell nothing, but I persuade people to tell me," explained Mrs.
Savage with unconcealed boredom. As she dropped back into the part of
"Madame Hilary," "Mrs. Savage" was reviving her old staccato English and
giving it a hint of a foreign accent. "People come to me to find out
whether their sons and husbands are going to be killed. _I_ do not know.
And I tell them so. Then sometimes they allow me to persuade _them_ to
tell _me_. And, in my turn, I can tell them what they have said. But,
generally, no! They are afraid of hearing the truth. When their sons and
husbands have been killed, when nothing has been heard of them since
long, _then_ they come, because they feel that the truth is less hard
than the waiting. You have a brother?"

"They're still waiting to go out," answered Barbara.

"And you want to know? I can only tell you, if you tell me first; and
you can only tell me, if you know. The lines of life are interlocked. If
their lines cross yours, then you know; but, if they are separated....
You understand? It is not likely that you know anything of a man at the
other end of the world, whom you have never met, unless it has been
ordained that you are to meet him. That is reasonable."

She lighted another cigarette and sat down, looking at Barbara with no
apparent interest.

"You want to find out about some one whose life has crossed yours?" she
resumed carelessly, and her indifference was more disconcerting than
either her stereotyped mysticism or the hostility which she had shewn
when Barbara came into the room.

"I want to find out _generally_," answered Barbara. "All about myself.
What I've done and what I'm doing now doesn't matter, but I want to know
about the future."

Mrs. Savage laughed and shook her head.

"I know your name," she said. "I know who you are, but I know very
little about you. I imagine that your life has been very happy, you have
had everything to make it happy. Perhaps it will not always be happy.
If you learned that you were going to be very ill or die----"

"I've got to die some time. When I'm seventy-five, I shall know that I'm
going to die very soon, because hardly any one lives longer than that.
I'm twenty-two now, and I don't in the least mind knowing that I _can't_
live for more than about another fifty years."

"But, if it were five years? I do not know, of course."

"I'd sooner face it, I think."

Mrs. Savage threw away her cigarette impatiently.

"You're a child! And a silly child! Your friend, Lord Summertown--well,
I suppose none of you told him what he had said. And I suppose he
enjoyed his life to the end. The _whole_ future! Would you like to know
that you will marry in a year and be happy and lose your husband after
three months and lose your child and marry again--perhaps, this time,
some one who will not make you happy? And that then you will have an
illness or this or that?... I am talking for your good, because you are
nothing but a silly child. I _tell_ you that people will not be
persuaded to say to me all they know; they dare not face it. Their
present and future happiness----"

"I'm not so very happy," sighed Barbara.

"You are a child. And your friends are being killed, perhaps some one
whom you love----"

"I want to _know_," Barbara interrupted. "Everything's in such a muddle,
I want to know what's going to happen...." She paused, but Mrs. Savage
only shook her head. "Should I know what I was telling you? No! Lord
Summertown didn't. Well, you need only tell me back the things that
matter. If you ask me questions and I answer them.... Perhaps I _don't_
want to know if I'm going to die within a year, but there are all sorts
of things that I could quite well be told.... Will you do that? Just the
things that matter?"

"But I do not know what matters to you. Do you mean, whether
your--friends will come through the war without injury?"

"Ye-es. That sort of thing. I want to know if I'm going to be _happy_.
Generally."

"And you believe that I can help you?" Mrs. Savage's voice was changing
its quality to a sleepy drone, and Barbara found herself looking into
her eyes. "Only you can tell me what you think will _make_ you happy. I
know nothing about you except what you tell me. Perhaps you are in love
with some man, perhaps you think that he is in danger.... If you will
tell me...."

Barbara never knew at what point she began to come under the influence
of Mrs. Savage's eyes and voice. At one moment she was begging her to
use her powers, at another she was talking very volubly; it was like a
dream in which she fancied herself making a speech; words were pouring
out of her, and she was astonished to find that they made the nonsense
of words in a dream. "The distinction between the articles in
counterpoint, if you think of heliotrope quite accidentally
included...."

"What have I been saying?" she demanded.

Mrs. Savage leaned back wearily and closed her eyes.

"It is like that, when you return to yourself, to the present.... Lord
Summertown was disturbed by that poor girl who cried out."

"But I didn't know.... Did I go off? How long...?" She looked at her
watch and found that she had been in the room for three-quarters of an
hour. "What did I say?"

"You were a good subject."

"But what did I say?" Barbara repeated. It was the sight of her watch
that upset her. In forty-five minutes it was possible to say so much,
and she remembered Jack Summertown's almost indecent want of restraint.

"What shall I tell you," mused Mrs. Savage. "You said much, but you
described an empty life. Few lines crossed yours; there may be more to
come.... But you did not tell me of any loss. Were you afraid of losing
some one?"

"No.... I wanted to know, I wanted to--to straighten things out. But I
want to know everything I said. You _must_ tell me that."

"You child!"

Barbara sprang up in a grip of terror.

"I've said something awful? You're hiding something from me! It's not
fair!"

Mrs. Savage shook her head slowly. She seemed perplexed, and her early
hostility had evaporated until she was almost kindly.

"You wanted to know whether you would be happy," she reminded Barbara.
"You tell me that you are not going to die this year or next; and you
are not going to have any painful or dangerous illnesses. Happy?...
There are ups and downs of happiness, you cannot expect to be happy
always at the same level. If you have been happy so far, you will be
happy again; there will, of course, be ups and downs. What else?"

"I want you to tell me everything I said."

"That I shall not do."

"But why not?"

Mrs. Savage shrugged her shoulders.

"It would not make you any happier. If there is any one thing you want
to know...."

Barbara looked at her and looked away. She felt her nerve going.

"What is your fee?" she asked.

Mrs. Savage was still perplexed in expression, but her eyes had lost
their momentary softening of kindliness.

"I shall charge _you_--no fee," she answered.

Barbara turned and ran out of the room.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN

PRELUDE TO ROMANCE

     "I loved you all my life; but some lives never meet
     Though they go wandering side by side through Time."

     JOHN MASEFIELD: "THE DAFFODIL FIELDS."


"_Fatalism is a doctrine which does not recognise the determination of
all events by causes in the ordinary sense; holding, on the contrary,
that a certain foreordained result will come about, no matter what may
be done to prevent it...._"

Barbara's first action on reaching home was to go into the library and
consult a dictionary to find out the exact meaning of a word which she
had been repeating to herself ever since she hurried out of Mrs.
Savage's rooms. She had many new ideas to fit into place, but dominating
them all was this sense of hopelessness and inevitability. Whether you
walked on the north pavement or the south was preordained; if you
asserted your supposed free will and crossed from south to north, even
that pitiful show of independence was preordained; God was still pushing
you from behind and, probably, laughing at you--as you laughed at the
kitten which stared at you with head on one side and wondering eyes, to
know what you had done with its reel of cotton. It was preordained that
you should play with that kitten for a moment in eternity and that for a
fraction of a moment you should hide the reel. Fatalism was paralyzing
to the soul, destroying all effort. Nothing mattered any longer....

It was Summertown who had made her a fatalist. His life had been mapped
out until all initiative was taken away. He had died very gallantly--but
he could not help himself; he had lived rather dissolutely, but he could
not help himself. There had been a tragedy and a disappointment in his
life; but the tragedy was set beforehand, and Destiny decided whether he
was to be made or broken by it, whether he was to avert or contribute to
it. Fatalism was the negation of morality. It allowed of neither right
nor wrong, only necessity.

If there were neither right nor wrong, Barbara had no cause for
self-reproach. Destiny had arranged that Jack should come into her life;
that he should anger her and that she should try to punish him; in
obeying Destiny she was not to blame. But, if fatalism relieved her of
responsibility, it also robbed her of resistance; she could do nothing
to shield herself from anything that Destiny might have in store for
her. Nothing had shielded Summertown when he came within range of the
first German bullet....

And the course of Destiny could be laid bare. Though for long she had
not believed it, she and the others had known what would happen to
Summertown, as Mrs. Savage now knew what would happen to her.... And she
had been afraid to insist on being told. All her life she had fancied
that she was a free spirit with head and hands to make herself what she
pleased. Now she was content to be told that, on the whole, she was
preordained to be happy.... Or so Mrs. Savage had thought fit to say;
she might be hiding something; there was no obvious reason why she
refused her fee.

"My darling, haven't you gone up to dress yet?" said Lady Crawleigh at
the door of the library. "You'll be so dreadfully late!"

Barbara knew that whether she was late or punctual had been preordained.
Her mother probably would not believe that; she would feel that every
one had enough free will not to keep other people waiting for dinner.

"I think I should like to dine in bed," she answered wearily.

"Aren't you feeling well?"

"I'm not equal to meeting a lot of people."

"But it's only George and the O'Ranes and one or two more. They'll be so
disappointed. And it's the first time Sonia's dined here since she was
married."

Barbara got up and walked reluctantly to the door. It was preordained,
then, that she should dine.... Once you accepted predestination, there
was no limit to its application. Her maid wanted her to wear a grey
dress, but she preferred something else, anything else; her choice fell
on a blue, but she was conscious that she was compelled from outside to
choose one rather than the other. She could not be troubled to decide
what jewellery she would wear; Destiny must do a little work, must
choose for her. She felt that she was scoring a point against Destiny,
when she refused to wear any; but Destiny had decided beforehand that
she was to have this moment's struggle before deciding not to wear
any....

Her maid was almost in tears at such indifference.

"You don't do me credit, my lady, to-night," she complained.

"Don't I? I'm sorry, Merton! But I'm tired, I can't take the trouble."

"Your hair, my lady----"

"I think I shall cut it off! It's only a bother."

"My lady, your beautiful hair?"

"No, I shan't cut it off. It's too much trouble. Everything's too much
trouble."

She hardly looked at herself in the glass before going downstairs,
though she knew that Sonia O'Rane would have spent hours in preparing
herself. But it was preordained whether she looked well ... or wanted to
look well.

Throughout dinner her mind struggled under the incubus. Predestination
peeped round every conversational corner, explaining and stultifying
everything. When O'Rane spoke sympathetically of Jim Loring's death, she
answered almost callously that it must have been preordained. Since
leaving Mrs. Savage, she had tried vainly to discover some point in
which she was superior to an animal that was born at the stockman's
bidding, to be killed for lamb or shorn for wool or kept to bear other
sheep at the stockman's bidding and ultimately killed for mutton.

"You see, I believe in Destiny," Barbara explained. "Destiny meant you
to be wounded and Jim to be killed and some one else to be untouched. If
Destiny didn't mean me to be burned, I could put my finger in the flame
of that candle. Everything we do----"

O'Rane shook his head and laughed.

"You don't believe that, Lady Barbara. You don't believe that you've no
choice whether you're good or bad, kind or unkind--that you're
helpless."

"I am waiting for you to find fault with my logic," she answered.

"I won't try. I wish I could see you, though! You sound serious, but in
the old days, when I looked at you, there was a sort of etherealized
smile----"

"Ah, don't!" Barbara shivered.

"----It gave you away.... I'm sorry! I'm getting so used to being blind
that I forget other people's feelings.... Your voice is quite serious,
and I'm getting wonderful at voices. Shall I tell you something about
yours? A change I've noticed?" He waited to assure himself that they
were not overheard. "Lady Barbara, are you very unhappy about something?
It's not curiosity; I want to help, if I can. When you're blind, you
become a bit of an impressionist. If any one asked me to describe you,
I'm glad to say that I can still remember exactly what you used to look
like, but, when I describe you to myself, I get a massing of colours, a
glorious freedom of line that no one else might recognize for you. Your
voice would make me crowd my canvas with red, blood red. Pain is always
red to me. And you give me the impression of horrible pain. More than
that, I'm afraid you've giving in to it. I don't ask for your
confidence, but, if I'm right, I should like to help."

Barbara was too much startled to do more than thank him and say that she
was not very well.

"Ah, that was a pity!" he sighed.

"But I can't help it, can I?"

"It was a pity to say that. You've covered my picture with a thin
grey-yellow wash--Thames water--which dulls my colours."

"Do you mean that I'm not speaking the truth?" she asked stiffly.

"I had no right to say what I did," he answered apologetically. "But you
sounded so heart-broken."

"Well, in addition to being not very well, I'm _not_ particularly happy.
Life's such a hopeless thing, if you can't control it."

"And _you_ say that, Lady Barbara, with your brains and your looks and
your health and your money----"

"Even if I've got them all, they needn't make me happy.... They _don't_!
Sometimes I feel that, if I could give them all up, if I could make one
gigantic sacrifice, I might be happy.... You're not sorry to have been
fighting, are you? But I wonder what equal sacrifice a woman can make."

"Ah, to die with credit is the easiest thing in the world," O'Rane
answered, as he pushed back his chair.

When she was half-way upstairs, Barbara excused herself and went to her
room. Sonia and her husband were so happy that their happiness hurt
her; she grudged it them. There was no reason under heaven why she
should not be as happy, but Destiny had not yet ordained it. Perhaps
Destiny had decided that she should see it for a moment and then have it
snatched from her. It was a variant of her old fear that she would have
to marry Jack and then fall in love with some one else; then she had
regarded such a fate as her punishment. Destiny, she now felt, did not
concern itself with rewards and punishments; it was altogether too
arbitrary.

She lay on her bed without undressing and thought over the day's
emotions. Of all that she had done she only regretted her momentary
panic when she ran away from Mrs. Savage; and, the more she regretted
it, the more determined she became to go again and to demand full
answers to all her questions. As soon as her mind was made up, she felt
better. People might call her superstitious, gullible or anything else
they pleased, but they should not say that she was a coward. Jumping up
from the bed, she tidied her hair and went down to the drawing-room in
time to find Sonia saying good-bye.

"Oh, don't go yet," said Barbara. "I had such a headache that I had to
lie down, but it's better now. I haven't had a moment with you the whole
evening."

"We've promised to go to a party," Sonia answered. "To-night's the
hundred and fiftieth performance of Eric Lane's play, and he's giving a
supper on the stage. Why don't you come too?"

"I haven't been asked. And I don't know him."

"Oh, that doesn't matter! I don't know him, but David was up at Oxford
with him."

"I think I'll wait until I've met him. You're not going too, George?"

"I'm bound for the same debauch, I'm afraid. Barbara, will you dine
with me some time to meet him? I'll try to fix a night and telephone to
you in the morning."

"I shall love that."

She went to bed, feeling that she would sleep; but her nerves were
unsettled by the memory of her encounter with Mrs. Savage. After trying
to read, she jumped up and began walking about the room. She was never
conscious of having gone outside, but some time later she found herself
in the hall, lying on a table with a rug round her. Lady Crawleigh was
standing over her with a white face and frightened eyes; her maid
hovered in the background, with her hair in curl-papers and a grotesque
mackintosh over her nightgown. Farther away stood an unmistakable
policeman with close-cropped black hair and a line of white at the top
of his forehead. Barbara reflected that she had never before seen a
policeman without his helmet. Then she sat up and stared round her.

"What's happened?"

"My darling child, lie still," Lady Crawleigh implored. "How do you
feel?"

"I'm all right."

"You were walking in your sleep. Oh, Babs, you've given us all such a
fright! D'you know, you'd actually got outside.... Anything might have
happened to you!"

Barbara looked from her mother to the policeman.

"Outside?" she repeated.

"You'd unlocked the door and pushed back both bolts--Aston's quite sure
he bolted top and bottom----"

"And I went out like this?" Barbara interrupted. She pulled up the end
of the rug and found that she was barefooted and in her nightdress. "I
can't remember.... I went to bed; I _do_ remember that it was very hot
and that I walked about the room...."

The policeman coughed and prepared to retire. Lady Crawleigh despatched
the maid for her purse, but Barbara was too much dazed even to thank
him. A dream which had been wonderfully vivid a moment before was fading
from her recollection, driven out scene by scene at the sound of her
mother's frightened voice. She had fancied that she was again sitting
with Mrs. Savage and that the flicker of kindliness which had for a
moment lighted up the gaunt face and smouldering dark eyes was once more
visible. In another moment everything would have been told....

"I suppose I was going for a walk. What's the time?"

"It's one o'clock," answered Lady Crawleigh. "I sat up to finish some
writing.... My darling child, are you sure you're all right now?"

Barbara stood for a moment to test her strength and then walked to the
stairs.

"Yes, thanks. I'll go back to bed now. I'm sorry to have frightened
everybody."

"I'll come with you, Babs. If you want anything in the night----"

"I'm really all right!" Barbara was so much exhausted that this time she
knew she would be able to sleep. She did not know, however, what she
might say in her sleep. "You can lock both doors, mother; and I couldn't
throw myself out of the window, if I tried. I couldn't sleep, if I had
any one in the room; I should feel I was being watched."

"But just for to-night----"

"I shan't go to bed, unless you do what I ask."

Lady Crawleigh knew well when it was useless to argue, and Barbara went
up alone. Mrs. Savage had called her; if the dream had not been so
rudely disturbed, she would have been able to remember the form of the
call as she still remembered its urgency. But that hardly mattered now;
she was only strengthened in her determination to go back to
Knightsbridge in the morning. She fell asleep, happier than she had been
for a year. Lady Crawleigh peeped into the room once or twice during the
night, but Barbara did not stir until the telephone-bell rang by her
bed-side at half-past nine. A strange male voice enquired for her and
seemed more than usually anxious to be certain of her identity.

"We are Furnivall and Morton, solicitors," said the voice. "It is Mr.
Morton speaking. Is that Lady Barbara Neave?"

"Yes."

"You _are_--Lady Barbara Neave? You are acquainted with a client of
ours, Mrs. Savage."

The combination of Mrs. Savage and a slightly hectoring solicitor who
insisted on speaking to her at half-past nine disconcerted Barbara.

"What Mrs. Savage do you mean?" she asked.

"Mrs. Savage of Knightsbridge. You called on her yesterday. I am sorry
to say that there has been a misunderstanding, and our client is in a
position of some difficulty. She gave me your name, and, after thinking
the matter over very carefully, I felt that you were the person who
could be of most service to her. Mrs. Savage assured me that you would
do anything in your power to help her, so I need not apologize for
troubling you at this rather unseasonable hour."

The voice paused, and Barbara found herself trembling. It was not
blackmail to tell her that she would do anything in her power to help
some one but the tone could be so confident as to be menacing. Barbara
had never been brought into contact with solicitors; she knew from books
that it was prudent and legitimate to refer them to one's own
solicitors, but it would argue an uneasy conscience to be so summary
before she had given Mr. Morton time to explain himself.

"What has happened?" she asked.

"Some malicious person has been writing letters to the Home Office,"
explained Mr. Morton, "and the long and the short of it is that it's
necessary for us to produce evidence as to character. If you would be
kind enough----"

"But I don't know her," Barbara protested. "I've only met her twice."

"That does not matter. One of the charges against our client is that she
trades on the credulity of ignorant people who have been made unbalanced
by the war and that, when she has got these same ignorant people into
her grasp, she extorts money from them. You and I know that such a
charge is grotesquely untrue. Our client had devoted her whole life to
the study of what I may conveniently call 'the occult'; she has never
advertised or solicited business--her peculiar powers have made that
unnecessary--and those who have consulted her, so far from being
credulous or ignorant people, are drawn to her by a common interest in a
study which, though still in its infancy, is capable of almost infinite
development." Barbara fancied that Mr. Morton must be reading aloud the
draft of the defence which he had prepared for Mrs. Savage. "We feel
that the Home Office will take a different view of the case, when
confronted with a few of the people whom the anonymous informant is good
enough to call ignorant and credulous. I am therefore collecting a few
statements from some of the very many people who consulted our client. I
shall be glad to know that you will allow me to call on you and suggest
to you the general form in which these statements are being drawn."

Barbara was vaguely relieved to find that Mrs. Savage was once more on
the defensive and that the solicitor with the ominous voice was asking
favours rather than uttering threats. She would have liked to help, if
it had been possible; a year before she would undoubtedly have
responded; but now she dreaded the publicity of a newspaper report, and
there would be a scene with her father to which she felt wholly unequal.
The common sense of the world, too, would only rank her with the
credulous ignorant.

"You can get other people who know her better, surely?" Barbara
suggested.

"I want to get every one I can," answered Mr. Morton. "Your name, if I
may say so, will carry a great deal of weight. We wish to show the Home
Office the _kind_ of people who went to our client."

Barbara was quite convinced by now that she did not want to be known as
"the kind of person" who consulted Mrs. Savage, though in an hour's time
she would have been on her way to Knightsbridge.

"I think I'd sooner be left out of it," she said.

"I'm afraid we can't afford to spare you."

"But you can't _make_ me!"

There was a pause, followed by a warning cough, and Mr. Morton began to
speak more slowly and emphatically.

"If the Home Office authorities are ill-advised enough to recommend a
prosecution, it will be necessary for you to attend. We want to avoid
that, of course; we want to satisfy the authorities--without any
unpleasantness--that they are under a misapprehension. A statement from
you----"

"But would it be published?"

"That we should have to decide later. Our client has also been wantonly
attacked by certain papers, and it is our business to see that she is
cleared of all suspicion."

"I shan't say anything, if it's going to be published in the papers,"
Barbara rejoined obstinately.

Mr. Morton hesitated again and became even more impressive.

"I'm afraid--you'll understand, of course, that this is in no sense a
threat--I'm afraid that you'll regret it later. If we're unable to
settle the matter out of hand, if there's a prosecution----"

"But I've really nothing to do with it! You can't drag me in!" Barbara
cried.

"Have you never heard of a _subpoena_?"

A threat, like any other challenge, roused Barbara to combat, however
ill and reluctant she might be; and, when roused, her first act was to
throw aside prudence like a cloak that was fettering her sword-arm.

"Oh, I know you can make me come, if you want to," she said. "If you and
Mrs. Savage think it's worth while. I've only met her twice--yesterday
and about two years ago. She hasn't forgotten the first meeting. You can
ask her if she thinks it's worth while."

Barbara hung up the receiver and lay back in bed, breathing quickly. Her
mother came in a moment later to enquire how she was and found her with
flushed cheeks and dilated pupils.

"My darling, what's the matter?" she cried.

"Oh, I'm worried! Everything worries me!" answered Barbara with a catch
in her breath. "Oh, that telephone again!"

This time it was George Oakleigh, and his tone of gentle concern worried
her until she wanted to scream and beg to be left alone.

"Good-morning, Barbara. I tried to get through to you before, but your
line was engaged. I hope you're better this morning. Well, I went to
Eric Lane's party last night after leaving you; I've made him promise to
dine with me on Thursday, it's his only free evening for weeks. Is that
any good to you? Even if you don't like his play, I think you'll like
him."

Barbara felt that, if by pressing a button she could compass Lane's
death, she would press it cheerfully and promptly. Then perhaps she
would escape having him thrust down her throat every few hours.

"George, it's sweet of you," she said, straining to speak graciously,
"but I don't know that I shall feel up to it. All my nerves seem to have
gone wrong."

"I'm so sorry; I thought he might amuse you. Would you like to leave it
open? Thursday. He's dining with me in any event. If you ring me up
between now and then.... Take care of yourself, dear Barbara; you're too
precious to lose."

"Oh, I'm not going to die young," she laughed nervously. "The gods don't
love me enough for that."

As she put the telephone away again, Lady Crawleigh came back to the
bed; she had only troubled to gather one thing from the conversation,
and that was the rare admission from Barbara's own lips that she was too
ill to accept an invitation.

"Darling, I thought that after last night it would be a good thing for
you to see Dr. Gaisford," she said. "Perhaps he can give you a
tonic----"

"Oh, I don't want to see a doctor," Barbara interrupted. "My wretched
body's all right. No doctor in the world can do me any good."

"But you're not yourself at all. And you've _never_ walked in your sleep
before. There _must_ be something a little wrong, when you begin doing
that."

Barbara said nothing, because she felt that her nerves were tingling and
that she might break out with something so unnaturally irritable and
rude that Dr. Gaisford would be summoned without the chance of an
appeal. It was absurd to talk about sleep-walking; it was not in sleep
that she had walked down the stairs and through the door-way. A trance
it might fairly be called; but, where memory failed, instinct told her
that she was obeying a call; she had no doubt that, when the policeman
stopped her, she was on her way to Mrs. Savage; and she would there have
heard something--perhaps everything....

"I was only restless," said Barbara at length, pulling the bed-clothes
about with an impatient hand.

"You're not _thinking_ of getting up, are you?"

Since she could not go back to Knightsbridge, Barbara was undecided
what to do. At least she had to remain within reach of the telephone,
for Mr. Morton might reopen communication at any moment; and she had to
remain at home to secure that, if Mrs. Savage made a personal appeal, it
should not be intercepted this time by Lord Crawleigh. Bed was as good a
place as any other....

Mr. Morton left her undisturbed, but two days later she heard the last
of Mrs. Savage. At some period of her wandering career May Tennigen,
sometimes known as "Madame Hilary" or "Mrs. Savage," had become a
naturalized American; the Home Office, working sympathetically with the
War Office, which suspected her activities, decided to dispense with a
prosecution and to return her to the country of her adoption. When
Barbara read of the deportation, she was first relieved and then plunged
into despair. Her last contact with certainty had been broken. Lady
Crawleigh came in to find her crying in her sleep; later she began to
talk feverishly and in the morning Dr. Gaisford was summoned.

"She was dreadfully overworked in the hospital," explained Lady
Crawleigh. "And I don't think she's got over it yet. _You_ know how
naughty she is as a rule, when she's told to stay in bed; now she won't
get up. She says there's no point in getting up, that there's nothing to
do. She says that, if she's _fated_ to get up--or something like
that.... She says she's got no will of her own, that we've none of us
got wills. That from _Barbara_!"

The doctor's task was easy in one respect, for Barbara did whatever she
was told. If Destiny contrived a man and crossed the thread of his life
with hers and made him a physician and sent him with a stethoscope and a
fountain-pen to write prescriptions, what was the use of protesting? She
could take the medicine--or leave it untouched; that had been arranged
for her beforehand. Everything was arranged beforehand, but she had
lost the means of finding out what Destiny had in store for her....

"Is she worried about anything?" asked the doctor.

"Not that I know of," Lady Crawleigh answered.

Since the time eighteen months before, when Barbara said bluntly,
"Mother, I'm not going to marry Jack," they had not discussed him. When
he was reported "missing," Barbara never commented on her mother's
letter, even with a phrase of conventional regret; she did not seem to
discuss him with any one, she had rejected her aunt's sympathy, and, if
she were breaking her heart for him, it was strange that even in sleep
she never referred to him.

When the doctor left, Lady Crawleigh resolved that Barbara _must_ be
coaxed into saying why she was so miserable. But, if it was hard to
corkscrew anything out of her when she was obstinately rebellious, it
was harder still when she cowered like a beaten dog. For three nights
she had lain moaning "Happy ... I do want to be happy.... Won't any one
make me happy?" Lady Crawleigh alluded vaguely to restless nights, and
the doctor prescribed a sedative.

For the first time in more than twelve months Barbara slept peacefully
and awoke with the memory of a delightful dream. After the disturbance
of her encounter with Mrs. Savage, her memory had at last gone back to
the day when she fainted in the train. Twice in the night a voice was
heard speaking to her very softly, with a child's confiding gentleness;
then the child himself appeared, standing over her and holding out both
hands until she got up from the grass and walked with him. She found
that she, too, was a child, with bare arms and legs and her hair hanging
loose and blowing into her face until he brushed it aside and kissed
her. They walked with their arms twined about each other's waists, and,
when Barbara looked wonderingly at their blue ephods, he said "The Blue
Bird," and she answered, "Of course! The Blue Bird" and knew that he
was come to bring her happiness.

They set out seriously, for there was no time to be lost, through a long
narrow garden built like a cliff road, terrace under terrace, with a
silver ribbon of water turning in a cascade from the end of each terrace
on to the one below. There were fig trees on either side, and he made
her sit down in the shade while he gathered the warm soft figs and
tossed them into her lap.

"Spain," she said. "We must go on."

"Aren't you happy here?" he asked.

"Yes. I love you."

"And I love you."

"But we must go on," she repeated.

He bent forward on one knee and kissed her feet.

"You are tired. Rest here, where you are happy."

"I am very happy, but we must go on."

He stood up and lifted her in his arms until she laid her cheek against
his and clasped her hands round his neck.

"I am too heavy," she protested. "You are only a child."

"I cannot let you hurt your feet on all these stones," he answered.

"You are very good to me."

"I love you. If you will stay here, I will take care of you always. You
will be happy. You will never be hurt. I will watch over you, and no one
shall come near you."

She looked from under the shade of the fig-tree on to the silver ribbon
of water falling in cascades from one terrace to another.

"No one _is_ near us. We are alone in the world."

"And I love you; and you love me."

She struggled out of his arms and darted forward.

"We must go on."

"When you are happy?"

"Yes. _I_ have to go on. Who are you?"

"I cannot tell you. I have not lived till now."

"I never lived till you told me that you loved me. Kiss me! Kiss my
eyes! I love you and I am happy.... But I have to go on. You are a
child."

"Like you. Let me kiss your hand."

"My eyes! Kiss my eyes! They were aching, but you have made me
happy...."

Barbara was still speaking when she awoke. Her arms were thrown wide, as
though she were waiting to embrace some one, and she heard her own
whispered "happy."

The door creaked. A wedge of yellow light advanced, broadening, into the
room and slowly climbed the opposite wall. Through half-closed eyes she
saw her mother; and, though she shut her eyes, she could feel that her
mother was crossing the room, standing by her, watching her. Then the
door creaked again. Barbara sighed with relief. In another moment sleep
would have been banished, but now she might hope to recapture it. Spain
... The Generalife Garden ... Sunshine hot on her face ... Black stains
of shadow from the fig trees ... The sweet, creamy figs ... Quivering
waves of heat flung back and up from the burning earth on to her bare
ankles ... A child in blue ephod kissing her feet in adoration....

She could not remember his face. But, if she did not wake herself by
thinking too hard of him, he would come back. He _must_ come back....

The boat was hardly big enough for them both, but he sat at her feet
with a bare arm round his bare legs and his other hand dipped in the
water. She never knew when he got into the boat or when she got into it
herself; but he was speaking, as they came in sight of the Blue Grotto,
and this time she determined to see his face.

"The river is not wide enough for oars," he explained.

"I was afraid I had lost you."

"I love you. I will take wonderful care of you. You will stay?"

"We must go on."

The Blue Grotto changed to a horse-shoe doorway, through which she could
see a valley of swaying corn studded with poppies. At the doorway their
narrow river ended, and a ripple of water lapped and washed over the
granite steps.

"I will carry you," he said. "You must not wet your feet."

"I am too heavy. You are only a child."

He laughed, and she found herself in his arms with her cheek pressed
against his and one hand drawing back the hair from her eyes.

"At the end," she began, looking over the corn and poppies to a strip of
white road winding out of the valley and merging in a white haze on the
horizon.

"Stay with me! You are happy. And you love me."

"I love you.... But we must go on."

She ran ahead, trailing her fingers through the waving ears of corn, and
looked over her shoulder. He had thrown himself on the ground, but, when
she faltered back, he knelt and drew her to him.

"Stay with me! I love you!"

"If you love me, kiss me!"

She stood over him with her head thrown back until he sprang up and
clasped her in his arms.

"I will never let you go!"

"You must let me go. I have to go on."

"But you are happy?"

"Yes! I am happy ... happy...."

She had run on alone, with his kiss still on her lips, and had reached
the last height of the strip of white road before she awoke. She heard
her own whispered "happy," but she was frightened....

Her bedroom was full of sunshine, and Barbara opened her arms to
welcome it. She was sitting up, when her mother came in, turning the big
illustrated pages of "The Blue Bird"; it was the last thing that she had
read before going to sleep and she wanted to see again the Kingdom of
the Future and the "halls of the Azure Palace, where the children wait
that are yet to be born." The opalescent doors and the blue ephods of
the children were still vivid to her; when she fell asleep, she had been
reading of "the two holding each other by the hand and always kissing
... the Lovers," who spent "their day looking into each other's eyes,
kissing and bidding each other farewell" ... because they could not be
born into the world at the same time.

"Darling, you're looking better," said Lady Crawleigh.

"Yes, I had a wonderful night," answered Barbara. "I'm going to get up
to-day. I'm going out. I want to be in the sun."

She laid aside the book and began her breakfast.

"Dr. Gaisford's coming to see you at twelve," Lady Crawleigh reminded
her.

"Oh, we'll telephone and put him off. He'd much sooner be told that I'd
gone out. But he can give me some more of that medicine; it makes me
sleep. And I'm quite hungry."

She hurried through breakfast and ran into her bathroom, eager to be by
herself, where she could piece together her dream before it faded from
her memory. The voice of the child-lover was the voice that she had
heard in the train. If he ever kissed her again, she would know him,
though she seemed never to have seen his face. Perhaps she would never
see him, perhaps Destiny had contrived that they should always be lovers
and should never meet, perhaps this was why she had felt frightened on
waking. It was absurd, but delightful. She wanted to meet her
playmate.... And it was a long time to wait until she could go to bed
and dream of him again.

She ran into the Park, because she had been running in the dream; it
was more natural; she was a child again, in a mood of unclouded
happiness. The passers-by paused to stare and smile, but she smiled back
at them and waved her hand. A young officer shot by in a car, turned
round and stopped to ask if he could give her a lift, as she seemed to
be in a hurry. "It's only lightness of heart," she explained with
dancing eyes. The officer looked wonderingly at her and drove to his
club, where he described the encounter and opined that Lady Barbara
Neave ("It couldn't have been any one else") had apparently gone
suddenly mad.

In the Park she found O'Rane basking on a chair in the sunshine and
crumpling the silky ears of his Saint Bernard. She sat down beside him,
panting for breath and challenging him to guess who she was.

"I knew before you spoke," he answered. "No one else in London wears
quite so many carnations to the square inch. I smelt them the moment you
came within range."

"I have them sent up three times a week from the Abbey. I'm going to put
one in your button-hole as a prize for being so clever."

"Oh, I can be much cleverer than that, when I try," he laughed. "Lady
Barbara, either the sunshine's gone to your head--it always does with
me; so much of my misspent life has been in the sun, I feel starved in
England--; either that, or something very remarkable has happened to
you. You've got a different voice, you're a different person. The last
time----"

"Ah, don't talk about it," she interrupted. "I'm happy to-day."

"I know you are! If I painted you to-day, there'd be a riot of blue----"

"Blue? How funny!"

"The blue of a cloudless sky. That's how I _see_ happiness. Tell me
what's happened?"

"I just feel well and happy. I had a wonderful dream. I was about four,
and there was a little boy with the most enchanting voice----"

O'Rane laughed and began to sing under his breath:


     "'Long years ago--fourteen, maybe,
       When but a tiny babe of four,
     Another baby played with me,
       My elder by a year or more--
         A little child of beauty rare
     With wondrous eyes and marvellous hair...!'


Good heavens! The last time I sang that song was at Oxford! A man called
Sinclair--I'd been at school with him; he was killed at Neuve Chapelle;
he was President ... The old Phoenix Club. Jim was there, and Jack
Summertown, and George Oakleigh, and Eric Lane, the new playwright, and
Jack Waring.... I suppose there's no news of him?"

"I don't think so," Barbara answered soberly. The name took away her
lightness of heart and robbed the very sunshine of its glory.

"And I made a bet with Jim," said O'Rane after a moment's musing. "Tell
me about your dream," he added abruptly.

"Oh, I couldn't! It's sacred! Besides, I don't remember very much about
it except that he was the most adorable little boy in the world.... _I_
was rather adorable, too, with my little bare feet. And _he_ fell in
love with _me_, and _I_ fell in love with _him_. I _had_ been feeling
wretchedly ill and miserable, but I'm happy now. I think the only thing
to do now is to find him and insist on marrying him; we should be
wonderfully happy together, because I've never loved any one as I loved
that child. How does one start?"

O'Rane shook his head sadly.

"We've no machinery for romance now. In the old days you'd have sat on a
throne with your hair in two enormous plaits and a gold crown set with
sapphires, and your father would have caused all the men in his kingdom
to pass in front of you, and you'd have stepped suddenly forward, when
you saw your lover, and you'd have taken him by the hand and made room
for him by your side, and both of you would have lived happily ever
afterwards."

"The sunshine's gone to your head, too! Why are we sitting still? I want
to run about.... Mr. O'Rane, what _would_ happen if I took off my shoes
and stockings in Hyde Park?"

"_You_ can do anything, Lady Barbara."

"Yes, but people would say that I was doing it for effect. I don't do
things for effect. I do things because I _want_ to, because I can't help
myself. Long before I believed in Destiny, I felt that there was
something inside me stronger than my will...."

She broke off and began thinking again of her dream. In this white
sunshine it was easy to discount it, to talk of excited nerves, to trace
the dream itself to the book which she had been reading; but, as she lay
between sleep and waking, all had been too real to discount. Destiny had
decreed the meeting, as Destiny decreed her smallest impulse.

A shadow fell across her feet. She started and looked up to find
Oakleigh standing before her.

"I'm glad to see you about again," he said. "I've come to take Raney
away to lunch with the Poynters. Sonia's not here yet?"

"She said she might be a few minutes late," answered O'Rane. "Lady
Barbara and I have been sitting in the sun, telling each other how happy
we are." O'Rane sat up to catch a sound too indistinct for the others.
"And here's Sonia," he added. "We must fly, Lady Barbara, or we shall be
horribly late, but won't you walk with us?"

"I'm afraid I must go back," she answered.

Barbara watched the two men walking away with Sonia between them.
O'Rane was stooping to keep his fingers inside the great Saint Bernard's
collar. Though he was blind, he was happier than she was; though he was
blind, he had heard and recognized Sonia's footstep before she did. Some
change of mood had overtaken her, and she traced it back to the moment
when he asked whether she had received news of Jack....

A car was standing at the door of her house, and she found Dr. Gaisford
in the hall.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I _meant_ to tell you I was so much better that I'd
gone out," she apologized, rallying under her mother's eye.

The doctor noted the quick dilation of pupil and restless change of
expression.

"As I've caught you, I may as well overhaul you," he said.

"But I'm all right now," Barbara protested.

"That's good hearing," answered Dr. Gaisford, but none the less he
persevered in his examination, unmoved by a flash of petulance, which he
did not fail to note, and by a spasm of nervous, contrite amiability,
which he noted no less carefully. At the end he was puzzled and
dissatisfied.

"You say that there _was_ a change this morning?" he asked Lady
Crawleigh as he left.

"She was a different girl. Now she's as irritable and melancholy....
Doctor, _is_ this simply the result of overwork, or is it something
more?"

It was as far as her mother would unbend towards suggesting that Barbara
had anything on her mind. The doctor guessed the purpose of her
question, but he felt that she was better qualified to answer it than he
was.

"What do you mean by 'something more'?" he asked.

"Oh, well.... You know...."

"If we can get her _body_ right and her _nerves_ right," he answered,
"everything else will come right. She's very highly strung, she's been
taking a great deal out of herself all her life; and the war deals such
an all-round blow that, if there _is_ a weak place, we're all of us
bound to feel it."

He piled vagueness on vagueness and then took his leave. Barbara was
suffering from more than overexcited nerves, but he could not yet
diagnose her complaint. There was no suggestion of drink, no trace of
drugs, but she had been in his care for several weeks and she refused to
shew any improvement. With the best intentions, a woman in her state
never told a doctor the truth about herself; and any doctor who had
attended Barbara since childhood knew better than to waste his time in
trying to make her confide in him.

"I'll come in again on Tuesday or Wednesday," he promised Lady Crawleigh
on the door-step. "Then we can talk about sending her into the country.
At present I think she'd only mope."

Barbara spent the afternoon at a concert and dined at home with her
parents. She went to bed immediately after dinner, drank her medicine
and lay with her pillows heaped under her shoulders and the big
illustrated "Blue Bird" open against her knees. When she was too tired
to read any longer, she turned out the light and settled lower into the
bed with her hands clasped under her head, as Peter Ibbetson had lain
night after night, waiting for Mary, Duchess of Towers, "healthily tired
in body, blissfully expectant in mind."

Drowsiness advanced on her from a distance, perceptibly. She dulled her
senses to the far-away echo of footsteps in the house, to the shooting
glint of moonlight, silver-grey on the cream-coloured blankets as her
curtain bellied in the breeze, to the scent of her beloved carnations,
stirred into fragrance as the curtains moved. Drowsiness deepened, but
she could not fall asleep; her body lay defiantly in London, where she
could still hear a drone of noises, however much she whispered that she
was alone in the world--and waiting.

Even her eyes refused to remain closed, but she decided that Destiny
must have forced them open, for the curtains blew apart and she saw the
boy standing at the foot of her bed. His face was in shadow, and he
stood with his hands clasped in front of him, looking down.

"Ah!"

At the sound of her voice he looked up, but his face was still hidden.

"My dearest, I have waited for you so long! All day!" she whispered.

"And I have waited for you all my life. I love you."

"And I love you. You will stay?"

It was his turn to shake his head; and he swept sharply towards the
door. Barbara sprang out of bed and caught him by the hand.

"You _shall_ not go!"

"I cannot stay here. You will come with me?"

"I must stay here."

"If you come with me, I will take care of you always. You will be
happy."

"I must stay here."

"Before, you would not stay. Now, you will not come."

His hand slipped from her fingers, and she saw him pass through the door
into a formless marble gallery. His blue ephod shone brilliantly against
the grey walls, then faded and lost all colour until she could no longer
see him. The gallery foreshortened and grew dark until she felt
suffocated. She could see the darkness and a shadow at her feet darker
still. Something was holding her back; if she could spring across the
forbidding shadow.... Unless she sprang, she would be stifled. Yet to be
stifled was to win peace ... or to send her mad....

When she awoke, Lady Crawleigh was once more standing over her.

"Where was I this time?" asked Barbara dully.

"Darling, you must have had a nightmare. You were calling out, so I came
to see what was the matter."

"But where was I? What did I say?"

"You didn't say anything. You were just--moaning."

"They were stifling me!" she sobbed.

"No, darling, you'd only got your face among the pillows so that you
couldn't breathe properly. What were you dreaming about?"

Barbara looked at her mother and summoned all her resolution to say
nothing. It was wonderful to have any resolution left.... But Destiny
had decided that she was to say nothing....

"I believe I'm going mad!" she whispered.

Lady Crawleigh tried to comfort her, but the girl shrank to the far side
of the bed. It came to this, then, that she could no longer trust
herself to go to sleep. For one night she had been in Heaven ... or in
sight of Heaven.... She could not understand what had impelled her
forward from the Garden and the Valley. Some one, something was waiting
for her--on the lowest terrace, on the horizon where the white ribbon of
road wound out of sight. Something called her away from the child in the
blue ephod. And to-night Destiny had set an angel with a flaming sword
to bar her path when she tried to follow him. Yet it was not an angel
that she could see nor a sword that she could feel; it was an
inhibition, an Authority.... Why not call it Destiny? It was something
that kept her from the boy with the wistfully caressing voice, who loved
her and promised to make her happy.... Something that frightened her,
something that was sending her mad.

"I always said you oughtn't to sleep with all those pillows," sighed
Lady Crawleigh.

"You can take them away, if you like. Good-night, mother. I hope I
didn't frighten you. I'm going to sleep again now."

She waited until she was alone and then sprang out of bed. If she slept,
the shadow would return ... Jack's shadow; she mustered courage to call
it by its right name. You could not go to sleep, if you walked up and
down, up and down all night.... At three o'clock she stripped a row of
glass beads from a dress and poured them into her shoes. You could not
go to sleep, if every step made you wince with pain and bite your lip to
keep from crying.... When her maid came in, Barbara was asleep, with
smarting eyes and tears on her cheeks, huddled at the side of her bed.
One foot had a blister as big as a young pea....

She breakfasted and dressed feverishly to escape from the house before
her mother was up and before the doctor could mouth his inanities about
"getting the nerves right, dear child, and then everything else will be
right."

"I don't expect I shall be back to lunch," she told her maid.

Soon she was in St. James' Park, because Destiny sent her there....
Government cars were racing down the Mall; a procession of officers
poured into Whitehall, and by the statue of James II she saw Oakleigh
and O'Rane walking arm-in-arm towards the Admiralty. George would tell
her that she did not look quite so well; O'Rane would mark her voice and
paint his conception of her with such blazing splashes of his "red for
pain" as seeing eye had never beheld. She turned and ran up the Duke of
York's Steps; Destiny had decided that she was to escape these two for
once....

To meet Lady Poynter in Bond Street was to be flung against reality and
made sane.

"My dear Babs! How wretched you're looking," she heard; and the shops,
the taxis and the passers-by steadied to immobility. They were
gloriously solid; they would frown on her, if she screamed or ran away.

"I'm feeling rather wretched," she answered in a recognizable voice. "I
had rather a bad night."

"Your mother told me you were disgracefully overworked at the hospital,"
said Lady Poynter. "Now, what we's all got to do is to arrange a little
holiday for you----"

Barbara smiled and shook her head. Yet it was no use shaking your head
when Destiny had flung Lady Poynter across your path. If Destiny had
arranged for her what might, for argument's sake, be called a
holiday....

"I haven't made up my mind what I'm going to do," she answered.

"Then let me make it up for you! What are you doing to-night?"

"I believe mother's got some people dining."

"Well, see if you can't put them off and dine with us."

Barbara closed her eyes until she felt herself rocking. If Destiny meant
her to dine with Lady Poynter....

"I should like to," she said.

"Then I shall expect you. At a quarter past eight. In Belgrave Square.
It's only quite a small party. Have you met this new dramatist, Eric
Lane? I've got him coming."

There was a conspiracy to force them together. George had tried, Sonia
had tried. What was the good of meeting any one, if Jack's ghost
intervened to thrust them apart? Eric Lane ... Eric Lane.... When she
died, they would find "Eric Lane" on her heart. A neat monogram: "E. L."
... Barbara found herself trembling.... If Destiny meant her to meet
Eric Lane....

"I was invited to meet him, but I couldn't go."

"You'll fall in love with him," Lady Poynter prophesied.



+-------------------------------------------------+
|Transcriber's note:                              |
|                                                 |
|Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.|
|                                                 |
+-------------------------------------------------+





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