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Title: Sonia Married
Author: McKenna, Stephen
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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SONIA MARRIED

STEPHEN McKENNA


     "As a clownish Fellow was driving his cart along a deep miry lane,
     the wheel stuck so fast in the clay, that his horse could not draw
     it out. Upon this he fell a bawling and praying to Hercules to come
     and help him. Hercules, looking down from a cloud, bid him not to
     lie there like an idle, dastardly booby as he was, but get up and
     whip his horse, and clap his shoulder stoutly to the wheel, adding
     that this was the only way for him to obtain assistance."

     The Fables of Æsop: "Hercules and the Carter."



SONIA MARRIED

BY

STEPHEN McKENNA

AUTHOR OF "SONIA," "MIDAS AND SON," "NINETY-SIX
HOURS' LEAVE," ETC.

[Illustration: Logo]

NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY


COPYRIGHT, 1919,
BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY THE METROPOLITAN PUBLICATIONS, INC.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



EPISTLE DEDICATORY

To WALTER FRANCIS ROCH


My dear Roch,

Ever since you read "SONIA" in manuscript, you have been the book's most
generous critic. May I mark my gratitude for this and for a friendship
older than "SONIA" by dedicating its successor to you? Perhaps you
remember openly doubting whether in fact the spiritual shock of war
could so change and steady Sonia as to make her a fitting wife for any
man, O'Rane most of all; you may recollect my confessing that such a
marriage of hysterical impulse contained the seeds of instant disaster.

Sequels are admittedly failures, but I look on this book less as a
sequel than as an epilogue or footnote. Sonia was not to know happiness
until she had suffered, and the sacrifice in the early days of war was
to many a new and heady self-indulgence. It is the length of the war,
the sickening repetition of one well-placed blow after another on the
same bruised flesh that has tested the survivors. After a year of war
O'Rane could have mustered many followers, when he murmured to himself,
"I--all of us who were out there--have seen it. We can't forget. The
courage, the cold, heart-breaking courage ... and the smile on a dying
man's face.... We must never let it be forgotten, we've earned the
right. As long as a drunkard kicks his wife, or a child goes hungry, or
a woman is driven through shame to disease and death.... Is it a great
thing to ask? To demand of England to remember that the criminals and
loafers and prostitutes are somebody's children, mothers and sisters?
And that we've all been saved by a miracle of suffering? Is that too
great a strain on our chivalry? I'll go out if need be, but--but _must_
we stand at street corners to tell what we've seen? To ask the
bystanders--and ourselves--whether we went to war to preserve the right
of inflicting pain?"

After four years of war do you find many traces of O'Rane's crusading
spirit? Loring, he and a thousand others intrigued and pulled wires to
be sent out before their turn; since they lost their lives or eyes or
limbs, we have seen their places filled by men who were first jeered and
shamed, later pricked and driven into the army, under the amused gaze of
their more fortunate fellows who had intrigued and pulled wires to be
kept at home! We have watched conscience being made a penal offence and
persecution exalted into patriotism. We have seen self-denial, like
self-sacrifice, made statutory; and the comprehensive plea of war has
excused the recrudescence of that feverish licence which many of us
superstitiously felt the war had been sent to end. Financially, morally
and politically we were living on the last few hundreds of our capital.
And in public life the war stepped in where honour feared to tread.

I dedicate this book to you in sympathy, because we would both
recapture, if we could, O'Rane's first fine careless rapture. But there
is little permanence in collective moral upheavals; action and reaction
are equal and opposite, and the same violence which transformed the
world in 1914 has hastened the return to pre-1914 conditions. The House
of Commons, as you know it, and the society outside the House of
Commons, as I know it, are not going to legislate a new world into
existence in the spirit of the Constituent Assembly. We have worked,
like old Bertrand Oakleigh, through the phases of extravagant hope and
premature pessimism; we are tired and dispirited, chiefly anxious to end
the strain, glad if we can curtail the slaughter, though we are growing
used to this, but concerned more for securing the peace of the world in
our lifetime than for declaring any other dividend on the lives which
have been expended. "We shall be dazed and bruised before an end is
made, laddie, staggering like drunken men," as Dr. Burgess prophesied
in "SONIA," "Peradventure, if ye speak of the Promised Land, men will
arise and stone you with stones, saying, 'Would to God we had died by
the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots,
and when we did eat bread to the full.' I am an old man, laddie, and old
men and weary men, broken with the cares of this life, are fain to go
back to the things they know."

What is left to those who are weak or obstinate enough to feel that the
things they know are capable of improvement and that man is essentially
perfectible? If a collective revival flicker to smoking extinction, can
you attain the same results from the aggregate of individual efforts?
O'Rane, you will find, tries both extremes.

Always cordially yours,

STEPHEN McKENNA.

Lincoln's Inn, 1918.



CONTENTS

                               PAGE
EPISTLE DEDICATORY              vii

CHAPTER
   I AN ARABIAN NIGHT            15

  II THE OPEN DOOR               51

 III SONIA O'RANE                96

  IV THE DOOR CLOSED            146

   V THE LIMITS OF LOYALTY      191

  VI THE UNWRITTEN LAW          241

 VII THE DOOR RE-OPENED         291

VIII SANCTUARY                  338



SONIA MARRIED



CHAPTER ONE

AN ARABIAN NIGHT

     " ... Is it not singular, and almost touching, to see Paris City
     drawn out, in the meek May nights, in civic ceremony, which they
     call 'SOUPER FRATERNEL,' Brotherly Supper?... See it, O Night! With
     cheerfully pledged wine-cup, hobnobbing to the Reign of Liberty,
     Equality, Brotherhood, with their wives in best ribands, with their
     little ones romping round, the Citoyens, in frugal Love-feast, sit
     there. Night in her wide empire sees nothing similar. O my
     brothers, why is the reign of Brotherhood _not_ come; It is come,
     it shall have come, say the Citoyens frugally hobnobbing.--Ah me!
     these everlasting stars, do they not look down 'like glistening
     eyes, bright with immortal pity, over the lot of man!' ..."

     THOMAS CARLYLE: "_French Revolution_."


1

After twelve months in an Austrian internment camp, the roar and
movement, the familiar smell and glare of London streets were
stupefying.

I had arrived in Vienna a week before the mobilisation order was issued;
my mission was to secure the services of certain physicians and surgeons
for a new hospital which I had in contemplation, and, though I was
conscious of unwonted restlessness, though my young friends in the
Chancery were kept working late, the recent ultimatum to Servia could
never, I felt, involve England in war. So time went by, the hotels
emptied, but I preferred to trust my own judgement and went on trusting
it until war had been declared. I knew Vienna so well, I had lived there
so long and made so many friends from my earliest days at the Embassy
that I am afraid I continued to trust my judgement and to back my luck
even after I had become technically scheduled as an enemy alien; and,
when the reluctant authorities more in sorrow than anger placed me under
surveillance, we all felt that a mistake had been made and that I should
have only to ask for my release to obtain it. Was I not well over the
most extravagant military age? Was I not physically unfit to bear arms?
Could I not at any time have left Vienna with the Embassy Staff?

I was to find from August, 1914, until July, 1915, that the aspirations
of the Litany for the well-being of prisoners and captives were
neutralised by the reluctance of constituted authority to disturb the
_status quo_. I was secure in my loose-box on a race-course five miles
from Vienna; wire entanglements discouraged my comings and goings,
arc-lamps laid me bare to the vigilance of the sentries; what good
purpose could be served by setting me at large? My brother made the one
appearance of his life in the House of Lords to raise me as an issue and
to urge the exchange of civilian prisoners; memorials were presented to
the Foreign Office; I am sorry to say that in the first convulsion of
war I and my few thousand fellow prisoners did not matter.

I was interned for a twelvemonth. And, writing now in the third year of
the war, I doubt whether I shall ever make good the knowledge which was
then withheld from me. The newspapers were censored or inspired for
purposes of propaganda; my colourless letters from England were enriched
by half-page smears of indelible black. Between ignorance of what they
might say and what I might receive, my correspondents confined
themselves to business discussions and bald family history. My brother
wrote of his son Archie's death in the retreat from Mons; my niece
Yolande Manisty told me that she and her husband had moved into my house
in Pont Street and were attending to my affairs as best they might. A
further letter brought me the shocking news of Deryk Lancing's death on
the eve of war, with consequences to myself which I required many weeks
to digest.... After that there were guarded and bewildered little notes
from Felix Manisty, who is a greater archaeologist than man of affairs;
there were voluminous technical enquiries from Hatherly, my solicitor, a
weekly budget from Yolande and sporadic outbursts from friends who had
heard of my internment and felt constrained to write one letter to cheer
my loneliness.

In July, after a year of false starts, an exchange of prisoners was
finally arranged; in the last week of the month I returned deviously
through Switzerland and France, landed in a most unrecognisable England,
reported myself at an equally unrecognisable Foreign Office and then
stood, much as I had stood forty years earlier with a crowd of other shy
new boys at Eton, wondering what I was expected to do next. In the roar
and movement, the smell and glare of London streets, I had ceased to
have any property. The people were different, there was an incredible
number of soldiers about. And everyone seemed to have been getting on
very satisfactorily without me....

I remember walking a few steps towards the House of Commons, but I did
not know whether the House was sitting; I turned back to Trafalgar
Square with some idea of taking a train to Hampstead and visiting my
office, but I had abandoned it for twelve months. If I called on
Hatherly in Lincoln's Inn Fields, I should be told that he was at Ripley
Court; if I went home, I should find that Yolande and Felix were both
out.... It was salutary, I am sure, to find the measure of my
importance, but it left me very lonely, I felt for some reason that not
only was I not wanted but that I had no right to be there. England
seemed to have been taken over as a going concern by a new management,
which was in a great hurry....

I passed through the Admiralty Arch and looked round me. New Zealanders
and Australians, bronzed and big-boned in summer khaki, South Africans,
with their hats pinched to a point, were strolling up and down the
Strand, in twos and threes, gravely smoking cigarettes; a slow-speaking
Canadian enquired of me the way to Westminster Abbey; in St. James' Park
two brakes passed me filled with Indian troops, turbaned, silent and
undemonstrative. I remember that certain German prints had described the
British Army as a menagerie....

Through the Arch, I could see a stream of motor omnibuses hurrying into
Trafalgar Square and displaying long posters in a red and white
streak--"LORD KITCHENER WANTS YOU," "LEND YOUR STRONG RIGHT ARM"--on the
Horse Guards' Parade recruits were waiting their turn by the long wooden
sheds at the Downing Street end; the finished soldier came swinging down
the Processional Avenue to the music of a drum and fife band, watched a
little wistfully by a knot of men in service caps, blue jackets, loose
red ties and grey trousers, sometimes pinned emptily at ankle, knee or
hip. Standing on the kerb, a girl of twenty in deep mourning completed
scene and sequence.

I was still gaping like a yokel, when I heard my name called and found
my hand wrung by an officer in unfamiliar naval uniform; and, though we
had sat and voted side by side during his short term in the House,
though I had shot with him a dozen times at his place in Ireland, I had
to look twice before I recognised him as George Oakleigh. We stood
shaking hands, laughing, talking both at once and shaking hands again
until he suggested that I should come into his room at the Admiralty for
a cigarette and a talk. George, whom I had known as a dilettante
journalist and political wire-puller, explained parenthetically that he
had for a year been one of innumerable auxiliary civil servants; I did
not need to be told that he was tired, overworked and vaguely, sullenly
bitter.

"Fancy people going out and trying to slaughter one another on a day
like this!" he cried, looking with pink-lidded eyes at the sparse trees
and scanty shade amid the white flood of sunshine.

"Well, you'd go out, if you had the chance," I said.

"And hate it like Hell all the time!" he murmured reflectively, as he
mechanically took a salute. "I've seen enough people in the casualty
lists to realise that war is a dangerous occupation, Stornaway; and I've
met enough fellows home on leave.... You know Jim Loring's gone, by the
way?" His teeth grated together. "This--this is the very thing that my
uncle Bertrand and I spent half-a-dozen years trying to avert! Well, I
must be getting back to work. If this war's done nothing else, at least
it's cured me of the conventional,
twelve-to-three-with-two-hours-off-for-luncheon view of Government
offices. With me it's nine-thirty to eight, six days' holiday in twelve
months and about one week-end in three."

As I would not come into his office and waste his time there, we wasted
it for a few moments more by the Cook monument. George tried to give me
my bearings, interrupting himself to ask jerkily, "I suppose you've
heard that Jack Summertown's dead? He was knocked out at the same time
as your nephew. And Val Arden?..."

I had an additional tragedy in which Oakleigh did not share, for we were
almost within sight of the house which poor Deryk Lancing had so proudly
adorned: on such another day he had taken me over it, room by room; I
had heard that he died on the very evening that war was declared, yet I
suppose he only anticipated what would have come to anyone of his age in
six months' time.

"I suppose you can't imagine what all this looks like to a man who's
seeing it for the first time," I said. "All this drilling and training.
How many of these fellows will come back, d'you suppose? And what are we
going to get in return?"

He smiled wistfully.

"A lasting peace, I hope. It can never happen again, you know."

"I never thought it could happen this time," I said.

"Well, this is going to prove that war is a failure. Perhaps we needed
the proof.... You'll find that after the war people will begin to do
what we--you and Bertrand and I and a thousand more--tried to make them
do before--remove the incentive to war and the means of making war.
There must be a general disarmament, the military machine must be
broken. You'll find that Germany will be a confederated republic within
twelve months--we can never make peace while there's a Hohenzollern at
large. You know, Stornaway, this war's given us the opportunity of
healing the sore places of Europe, and there's only one way to do it;
when the peace conference begins to sit, it has got to divide the world
according to nationalities. Belgium and France will have to be cleaned
up first of all, and after that we must let the world go as it wants to
go. Alsace-Lorraine will return to France; you'll find north and south
Germany separating; Poland must be reconstituted; Italy will get back
the Trentino and Trieste, though, of course, that leaves Austria without
a port.... But you'll find Austria-Hungary splitting into a thousand
pieces as soon as you apply the principle of nationality. I'm not sure
about Constantinople, but I'm inclined to give it to Russia.... It's
worth some sacrifice to clean up the international anomalies of the
world and to make an end of war."

"It's going to be a big business, George, and a long business," was all
that I would say.

"We're in sight of doing it," he asserted. "The moment we get within
range of Constantinople, Turkey goes out of the war; she's on her last
legs now. Then with Russia bursting in on the southeast and Italy
pressing up from the south, Austria will be the next to go. People who
know tell me she's on the verge of starvation. Then next spring we shall
be bringing off a big offensive on the west. We're so frightfully
handicapped now by lack of shells." He paused and looked at his watch.
"By Jove, I must fly!" he exclaimed. "When shall I see you again? I'm
dining with the Maurice Maitlands to-night and I happen to know that the
Manistys are going to be there. Why don't you invite yourself? You're a
lion, you know; and Connie Maitland will never forgive you, if anyone
else catches hold of you first."

Leaving him to hurry into the Admiralty, I went slowly on foot to Pont
Street. England was an armed camp and munition factory, London a
gigantic General Headquarters. And George, with his rimless eye-glasses
enthusiastically askew and a normally pale face ecstatically flushed,
was throwing corps here and divisions there, dividing the map of the
world by the test of nationality.... I felt giddy.

There was no one at home, when I reached Pont Street, and I explored the
havoc of war as it had invaded the house of a man to whom personal
comfort means much. My butler, footman and chauffeur had enlisted, my
car was wearing itself out in the service of an elderly general; the
ground-floor gave office-room to a railway canteen organisation
administered by my niece, and the rest of the house, when not allocated
to herself or her husband, provided temporary accommodation for derelict
officers and nurses. Never have I felt less wanted.

"But, darling uncle, there's so little that we _can_ do!" Yolande
exclaimed, trying to combine apology and self-defence. "I feel that if
we don't pinch and scrape and slave.... And everyone's in the same
boat.... I bought one black frock when Archie was killed, and I'm not
going to buy another stitch till the war's over. I don't dine out once a
month; and _then_ I don't usually have time to dress."

She was looking a little thin and white-faced; for some reason the
auburn hair which I loved had been cropped short, but she was undaunted
and self-reliant, one of a hundred thousand women to whom the war was
bringing that opportunity for service for which they had so long pined.

The emergence of my nephew Felix from a War Office car completed the
sense of revolution and unreality. That least military of archaeologists
was now arrayed in a staff captain's uniform, which accorded ill with
his glasses and bald head, for duty behind a string of letters and a
telephone extension at the War Office.

"You'll get used to it in time," Yolande laughed, as we set out on foot
for Eaton Place.

My sense of not being wanted certainly evaporated in the warmth of Lady
Maitland's greeting. One of her sons was home on leave from the Front,
and the familiar, red-lacquer drawing-room was filling with a party of
twenty-four, each of whom was acclaimed at a distance, introduced,
epitomised and enlisted for charity or intrigue before he had fairly
crossed the threshold.

"Yolande! My dear, I got your note and I've put off the committee till
Friday," she cried, when our turn came and my niece surrendered to a
resonant kiss on either cheek. "And dear Captain Manisty--there was
something I wanted to see you about.... It'll come back to me. _And_ Mr.
Stornaway!" She surveyed me for a moment with her handsome square head
on one side, then turned to a little group behind her. "My dears, we all
thought he was dead! Mr. Stornaway, I want you all to myself, you're
going to tell me all about your terrible hardships and, before you're a
day older, you're going on my Prisoners of War Relief Committee." She
turned again to explain me to the room. "This is Mr. Stornaway who's
been interned in Austria all this time. He's going to tell us all about
it.... Mr. Stornaway, it's a scandal, we can't get the Government to
act. Now here's Mr. Deganway--you know him?--he's in the Foreign Office
and he tells me that the question of the prisoners----"

She broke off to welcome two new arrivals with a surprised cry of "Lord
Pentyre! And my dear Sir Harry Mordaunt!" as though she had not invited
them. I shook hands with Maitland and was trying to see whom else I
knew, when she returned and remorselessly introduced me to Vincent
Grayle, with whom I have sat in the House for a dozen years. He was
leaning on a stick, and I learned in a galloping exchange of biography
that he had had one knee shattered in the Antwerp expedition and was now
at the War Office, "cleaning up the mess made by the professional
soldiers."

"But what were you doing out there at all?" I asked, clinging to him for
a moment before Lady Maitland could present me to anyone else. We had
been contemporaries, if not friends, at Eton and Trinity, which meant
that he was past fifty.

"Much too good a war to miss!" he answered with a laugh, hobbling away
to be introduced to a young bride in half-mourning who had already
collected two young Maitlands, Pentyre, Deganway and George Oakleigh.

"I expect you find everything a bit changed," said Maitland earnestly,
glancing at his own uniform and speaking as though the war were a secret
in which he was doubtfully initiating me.

"Grayle's much the same," I answered, looking enviously after the viking
figure with the blue eyes, pink and white cheeks and corn-coloured hair.

There was a moment's silence, as my hostess mentally called the roll and
I strolled away before her husband was ready with another platitude.

"Eleanor Ross is _always_ late!" she complained. "Well, you haven't
altered much, Mr. Stornaway."

Nor had she, I answered. The war seemed only to have turned her tireless
energy into new channels. Whereas she had once called for the heads of
Nationalists, strike leaders and, indeed, anyone with whom she chanced
to be in temporary disagreement, she would now, I gathered, be content
with the public execution of the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald
and Sir Ian Hamilton. She seemed the motive power of as many committees
as ever; her house was the meeting-place of as many incongruities as
before, and she was prepared to yoke the meanest of us to one or other
of her charities.

"We must have a talk about the Prisoners," she said, with one eye on the
door. "The Government will do _nothing_, but what do you expect?"

Lowering her voice, she confided that three Ministers, of whom I knew
one to be a bachelor, were married to German wives, while a fourth was
discovered to have arms stacked in his cellar and a wireless
installation on his roof. She told me, further, that we had had enough
of these lawyer-politicians, that the country needed a Man, because the
young shirkers that you met in the street were stealing the work of
those who had patriotically enlisted; the Press, she went on to say, was
a public danger (only exceeded in imbecile virus by the Press Bureau)
and it was high time that in the matter of war we sat at the feet of
Germany. She barely had time to weaken her last effect by declaring the
German military machine, for all its forty years' perfection, to be the
greatest imposture in history, before the Duchess of Ross was announced.

"Odious painted creature. And always late!" Lady Maitland whispered to
me, as she hurried forward with both hands outstretched.

"You look giddy," Yolande murmured.

"And what do you think of England after a year of war?" Eleanor Ross
cried over her shoulder, as we went down to dinner.


2

If Lady Maitland had invited a full account of my internment and had
then scampered away without waiting to hear it, I was not let off so
easily by either of my neighbours at dinner. For the first three courses
I told my tale to the Duchess of Ross, who spent the second three
handing it on to the right, while I turned like an automaton and
repeated my recitation to Lady Pentyre. As I might have foreseen,
knowing their craving to be ahead of the world with any new thing, I was
instantly committed to lunching with both (because each knew so many
people who would be simply dying to meet me and hear all about it); and,
if I bore my cross with resignation, it was because I knew that I was
relieving someone else (he proved to be a submarine commander who had
recently been awarded the Victoria Cross)--and that I should be relieved
in my turn when a greater novelty presented itself--(after three days an
American _Lusitania_ survivor came to my rescue).

I was beginning to get used to the noise and strangeness and to recover
from my first bewilderment, when Lady Maitland rustled to her feet, and
I was left at the mercy of a political argument carried on between my
host and Grayle across my body. So far as I remembered, it concerned the
likelihood of compulsory service, and I was only interested to find
Grayle, the most lawless man of my acquaintance, pleading for more
discipline, while a high-and-dry Tory like Maitland defended Ministers
whom he had styled thieves and common sharpers at the time of the 1909
Budget and the Marconi enquiry. I had almost forgotten my poor little
host's genius for picking up the hastier opinions and less profound
catchwords of the uninformed. George caught my eye and winked, as
Maitland thumped the table impressively, tugged at his moustache and
talked--with a slightly shocked intonation--of "the brain and sinew of
the Government, my dear Grayle." Young Pentyre, as surprise relaxed into
boredom, moved next to me and began a rival conversation.

"Who's the patriotic gentleman?" he whispered. "And why's he so excited
about the jolly old Government?"

"He's got a bee in his bonnet," George explained, "because he fancies he
brought down the old Liberal lot and can't make out why he's not been
given a job in the Coalition."

"But who is he?" Pentyre persisted.

As I had known Grayle longer than anyone present, I took it upon myself
to answer.

We had first met nearly forty years ago as boys at Eton, soon drawing
together in a common recognition, keenly felt and resented, that we were
poorer than our fellows. My father had no business to send me there at
all, but every male Stornaway always had gone to Eton, whether he could
afford it or not. Grayle, the only son of a hard-drinking
Gloucestershire squire, who used to beat him unmercifully, was sent to
school when he grew strong enough to resist parental castigation, with
an idea, I suppose, that others by force of numbers would be able to
continue the beatings. We worked our way up the school together, until
Grayle was withdrawn in consequence of some trouble with a tradesman's
daughter in Slough, and met again at Trinity, when the scandal was half
forgotten. There I remained four years and Grayle four weeks. If I ever
heard the full story of his subsequent, final, cataclysmic quarrel with
his father (they were separated, I know, by the stud-groom and a couple
of strappers), I have forgotten the details; the result of the quarrel
was that Vincent disappeared, and the next time that I saw him was
several years later in New York. I had gone up there from Washington and
ran unexpectedly into Grayle's arms on Fifth Avenue; he was accompanied
by another Trinity man of my year--Guy Bannerman, a brilliant, shiftless
Rabelaisian, whom Grayle with his startling streak of prodigal
generosity had taken in hand and was prepared (as he consistently
proved) to keep afloat. I remember how one of the loudest voices in the
world suddenly silenced the drone of traffic by thundering,

"It's the great anomaly of modern civilisation. What are you going to do
with them? Theoretically they're your equal fellow-citizens, but they
don't vote, they daren't enter a white man's hotel. I can't remember for
the moment whether they're actually increasing in numbers----"

Then I knew, even without sight of the square-faced, bull-necked man
with the familiar grey eyes, dusty hair and capacious loose-lipped
mouth, that Guy Bannerman had discovered America and was concerned to
solve the negro problem. He was on his way to Klondike, where he heard
that gold had been found, and he swore me impressively to secrecy.

"Half New York knows about it already," I had to warn him.

"How did they hear?" he roared.

"You've just told them."

The three of us lunched together, and I found that Grayle, too, was
bound for the gold-fields. Their methods of approach were notably
different, for, while Guy Bannerman informed New York City that any
fool could dig for gold and I retorted that every fool would, Grayle was
compiling an exhaustive list of everything that a gold-digger could need
or be drugged into thinking he needed.

"One wants a pick and shovel, I suppose," Guy ventured, "and--and a
pannikin." His conception of gold-digging impressed me as being
literary.

"And food, drink, lights, clothes, covering, cooking-gear, medicine----"
Grayle struck in ferociously. "No, we're not going to discover the North
West Passage, but we're going to make these swine squeal--and the more
squeals we knock out of them the better I shall be pleased. Tools,
blankets--or rather, sleeping-bags. Tents. Tobacco. Mustn't forget
tobacco. Bags for the gold. I suppose, if you've had a good day, you
sleep with a revolver under your pillow; and stand drinks all round,
which involves the worst obtainable Californian gooseberry. I'm going to
supply the outfit, and they're going to dig the gold. Exploit, or be
exploited. Care to come in with us, Stornaway? Anything you like to put
up, you know...."

He could not persuade me to come and help him exploit, nor could he save
Bannerman from being exploited, but the enterprise as he saw and planned
it was a giant success even in the history of gold-rushes. I believe
Aylmer Lancing supplied the capital; Grayle reached Klondike a week
after the rush had begun and only came east when it was starkly not
worth his while to be left with a month's stores on his hands; then the
insalubrious shanty known as "Grayle's Hotel" was sold by private
treaty, the stock-in-trade was put up to auction on a rising market and
he returned to square his accounts with Lancing in New York.

However much money he made, I dare swear that he returned with even more
experience. For many months many thousands of the world's choicest
blackguards had slept between his blankets, worked with his tools, eaten
his food and sheltered beneath his roofs. Raving with his Californian
gooseberry champagne, a Pittsburg smelter had emptied one of his
six-shooters into the scattering head of his partner; Grayle sold the
coffin and subsequently a coil of rope. He supplied jewellery and
dresses to the women whom he had induced to follow the camp; he peddled
concertinas to the musically-minded. Twice the store was looted, after a
good day and a full dinner, which the looting party instinctively felt
to have been insufficiently full. The first time he convened a public
meeting and asked if it was in the common interest to make him close
down; the second time he began to pack and only unpacked when the leader
had been unobtrusively lynched. As a study in contrasts, Guy Bannerman
spent three months carrying the gold south and bringing back stores;
then he tired of the only work for which he was fit, pocketed his share
of the profits and started digging. The profits were coaxed out of him
by a woman whom he set himself to reclaim--without noticeable
success--and, whereas the gold began to peter out within a month of
Grayle's departure, Bannerman stayed on until his last dollar had passed
to the new proprietor of "Grayle's Hotel."

I met both adventurers in Venezuela, which they had to leave before
their scheduled time, and again at Colon. Then I returned to England and
got myself elected to the House of Commons for the Southdown division of
Sussex; I did not see Grayle again until the 1900 election brought him
into the House, with Guy Bannerman faithfully running the election and
later acting as secretary, shadow, press-cutting agency, collector of
statistics, fact-finder and general parliamentary devil. Then he went
out to South Africa for the second half of the war.

Having seen the man undisguised in two continents, I have always been a
little surprised to find how little he was known here; he can be a very
entertaining ruffian, causing the usually censorious to apologise and
say "a blackguard, but at least he's not a hypocrite, you know;" on the
other hand, through the rose-tinted spectacles of middle-age I seem to
look back on a House of Commons which would not have tolerated him;
perhaps we are more indulgent nowadays, perhaps no one took the trouble
to compile a dossier, perhaps each man felt that his own turn might
come next.

Be that as it may, Grayle succeeded in entering a House that neither
liked nor trusted him. Fishing in troubled waters for twelve years, he
picked up a knowledge of his colleagues, even if he landed no fish;
speculation in countries too enterprising to be critical had made him
rich enough to pay other people's debts and occasionally to compensate
lost honour on behalf of some rising politician with a reputation to
preserve, but he never came into the open until the Marconi enquiry,
when I discovered by the savagery of his attacks on the Government that
he was now a newspaper proprietor. The war gave him his opportunity,
and, according to the far from impartial statement of Bertrand Oakleigh,
who liked an actionable story for its own sake, Grayle was one of the
leaders in organising the Unionist attack on the Liberal Government in
1915.

All this and more I contrived to convey to Pentyre before Grayle had
finished his cigar and signified his willingness to come upstairs.

We were hardly inside the drawing-room before he had limped briskly to
the sofa where the young bride who had been his neighbour at dinner was
seated; she smiled easily, ungratified but obviously conscious of his
admiration, and in a moment they were splashing to the waist in
vivacious badinage. I sought out my niece and tried to secure ten
minutes' quiet discussion of my own affairs.

In one of the first letters to reach me in my internment camp Yolande
cautiously prepared me for bad news; on the next page she announced
young Deryk Lancing's death; a week later I heard--in my loose-box and
amid a smell of straw and whitewash--that the whole estate of some
twenty odd millions had passed to me. I had known old Sir Aylmer
Lancing, the boy's father, ever since I was transferred from Vienna to
Washington, when he was in the fulness of his powers and Deryk was
unborn. Indeed, he had hitched me out of the Diplomatic and given me a
start with one of his own firms of contractors in South America, and
there I had made enough money to retire to affluence when my health
broke down in Panama. I had seen him, too, regularly and intimately for
fifteen years after his stroke; indeed, I had induced my brother to sell
him Ripley Court and I spent so much of my time there that it was
sometimes hard to believe that the great, gaunt house had ever changed
hands. Deryk I had known since he was a boy of eight or nine, brilliant
and precocious, neurotic, impatient and inconsiderate, but winning and
lovable with it all and filled with a blaze of promise. He had succeeded
to the title and estate less than twelve months before he was killed; he
had just become engaged rather romantically to a girl with whom he had
long been in love; and it was on the day when he had been shewing her
the house which I persuaded him to buy and which was waiting for them
both that he had fallen from the roof and been picked up dead and
hideously broken....

I looked round the room, through the rich gleam of Lady Maitland's red
lacquer, at Grayle, sitting with one leg permanently stiff in front of
him, Charles Maitland, already twice wounded, Pentyre in his Guards
uniform, waiting to go out, and my eyes came to rest on Yolande's black
dress.

"You would have thought the war had done enough damage without any
extras of that kind," I said.

"What are you going to do with all the money?" she asked wonderingly.

"I want time to think, Yolande," I said. "I feel a little bit dazed.
It's so much the same--and yet so different. I know this room so well,
Lady Maitland's the same fat, voluble, outrageous, delightful creature
that she always was,--and yet I seemed to have dipped into another
world...."

We were still talking of ourselves and the family when a maid entered to
say that a Mr. Jellaby wished to speak to Colonel Grayle on the
telephone. I smiled in easy triumph as Grayle scrambled to his feet, for
I have so often found Mr. Jellaby wishing to speak to me on the
telephone, and poor Jellaby with tears in his voice has begged me to
help keep a house or stand in readiness for a division or relieve guard
after an all-night sitting.

"If there's a division, I shall take you," Grayle threatened in
retaliation for my smile, as he leaned down for his stick. "One of these
Labour swine making trouble, I expect. We've all got to back the
Government as long as it is the Government."

It was a good guess, for he returned a moment later and dragged me to my
feet with the announcement that Grimthorpe, the A.S.E. man, was
threatening to divide the House unless the Prime Minister gave an
assurance that the National Registration Bill would never be made the
basis of a system of conscription.

"Infernal nuisance, but we shall have to go," he said. "You've got to
start your duties some time, Stornaway, and you may as well keep me
company and start them to-night. Only a formality, you know. Half the
Cabinet's sworn not to graft conscription on to the Bill, and the other
half's sworn it will. Beauty of coalition government!"

More from a desire to see what the House looked like than from any wish
to support Grayle, I allowed myself to be taken away. As I shook hands
with Lady Maitland, he stumped back to his sofa and roundly told the
young bride that he proposed to come and call on her.

"Haven't half finished our conversation," he said in a tone of
authority, "so if you'll tell me your address----"

I chose to think that her manner hardened, as though she felt that
Grayle was taking her for granted too much.

"I'm hardly ever at home," she answered. "My Belgian refugee work----"

"Free in the evenings," he interrupted jerkily. "_My_ only time for
calling."

She hesitated and, as I thought, sank her voice slightly, putting
herself on the defensive.

"You'd only be bored, you know," she warned him. "It isn't an ordinary
house, and you won't meet ordinary people."

"Coming to see _you_," Grayle answered.

"You clearly aren't wanted, Grayle," I said, taking him by the arm. "If
you insist on dragging me to the House, let's start at once."

He shook free of my hand and turned to her, as though he were delivering
an ultimatum.

"You don't want me to come?" he demanded.

"You won't be amused," she answered, this time in unmistakable distress.

"Where do you live?" he asked relentlessly.

"In Westminster." I was rather shocked by the way in which she allowed
him to bully her. "A house called 'The Sanctuary,' on the Embankment,
just by the Tate Gallery."

He repeated the name as we walked downstairs and whistled unsuccessfully
for a taxi. On the steps I told him again that he had been making a
nuisance of himself, for she was probably living in some modest
boarding-house. Grayle would only murmur irrelevantly that she was a
devilish pretty girl, an opinion evidently shared by George Oakleigh and
the Maitland boys, who had surrounded her before Grayle was out of the
room. I cannot remember that her looks left any impression on me at this
meeting.

"'The Sanctuary'," he murmured for the third time, as we set off on foot
for the House. "Didn't happen to hear what her name was, did you? Never
bother about names myself."

"It would be inartistic," I said.

We walked through Eaton Square in silence and along Buckingham Gate and
Birdcage Walk to Parliament Square. As we approached the Palmerston
monument, Grayle touched my arm, pointed ahead and quickened his limping
pace; an open-air meeting of two soldiers, nine loafers and one woman
was being addressed by a shabbily-garbed young man who seemed to be on
the worst possible terms with his audience; Grayle, who has the nose of
a schoolboy or a terrier for any kind of fight, clearly felt that this,
like the war, was too good to miss. What went before, I have, of course,
no means of judging, but such fragments of vituperation as reached me
suggested the wonder why a man, who cared nothing for his hearers,
troubled to harangue an exasperated group, which was quite unconvinced
by his reasoning. The speaker kept his temper; his hearers had lost
theirs from the outset, I should imagine, and this possibly amused him
and justified the effort.

"Go aht and fight yourself," cried one of the soldiers truculently,
"before yer snacks at the men that 'ave been out there."

"I should not der-ream of fighting," the lecturer answered with
practised and very clear enunciation.

"Precious sight too careful of yer dirty skin!"

The lecturer laughed with maddening calm.

"I value my life," he conceded, "but I happen to be brave enough to
value my soul more. I do not choose to be the deluded instrument of
Junkers here or elsewhere, and, had anyone thought you worth educating,
you would not choose it either. My fine fellow, you were before the
war--what? A coal-heaver? But you had no quarrel with the coal-heavers
of Germany, until your Junkers told you to fight; you will again have no
quarrel when your Junkers tell you to stop fighting. I was a medical
student once, I had no quarrel with the medical students of other
nations, nor can I make a quarrel when a Junker tells me to hate, to be
red and angry--if you could see how red and angry you look now!--to stab
and shoot and slash. If I have to kill, let me kill a Junker, who cannot
maintain the peace of the world." He sank his voice with artistic
pretence of talking to himself. "But I was educated, I have thought, I
am not a dog to be whistled to heel or incited to fight other dogs."

In the pause that followed Grayle put his lips to my ear and whispered
behind his hand.

"Get those two Tommies away," he begged. "Dust this fellow's jacket for
him, but can't do it in uniform with men about."

I gripped his arm firmly and tried to drag him away. The war seemed to
have brought all Grayle's latent ferocity to the surface.

"Don't be a fool!" I whispered.

"Not going to let a damned German agent talk sedition in my hearing!" he
cried.

Even as he spoke, the decision was taken out of our hands. The soldier,
rightly or wrongly described as a coal-heaver, stepped forward and
called upon the lecturer to "take that back, will you?" The lecturer
smiled, folded his arms and said nothing, quietly waiting for the
interruption to subside.

"Take that back!" repeated the soldier, with a new note of menace in his
voice, and, when there was no answer, dealt a swinging open-handed blow
to the lecturer's face.

His victim staggered, recovered his balance and stood with lips tightly
compressed and a print of angry scarlet on his cheek. One of the women
had screamed; two of the loafers cried, after deliberation, "Serve him
right!"

"When opposed to truth," the lecturer continued, when he had satisfied
himself that no second blow was coming, "violence is as ineffectual in
the street as on the battlefield. You do not stifle truth by sending a
man to Siberia, as I've seen men sent, though you may remove an
undesirable prefect of police, as I have _seen_ one removed, sky-high in
Kiev, because--well, the truth was not in him. Nor is there truth in
you; there can be no truth in dogs who feed on bones flung from the
table, dogs who rise up raw from their beating and give their lives to
protect their masters."

This time there was no invitation to retract. The same soldier again
stepped quickly forward, threw his arm across his chest and flung the
full weight of his body into a sweeping backhander. The lecturer was
lifted off his feet and carried a yard back, where he struck the
railings and fell in an invertebrate mass with one leg curled under him.
The onlookers craned forward uneasily, glanced at one another and began
to separate in silence, the more quickly when Grayle limped up and
confronted the avenging soldier.

"Clear out of this!" he ordered abruptly.

"'E insulted the uniform, sir," came the husky justification compounded
of alcohol, fear and regard for Grayle's red band and tabs.

"I know all about that. Clear out and take your friends with you. He's
not dead," he added a moment later, when we were alone, contemptuously
exploring the body with his toe. "I don't suppose he's even badly hurt.
I propose to leave him here and tell one of the Bobbies at the
House----"

There was a groan as the toe glided on to an injured part. I asked the
man where he was hurt, and at sound of my voice he opened his eyes,
looked round for a moment and closed them again. I was as yet far from
used to the dim light from the shrouded street-lamps and could only see
that he looked a man between twenty and thirty, shockingly thin of body,
with fair hair, dark blue eyes and a narrow face with high cheek bones.
His air and costume were generally threadbare. More from policy than
compassion Grayle relented somewhat.

"I'll mount guard," he said. "Get hold of a Bobby and a stretcher."


3

To be involved, however innocently, in a street brawl is considerably
more characteristic of Vincent Grayle than of myself. I think that he
should have discontinued the habit at least when he reached the age of
fifty, but I know well that he only regretted his late arrival.

"They keep a stretcher at the House, don't they?" he asked, as he bared
his crop of yellow hair to the wind and lit a cigarette in preparation
for his vigil by the recumbent agitator. "If not, telephone Cannon Row."

I was starting on my way when I collided with a young man who had joined
us unperceived. He was in evening dress with an overcoat across his arm
and a sombre-eyed Saint Bernard at his side.

"Someone hurt?" he enquired, after waving away my apologies. "I thought
I heard the word 'stretcher.'"

"It was only a street row," Grayle explained callously. "This fellow
thought fit to address an anti-recruiting meeting, and his points
weren't very well taken."

The young man wrinkled his forehead, laughed and, after a moment's
thought, slipped his arms into the sleeves of his overcoat.

"Didn't Doctor Johnson say that every man had the right to express his
opinion and that everyone else had the right to knock him down for it?"
he drawled. Then abruptly, "Are you Colonel Grayle, by any chance?"

"I am," Grayle answered with a look of surprise.

"I thought I recognised your voice. I collect voices and I heard you
last week when the National Registration Bill was in Committee. Do you
think it's possible to arrive at a taxi? I live quite near here and I
can take the patient home for treatment."

"But why the deuce should _you_ bother about him?" Grayle asked.

The boy smiled to himself and shrugged his shoulders.

"If we cast him off to a hospital, there'll be all sorts of silly
questions," he explained. "And I'm a bit of an Ishmaelite myself. What's
the extent of the damage?"

The injured man opened his eyes again and reduced his huddled limbs to
some sort of order, not without occasional twinges of pain. He seemed
nothing but skin and loose bones and might well have fainted from
exhaustion rather than injury.

"My left leg's done for," he announced.

The stranger nodded sympathetically.

"Can anyone see a taxi?" he asked. "They've simply disappeared from the
streets of London, like Sam Weller's dead donkeys and postboys. Well,
you men help him up and give him a hoist on to my shoulders. I'm only a
step from here."

At a guess the sprawling figure was some inches taller and at least as
heavy as the new-comer, but my suggestion that we should wait for a taxi
or send for a stretcher was disregarded.

"Perhaps I'm stronger than I look," he told me; to the injured man he
said, "Clasp your hands round my neck; I'll try not to shake you, but it
may come a bit painful. And one of you men look after the steering so
that I don't tumble off the kerb or get run over. The house is just by
the Tate Gallery--a big sort of barn with a lamp over the door--it's
called 'The Sanctuary.'"

Grayle started violently and looked at me, but I had appointed myself
steersman and was heading for Millbank in the wake of the sombre-eyed
Saint Bernard. The young man's looks belied his strength, for he walked
fast enough for Grayle to have difficulty in keeping pace, and, as he
walked, he told us that the expected division was a false alarm and that
the House was up. I hurried along by his side, feeling more and more
that the whole evening had passed in a dream and that I should wake up
to find myself back in my internment camp. The noise and excitement had
tired me into somnolence; the darkened streets added to my feeling of
unreality. The dog with a cane and hat in his jaws, one young man with
another young man sprawling on his shoulders, Grayle panting on one side
and myself guiding the unconvincing procession on the other made up a
picture whose reality I myself doubted more than once.

And the house, when we reached it, was a large brick-and-timber
warehouse, once the property of a wharfinger, before the Embankment was
built, and quite unlike anything that I had expected,--though in keeping
with everything that night. I stood waiting for instructions, for there
was a modern annexe, with a second floor. I learned afterwards that
Whaley, the Pre-Raphaelite, had used the place as a studio.

"It's only about half furnished at present," our young friend informed
us, "and I expect you'll find it very untidy. We've not been married a
month yet. The house was a wedding-present."

I had guessed him to be the husband of the young bride whom we had met
at dinner and could understand why his wife was unprepared for visitors.

"We won't come in," I said, as we stopped under a wrought-iron lamp by a
heavy oak door painted in white gothic characters with the name of the
house.

"Oh, you must!" he cried. "I may want help. You just push the door--it
isn't locked--and, if there's no light on, you'll find the switches to
the right. Don't turn it on, though, till the door's shut, or someone
will run me in for signalling to German aircraft."

Grayle at least seemed to need no second invitation, and, when our host
said that he might want help, I did not see my way to refuse the first.
I confess, too, that I was amused and curious; the boy was attractive,
with mobile face, dark hair and big, black eyes; I liked his quick smile
and rather mischievous laugh, above all, I respected his good-nature in
picking up a total stranger, who, so far as one can justify private acts
of violence, had been most justifiably punished.

We passed through the hall into a lofty room with long windows far up
the walls above ten feet of oak panelling, rough-cut beams melting into
the shadows of the roof and a block-floor half-covered with rugs. On a
dais to our right as we entered stood a long refectory table between two
rows of heavily carved Spanish oak chairs; at the far end was a grand
piano; low book-cases ran round the walls, there were three or four big
oil-paintings above the panelling, and arranged in half-circles round
the two fires were luxuriously large sofas and arm-chairs. I was a
little reminded of a college hall, when I looked at the severe table on
this dais, the black-beamed roof and panelled walls; I thought of the
perfect club smoking room, when I tried one of the chairs; and the whole
room, as I surveyed its warm, bright emptiness from the doorway
suggested a stage scene at the rise of the curtain.

"It's rather jolly, isn't it?" said my host, when I expressed my
admiration. "The bedrooms are all in the new part, but, when we're not
asleep, we shall feed and work and live here. Personally I never want
more than one room and, if this one isn't big enough, I should like to
know what is. I'm sorry my wife isn't in, she could shew you round so
much better; but she's dining out to-night."

He settled the injured man in comfort on a long sofa and went to a
telephone by the piano. While he waited for his call, we were invited to
help ourselves from a side-table on the dais, where a generous choice of
cake, sandwiches, fruit, cold meat, cheese and drinks of many kinds
awaited us. He hoped that we should find something to our taste; people
were apt to drop in at all hours, he assured us, so it was as well to
have something handy. I poured myself out a brandy and soda and accepted
one of his cigars. My young friend took for granted much that is not
usually taken for granted, but I tried to harmonise with his mood and
succeeded better, I think, than Grayle, who walked slowly about the
room, staring at the furniture and pictures, but not committing himself
to criticism. My cigar was hardly alight when the flame-coloured silk
curtain over the door was drawn aside and a girl came in, looked round
at us incuriously and cut herself a slice of cake. As she prepared to
eat it, she caught sight of the figure on the sofa and walked quickly up
to our host, who murmured something and shook his head. Five minutes
later the doctor arrived, and, while he began his examination, I
announced that I must go home.

"My wife will be back any minute now," our host pleaded, putting a
repeater to his ear. "Are you sure you won't stay?"

"Let us come again in day-light," I said. "I'm really rather tired now.
I've been travelling a lot lately."

He bowed with smiling courtesy.

"I won't keep you, but please come whenever you feel inclined to. You
just push the door, as I explained----"

"Don't you ever lock it?" asked Grayle, breaking silence for the first
time since we had set out from Parliament Square.

The young man's black eyes smiled wonderingly.

"Why should I?" he asked.

"Prevent things being stolen," Grayle answered.

"Nobody's stolen anything yet,--and we've been here a week! But, if
anybody _did_ steal, it would probably mean that he wanted it more than
we did."

"What's your _objection_ to locking it?" Grayle pursued.

The boy stood with his hands in his pockets, swaying backwards and
forwards from heel to toe and smiling mischievously, with his luminous
black eyes upon our faces.

"It seems so inhospitable!" he laughed, "and I love symbols."

"But who d'you keep it open for?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

"Your friend, the doctor, his patient, that lady who came in a moment
ago. You, if you will come again."

"I shall certainly come again," I said, as we shook hands.

Walking along Millbank, Grayle broke into an unexpected laugh.

"I thought I'd met most kinds of lunacy," he remarked. "Fellow said he
was in the House, didn't he? I must look him up in the directory
to-morrow and see what their name is. 'The Sanctuary.' I suppose that's
a symbol, too."


4

A reputation for honesty is often embarrassing; when coupled with
efficiency, it is always disastrous. For five-and-twenty years I have
reeled under the name of a "good business man," and this has exposed me
to attack by every impulsive woman and woolly-headed man who has wanted
something done without quite knowing how to do it, who has wished money
collected without quite knowing how to set about it, who has dragged his
committee and himself knee-deep into the mire of stagnant insolvency
without knowing whether to go on or to struggle back. Then someone has
said, "We must co-opt Mr. Raymond Stornaway."

As the reputation has long ceased to be an honour and is now only a
nuisance, I propose to affect no false modesty about it. Before the war
I was always being made a governor of some new school or hospital, and
my success is to be measured by the fact that I almost invariably got my
own way in committee--(if I was not voted into the chair at once, I
overwhelmed the chairman until he yielded place)--and as invariably I
raised the funds which I had been appointed to find. Perhaps I hoped
that, as everyone had comfortably survived my absence for a year, I
should be allowed a respite, but on the morrow of this Arabian Night of
mine I was to discover that London contained as many voluble,
sympathetic and unpractical women as ever, all convinced that they had
only to form a committee of their friends, dispense with book-keeping,
insert their photographs in the illustrated papers and stretch out both
hands to a man who knew a man who had a friend on one of the daily
papers.

Lady Maitland rustled in, grey-haired and majestic, as I was finishing
breakfast the first morning; the Duchess of Ross starved me into
submission before she would let me go down to luncheon; and by night I
was duly included in the Committees of the Belgian Relief Fund, the
Emergency Hospital Fund and the Prisoners of War Relief Fund. The
following day Mountstuart of the Treasury wheedled me into the Deputy
Commissionership of the War Charities Control Department, and I found
myself after an interval of thirty years once more a Government servant,
charged to see that the amateur enthusiasm of Eleanor Ross and her
friends did not defraud the public too flagrantly and that a reasonable
proportion of the money collected was in fact paid over to the objects
for which it had been raised.

Throughout August and the first half of September I set myself to learn
my new duties, spending the morning in the St. James' Street Committee
rooms and the afternoon at the Eaton Hotel, where my Department had been
installed in a faded coffee-room enlivened by a sardonic portrait of
Lord Beaconsfield in Garter robes and made business-like by rickety
trestle tables, paste pots and letter trays, internecine telephones and
japanned deed-boxes earmarked as His Majesty's property by a white crown
and "G.R." It took me several bashful days to grow acclimatised to the
epicene life of the office, but I discovered in time and with relief
that the expensive young women with the Johnsonian capacity for
conversation and tea were every whit as much frightened of me as I of
them. The men afforded material for my insatiable interest in my fellow
creatures; we had a few journalists, a stockbroker or two, several
college tutors, an elderly miscellany which had retired some years
before and was returning to active service for the duration of the war,
two or three men rejected or invalided out of the army and three or four
whose reason for not being in the army was not so obvious--a gathering
which was partly patriotic, wholly impecunious and very different from
the collection of unfledged naked intelligences which were distributed
through the public offices of other days by the Civil Service
Commissioners.

When I had subdued Lady Pentyre in the morning and ploughed through the
familiar files in the afternoon, I devoted the evening to private
business. A year's accumulation of letters made a considerable pile,
which was not reduced by the kindly friends who thought it necessary to
congratulate me on my return; nor was my leisure increased by those
others who invited me to lunch or dinner with a persistency that brooked
no refusal. In time, however, I had read myself abreast of the
periodical literature produced by the hospitals and schools; in time,
too, I began to tackle the Lancing inheritance and paid formal visits to
Ripley Court and the house in Pall Mall to see that they were
satisfactory to the War Office. So long as the war continued, I was not
likely to be faced by poor Deryk Lancing's inability to dispose of the
income of the Trust.

A month slipped imperceptibly away before I had got rid of the arrears
of work and felt justified in taking on extra burdens. Then I paid my
first visit to the House of Commons and tried in one evening to get the
temper of a House which I had left toiling acrimoniously in 1914 with
the third presentation of the Home Rule Bill. The Front Benches were
pleasantly mingled in late-found amity, there was a solid, unquestioning
Ministerial majority, but in place of an official opposition I found a
curious collection of cliques not wholly satisfied with all the heroic
remedies of the Government and fearful that criticism might be construed
as factiousness. I was to find later that, with the abdication of the
House of Commons, all control of administration fell gradually into the
hands of the Press.

The Smoking Room, which--like the rest of London--moved in a regular
cycle of elation and depression, optimism and despair, was in deep gloom
my first night. The recruiting-figures were shrinking daily, we could
look for no help from America and what Lady Maitland called "that Man
Wilson's 'too proud to fight' nonsense." Warsaw had just fallen, and
Russian Poland lay at the mercy of the enemy; earlier in the week, too,
we had experienced our first Zeppelin raid and, while it was easy to
count the casualties and demonstrate the 700,000 to 1 odds against any
one of us being killed, we felt that something remained to be done and
that these birds of death, however exciting to watch, should not be
allowed to fly to and fro at will, hover their destructive hour and
depart unscathed.

As I can do nothing with criticism which is afraid to materialise into
action, I decided to leave the House early and, being at a loose end, to
pay my promised call at "The Sanctuary." The fact that I had let a month
go by without discovering my host's name disturbed me little in a house
where so much was taken for granted, and I boldly pushed open the door,
as I had been bidden, and looked into the long, warm room. By firelight
it seemed empty at first; then I heard voices and saw the disabled
agitator sitting on a sofa with his leg up, talking to the girl whom I
had seen on my last visit. As I hesitated by the door, she jumped up
and made me welcome.

"Leg not right yet, then?" I said, as I joined them by the sofa. "By the
way, my name's Raymond Stornaway."

"Mine's Hilda Merryon," said the girl at once.

I had not had much opportunity of observing her before, but I saw now
that she was young and slight, with black hair and very pale, regular
features. She had in her manner, too, something scornful which I found
immediately antagonistic.

"Oh, I shall be here for weeks," said the young agitator, "if they'll
keep me. We're tuberculous as a family, and the knee will probably turn
out tuberculous. I'm Peter Beresford."

My niece Yolande, who buys all modern poetry that she can find, tells me
that I ought to have been certainly the wiser and perhaps the more
impressed by this information; and, if I had spent the last year in
England instead of abroad, I might very well have read of Beresford's
escapades with the police. Various people have from time to time
contributed fragments of his biography. I believe that he started as the
dreamy and eccentric son of a Lincolnshire family and that on leaving
school he had betaken himself to Moscow on a self-conscious literary
holiday. Once there, he refused to come back. The sombre, intoxicating
magic of Dostoevski had drawn him, Russia laid her spell upon him; and,
when funds from home were cut off, he starved and feasted, worked and
slumbered for two years, until the woman with whom he was living forsook
him. A violent reaction sent him to Cambridge, a strangely experienced
and natively rebellious freshman, for he had written poetry and
abandoned it, read medicine and abandoned it, mixed in revolutionary
society and drifted under a haunting police surveillance which only
relaxed when powerful friends urged his reluctant steps homeward.

"No more public meetings for the present, then," I said.

Anyone may call the words fatuous, but they were harmless and not
ill-natured. I quote them because of their effect in lashing Beresford
to a passion only describable as insane. I have never met anyone who
knew him as a boy, I cannot say whether he was naturally neurotic or
whether too early acquaintance with oppression had warped his mind, but
I saw a good deal of him between this night and our last meeting and I
have consistently felt from the moment of this encounter that he was
separated from certifiable madness by a hair's breadth. He had all the
suspicion, the sudden fury, the courage and the obstinacy of fanaticism,
the whole streaked with morbidity. We talked long that night, and every
chapter of his Russian Odyssey ended with the refrain "Alone of the
beasts man delights in torturing his fellows;" yet, when he described a
meeting in Petersburg being broken up by a charge of Cossacks, I could
have sworn that there was gloating in his tale of casualties, as with a
man who will pay money to stare at physical deformity. Against this, his
hatred of oppression was rooted in a poet's love of beauty. His quarrel
with society in peace was that it made man a soul-stunted slave and the
countryside an industrial ash-heap, in war that it made him a
disembowelled and screaming reproach of the Maker who fashioned him in
His image. Beresford had a sense of colour, form and sound which a man
will never know unless he be born with it. Again and again it came out
in his descriptions. And then I remember his making a sarcastic and
grotesquely ineffectual speech to a knot of drunken loafers.

"Do you feel that the sort of thing you were saying the other night does
much good?" I persisted, as he glared at me, breathing quickly.

His sudden blaze of anger seemed to dab two spots of scarlet on his
shining, prominent cheek-bones.

"For you--_no_ good!" he cried. "I told those fools not to fight, I
asked them what they were fighting for! _They_ didn't know. How should
they? But you know. Keep the dogs fighting one another, and they won't
turn on you. But when your troops come back, the troops that you have
drilled and taught to shoot, when they ask why their companions were
killed----"

The girl relaxed the scornful attitude of aloofness, which she had
preserved throughout the evening, to touch his arm warningly; he coughed
and went back to his cigarette.

I laughed at him, partly because it was good for him and partly to help
me keep my own temper.

"That stuff didn't go down the other night, and it won't go down with
me. You've been talking quite sensibly so far----" He bowed ironically.
"You can't make war without killing people, and there would have been no
peace or safety, if we'd stood out. Of course, if you want to see this
country or Russia treated as Belgium has been treated----"

He snorted contemptuously and told me, as an eye-witness, that the
Belgian atrocities could at their worst always be matched by the Russian
atrocities in East Prussia. ("Alone of the beasts man delights in
torturing his fellows.") But why strain at the gnat and swallow the
camel? The major atrocity was war; and, the greater the war, the greater
the atrocity. "The English were not too humane in South Africa. No. And
South Africa was child's play, it didn't matter who won. You were less
humane still in putting down the Indian Mutiny, where you were fighting
for our lives. Germany is fighting for her life, she must fight how she
can. A screen of women and children before the advancing armies? One
husbands one's troops. The Zeppelin attacks? One always likes to
undermine civilian moral, to make the whimperers at home yelp for peace
on one's own terms--(and are not you high-minded English warring on
civilians--women and children, too--by blockading Germany?). This is a
war of nations with all the nations' human and material resources poured
into the scale. If you want to fight, fight to win! Sink your hospital
ships! They will have to be replaced, and fewer troops, less food, less
ammunition will be carried in consequence."

He threw himself back exhausted and gave way to a fit of coughing which
threatened to tear him in pieces. I looked at my watch and got up to go.

"You should have preached this before the war," I suggested.

"It will be before the next war," he gasped. "And war there will be! I'm
sick of this 'war-to-end-war' claptrap! That's been thought in every
war, it was thought when Europe was leagued against Napoleon, as it is
now leagued against the Kaiser! There will be war until the fools I
addressed that night, those dogs who fight for the masters that betray
them, turn and tear their masters limb from limb. Yes. If they don't do
that before the world is ripe for another vintage, if they wait till
present memories have faded and another generation of old men sits in
power to send young men to their death----"

His pity again became merged in imaginative blood-lust until he seemed
to revel in the horror of his own description. Science was to be applied
without mercy or discrimination. When the maximum of destruction had
been effected in the field, the war would be carried behind the lines to
those who made its continuance possible. There would be no quarter for
prisoners, who might escape, nor for the wounded, who might recover and
fight again. The nurses and doctors who dragged the wounded back to life
and patched them into the semblance of men were making new soldiers; it
was not convenient that the enemy should be presented with new soldiers,
so the war must be continued against these nurses and doctors. And
against the countrymen, who raised food for the troops, and the
artificers, who supplied them with arms, and the women, who came to take
men's places on the farm and in the workshop, and the old men, who lent
money to buy more guns and shells, and the young boys, who day by day
drew nearer to the age when they, too, would be soldiers, and the last
woman in the country, who, if she did nothing else, could bear a child
to the last man....

Beresford's voice rose until it broke, and his words poured out more and
more quickly. The fellow had the impressiveness which is born of
conviction, and the girl by his side no longer attempted to restrain
him, but a sound unheard by me stopped him abruptly, and he glanced over
his shoulder with quick apprehension, as the door opened and closed. It
was not the glance that I associate with an easy conscience, and I was
suddenly sorry for the man. A moment later the hunted look left his
face, as the flame-coloured curtain was drawn aside, and my host
appeared in sight. There was the same whimsical smile in his big, black
eyes that I had seen when we met before--mischievous, kindly, and
baffling. He threw his hat into a chair and gave his cane to the Saint
Bernard to carry; as he came into the room I was struck by the lightness
and grace of his movements. The atmosphere cleared of its electricity.

"Only a small party to-night," he murmured.

The girl on the sofa looked up quickly.

"I'm here," she said, "and Mr. Beresford and----" She hesitated and
blushed to find that she had forgotten my name.

"Raymond Stornaway," I supplemented. "You said I might come again."

He turned and grasped my hand.

"I've heard our friend George Oakleigh speak about you!" he cried. "I
didn't know, the other night, that it was you. Haven't you just been
released from Austria? My wife said something.... They're a funny
people, the Austrians; there's no pleasing them. Now, when they get hold
of you, they simply won't let you go, but the last time I was in the
country--officially--they escorted me over the frontier and hinted that
they'd put a bullet in me, if I ever came back. And all because of a
regrettable little disturbance in Vienna, when an Austrian officer said
things about my father and myself which I thought--and think still--a
gentleman does not say."

As I looked at the animated, thin face, I was trying hard to remember
where I had seen it before. At the mention of Vienna I saw again an
open-fronted café on the Ring-Strasse with white-aproned waiters
bustling, gesticulating and shouting round a swaying mass of combatants;
in the heart of the struggle I saw a thin-faced, black-haired boy
fighting like a tiger; one arm hung limp and helpless by his side or
flapped horribly with the movements of his body, and his face was
streaming with blood. I saw his companion bring down the lamp with a
blow from a chair, I remember how infinitely more alarming and
suggestive the cries, the groans and general tumult of the fight became
in the darkness. It was no affair of mine, however, and I was far down
the Ring-Strasse when the police cut their way into the mêlée with drawn
swords.

"I was in the café at the time," I told him. "You were there with Jack
Summertown. I'm surprised that either of you got out alive."

"You were there?" he echoed with a burst of boyish laughter. "It was a
great night! I've still got some of the marks! I wondered who you
were.... Of course, we've got scores of friends in common. You know
Bertrand Oakleigh in the House? Well, he lives here. The place in
Princes Gardens is being used as a hospital, so George has a room at his
Club and the old man stays with us. He gave us the house--he's always
been astonishingly generous to me--but of course I couldn't accept it
like _that_. I only let him give it to me on condition that I was
allowed to share it with others. Perhaps now my symbolism----"

He broke off with a laugh and asked whether the others had looked after
me well.

"I'm sorry my wife's not here," he said. "Let me see, she wasn't in the
last time, either; the fact is, Colonel Grayle telephoned to say that
he'd been given a box for some theatre and would we dine with him and go
on? I'd already promised to dine at the House and I don't go to the play
much, anyway, but she thought she'd like to go, and she hasn't come in
yet. To-night you've _got_ to wait."

It was half-past eleven, and I held out my watch to him, shaking my
head.

"Look at the time," I said.

He took out the repeater that I had seen before and set it striking.

"I set mine by Big Ben this evening," I told him.

"Ah, but I can't see it. I--haven't the use of my eyes, you know. If you
feel you must go, I will only remind you that the door will be open next
time. I've got any amount to talk to you about, and my wife will be most
frightfully sorry to have missed you again. I rather gathered that you
and Grayle and she had been dining in the same house that night, but you
were at different ends of the table, and she didn't hear your name."

"I don't yet know yours," I said.

"David O'Rane," he answered. "There's no particular reason why you
should, unless George has ever talked to you about me. Now, will you
swear--on your honour--that you'll come again? And it must be before I
go away. Good-night!"



CHAPTER TWO

THE OPEN DOOR

     "I was a baby when my mother died
     And father died and left me in the street.
     I starved there, God knows how, a year or two
     On fig-skins, melon-parings, rinds and stalks,
     Refuse and rubbish....
     But, mind you, when a boy starves in the streets
     Eight years together, as my fortune was,
     Watching folk's faces to know who will fling
     The bit of half-stripped grape-bunch he desires,
     And who will curse and kick him for his pains,--
     Which gentleman processional and fine,
     Holding a candle to the Sacrament,
     Will wink and let him lift a plate and catch
     The droppings of the wax to sell again,
     Or holla for the Eight and have him whipped,--
     How say I?--nay, which dog bites, which lets drop
     His bone from the heap of offal in the street,--
     Why, soul and sense of him grow sharp alike,
     He learns the look of things, and none the less
     For admonition from the hunger-pinch."
                       ROBERT BROWNING: _Fra Lippo Lippi._


1

It was not until I had introduced some little organisation into my work
that I had opportunity or justification for seeing my friends. I have
reached an age when I like to go early to bed between two long days of
work; I never ceased to wonder, therefore, at the nervous vitality of
some of the people whom I was meeting; London was fuller than I had ever
known it, the customary autumn exodus had ended with the war; and, what
with a few hundred officers home on leave and athirst for amusement,
what with a few thousand girls working in hospitals, canteens and
Government offices, anyone who wanted distraction had not to look long
for it. The restlessness which seized London every summer before the war
seemed to have increased and become permanent, with an astounding new
licence which I found hard to understand. I suppose the war broke down
most of the old social conventions, but I sometimes wondered in the
early days whether there was anything which the strictly brought up and
closely chaperoned young girl of other days was now _not_ allowed to
do....

Young O'Rane carried me off to my first war party. After I had looked
for him unsuccessfully for some weeks, we had been dining at the House
and talking business and school politics, for the Governors of Melton
School had lately co-opted me in place of Aylmer Lancing, and I had
heard from George that O'Rane was temporarily on the staff there. At ten
o'clock he told me that he was due home for a house-warming and plunged
into a description of his domestic life with all the eagerness of a
child--which is what he was--shewing a new toy. Old Bertrand Oakleigh
had given them the house as a wedding present; ever since his illness at
the outbreak of war (no one was allowed to call it a stroke) the old man
had needed some little attention; what easier than to set a couple of
rooms aside for him? And the place was so big that you could give a
shakedown to "most anyone"--and a meal. It was what O'Rane had always
wanted to do--as in the Middle Ages (rather vaguely).... I should hardly
_believe_ some of the people he'd had there even in five weeks....
People were such fun; Beresford, for instance ... full of good stuff,
full of white-hot idealism which only needed to be directed. "And he's
fallen in love with my wife, so she's gently taming him."

He threw out his sentences with jerky exuberance, passionately serious
at one moment and laughing at himself and me the next.

And that girl I had met, Hilda Merryon.... A little throb of anger came
into O'Rane's voice; she had led a most awful life for about three
years; some brute had victimised her, and her sanctimonious devil of a
father had turned her out of the house.... Now she was a new woman,
though years must pass before she overcame her bitterness and hatred
towards the world, and, when he went back to Melton, she was coming as a
sort of secretary....

We had reached the house, and he threw open the door and stood aside to
let me in.

"I hardly felt this was a normal household when I was here before," I
said.

In the light of the hall I could see his black eyes gleaming with
laughter.

"You should hear old Oakleigh!" he suggested. "'It's a phase, my dear
boy. You'll grow out of it. You see the devil of a lot of strange
things, if you live to be as old as I am.'" He paused to laugh at his
own exquisite mimicry of Bertrand's disillusionised, pontifical manner
and gruff, disparaging voice. "Well, _he_ wouldn't eat a twelve-course
dinner with a starving man opposite him.... It makes life so much
easier, if nobody thinks you're quite sane. Won't you go in?"

"Does your wife enter into the spirit of it?" I asked, as I looked at
the silk curtains bellying away from the white walls.

He evaded the direct question almost apologetically.

"It's a big change after the life she led before the war," he conceded,
"but then the war itself is a big change."

He had mentioned a party, but I was hardly prepared for the army of
occupation which I found in the library. Every chair at the long table
was filled, and the guests had overflowed and scattered throughout the
room, bearing their plates and tumblers with them. Mrs. O'Rane jumped up
from her place between Beresford and Deganway, making me welcome and
apologising for having missed me before.

"This is such an irregular ménage," she exclaimed in a clear, high voice
that dominated the clear, high voices around her. "David's at the House
so much, and I spend my days serving out clothes to Belgian refugees,
or finding them houses and work, or getting up concerts and things to
raise money for them, but _somebody's_ sure to be at home at _some_ hour
of the night. This is our house-warming, and of course David forgot all
about it." She twisted her arms round her husband's neck and kissed him
with an ecstasy that told me stabbingly of something that had been left
out of my life, "Admit you did, sweetheart, or you won't get any
supper."

"_I_ remembered! I invited Mr. Stornaway," he protested. "And you're
going to look after him while I strum. You seem to have got some people
here, Sonia. And there's a sort of hint that some of them have been
smoking."

The crowd, the heat, the babble of voices and the fog of tobacco smoke
robbed me of resistance and individuality. Before I had been three
minutes in the room, I was eating a meal which I did not need, drinking
hock-cup which I knew disagreed with me and trying to carry on two
conversations and at the same time to see who was already there and who
was arriving. Lady Maitland introduced me volubly to a watchful-eyed,
supercilious boy whose first play, she assured me, had taken London by
storm. Had I seen it? If not, I must go at once; and she refreshed her
memory of its name by reference to the author. When he escaped in bored
embarrassment from his own biography, she explained loudly a second time
that _that_ was Eric Lane, the great coming dramatist, and confided as
loudly that he was desperately in love with Babs, little Babs Neave,
Barbara Neave, Lady Barbara Neave--it was no use my pretending that I
didn't know her--and that Crawleigh was at his wits' end, because it was
quite out of the question for them to marry, but Babs was such an
extraordinary girl that, if you opposed her, you might simply drive her
into his arms.... Lady Maitland shook her vigorous grey head with an air
of concern and at once asked me to meet "both the silly children" at
luncheon, because it would interest me....

Before the end of supper I was beginning to get my bearings and to
resolve the unassimilated party into its elements. O'Rane was at the
piano, surrounded by George Oakleigh, two shy and hero-worshipping
pupils from Melton, Miss Hilda Merryon--still aloof and implacable--and
Beresford. In the middle of the room I deduced from Sir Roger Dainton's
presence a purely family gathering of Mrs. O'Rane's relations; their
tongues were as busy as their eyes, and they looked slightly
bewildered--as well they might--and a trifle disapproving.

On the dais Mrs. O'Rane ruled supreme. Even without the explanation
which George strolled across to drawl into my ear, I placed her by her
surroundings as belonging to a society with which I was very familiar
before the war. Lady Sally Farwell sat on one side of her, giving an
excellent and somewhat ill-natured imitation of Lady Barbara Neave, who
with young Eric Lane was hardly out of ear-shot. Mr. Evelyn Staines, the
romantic hero of half a hundred musical comedies at the Regency, sat on
the other, looking out of humour, surprisingly unkempt and unexpectedly
old. There was a youthful claque of young officers, two or three
actresses, whose appearance the illustrated papers had made known to me,
and a sprinkling of middle-aged nondescripts. Before the war I used to
organise a good many charity bazaars, charity balls and charity
matinées; and Mrs. O'Rane's troupe was always much in evidence. She has
since told me that she and Sally Farwell appeared in three duologues and
two oriental ballets on my behalf, though I am ashamed to say that my
neglect of details left me ignorant of my indebtedness.

There were a dozen smaller groups, thrust into corners or wedged between
the heavier furniture. I threaded my way in and out with a word here and
a bow there, blinded by the smoke and deafened by the noise. All seemed
to be enjoying themselves, however, and I was reasonably amused and
interested. From time to time, when O'Rane began to sing or whistle to
his own accompaniment, there was a rippling hush; from time to time,
again, he would break off with a sudden laugh and plunge into dance
music, whereat most of us flattened ourselves against the walls, while
Mrs. O'Rane and Mr. Evelyn Staines gave an exhibition of highly
technical stage-dancing.

"I don't quite fit your uncle Bertrand into this," I observed to George,
when we found ourselves out of harm's way on the dais.

"He looked in for a moment to offer Raney his blessing and a cheque.
Fortunately he can't hear much from his end of the house," was the
answer.

Mrs. O'Rane ended a perilous series of movements with a more perilous
leap on to her partner's shoulder and was borne breathless and
triumphant to the table for hock-cup.

"George, are we shocking Mr. Stornaway?" she asked across me. "I'm so
sick of the war!"

She jumped down and looked at me, breathing quickly through parted lips.
Her dress was daring, and at this, my first unhurried sight of her at
close quarters, I was as much fascinated as a man of my age had any
right to be. The face was soft, appealing and warm, with long-lashed
brown eyes, flushed cheeks like ripe apricots and a wistful mouth that
drooped at the corners, when she was disappointed, and pouted
over-quickly when she did not at once get what she wanted. It was a
wilful, impatient little face, exacting and rather obstinate, without
very much depth of character, but amazingly mobile and young, capable of
a child's ecstatic abandonment to happiness and of a melting tenderness
when she looked at her husband's unseeing eyes and whimsical,
self-protective smile.

"In some ways it's extraordinarily like some of his omnium-gatherum
parties at Oxford, Sonia," murmured George, as the tireless fingers at
the piano passed from waltz to march and from march to Scandinavian
boating-song half as old as time.

Mrs. O'Rane's big eyes swam.

"As like as we can make it," she whispered tremulously; and I was
conscious of a new fascination. Though I have never seen a woman or man
more perfectly put together, the head on the neck, the neck on the
shoulders, the hands on the wrists or the wrists on the arms, there was
something skin-deep and mechanical in her beauty--not necessarily
reaching to the heart--until that moment.

The softness passed as suddenly as it had come, and she awoke to a sense
of her duties as hostess.

"I want to introduce you to my mother, Lady Dainton," she told me.

Under cover of the presentation she escaped and in another moment was
darting with the movement of a dragon-fly in search of a partner for the
savage Hawaiian dance which her husband had begun to play. This in turn
she abandoned to give extravagant welcome to Sir Adolphus Erskine and to
thank him for a string of pearls which she held out jubilantly for his
admiring inspection.

My next half-hour was more varied and less pleasant. I was introduced to
Lady Dainton, who claimed acquaintance with my brother and insisted that
we had met at one of Aylmer Lancing's parties at Ripley Court; I was
introduced to her daughter-in-law, who had lately lost her husband and
now engaged me in a sullen debate on compulsory service with a view, so
far as I could follow the poor creature's distraught reasoning, to
securing that as many other women as possible should lose their
husbands. I exchanged a few words with Roger Dainton about the state of
parties in the House and, as I fancied that I had exhausted the family,
found myself confronted once more by Lady Dainton, who led me into a
corner, enquired how long I had known O'Rane and begged me to use
whatever influence I possessed to bring this folly to an end. Since my
first sight of her I had watched a storm-cloud of disapproval banking
up, but I could not imagine why its force should be expended on me.

"I'm not narrow-minded, don't you know?" she informed me with majestic
uncontradictability, "but this is the first time I've seen Sonia since
she was married, and this--this bear-garden is what I find."

There was no disputing the definition, but its application was limited,
for she flung out her arm, until I feared it would leave its socket, in
the direction of an arm-chair where Beresford, shabbier than ever by
contrast with the rather rich clothes around him, was holding forth with
combative resonance on the hypocrisy of our fighting for the free
development of the smaller nationalities while we held our Indian Empire
in unrepresentative thraldom.

"It's not what Sonia's accustomed to, it's not what she has a right to
expect!" exclaimed Lady Dainton with rising indignation. "That--that
_creature_ has been mocking the people who've gone out and given their
lives for their country, when half of us in the room are in mourning. As
for the woman----"

"I really don't feel _I_ can interfere," I interrupted diffidently.

She sighed with an attempt at resignation.

"I didn't know how well you knew David," she said. "Of course, he's a
delightful, gallant, generous soul--nobody's fonder of him than I am--,
but he's so terribly impulsive, don't you know? I really hoped that,
when Sonia consented to marry him, she would--well--_tame_ him a little.
Dear David _will_ pretend that everybody's like everybody else; well, I
don't suppose either of us is a snob, Mr. Stornaway, but there _are_
distinctions, don't you know? We should be called old-fashioned, if we
_said_ anything, but some of the people here to-night--of course,
Sonia's a wonderful actress, much cleverer than half the professionals
you see, so she's got into rather a theatrical set--I suppose that's the
modern spirit; Eleanor Ross had a woman lunching with her to-day who six
months ago--well, she wouldn't have dared.... But when it comes to
turning a private house into a sort of mission-room.... One can carry
democracy to excess, don't you know?"

The voice was rising again, and Mrs. O'Rane danced to my side and
snatched me away on the plea that Lady Maitland wanted to fix a day for
my meeting with Barbara Neave.

"Was darling mother being tiresome?" she asked sympathetically. "The
casual-ward stunt, I suppose?"

"What do you feel about it yourself?" I asked her.

"About David's lame ducks? Oh, he has his friends, and I have mine, and
it's no one else's business." She looked round the crowded room and then
seemed to decide that she had been too brusque. "I don't know--yet,
whether it will answer," she went on uncertainly. "David's always been a
freak about money, he'd always give anything to anybody. Now he says
that he'd be dishonoured, if he took with one hand and refused with the
other.... He's rather absurd, poor darling, because he wouldn't need to
take anything from anybody, if he hadn't been so frightfully smashed up
in the war. And if I don't mind.... It's really rather fun, however mad
it may seem. We've all of us gone mad since the War. Except David. You
didn't know him, but he's almost sane compared with what he was before."
She abandoned her pose of affected insincerity and turned to me with
shining eyes. "You do love David, don't you?" she asked.

"My dear lady, I've only met him twice," I said.

"Isn't that more than enough?" Her expression changed restlessly; and I
remembered wondering how long she would retain her looks, if she
continued to live on her nerves like this. "Too many dam' dull Daintons
here, you know. I made certain mother would think this sort of thing too
Bohemian. She'd like me to have a prim and proper little house in one of
the streets about here and entertain the conventional people in the
conventional way--simply wagging my tail if I enticed an Under-Secretary
here. Mother'd go miles for an Under-Secretary. Well, it's much more fun
inviting the amusing people, the people you _like_. I _am_ rather a
Bohemian, I've always led my own life. I do now. Darling David never
tries to make me do anything or stop me doing anything, he never wants
to know what I've been doing.... All the same, David's 'duty to one's
neighbour' stunt.... Thank goodness! he doesn't expect me to share my
clothes with casual visitors!"

She stood with her eyes fixed thoughtfully and without complete
comprehension on her husband's thin, mobile face. His own, black and
arresting for all their sightlessness, were turned to the rafters and
the shadows of the roof, as he sat with head bent back and fingers idly
modulating. Then Lady Dainton came forward and took her leave; the party
broke up rapidly, and, by the time that I left, only Vincent Grayle
remained, talking to his hostess, while Beresford transferred himself to
the other end of the room, ostentatiously turning his back and resting
his injured leg on the edge of O'Rane's piano stool.


2

I left the grotesque party with the feeling that contrary to all
reasonable expectation I had enjoyed myself immoderately. The enthusiasm
survived the night, and at breakfast the following day I informed
Yolande that I proposed to invite the O'Ranes to dine with us. Here,
however, I was met with unforeseen opposition. I have no idea how the
antagonism started, but at some period of their careers Yolande had
decided that Mrs. O'Rane was of those who "do all the things one doesn't
do," while Mrs. O'Rane has been known to dismiss my niece alliteratively
as a "prig, prude and _poseuse_."

"You'll regret it," Yolande told me frankly enough, sagaciously
smoothing back a strand of auburn hair from her forehead. "She's very
fascinating, but I've an instinct about her, and you'll find she's all
superfluity and flashiness. Any number of people have been in love with
her, of course, but she'll grate on you. Ask any woman."

One dinner, I felt, could not commit me very deeply, and it was my own
house, although I was already debating the desirability of moving into
bachelor quarters and giving up my remaining rooms to the Canteen
Executive. Yolande, however, was to be spared in spite of me.

Whether Mrs. O'Rane disapproved of her as strongly as she disapproved of
Mrs. O'Rane, I am incompetent to say, but I was informed in terms of
suitable regret that she was either dining out or having people to dine
with her every night of the week; was it possible, on the other hand,
for me to come on one of the days when they were at home? I had not yet
finished that talk with David about Melton.... The reminder was perhaps
inserted as a reason for not inviting Yolande.

I chose my night and, within five minutes of entering the house, I
should have confessed, had I been honest with myself, that Yolande was
right. An air of tension greeted me, an interrupted controversy was at
once resumed, and I found myself required by my hostess to arbitrate in
a lovers' quarrel. The cause of dispute was the girl Hilda Merryon,
whose career O'Rane had briefly sketched for my benefit; fortunately she
was not present at the time, but with O'Rane composed, pacific and
unyielding in an arm-chair with his big St. Bernard beside him, Mrs.
O'Rane flushed and aggrieved with one foot on the fender and one bare
arm shielding her face from the fire, and Vincent Grayle, my fellow
guest, directing and perhaps stimulating the controversy, I felt that we
had enough disputants.

"I'll put it to Mr. Stornaway!" cried Mrs. O'Rane, as soon as our
greetings were over. "Mr. Stornaway, we were only married in July, it's
now the end of September, and I don't think David ought to go off and
leave me for three months. It isn't necessary, I've asked him not
to----"

O'Rane stroked the dog's head reflectively.

"But you've told me you can't get away, Sonia," he said at length.
"You've got your Belgian refugee work, you've got a string of
engagements and you've got Beresford laid up for months yet. You
admitted, too, you'd simply be at a loose end in Melton."

"I should be with you." She tossed her head back until she was looking
at him through half-closed eye-lids. "Of course, if you don't want me
..."

"But, darling, your work here ...?"

"Anybody can do that!" Mrs. O'Rane interrupted unguardedly. "That's not
the point, though, and you know it isn't. I say you oughtn't to go. It's
like setting a race-horse to pull a removal van."

In the pause that followed, I wondered what opportunities for
propaganda Lady Dainton had enjoyed since our meeting the week before.

"I've _promised_ to resign the _moment_ I've paid back the money I
_owe_," said O'Rane with emphatic reasonableness.

"The money was given you as a present."

"But I can't take presents of that kind so long as I'm fit to work.
Darling Sonia, you don't imagine I want to go away from you for three
months, do you? If you can come down without leaving your work here
undone----"

"Oh, I should be in the way!" she interrupted with another toss of her
head. "You've got your Hilda."

She looked round the room, pointedly inviting us to follow the direction
of her eyes and nodding at the tidy arrangement of books, the
filing-cabinet, the half-hidden safe and neat library card-catalogue. I
could see O'Rane blushing, as I myself began to blush, that such a scene
should be enacted before comparative strangers.

"You mustn't say things like that," he remonstrated gently; then, with
the lightness of affected inspiration, "We'll put it to Mr. Stornaway,
as you suggest! I'm committed, sir, as I think in honour and certainly
by an understanding with the Headmaster, to go back to Melton on
Thursday. You've met Miss Merryon; I'm taking her with me to act as a
sort of secretary. She'll have rooms in the town and will lend me the
use of her eyes in the evenings;--I was frightfully handicapped last
term and had to take advantage of the boys' good-nature. I know it's an
unusual arrangement, but the circumstances are unusual. I got Dr.
Burgess's approval----"

"Did you tell him anything about her past?" Mrs. O'Rane broke in,
tapping a gold slipper with scarlet heel against the fender.

O'Rane smiled dreamily.

"I'm chiefly concerned with her future," he answered. Something in the
voice and smile told me that he was spiritually as far removed from his
wife as the mad from the sane.

There was a long pause which Grayle broke by shrugging his shoulders,
sighing, shaking his head at Mrs. O'Rane with an expression of rueful
sympathy and finally opening his cigarette-case with a muttered request
for permission to smoke.

"Of course, the world will _say_--," he began.

O'Rane laughed to himself.

"I don't know that I've ever paid much attention to what the world says.
But Mr. Stornaway is going to arbitrate."

I looked at one disputant after another. Mrs. O'Rane's expression can
best be described as mulish; O'Rane was smiling, debonair and yet, I
felt,--it was the first time that I had felt it--unshakable. What part
Grayle was playing I could not determine; if he had been invited to
arbitrate before my arrival, he had not been successful, and I wished
that he would leave me to compose the quarrel uninterrupted.

"If you've promised yourself to Dr. Burgess," I told O'Rane after
consideration, "you can't disappoint him at forty-eight hours' notice.
It's out of the question. You tell me that he approves of your taking
Miss Merryon?"

"He'd do anything for me," O'Rane answered easily.

"Even so, if I may put it bluntly, it's an imprudent thing to do. Surely
the simplest and most natural solution, as well as the pleasantest for
both, is for Mrs. O'Rane to accompany you. If you want work found for
Miss Merryon, that ought not to be difficult in these times; I'll pay
any money for a competent shorthand-writer in my own office."

Neither O'Rane nor his wife offered any criticism, but Grayle
considerately supplied the reason which both were hiding.

"That was discussed, I think," he said, "but I gather Mrs. O'Rane has
her hands pretty full with work here."

"But you said anyone could do that," I reminded her. "And, as long as
Bertrand's here, there'll be some one to look after Beresford."

In addition to Bertrand there were two maids and a plenipotent
housekeeper, for Mrs. O'Rane liked to boast of her domestic
incompetence. Mine was the obvious solution, and I could see that she
recognised it. There was a suppressed yawn--and a gain of three seconds.

"If I died, some one would _have_ to do my work," she admitted, "or, it
wouldn't be done.... But, Mr. Stornaway, David's a member of Parliament,
his whole future is in the House; isn't it ridiculous for him to waste
his time teaching a pack of schoolboys?"

As she shifted her ground, I felt that my work was done.

"I haven't got much future of any kind," I said, "but I'm a
begging-letter writer in the morning and a second-class clerk in a
government office the rest of the day. These are not normal times, Mrs.
O'Rane, and he can't leave his chief stranded at the last moment without
anyone to take his place. When he comes back at Christmas, there'll be
an opportunity for reconsideration."

O'Rane said nothing, and I was disappointed. I felt that, as he had got
his own way, it would have been diplomatic and perhaps convincing to
pretend that he was consenting to a compromise. Mrs. O'Rane looked at
him out of the corner of one eye and pouted openly.

"We might just as well not be married, if you don't want me," she said.

"Come, come! Mrs. O'Rane!" I cried.

I am afraid that the mild protest only inflamed her.

"Well, he doesn't! The other night we were talking about marriage. Peter
Beresford says that any man who loves a woman may do anything to win
her; it doesn't make any difference whether she's married or not----"

O'Rane leaned forward and resumed his stroking of the dog's head.

"Perhaps it makes a difference to the woman," he suggested.

"Then _David_ said," she went on, regardless of this interruption, "that
men and women weren't justified in spoiling each other's lives by
clinging on when one was tired of the other."

Every word was purposefully clear, and at the end she paused
invitingly. O'Rane sprang up with a ring of laughter and held out his
arms to receive her.

"Sweetheart!"

She made no movement until he had come a pace nearer, then she stepped
unrespondingly aside. O'Rane's hands met on the marble of the
mantelpiece.

"I--missed you," he said with a little breathless laugh.

I could not turn to see Grayle's face, but I was rigid with horror that
such a trick should be played on a blind man. Gradually what she had
done dawned on Mrs. O'Rane, and she threw her arms convulsively round
her husband's neck.

"God forgive me!" she whispered. "Oh, my darling, I'm mad! I don't know
what I've been saying!"

I turned to Grayle and asked him for a cigarette. A moment later I heard
a car stopping at the door, and Beresford was helped into the house
after his drive.

From time to time throughout the meal (whenever, perhaps, Mrs. O'Rane
was trying to make amends), my mind went back to the scene. The O'Ranes'
outlook and temperament were so dissimilar that I could see no common
ground between them. The outsider never knows why any two people marry
and is content to believe in the existence of an affinity hidden from
his view. These two were both so full of vitality, both so good-looking,
and, above all, both so young that I tried hard to resist a feeling of
melancholy and to persuade myself that I had been an inadvertent
eavesdropper at the oldest and most trumpery quarrel in the world rather
than the witness of an inevitable breach. The long windows on either
side of the room were warmly curtained in flame-coloured silk; the two
fires glowed comfortingly on to their half-circles of chairs and sofas.
Mrs. O'Rane, who could make a story out of nothing, poured out an
endless stream of anecdotes against herself. When dinner was over and we
left the dais for a distant view of high-hung chandeliers reflected
softly in the gleaming surface of the long refectory table, I could not
but be reminded of the Grail scene in "Parsifal."

The discordant note, the one persistently discordant note, was struck
by Beresford. Alien in mind from the rest of us, he neither forgave nor
forgot the contemptuous toe which had once searched his body for signs
of breakage; and after dinner he withdrew to a far divan and spent the
evening conversing in whispers with Mrs. O'Rane, who sat by him on a
footstool, while he played with her long amber necklace. The rest of us
reverted to a wholly undergraduate disputation, led by O'Rane on the
theme of my own unexpected fortune and developed by me into a
disquisition on education and the art of healing, though every question
and view was put forward in the hope of making my host expound his own
philosophy.

"You can't get efficiency without organisation," Grayle insisted as we
laid the lessons of the war to heart. "Nothing can hold together without
discipline. Look at Germany."

For myself, I have always regarded German organisation as the
over-advertised co-ordination of the largest number of second-rate
intelligences, but the criticism was taken from me by Beresford, who
interrupted his own conversation to inform the room at large that it was
one thing to teach a man how to shoot and quite another to be sure that
he did not end up by shooting his own officers. Mrs. O'Rane held up one
finger and pursed her lips, only to let them break a moment later into a
smile.

"Efficiency is the gravest menace that the war holds over us," said
O'Rane reflectively. "Whenever I've met it, it means being unkind--with
Government sanction--to some one weaker than yourself; Jesus Christ
would not have been tolerated by the Charity Organisation Society, all
the bourgeois press would have said that He was pampering the
incompetent and maintaining the survival of the unfit. Efficiency
frightens me."

Whether he was speaking seriously or in paradox, he had struck a note of
idealism which jarred on Grayle, who threw away his cigar half-smoked.

"If we don't learn our lesson out of this war, we don't deserve to win
it," he answered, reaching for his stick.

"But what is the lesson?" O'Rane asked, more of himself than of us. "Do
you men find that you think best at night?" he went on reflectively.
"There's less distraction ... and I'm always thinking at night now. I
would say that every man who comes out of this war alive is a reprieved
man and that we don't deserve to win it unless we learn that the only
crime in all the world is cruelty.... If we can't affect others, we can
at least affect ourselves. It's no use waiting for an act of parliament
to make you humane; if you're prepared to jump into the river to save a
child from drowning, you must be prepared to jump through a window to
save it from starving." He shook his head and turned to me. "But how
you're going to teach that, sir, even with your million a year to endow
schools.... The Church has had Peter's keys for nearly two thousand
years, but how many of us would literally pick a man out of the street,
turn on the hot water for him, lend him a razor and a rig-out, keep him
in funds till his ship comes home...." As he paused, I looked beyond him
to the sofa where Beresford lay idly fingering Mrs. O'Rane's amber
beads. "Of course it's all figurative and the gorgeous imagery of the
East and that sort of thing, but I don't know how any man could remain a
professing Christian for two minutes if he didn't believe that Christ
would bathe the feet of the first tramp on the road. That's far more
important to the human race than the Crucifixion. But then Christ was
always poor, and you can't begin to be charitable until you've known
what it means to be poor." His voice sank and grew silent. "I'm boring
you, Grayle!" he exclaimed penitently, as a boot creaked on the polished
floor.

"I must be getting home," was the answer, following hot-foot on an
ill-suppressed yawn. "Boring me, indeed? Enjoyed it all immensely." He
got up and walked towards Mrs. O'Rane, to whom he bade an elaborate
good-bye, while I followed slowly behind, wondering how such a woman
ever came to marry such a man. "I shan't see you this side of Christmas,
I suppose?"

She looked up a little negligently without releasing Beresford's hand.

"But I thought I was dining with you on Friday?"

"I understood you were going to Melton."

Mrs. O'Rane's expression became blank.

"I must think about this," she said. "Yes. I don't know how long it'll
take me to tidy up things here.... Oh, I shall certainly be in London on
Friday. David darling, you understand that I can't possibly get away at
a moment's notice--any more than you can."

Her husband nodded.

"Come whenever it suits you," he said, as he walked on ahead to open the
door for us.

Grayle lingered behind for a moment in the middle of the room.

"You mustn't stay on my account," he said to Mrs. O'Rane. "It won't be a
_party_, you know."

There was a moment's silence; then she laughed provocatively and gave a
mischievous, sideways glance at Beresford, which only Grayle and I saw.

"Jealous?" I heard.

"Not a bit. I shouldn't like you to come, though, if you were simply
going to be bored."

"Oh, if you'd rather I didn't come, I won't."

I passed into the street and out of earshot. As I shook hands with
O'Rane, Grayle joined us, and we walked towards the House on the
look-out for a taxi. He was silent at first and then started to discuss
the evening _communiqué_ from the Front. I could not help wondering
whether he, too, in middle-aged company under the penetrating chill of
an autumn mist realised that it was beneath his dignity to be flirting
with O'Rane's young wife and doubly ridiculous to be taking it seriously
and devoting an evening's ill-humour to the enterprise.

"Do you care about dining on Friday?" he asked me suddenly. "Mrs.
O'Rane will be there, and I'll rope in some more people."


3

Ever since his return from South Africa, Grayle had occupied a small old
house in Milford Square, with a bleak, discouraged garden bounded at the
far end by a private garage. I always wondered how he confined himself
in so small a space, for his turbulent flaxen head seemed to scrape
every ceiling and it was impossible for anyone to pass him on the stairs
or in the doorway or corridor. When Guy Bannerman was required at the
last moment, as now, to fill an unexpected gap, his loose-knit,
centrifugal body seemed to take up every cubic foot of space not already
appropriated to Grayle's use. But as a rule Guy was not allowed to leave
the big work-room over the garage where he covered himself and his
clothes in three different shades of ink and industriously "got up" his
master's subjects and wrote his master's speeches, while Grayle himself
devoted his talents to cultivating personal relationships, or, as his
enemies would say, to intriguing, from a superstition that, if he ever
let slip a conspiracy, it might not return to him again.

The party was small, the dinner perfectly cooked and served. This, at
least, I had learned to expect from Grayle.

Mrs. O'Rane was on one side of me, and I asked how soon she was going to
Melton, as I had shortly to attend my first meeting of the governing
body. To my surprise I heard that she was not going at present.

"You see, there's my Belgian work," she explained, "and Peter can't walk
yet, and I can't very well leave Mr. Oakleigh to the care of the
servants. Besides I've got an awful lot of other things to do." She
nodded across the table at Lady Barbara Neave. "Mr. Lane's written a
duologue, and Babs and I are acting in it at the Regency. And I've got a
stall at the Albert Hall in November, and I'm sure to be wanted for the
Imperial Hospital Fund _tableaux_. They can't get on without us, can
they, Babs darling?" Lady Barbara jerked her fair head quickly and
returned to her conversation with young Lane. "David was quite right,
too; I should be at a loose end at Melton."

Her reasons flowed easily, but they were not consistent with her earlier
attitude.

"I thought you'd fixed it up the other night," I said.

"No. We had another talk after you'd gone. It's only three months, and,
if he really wants me--" She broke off, leaving me to surmise that she
was engaging in a trial of strength with her husband. "This is quite a
pre-war dinner, isn't it? I love dining with Colonel Grayle; he's one of
the few people who hasn't got the war on the brain. I do get so tired of
war-talk, war-economies, war-work. I wish the thing would end, but
Colonel Grayle says it will never end while the present government's in
power; and Peter says there'll be a revolution when it _does_ end, so
it's a cheerful look-out either way. Don't you think Peter's improved
since he fell in love with me?" She turned to look down the table with
the rapid movement of an animal, and the lamps seemed to strike sparks
of gold from her closely coiled brown hair. "It takes people different
ways; Colonel Grayle will hardly speak to me to-night, just because I
invited him to dinner and then forgot all about it."

"Mrs. O'Rane," I said, "may I tell you that you talk a great deal of
nonsense?"

She darted a glance at me and then opened her eyes very wide, drawing
down the corners of her mouth.

"Ah, you're hating me now! And I thought you were surrendering to my
well-known charm. I _have_ got an incredible amount of charm, haven't
I?"

"We were talking about Melton," I reminded her.

"George--our friend George Oakleigh, I mean; he's known me all my
life--," she went on, imperturbably munching salted almonds, "George
says that, as part of his education, every man ought to marry me for
just one month."

"Actually you've been married two and a half, haven't you?" I enquired.
"Perhaps you haven't arrived at the full inwardness of George's
criticism."

She pouted like a child under reproof.

"I suppose you both mean something horrid." Her eyes lit up
mischievously. "I must tell George I've found an ally for him. He's
always rather loved me, but he says quite definitely that he never
wanted to marry me even for a week. He's always telling me so; that's
why we're such friends. I'm afraid you'll never even _rather_ love me;
and I'm ready to take _such_ a lot of trouble with you."

Mrs. O'Rane's voice is faultlessly clear; I noticed a lull in the
conversation and discovered that she and I were performing a duologue
for the diversion of our fellow-guests and the exasperation of our host.

"Has George told you that you think about yourself too much?" I asked,
as a self-conscious murmur rose once more around us.

"Oh, if you want a list of my bad qualities, go to your niece. I'm not
such a success with serious people, and Yolande talks about 'Ministers,'
when she means 'the Government,' and '25 George II,' when she wants to
quote some musty old law; and she considers herself a political hostess
because she once bribed the Committee of the Aborigines Protection
Society to meet the Governor of the Seychelles at dinner. Yolande would
start a salon on one poet and two private secretaries! Oh, I know she's
your niece, but you can't help that." She paused to draw breath. "George
only thinks that I'm second-rate."

"I think that you're deliberately second-rate," I said. "Which is a
pity. If you'd ever got to grips with life, if you'd suffered or been in
love----"

"D'you mean that I'm not in love with David?"

"You're still trying on emotions in a room full of mirrors. By the way,
we went through all this candour and self-absorption in the 'nineties,
and I think people did it better then. If you'll take advice from a
comparative stranger, twice your age, drop all this patter about this
man and that being in love with you."

Mrs. O'Rane became suddenly majestic.

"You mean I'm behaving disloyally to David?" she demanded.

Her majesty was as superficial and unconvincing as everything else about
her.

"My dear young lady, if you must try these airs and graces, don't try
them on me," I begged, watching curiously to see whether there was any
criticism she would resent so long as it was focussed on her.

She turned slowly away with everything of affronted dignity except its
essence, exactly as I had expected her to do. A moment later she turned
to me again, but by that time Lady Maitland, whose vigorous head and
neck always makes me think of a lioness that has been rolling in French
chalk, had first asked me to find a place in my office for her third
boy, who was leaving school at Christmas and seemed too delicate for the
army, though he was exceptionally quick at figures--just the man that
the Treasury wanted--and then enquired what I knew of the young
Beresford who was staying at "The Sanctuary." She would like me to bring
him to see her as soon as he was able to get out. He was a poet, she
understood; very wrong-headed about the war, but a good talker and
interesting to meet.... She had a small party on Thursday; that man
Christie, who had been removed forcibly from the House for calling the
Speaker a liar and refusing to withdraw, a ritualistic clergyman who was
in conflict with the Court of Arches, an obscure traveller who had
proceeded on foot from Loanda to Port Sudan, the managing director of
the Broadway music-hall and a novelist whose name she had forgotten.

(I may here say that I went and was given the opportunity of stroking
all the lions' necks twelve hours before the proletariat caught sight of
them and of trying to explain Lady Maitland to several little knots of
bewildered Scandinavian and Dutch delegates and some self-conscious and
incorruptible Labour Members who had either resigned from the Ministry
or hoped to get into it. What Lady Maitland thought of the lions, they
and we knew at once; what the lions thought of Lady Maitland they had
hardly time to formulate before being hurried away to tea at Ross House,
dinner with old Lady Pentyre and supper at Mrs. Carmichael's. I have
found it easier never to refuse anything to Lady Maitland, but I
hesitate to reckon how many times in a political crisis I have been
persuaded to lead political aspirants to school. When O'Shaunessy was
returned as a Sinn Feiner and refused to take his seat, I, who had met
him in America five and twenty years before, was deputed to bring him to
luncheon and Federal Home Rule with the Carmichaels, dinner and a
united-Ireland-in-the-face-of-the-enemy with the Duchess of Ross. There
was to have been a patient search for compromise at Lady Pentyre's next
day, but O'Shaunessy shook his head at me over the brim of his tumbler
and confided that these people gave you too much talk and too little to
drink.)

"You'd better get Mrs. O'Rane to bring Beresford," I said. "I hardly
know him."

"Someone must get hold of him before it's too late," Lady Maitland
continued gravely, and I could see that he was going to be adopted,
whether he liked it or not. "I hear he's got great ability, and it's all
misdirected."

"I'd never heard of him before," I confessed. "But then I don't read
modern poetry."

"I heard of him from our host--this is between ourselves, of course--;
there was some question of prosecuting him again for one of his
pamphlets." She raised her voice to demand confirmation of Grayle, but
he would only shake his head rather irritably at her want of discretion
and say that it was not in the province of his department. "I must talk
to dear Sonia about him," she went on, "and we'll arrange a little
meeting."

Not only have I led promising statesmen by the hand, I have myself of
late been alternately schooled and courted in a way that was hardly
known to me before the war. It is partly due, I suppose, to the
suspended animation of the Caucus, partly to the increased number of
groups and their social backers. As Lady Maitland convoyed the other
women to the drawing-room, Grayle threw his sound leg across the
shattered knee and told me he was not at all satisfied about our
reinforcements. At that, after but five weeks in England, I knew what
was coming. Guy Bannerman, with the deep, baying voice of a hound,
supplied the dwindling figures of the daily returns, I criticised the
waste of resources in men and ships on secondary fields of war, Grayle
opined that the country would never appreciate that it was at war until
every man was mobilised in the field, the shipyard or the shop, and
Maitland took the safe but irritating and unhelpful line that Kitchener
knew what he was about and that we must leave it to him.

I preferred to move away and talk to young Lane about his new play, but
Grayle quickly recalled me with an exhortation to join him and his
friends in their effort to galvanise the Government to action. It was
the first of a long series of appeals which terminated a year later with
the unblushing bribe of an office which I had as little fitness or right
to receive as Grayle to offer. I was content to take refuge in
Maitland's advice to leave it to the Government (alternatively to "trust
the P. M."; a surprising political retrogression for a man of his
antecedents), only adding that one Government should not have to
shoulder single responsibility for the joint blunders of all the Allies.

"It's something to cut your losses," said Grayle shortly and with an air
of disappointment, "to drop a mistaken policy when it's proved to be
mistaken. That's what I want to see done; and that's what this gang of
yours won't do. You watch out; France and Russia will make a separate
peace, if we don't pull our weight. Let's come up-stairs."

On entering the drawing-room, Guy Bannerman strolled to the fire and
entered into conversation with Lady Barbara Neave. Left with a choice of
Lady Maitland and Mrs. O'Rane, Grayle pulled up a chair beside Lady
Maitland, while Mrs. O'Rane looked at him like a chess-player
considering his opponent's last move and then smilingly made room for me
on the sofa by her side.

"I thought you were never coming up," she said. "I'm going in a minute,
but Lady Maitland tells me she wants to meet Peter, and I waited to find
out if you'd come, too. Any day next week."

"I shall be delighted," I said. "Friday's my only free night."

"Good. It will be just the four of us. Dear Sir Maurice is such a bore,
poor darling; I really _can't_ invite him. Now I must go. Shall we say
somewhere about eight?"

As she got up, I looked at my watch and found that, for all the
excellence of the dinner and the time that we were charged with spending
over our wine, it was not yet ten. The Maitlands gave no hint of
leaving, nor did Mrs. O'Rane vouchsafe a reason for her early departure.
I saw her shaking hands with Grayle and heard him icily asking her to
wait while he telephoned for a cab. With equal polite iciness of tone
she assured him that she would find one in the Brompton Road. I saw her
smiling mischievously to herself, as she walked out of the room;
Grayle's smile, on his return, was mysterious, and I surmised that
another trial of strength was in progress.

As we stood on the door-step an hour later, I asked him if we were
meeting at "The Sanctuary" the following week.

"She said something about it," he answered, "but I shan't go."

"You're too old for this sort of nonsense, Grayle," I told him.

"What sort of nonsense?"

But before I could answer, a taxi crawled invitingly past the door.


4

I have never been able to cope collectedly with a verbal invitation and
I am now too old to acquire the art. Otherwise I should have found an
excuse for leaving my intimacy with Mrs. O'Rane where it was. I had
dined the first time at "The Sanctuary" for the sake of her husband; he
interested me, baffled me, refused to let me get to grips with him, and
I did not intend to be beaten. His wife, I felt, for all her surface
fascination and vitality, was rather a waste of time. And her retinue of
fashionable actresses, elderly men about town and Guards subalterns was
intellectually too exotic for me. I determined that my second dinner
with her should be my last.

The door was unlocked, when I arrived, and Beresford was in undisputed
possession of the long, warm library, though several large boxes of
chocolates, an earthenware jar of expensive cigarettes, a parcel of
books half out of their paper and string and a profusion of hot-house
flowers dispelled any rash assumption that Mrs. O'Rane was being
neglected by her admirers. And, whilst I waited for her, Beresford told
me that the original party of four had multiplied itself by three. After
a pause, in which he tried not to seem self-conscious, he asked whether
I knew the O'Ranes well and rather wistfully volunteered his opinion
that there was no real sympathy between them and that she was unhappy
and unappreciated.

"I sometimes wonder why she married him," he murmured.

"Presumably because they were in love with each other," I said.

He shook his head with judicial gravity and an air of profounder
knowledge than a middle-aged, unsympathetic man like me could hope to
attain.

"I don't think they're happy. I should like to see her happier, she's
made such a difference in my life. Women mean something more to me,
somehow, since I met her ..." he confided, with a boy's curious passion
to discuss his emotional state with anyone who will listen.

"She hasn't yet learned the difference between happiness and pleasure,"
I told him.

The new tempestuous disorder which the room presented in O'Rane's
absence--paper and string and half-opened parcels abandoned when a more
pressing call made itself heard--struck me as being typical of the
woman. And she was late for dinner, which I consider impolite in a
hostess.

Beresford must have seen a hint of disapproval in my face. "Has it
occurred to you that all this racket is _deliberate_, that she wants to
live in the present ...?"

He relapsed into silence and sat supporting his lean, long face with one
hand. I felt Mrs. O'Rane had civilised him to some purpose and that,
unless he lapsed from civilisation within the next quarter of an hour,
Lady Maitland would find that her rebel-hunt had been in vain. I also
felt that the sooner Mrs. O'Rane rejoined her husband, ceased dining
with Grayle, going to the theatre with young Guardsmen and giving
Beresford the idea that she was lonely, the better for all and
especially for her.

Deganway and Pentyre, who evidently knew Mrs. O'Rane's ways better than
I did, arrived ten minutes later. We were still awaiting our hostess,
when Lady Maitland sailed in and, dispensing with introductions, opened
fire at a distance of twenty paces.

"Darling Sonia not dressed yet? But, then, no one's ever known her in
time for anything. How do you do, Mr. Stornaway? I suppose this is Mr.
Beresford? Now, Mr. Beresford, I want to have a long talk with you; I
hear you're a very original young man and I want to know why you're a
pro-German."

Thus encouraged, Beresford roused himself to demonstrate the difference
between sympathy with German atrocities and antagonism to war and the
system of government which made it possible. I, who have heard him for a
moment haranguing street loafers and have myself engaged in ding-dong
argument with him, little thought to see him so completely routed by the
sonorous enquiries of Lady Maitland, who put a question, announced
parenthetically that she was a woman with no nonsense about her and
flung out a second question before he could answer the first. Deganway
stood polishing his eyeglass and murmuring sagaciously "Yes! Yes!
_That's_ what our good pacifists never condescend to explain." Pentyre
lit a cigarette and confessed to hunger. Two more young officers, whose
names I never heard and whom I have never met again, drifted in with a
"Sonia not down yet?" and also lit cigarettes. I was glad when Mrs.
O'Rane arrived to end Beresford's agony.

Without a word of apology for her lateness, she fluttered like a
butterfly into our midst, brushed Lady Maitland's cheek with her lips
and pirouetted slowly on her toes like a ballet-dancer.

"How d'you like my new dress, children?" she enquired. "Say you do or
you don't, but please don't try to find reasons, or you're sure to go
wrong. Peter's the only one here who knows anything about colour, Lady
Maitland, and everything I wear has to meet with his approval."

She stopped her pirouetting in front of his sofa and stood, panting
slightly and with shining eyes, holding her skirt out on either side and
courtesying low. Beresford appraised it slowly, his head on one side,
fingering the stuff and taking in every detail from the gold and silver
band round her hair to the silk stockings and gilt slippers. An
embarrassed maid awaited her opportunity of announcing dinner, Mrs.
O'Rane threw her head back and smiled at me over her shoulder, with
parted lips.

"Someone appreciates me," she laughed. For the first time I realised
what her young and not very sinful vanity must miss by never being able
to hear a word of pride or praise from her husband. Sonia O'Rane always
reminded me of a child who cannot build a castle in the sand without
dragging someone by the wrist to come and admire it. "I don't think you
did that night at Colonel Grayle's," she said to me. "In fact it was
very forgiving of me to ask you. I've never been so found fault with by
anyone except David, and he's given it up since we married. I sometimes
wonder whether it is because he thinks I'm perfect or only not worth
bothering about now he's got me."

"I only recall saying that you talked a great deal of nonsense," I put
in. "I stand by that."

"Well, that's a nice thing to say when I'd refused three invitations
from people who were just dying to hear me talk. However, I suppose I'm
a cultivated taste."

"And you only invited me in the hope of making me retract," I added.

"Let's have some dinner," she suggested, avoiding my challenge.

She spread out two gleaming white arms with the movement of a bird
taking wing and waltzed to the table, calling to us over her shoulder to
sort ourselves anyhow; the order did not matter as there were ten men
and two women. As the others stood back for me to make my choice, I put
myself on her left with Lady Maitland on the other side.

"When do you go to Melton?" I asked conscientiously, as we settled to
our places.

She pointed a finger at Beresford.

"I can't leave my ewe lamb yet," she answered. "D'you know, last night I
was up with him until nearly three, considering which I think I'm
looking remarkably fresh to-night.... Besides, David hasn't _asked_ me
to come...."

Her clear and slightly over-emphatic voice travelled disconcertingly as
far as Lady Maitland, who enquired with some surprise, "Does Mr.
Beresford live here?" She was answered with a mischievous nod. "My dear,
you know I always say right out whatever's in my mind; well, I don't
think you ought to be doing that. With that blessed creature of a
husband here----"

"But he _brought_ Peter here and _kept_ him here and finally _left_ him
here--whether I liked it or not, Peter dear. Besides, darling Lady
Maitland, I have Mr. Oakleigh to chaperon us, and George drops in every
few hours to see that I'm not disgracing his precious David.... George
once said that I atoned for the number of my flirtations by the
excellence of my technique," she went on irrelevantly. "I think he'd
just fallen out of love with me and pretended that he never _had_ been
in love with me and never would be. You think I'm not good enough for
David, don't you?" she demanded of me. "I think he got the wife he
deserved, and he'll tell you that's the finest compliment anyone can pay
him."

"I'll ask him, if I remember. I'm going to Melton next week. Have you
any message for him?"

She deliberated with one finger pressed to her lips.

"Tell him--exactly what you think of me," she suggested with dancing
eyes. "It'll amuse him much more than a message."

"Are you going down to him this term?"

She shook her head.

"I'm too busy, and he doesn't want me, or he'd have sent for me long
ago. Not that I should have gone, of course...." She glanced quickly
round to satisfy herself that the others were absorbed in their own
conversations; then lowered her voice and laid her hand on my sleeve.
"Mr. Stornaway, you _do_ agree with me that it's absolute rot for him to
be there, don't you? Old Mr. Oakleigh's offered him any money he
wants--again and again; I've got five hundred a year from father; he
could wipe out what he calls his debts and live here with the utmost
ease. And he ought to be in London, he ought to be in the House; there
are all sorts of jobs that he could get in the City.... If you want a
message, tell him that he must choose Melton or me," she went on with a
pout and a rising voice. "If he hasn't chucked Melton by Christmas, I
shall chuck him. Tell him that I shall elope to Sloane Square--I don't
believe _any_one's ever eloped to Sloane Square, but it's the handiest
place in the world; even the Hounslow and Barking non-stop trains stop
there,--so sweet of them, I always think--I shall go there with Peter
and live in his flat and star in revue where I shall be an amazing draw,
you know; and Colonel Grayle would scowl at me from the stage box, and,
darling Lady Maitland, you'd boom me and invite fashionable clergymen to
meet me at lunch, and George would have his car at the stage door to
take me home--I don't know that I _shall_ wait till Christmas."

She paused for lack of breath and looked delightedly round the table. My
expression, I imagine, was bored, Lady Maitland's perplexed; only poor
Beresford's was unaffectedly pained.

"Mr. Stornaway's quite right," Lady Maitland said, when she had
collected herself. "You talk a great deal of nonsense."

"I mean it, though."

"Rubbish, my dear."

Yet I believe that both she and I felt a current of discontent running
underneath the froth of nonsense. Perhaps we shewed it, perhaps Lady
Maitland reconsidered her judgement, for, when Deganway sat down to play
rag-time after dinner and Mrs. O'Rane kicked the rugs aside and began
dancing with Pentyre, she observed at impressive intervals----

"Darling Sonia is always in such spirits".... "I don't think it's quite
the thing for a young man like that--quite good-looking, you know--to be
living here; Mr. O'Rane will have a great deal to answer for, if there's
any unpleasantness, and you can give him that message from _me_." ...
"Tell him a husband's place is beside his wife.... But he must make her
a home where she can live. I forget whether you were here that
night--yes, you were! Well, Lady Dainton's quite right.... Just like the
casual-ward of a workhouse...." "Of course, her mother brought her up
atrociously".... "I really hope that she's going to have a family; it
would just make the difference."

A week later I motored to Melton for the Governors' meeting. Town and
school alike had become almost unrecognisable since my last visit three
or four years earlier. Leagues of huts, miles of tents, acres of pickets
stretched from the outskirts of Melton to the fringe of Swanley Forest;
the drowsy cathedral town was alive with thundering lorries, and the
billeting officer's handiwork was visible at eight windows out of ten.
My car crawled apprehensively through the crowded streets and up the
hill to a school which was half as it had been founded three hundred
years before, half as it had been converted into a military academy
during the last fifteen months. Great Court echoed with the clatter and
scrape of hob-nailed boots, as the corps fell in and marched off to
parade on the practice-ground; one group of signallers on the steps of
the headmaster's house waved frantically to another group by the
entrance to Great School, and, as I wandered into the Cloisters to kill
time before the hour of our meeting, the Green was filled with pigmy
recruits, learning their squad-drill from a husky but intensely
business-like young sergeant. Only a handful of obvious weaklings wore
the old conventional straw hat, grey trousers and dark jacket, and the
open door of the Common Room at Big Gate shewed not more than two-thirds
of the staff in cap and gown.

"War takes on a new horror and hopelessness, when you know that the
schools of France and Germany present the same sight," I said to Dr.
Burgess.

Our meeting was over, and he was conducting me round the unaging school
buildings which I was thenceforth to hold in joint trust. The company
drill on the practice-ground was giving way to a final parade, and we
watched four hundred young soldiers from twelve to eighteen march erect
and with set faces to the Armoury and from the Armoury to Great School
for a lantern lecture on the Dardanelles expedition. A couple of dozen
non-commissioned officers had fallen out and were awaiting a course in
map-reading with their commanding officer.

"Thank Heaven! it will all be over before most of these boys are old
enough to go out and stop bullets," I added.

Dr. Burgess stroked his long beard and shook a mournful head. "Some were
yet in our midst when the appointed season came," he said, pointing to
an already long Roll thumb-tacked to a wire-covered notice-board. "And
they that have returned----" He sighed deeply. "David O'Rane enjoins me
to say that he is within."

We shook hands at the door of a bachelor set of chambers in the
Cloisters, and Dr. Burgess strode back to his house, murmuring
mournfully into his beard. I knocked and entered to find O'Rane
seated--as I might have expected to find a man with his physical dislike
for chairs--in the middle of the floor with the big, patient head of his
Saint Bernard on his knees. Miss Merryon was writing at a table in the
window, and a low wicker-work couch by the fire was timidly occupied by
a flushed and disputatious malefactor. She welcomed me by name to give
the cue before making an excuse to withdraw. I apologised to O'Rane for
disturbing him, but he dismissed the boy and turned with a smile and
sigh of relief.

"We'd both had enough of it," he confessed. "That young man thought fit
to play a practical joke on Miss Merryon, so I've been taking his moral
education in hand, appealing to his self-interest."

He felt for a box of cigarettes and threw them to me. "Well?" I said.

"I remember getting held up at Bâle some years ago," he explained. "I
was on my way home from Italy and I missed the eleven o'clock connection
to Paris. There were crowds of us there--some on our way back from
Italy, like me, some from the winter sports in Switzerland--all ages and
races, on every kind of business or pleasure. The next train to Paris
left the following day, and we had to reconcile ourselves to an
uncomfortable night. Well, I've tried so many varieties of discomfort
that I'm hardened and philosophical; I imagine most people would call
these quarters uncomfortable, but they're nothing like what they were
before Sonia took them in hand last summer."

He waved proudly at a pair of massive, discoloured velvet curtains, a
bamboo overmantel and occasional table, wicker chairs half-buried in
punt cushions and a threadbare carpet tattooed by generations of burning
matches. I put up with the same sort of thing at Trinity, but I was then
nineteen and I had no wife to accommodate. Mrs. O'Rane, I imagine, was
not schooled to discomfort.

"I got a good deal of amusement and interest out of watching the
others," he went on. "The French were the worst--voluble, excited,
indignant, grabbing the best places and all the food they could lay
hands on in the buffet--the way they always behave when they're
travelling; the next worse were the Germans--they were ruder and more
inconsiderate than the French, but not nearly so efficient. The
Americans all set themselves to westernise Europe and started getting
off protests by cable to Paris, ordering special trains and booking
three times the accommodation available at any hotel. The English were
bored, aloof, taking themselves and their troubles very seriously and
refusing to share them with anyone. Well, when the last bedroom had been
snapped up, there were still enough of us benighted to overcrowd the
waiting-rooms and buffet, we were all suffering from a sense of
grievance, and there wasn't enough food to go round. I got wedged into a
corner with a plate of meat and looked on. One of the Englishmen
commented loudly on the noise that a German made in eating soup. The
comment was understood, so the German laid himself out to shew the sort
of noise he _could_ make when he tried. The Englishman wrapped himself
in a ferocious dignity, finished his meal and lit a cigar, sending a
cloud of smoke in the face of one of the Italians. My attention was then
attracted by a brawl in the middle of the buffet; someone had
imprudently left his seat to forage for food, and someone else had
promptly bagged it. As they bickered and gesticulated and finally pushed
each other about and the onlookers took sides and joined in, I said to
myself, 'Lord God! this buffet is just like the world, and these fools
are behaving just as we all behave, and we should all despise and laugh
at ourselves as much as I'm laughing now, if we had any detachment,
self-criticism, humour, logic or God's common sense.'"

O'Rane's black eyes lit up at the memory of the scene.

"I was telling that story to our young friend," he continued with his
baffling smile. "Chivalry? Nothing doing. Moral sanctions and first
causes? Nothing doing. _He_ didn't believe in God, _he_ wasn't going to
Hell, if he misbehaved himself, so why in the name of reason should he
bother?... But I should think I fixed him over my Bâle story.... We had
a hideous night (it was too cold to go and sulk outside--which made the
symbolism more perfect; you can't sulk outside this world, unless you're
prepared to cut your throat); and we might have made it quite
tolerable, if only we'd had a little imagination and kindliness, if we'd
struck an international bargain and surrendered the privilege of eating
soup noisily in return for immunity from cigar smoke in the eyes, if the
chairs had only been given to the women and old men, if someone had only
lent a hand to a poor boy who was coughing himself sick with asthma...."
He whistled reflectively between his teeth for a moment. "Life's like a
club, sir; there are rules and conventions and an endless mass of
tradition--the things we don't do; but the rules were made so long ago,
the conventions only aim at an irreducible minimum. Even so, it's better
than treating the world like a company trading for profit, but we must
modernise the rules. As you know, I always want to delete 'efficiency'
from the English language; efficiency in the Bâle buffet would have
meant that an organised party of four, back to back, could have downed
the rest, grabbed all the food and cleared the till.


  "Keep your temper. Never answer (that was why they spat and swore).
  "Don't hit first, but move together (there's no hurry) to the door.
  "Back to back, and facing outward while the linguist tells 'em how--
  "'Nous sommes allong a notre batteau, nous ne voulong pas un     row.'
  "So the hard, pent rage ate inward, till some idiot went too far ...
  "'Let 'em have it!' and they had it, and the same was serious war,
  "Fist, umbrella, cane, decanter, lamp and beer-mug, chair and boot--
  "Till behind the fleeing legions rose the long, hoarse yell for loot."


O'Rane's luminous black eyes were gleaming with mischief. Remembering my
first sight of him, when he fought for his life in a Vienna café, I
wondered whether any wife, reinforced by any mother, could curb his
restless yearning after action, were it blacking the eye of an oppressor
or slinging a disabled man on to his shoulders.... For all his
cosmopolitan spirit I could not fit him into the Byzantine world in
which Lady Dainton had brought up her daughter nor into the Merveilleuse
society into which her daughter had gravitated.

"It's--it's _really_ only a very big club," he murmured.

"Full of most undesirable members," I suggested. The Bâle story, I
felt, would be wasted on Vincent Grayle.

"They're not acclimatised yet. Now, you'd open the door for the most
undesirable member of the Eclectics, if he had a game leg, yet you laugh
at me if I pick up an injured man in the street and carry him home for
treatment. God's name! Where's the difference? _You're_ not acclimatised
yet, you see. It's to your interest, too.... How is Beresford, by the
way? Sonia's the most undutiful wife in the way of writing; I suppose
it's natural enough, really; she doesn't like having her letters to me
read by anyone else."

I never forgave the old men who advised and hampered me, pinning me to a
career for which I was unsuited and quarrelling with me when I broke
away from it. In my turn I have tried to refrain from advising and
hampering the younger generation--only to find that the younger
generation sometimes makes an astonishing fool of itself and that it is
harder and harder to sit silent and unintervening when someone whom I
like is on the verge of falling downstairs in the dark or of having his
pocket picked. Commenting on the fact that he was at Melton, while his
wife was in London, I warned O'Rane that, with their double portion of
wilfulness and energy, he was taking unnecessary risks with his married
life.

"I've not got much to go on," I admitted, "but that supper-party you
brought me to...."

"That was exceptional," he objected. "And they were Sonia's friends. You
were the only one I invited."

I reminded him of Beresford, Miss Merryon and perhaps three more obvious
recipients of his charity. He coloured slightly and told me that it was
an article of faith with him not to refuse help to anyone who asked.
Then I could see that he was not being honest with himself, for he
shifted his ground, concentrated on Beresford and asserted that his wife
liked him to be in the house.

"But do you think he ought to be there?" I asked, following him on to
the ground which he had chosen. "They're both young, attractive; your
wife's a very fascinating and beautiful woman. She can take care of
herself, of course.... It was in fact commented on at dinner the other
night."

O'Rane wrinkled his nose in dissatisfaction.

"He's company for Sonia," he said weakly.

"_You'd_ be company for her, if she came here or you went to live in
London. Much better company, too," I added.

My tone may have betrayed more than I intended to convey, for O'Rane
laughed.

"You don't like her friends? _I_ don't care a great lot for some of
them, but you must remember that she gave up a good deal to marry me--a
very full life--and I can't give her much. What I can give her is the
freest possible hand. That's why I haven't pressed her to come down
here, though, God knows, it's lonely enough without her. By Easter, if
not Christmas----"

"Won't you have given this up by Christmas?" I asked.

His face grew tired and perplexed, and he ran his fingers impatiently
through his hair.

"I don't know. I owe the devil of a lot of money; and I should be damned
body and soul, if I lived on charity when I could earn my own
livelihood. We'll discuss it at Christmas. In the meantime, can you stay
and dine with me in Common Room?"

His invitation was a reminder that I had already stayed perilously long,
if I was to get back to London in time for a dinner engagement.

"See me to my car," I said, as I put on my coat. "Look here, don't think
I'm a mere busybody. You and your wife are such a pair of children that
you mustn't mind a man twice your age telling you, if he thinks you're
behaving foolishly. I strongly advise you to throw this over at
Christmas. Now not another word."

O'Rane walked in silence through the Cloisters with one hand on the
Saint Bernard's collar. As we came into Great Court, he stopped
abruptly.

"Look here, sir; understand one thing," he began. "If you think I mind
or that I'm not grateful to you for speaking like this, I shall never
forgive you. But you say Sonia's to be trusted to take care of herself.
That's enough. If she wasn't----" He shrugged his shoulders--"she
wouldn't be worth keeping. If she fell in love with--who shall we
say?--Beresford and ran away with him, in God's name d'you think I
should want to stop her? I admit I've only been married three months,
but to me love's a thing of perfect, implicit trust. This is between
ourselves, but last week George Oakleigh came down for Founder's Day and
dropped a hint that Sonia was lunching and dining out too much
with--well, I suppose there's no harm in saying it--Grayle. As with you,
someone had commented on it at dinner. I'm afraid I couldn't pump up the
slightest indignation. Grayle's rather in love with her. So's Beresford.
So's that squeaky tame-cat, Deganway, of the Foreign Office. So's one of
my boys here--George's cousin Laurie, who firmly believes that he
brought me up to the scratch and made me propose--rather against my
will. So's young Pentyre, so's half the Brigade. If I wanted to be
jealous, sir, I'm afraid I shouldn't have time. As it is, I'm so proud
of Sonia that I glory in seeing other people proud of her, loving
her.... As for stray comments at dinner--I don't say it's right and I
don't say it's wrong, but she belongs to a very modern school which goes
its own way _without_ regarding stray comments at dinner. But so long as
we agree that she's to be trusted----?"

We had reached Big Gate, and he held out his hand to me with the
mischievous smile which I was beginning to know so well and which always
filled me with a sense of helplessness. As I looked at him with the
October wind blowing through his black hair, I reflected that he must
think me very old-fashioned to be surprised when a three-month-old wife
boasted of the men who were in love with her and her husband derived a
reflected happiness from her successes.

Driving back to London I felt that I was escaping mile by mile from a
bewildering world of serious make-believe.


5

My engagement that night was to dine with Harry Merefield and to discuss
something which, he said, he could explain better by word of mouth than
in a letter. I was intrigued by the invitation, because Merefield at
this time was of considerable account in the Foreign Office. We dined at
his Club, and, as the only other person present was Barton, who had
thrown up his work at Cambridge twelve months before and was now my
official chief in the Treasury, I divined that they contemplated a deal
in my person. The preliminaries were already settled, and, as we drank
our sherry, Merefield confided that the Foreign Office wanted me to go
out to America ostensibly to raise money for the War Charities Fund, in
reality to carry on a campaign of propaganda; my knowledge of country
and people would be invaluable and our relations had reached a point
where we could no longer afford to do nothing. Would I think over the
proposal?

"If this Press agitation goes _on_ ..." he began grimly and lapsed into
eloquent silence.

I must confess that I have never been able to understand what function
Ministers proposed that the Press should fulfil; they set up a Bureau to
control the supply of news and occasionally to restrain editorial
comment, but their interest seemed to die when once the War Office had
secured that direct military information was not to be disclosed and
that discussions and attacks should not take place round the head of
this or that commander. Valiantly they feared nothing, despondently they
hoped for nothing from a somewhat despised organisation which, despite
their contempt, believed in its own power and was capable daily of
placing the same view before every man and woman in the country until a
vague but obstinate conviction arose that "there must be something in
it." The Press with a little diplomatic flattery, might have become the
handmaid of the Government; with promptitude and vigour it could have
been emasculated to the semblance of an official bulletin. Instead,
Ministers treated it like an intrusive wasp, slapping at it with
ineffectual petulance, ducking their heads and running away when it was
angered, until Sir John Woburn and half a dozen of his fellows were left
to suggest, condemn, support and attack, to push favourite ministers and
policies, to be inspired by those same ministers and to indulge in
superficial criticism and the promulgation of half-truths which were
harder to overtake and refute than a substantial, well-defined lie.
Though never a Minister, I am afraid that I must accept my share of
responsibility, for, when the House of Commons abrogated its duty of
criticism, reform or remedy became possible only by a Press campaign.

"I don't give Woburn credit for excessive modesty," said Merefield, "but
it never occurs to him that his vile rags can have any effect abroad.
Yet, if you say a thing often enough, it gets repeated. The French and
the Russians are now beginning to ask what England's doing, what the
Navy's thinking about, and why we don't do more.... Wolff's Bureau
itself couldn't have a greater success than Woburn in making the French
believe that we're sacrificing them to preserve our own trade. We've
given America about as much ragging as she'll stand, and I want you to
sweeten things. You do know the country."

I know enough of America to feel that she has always suffered, as
Ireland suffers, from the characteristically English belief that because
two people speak a similar language they must have an identic soul and
that the Americans are a homogeneous Saxon race, estranged indeed from
an equally homogeneous parent stock by a certain insolent independence
imparted by General Washington to his turbulent followers, but Saxon in
orientation and sympathy, essentially sound at heart. When Merefield
asked me to go out, I knew that he could have found others better
qualified for the work, but at least I was a man who never expected to
find unanimity on the issues of European peace and war in New England,
purest in Saxon blood and tradition, sensitive to every European
repercussion and receptive of every thought-wave borne across the
Atlantic; in the Southern States, with their political concentration on
the negro within their gates and the Mexican without; in the North-West,
watchful of Canadian encroachments; in the Far West, with its eyes set
on a Japanese peril; in the Middle West, where the farmer of Illinois
and Iowa lives and dies without coming nearer than at a thousand miles'
distance to Pacific or Atlantic; in scattered, unassimilated lumps of
disaffected Ireland or duly prepared Germany.

"They're getting tired of hearing what 'America' ought to do," Merefield
continued. "People here won't see that there is no American people yet,
hardly an American idea, only the vaguest groping after an American
ideal. They've been snapping and snarling at Wilson over Belgium, over
the 'Lusitania', over his notes--as if he had a mixed population of a
hundred and ten millions in his _pocket_! I want you to explain that
it's only our fun. After all, they've got their own Woburns; they'll
understand."

My American friends were too numerous to allow of my accepting
Merefield's facile diagnosis and treatment. I knew then, as I had
confirmed later, that the commonest feeling in the American mind was a
quiet but affronted indignation at British ingratitude. Of the
organisations, the funds and charities, the work of humanity and succour
that had begun in America from the first day of war, not a word was said
in our press or speeches; over the hardships and inconveniences involved
by our blockade, over the sense of grievance occasioned by our
censorship of mails and cables, no sympathy was expressed or felt. When
Russia was dependent on American munitions, when English credit in
America was the hope and salvation of allied finance, we could find no
more gracious form of acknowledgement than a sneer at a so-called proud
nation which let its sons and daughters drown without protest and
shirked the sacrifices of war in order to steal trade, to sell the means
of destruction to others and to increase the ever-mounting accumulation
of wealth. I am too old and cosmopolitan to have any right to be
surprised, yet I always am in fact surprised by my countrymen's abysmal
want of imagination and international courtesy. I approached my mission
with the most unfeigned reluctance.

Merefield left me to think over his suggestion undisturbed, and before
saying good-night I told him that, if he would give me a few weeks to
order my affairs, I would gladly go for as long a time as the Foreign
Office chose to keep me. Yolande and her husband had attended to my
domestic requirements so admirably during my absence in Austria that I
had no hesitation in entrusting them to her again and in surrendering
the rest of my house for use as an office. My departmental work was
gradually transferred to other shoulders, though at one moment I feared
that the department itself was going to be extinguished. After
dissipating numberless troops on secondary operations in every corner of
the world except the western front, the Government found itself short of
reinforcements for the great offensive which was to break the German
line in the spring of 1916. The flow of volunteers was drying up, and I
heard much excited gossip about an immediate measure of conscription.
Grayle, I remembered, was very active and tried to commit me to an
organised attack on the Government; as, however, even he admitted that
no one but the Prime Minister could carry a compulsory service bill, I
told him that he must be content with anything he could get. My
department, or the younger section of it, was saved by a comic-opera
compromise whereby volunteers were encouraged to enlist on pain of being
conscribed, if they held back. To introduce a democratic note and make
the figures imposing, all my youngsters were invited to attest; to
ensure that the official machine continued in being, it was arranged
that no government servant should be called to the colours without the
leave of his departmental head. So, after a week's flutter, I was at
liberty to go.

There was no secret about the fact of my mission, and Bertrand Oakleigh
arranged a little dinner at the House to wish me good-speed. I walked
back with him to his rooms at "The Sanctuary" and looked into the
library to see if there was anyone about. George was asleep on a sofa,
but otherwise the room was deserted.

"I'm waiting to see Sonia," he yawned, as I came in.

"With any luck she's out at a dance and won't be back till about four.
I've induced Beresford to clear out, but I don't want her to be
frightened or wonder where he is."

He broke off to yawn again. I asked him how he had contrived the
eviction, and the yawn shortened into a smile.

"I didn't put it on the ground that he was falling in love with Sonia,"
he said, "because I suppose he knows that; I just told him that--a
comment had been made.... D'you know, after that dinner, dear Lady
Maitland called on me at ten next morning at the Admiralty, telling me
to use my influence? And I may say that when Lady Maitland tells me to
do a thing I do it. Well, Beresford is in the pulpy state where he'd cut
his throat if he could protect Sonia's reputation in any way, little
knowing the evergreen hardiness of that same reputation, and he went off
to his own flat. Sonia will probably be very indignant with me this
evening, but she's made her Peter much too lamb-like to be seriously
interested in him any longer. Anyway, if she isn't indignant with me for
one thing, she'll be indignant for another. And I seem to survive it
comfortably. So _that_ danger's over, though as a matter of fact there
never was any danger...." He filled a pipe and lurched wearily round the
room in search of matches. "The only danger for Sonia is from a man
who'll bully her," he drawled. "When she was engaged to Jim Loring, he
behaved like an extra lady's maid; she might still be blowing hot and
cold with Raney, if he hadn't shewn her very definitely who had the
stronger will. It was at the very beginning of the war, and he was quite
ruthless.... Last time he saw her, poor old Raney...."

"You know them both pretty well, don't you?" I asked.

"Yes. And the next question is, why did they marry? I can't answer that.
They were in love, but that's more a reason than an excuse.... Yes,
I've known 'em both for years. And for years I've tried to restrain
Sonia's destiny when I saw it going to her head. Oh, by the way,
Beresford's by no means my only success. I don't know whether Grayle's a
friend of yours, but I dislike him--always did, when I was in the House
with him--and the other day I thought it was time to interfere; you
couldn't stir a yard without running into them. This time I didn't
bother about approaching the man--that would have been too great a waste
of time,--but I talked to Sonia until she promised never to have Grayle
inside the house again and never to meet him of malice aforethought.
Which you will admit is a fairly comprehensive victory."

He looked at his watch and walked impatiently to the writing-table.

"Mrs. O'Rane seems to be a whole-time job," I commented.

"She's all that," he grunted. "Mark you, I'm fond of her in spite of
herself.... But I'm fonder of Raney, and the pair of them seem steering
for disaster.... I don't know. I may be all wrong. I'm a bachelor and
I've never had to humour a woman.... Here, I've finished this. I'll walk
with you as far as the club."

As I latched the door behind me, I asked what he thought of the life
which O'Rane had decreed for "The Sanctuary." He smiled before
answering.

"If you'd known Raney as long as I have, it would be just the thing
you'd expect of him--all taken _au grand sérieux_, too, of course. As
for Sonia, she'd consent to sleep in a doss-house, if she were doing it
for the first time--a new experience, you know. She was prepared to put
up with anything, I fancy, to get away from home and have a house of her
own; and she'd have cheerfully accepted half a room in a workman's
cottage when she married Raney. After four or five months of it, I
should think it's beginning to pall; the caravanserai life wouldn't suit
her for twenty-four hours in the day, she likes it for an hour after
dinner--for more new experiences. I think, I _think_ you'll find Raney
will have to drop it.... But I don't know.... There are five things that
are too hard for me, and the way of a maid with a man is the hardest of
them all."



CHAPTER THREE

SONIA O'RANE

     "Vanity induces men, more than reason, to act against inclination."
                        THE DUKE DE LA ROCHEFOUCALD: _Maxims_.


1

I sailed for America in December, 1915, on perhaps the most difficult
mission that I have ever undertaken. It was not expected, of course,
that the United States would enter the war against us or upset the
diplomatic equilibrium in our favour without provocation and until the
result of the elections had been seen. I went, as I have suggested, to
counteract the German propaganda, which sought to make all at least
equally responsible for the war, and also to remove some part of the bad
impression which had been left by our more unbridled journalists and our
less imaginative statesmen. The moral approbation of America was too
precious an asset to fritter away, and the purchase of material depended
on the goodwill of American financiers, the supply of munitions could be
stopped as a diplomatic reprisal.

It was perhaps unfortunate that my arrival coincided with an outburst of
new interest in the Blockade, ending with the creation of a Blockade
Ministry and the appointment of a Blockade Minister. (Harry Merefield
used to shake his head over any new interest in the Blockade. "_We_
always say that Germany must be defeated in the field, and I'm
apprehensive when the soldiers tell me that they're counting on our
starving the brutes out.") I was asked, too, at more than one meeting
how the Government of Great Britain reconciled its passionate crusade in
defence of small nationalities with its no less passionate refusal to
allow the Irish to control their own destinies. The dreary tale of the
unchecked Ulster gun-running and the appeal to Germany was rehearsed for
my benefit; and my more law-abiding Irish audiences generated
considerable heat over the presence of "the rebel Carson" in the
Cabinet.

But, if I found the work difficult, it gave me a respite from England,
where I felt that I had been watching the machine at too close quarters.
Since the day when I helped George Oakleigh to divide the world and
secure a lasting peace, our nerves had worn thin; we devoted too much
time to seeing that other people went promptly about their duties; and a
deadly personal bitterness--embodied for me in Grayle, though I do not
single him out for attack--poisoned our confidence in our own leaders. I
was glad to feel the icy wind of the Atlantic lashing my face, blowing
the cobwebs from my brain and the sour taste from my mouth, as we
rounded the last Irish headland.

During the week that I had to myself on board, sailing without lights
and zig-zagging out of reach of submarines, I put together the notes for
some of my speeches. It was extraordinarily difficult to say anything
definite. After eighteen months of hostilities and mid-way through a
second winter, there was a confident expectation that the great spring
offensive would end the war. The Austrian losses were known to be
gigantic, and it was believed that the old emperor was flirting with
peace; Germany was starving, and the moral of the German army had
notoriously broken. (Our avowedly humorous publications demonstrated
that a British soldier had still only to call "Waiter!" or to exhibit a
sausage at the end of his bayonet to have a swarm of German prisoners on
their knees to him.)

Yet, beneath all our confidence ran a chilling current of doubt. The
spring offensive would be launched in Belgium or France, but the clubs
and dinner tables, the military correspondents--it was whispered, the
Cabinet itself--were divided into "westerners" and "easterners."

"If _we_ could hold up the Huns at Ypres," George had said to me
gloomily on my last day in England, "_they_ can hold us up equally well,
when the proportion of fighting strength has been reversed. I hoped in
the early days of the Dardanelles that we were going to knock away the
buttresses and bring down the whole structure of the Central Empires,
detach Turkey and Bulgaria, you know, carve a way into the Hungarian
plains. Now I'm by no means comfortable...."

George, with many others, was not destined to think of the Dardanelles
with an easy mind until news reached the Eclectic Club one day at
luncheon that Gallipoli had been miraculously evacuated, and a sigh of
relief rose over London, to be followed by a feeling that, though we had
escaped once, our luck might desert us at the second tempting. More and
more I was hearing the criticism that there were too many amateur
strategists in the Cabinet with no one to check the careless inspiration
which led them to fling their armies to Sulva Bay or Salonica, while the
thinning reserves on the western front impelled the Government inch by
reluctant inch to conscription.

And every time that the Blockade bit deeper into the puffy German flesh,
every time that the mark exchange fell, every time that the numbers of
enemy killed, wounded, missing and prisoners satisfied our military
ready-reckoners that the last reserves were under fire and that the
inevitable collapse would ring and echo through the world within so many
days or weeks, the enemy retaliated with the wriggle of a Japanese
wrestler, flung his adversary away and surmounted him. Servia had been
overrun by the effete, vanquished Austrians in October, Montenegro
followed in January; we had sent troops to Gallipoli, because the
western front was impregnable, we had withdrawn them because the eastern
front was no less impregnable. Amateur strategy or political intrigue
was now mysteriously dissipating more troops in Greece, and I was
required later to square the allied landing in Salonica with the allied
resistance to the German incursion into Belgium. To say that King
Constantine had defaulted on his treaty obligations to Servia was
venturesome but inadequate, for the terms of the treaty were unknown; it
was common knowledge, on the other hand, that Great Britain had
guaranteed the Greek constitution, by which foreign troops might only
land at the invitation of king and parliament.

The public temper in England led me to expect one thing, crystallised by
Vincent Grayle in a bet that, if we had not broken the German line by
September, the Government and the Higher Command would have passed into
ineffectual history.

"It's their last chance," were his parting words to me. "After all, you
find a leak in your cistern, you get a plumber; if he can't mend it,
God's truth, you get another plumber. You're likely to find considerable
changes by the time you get back."

I think it was the taste left in my mouth by Vincent Grayle that I was
most glad to have blown away by the north-east Atlantic wind.

I landed in New York to find that I had lost one false perspective of
the war to acquire another. In the eastern states there was indeed an
"American Rights" party, flamingly incensed that the President had not
broken off diplomatic relations on the sinking of the "Lusitania," but
as unprepared as I had been on my return to England after a year of war
for the resolution and effort, the suffering and bereavement, the social
upheaval and snapping nerves which I had met. New England, to my pity,
talked of participation and still fancied, as we had once done, that it
would be someone else's son or brother, someone of academic interest,
who would appear day after day in the casualty lists. Yet what else
could I expect? As I walked up and down the unfamiliarly lighted streets
to see men still employed on work which was being done by women in
England, as I met abundance on every hand and heard of war as an
intellectual conception in the middle distance, I had only to shut my
eyes and imagine that it was a fantastic nightmare of my own.

For three months I spoke and wrote; for three months, as I was flung
from end to end of the continent on journeys of incredible length and
intolerable discomfort, interviewers boarded my train and invaded my
car. The daily news of the war had long been relegated to some corner of
a back page, and my interviewers were clamorous as children to be told a
story.

I am content to be judged by results; in the south there were men who
responded to my eloquence by crossing the border and enlisting in a
Canadian regiment, and the War Charities Fund has its record of the
subscriptions which I collected. My audiences reacted on me until I am
afraid I came to idealise unpardonably. I remember describing to a
Boston audience the spontaneous uprising of England as I had found it
after a year abroad; I remember, too, returning to my hotel and finding
a handful of letters and a batch of month-old papers.... England was
agitated by the question whether a married man, who had volunteered for
service, should be taken into the army until an unmarried man, who had
not so volunteered, had been coerced. It was not an ennobling
controversy for one who had been describing crusades....

"It serves the married men right for calling the single men shirkers,"
George Oakleigh wrote. "Now that they've screwed themselves up to the
point of attesting, they're trying to shirk in their turn.... Psychology
is revealing itself curiously. Men who despise a Catholic for
surrendering the right of private judgement are praying for the
Government to order them about and relieve them of the responsibility of
making up their own minds.... A thriving trade is being driven in
rejection certificates. Your enterprising patriot with some physical
defect gets himself duly turned down for the army; he then personates
his more robust friends for a suitable fee, attending at their local
recruiting offices under their names and pocketing any solatium that may
be handed out at such times. It was hardly this spirit which sent Jim
Loring and Raney out.... The whole wrangle is a great opportunity for
our friend Beresford, but he is at least honest and intelligible; if
conscription comes, he'll refuse to serve and the Government can shoot
him. He was committed to a war without being consulted and he's not
going to die of malaria in Salonica to please a House of Commons which
he helped to return five years ago to carry the Parliament Bill."

I feel that I must have addressed my audiences with less conviction
after a letter of this kind, yet it was but the occasional snapping of
overstrained human nerves. Yolande, I remember, wrote in great concern
to tell me that her husband and George--two of the kindest, mildest and
most level-headed men I know--had quarrelled and parted in anger. A
successful raid into the German lines was magnified into at least a
second-class victory; George in a mood of depression minimised it
unduly; Felix thereat raked up his opponent's record of eight years
before as a champion of disarmament and international peace, charging
him with being a pro-German. "I wanted to bang their heads together,
uncle darling," my niece confided. "Will you believe it? They weren't on
speaking terms for a week, until I made each apologise to the other. So
ridiculous!..."

The unrest and dissatisfaction ran through public and private life
equally.

"There's a perfect crop of what my young cousin Laurie calls
'stunt-artists' of late," George wrote a week later. "Every third man in
the House feels called on to do a 'stunt' of his own. There's a 'Ginger
Stunt,' to keep the Government up to the mark, and an 'Air Stunt' to
protect us from Zepps, and a 'Civil Liberties Stunt' to resist
conscription, and a 'Conscription Stunt' to resist civil liberties, and
a 'Press Stunt' to quash the Press Bureau, and a sort of 'Standing
Stunt' to quash Northcliffe. Men of imaginative bent are turning their
eyes to Mesopotamia and the Dardanelles, ready to start stunts there at
the earliest opportunity and on the smallest provocation. Bertrand says
that in all his experience he's never known the House so neurotic and
out of hand. The cumulative effect is exceedingly bad. Whether the
stunts do any good or not I can't say, but they destroy confidence in
the Government, depress people at home and at the front, not to mention
the allies, and ultimately they'll bring the Government down. Now, with
the exception of Grayle, that's what no one wants to do. Asquith's the
only man who can hold the country together, but he's so anxious--and
rightly--to keep his team working harmoniously and to avoid any
possibility of a split anywhere that I don't think he asserts himself
enough. A party truce can be overdone, and a good many Liberals are
saying that they are always sacrificed to conciliate someone else and
never the other way about; as with Ireland--but I've no doubt your
Irish-Americans have delicately hinted in the same sense.... By the way,
I forgot to mention the 'Stop the War Stunt.' Since last I wrote
Beresford has been had up and fined; at least he was ordered to pay the
fine, but he refused; so they kept him in prison for a bit, and he
hunger-struck and now he's at large again...."

George's next letter made no reference to anything of public interest.

"Do you remember saying that Sonia was a whole-time job for a man?" he
began. "She's too much for me; I'm going to retire from the fray. When
Raney came home for the Christmas holidays, he and Sonia talked things
over--Melton and the House and work of various kinds. Bertrand was
dragged in to keep the peace and advise generally, and they reached this
amount of agreement: Raney consented to throw up his appointment at the
school, provided he found work at least equally remunerative to pay his
debts and keep the household going and provided that it was work of some
public utility. He wasn't prepared simply to make money, if his services
could be of any use to anyone for the war. Well, as you know, almost
every kind of public work involves the use of your eyes, and it would
have taken him some time to find the right kind of job. In fact, he and
Bertrand had not begun to discuss it when Sonia went on to the next
question with a very definite statement that, if he was going to live at
'The Sanctuary', she claimed equal rights with him to decide who was
invited to the house--in other words (and very reasonably, from her
point of view) the house was their home and she might just as well be
living in the street as in that menagerie. I confess I sympathise. I
_knew_ she wouldn't stand it for more than a very few weeks. You don't
know the place as I do, you've probably never seen anyone but Beresford
dossing on a sofa, but Raney with the best intentions in the world
sometimes turns that place into a casual ward. Sonia stood it at first,
because it was a new experience and she's got a passionate enjoyment of
life which would carry her through everything. But, when the novelty had
worn off, it must have been singularly uncomfortable; even Raney's
friends would only smile pityingly, and you may be sure that all the
Dainton influence was thrown into the scale against him. I know for a
fact that Lady Dainton's done all the mischief she can in the way of
sneering, criticising, setting Sonia against Raney. The important new
development was that Sonia was beginning to echo her mother. I happened
to drop in about this time. I expect you've noticed that moral
undressing is always conducted publicly in that house; I heard Raney
defend himself by pointing out that Bertrand's house had been turned
into a hospital, that Crowley Court was a hospital and that he was not
asking Sonia to do anything very different from what Lady Dainton was
doing. 'Ever since I came back from the front,' he told her, 'I've been
trying to get this war into perspective. Everyone's doing his best to
save this country and all that it stands for, but it's got to stand for
a good deal more than it did before the war; we owe it to the fellows
who have died and the fellows who are dying now and the numberless
fellows who've still got to die, we've got to shew that they died for
something that we can look at without shame. It'll be a long time before
we can be really proud of this country, but we can make a beginning, and
the time to begin is when we've stood sweating with fear and remorse
with a halter round our necks and the hangman comes to say we've been
reprieved.'

"As you know, my uncle's a tough old cynic, but, when Raney talks with
that cold, vibrant passion of his, you have to be very tough not to feel
at least a little uncomfortable. I've had to stand it ever since we were
at Oxford together. Sonia was about as much impressed as if he'd been
talking to a brick wall. He wasn't discouraged, but he turned to
Bertrand--'You remember when I got back, sir?' (God! I'm not likely to
forget the night when we found he was blind!) 'You were in a furnished
flat, and I had awful difficulty in finding you, but I came straight to
you, and you and George took me in without a murmur.' (I suppose he
thought that after sixteen years we were going to refer him to the
nearest Rowton House.) 'That was--symbolical, sir,' he went on. 'D'you
remember that you came in very late, when I was in bed, and we had a
talk? After you'd gone, I got out of bed and lifted up both hands and
swore that I'd not give in, that I'd do what I could with what was left.
I swore that, as I'd been taken in--not only by you; a hundred other
people had done the same,--I'd try very humbly and patiently never to
say "no" to anyone else that wanted to be taken in, anyone else that I
could help. That's what I'm trying to do now.' Then he stopped and left
them to digest it, with the result which you can imagine when two people
take up wholly irreconcilable positions. Sonia said that charity should
begin at home, that he talked about not being unkind to anyone, but he
was being unkind to his own wife--you can imagine the dialogue. Bertrand
raised _his_ two hands that night and swore that he'd clear out into
quarters of his own, and Sonia's parting words were that she regarded
her marriage as at an end, which is a pretty sentiment after five
months."

A week later George wrote again on the same subject.

"How you must enjoy the sight of my hand!" he began. "I'm sorry, but I
want to blow off steam. The other night I took Raney out to dinner and
talked to him for his soul's good. I saw a good deal of the tragi-comedy
when Sonia was engaged to Jim Loring and I told Raney that he was
courting disaster by the way he was treating her. He was in one of his
most smiling, most obstinate moods--steel and india-rubber. He said he
couldn't slam his door in the face of anyone who wanted help. 'Very
well!' I said; 'keep it open. You say "yes," she says "no," and there's
not a square inch of ground for compromise. One of you has to climb
down, and you won't?' 'If you like to put it like that,' says Raney, 'I
won't.' 'Then make _her_,' I said. 'She'll do it, if you make her; she
won't love you any the less and she'll respect you all the more, if you
force her to obey you.' Raney was really upset. 'Old man! you mustn't
talk to me about _forcing_ my wife to do things!' My dear Stornaway,
that's the kind of imbecile we've got to deal with! I warned him that,
if he kept his door open against her will, she would walk out of it.

"God knows, I never wanted to be a Cassandra, but I know that child so
well! Two days later Raney bumped into a young officer staggering along
Victoria Street in an advanced state of intoxication; Raney just had
time to find out that the fellow was due to catch the leave-train at
about seven next morning, when his new friend collapsed on the steps of
the Army and Navy Stores and settled himself to a comfortable slumber. I
don't suppose any of us would have left him there with a fair prospect
of being robbed or run in or discovered by the Provost-Marshal, to say
nothing of losing the train and perhaps being court-martialled. Raney
must needs put him in a cab, take him home and expend time, ingenuity
and hard-bought experience in making him sober. It must have been a
gruesome night, but the fellow caught his train. It was the last straw
for Sonia. The next day she wired from Northamptonshire, asking me to
tell Raney that she was staying with the Pentyres. That was a week ago;
Raney has asked her--_asked_, mark you--to come back, and she won't
budge. I deliberately cadged an invitation from Pentyre last week-end,
we spent Sunday with one scene after another, and her final message on
Monday morning was that she would come back when he agreed to do what
she asked; otherwise she would be compelled to think that he, too,
regarded the marriage as over. I spent most of Monday night storming at
Raney, and the present position is that neither will yield an inch and
Raney won't exercise his authority.

"You are probably sick and tired of them both by now, but you cannot be
anything like as sick or tired as I am...."


2

This was the last letter which I received before my return to England in
the spring of 1916. The country, when I landed, reminded me strongly of
a theatre before a first night; everyone was waiting for the full
deployment of the new armies, everyone expected the summer campaign to
be the supreme test; by now, too, almost everyone had son or brother
under arms waiting in the line or rehearsing his share in the coming
offensive. The tension produced a nervous irritability which manifested
itself, so far as the House of Commons was concerned, in a mutinous
demand for enlightenment, and one of my earliest duties was to be
present, with fine parade of mystery and importance, at the first secret
session of the war. The one unvarying rule which I have been able to
frame for the House of Commons is that it never fulfils expectations.
Though the Press Gallery was conscientiously cleared, we were given
neither fact nor figure that was not already in the possession of any
well-informed journalist; twenty-four hours later the speeches were
common property in every club, and the one thing new was the change in
psychology. The show of blind loyalty to the Government had broken down
until the Government itself felt that something must be tried to restore
confidence. I found that a man of Bertrand's temperamental independence
was using Grayle's currency of speech.

"Much good it's done!" he growled, as we left the House together. "It's
no use pointing to the number of men you've raised or the output of
shells. The country's outgrown the phase of being content with good
endeavours, it wants _results_, it's in the mood to say, 'You haven't
beaten the Germans, and, if you don't do it pretty quickly, someone must
be found who will.' Stroll home with me, if you've nothing better to
do."

"You're in your old quarters still?" I asked.

Bertrand laughed and then sighed.

"When David asked me to come here, I accepted on an impulse," he
confessed. "It was a phase of the early enthusiasm; I felt we'd got no
business to go on living so extravagantly, when the boys out there were
going through Hell's agonies and every penny was wanted to carry on this
war and to reduce the load of human suffering. I suppose this dog's too
old to be taught new tricks. If you find me staying on now, it's only to
keep the peace." He stopped to re-light his cigar, and, as he sheltered
the match with his hands, I saw that his heavy, powerful face was morose
and dissatisfied. "I've got a considerable love for David. He was a fool
to marry the girl, of course, but a man doesn't marry or keep a mistress
because it's _wise_, but because he wants to, because he can't help
himself.... When she married him, I thought that the war had sobered her
down, but these _soupers fraternels_ have made her restive, and she's
reverted to type. I'm standing by to break up tête-à-têtes and prevent
her doing anything irrevocable before they've patched up their present
quarrel and agreed on some possible way of life. If he weren't blind,
she'd have left him three months ago. You know they've not met since
Christmas?"

"Where are they?" I asked.

"Oh, she's here--with the usual tame cats to carry her off to lunch and
dinner. She came back the day after David returned to Melton.... You can
see it's a pleasant house to live in!... Before the war I sat on a
committee with her mother. Do you remember a phase when young men tried
to grow side-whiskers? Well, the drawing-room was always full of these
hairy youths, immaculately dressed and simpering round her with boxes of
sweets and flowers, which she very graciously accepted. Since the war
these fellows have shaved and got into uniform, but it's the same old
gang. I used to think nobody was injured; she liked racketing about at
restaurants and theatres, they were puffed up to be with her. The only
man I drew the line at was Grayle; he's much heavier metal." Bertrand
paused to laugh with his old cynical relish. "I'm deuced old, but I've
still got a very retentive memory, and everybody's always told me
things. Well, I went through the mental rag-bag, I talked to a few
people, I made a few enquiries--particularly on the American chapter of
his life--and the next time we met I became biographical at his expense.
George tried and failed. Friend Grayle hasn't been here since. I tell
you, I was getting sick of the business. She'd give a dinner party at
eight, and Grayle would be here at half-past seven to talk to her alone,
and, by Gad! she'd be dressed and ready for him. I don't know whether
they thought I was blind _and_ deaf.... And it was the same when she
dined at his house. I used to hear her coquetting and threatening to be
late, if he wasn't 'good'--ugh!--and he'd swear he wouldn't admit her,
if she wasn't in time. It was all such poor stuff! I shouldn't have
minded so much, if there'd been any red blood in it, but she was
obviously just keeping her hand in; that woman would make sheep's eyes
at the Shakespeare monument in Leicester Square sooner than nothing....
So I spiked friend Grayle's guns, and she's had to content herself with
Beresford. He's pretty harmless, but the devil of it is that she's ready
to go wrong with any man, when she loses control of her temper. If she
weren't restrained by her husband's blindness ... Good night. I'm going
straight to my room."

As I had come to the door, I thought that I could do no harm by going in
to see who was about. I found Beresford sitting up on a sofa with a
block of paper on his lap. He looked exceedingly ill and perhaps not
best pleased to see me.

"You're back again, then?" I said. "How's the knee?"

"I'm only waiting till Sonia comes in," he answered. "My knee's much
the same as it's been all along, very much the same as it always will
be. The doctors are going to give me blood-tests or something. Of
course, I didn't do it much good when I was in prison; the doctor there
was badly scared. He used to examine me each day to see how much longer
I could hold out without food, and I used to see him looking grave every
time he came to the knee, until I'm prepared to bet he told the
authorities he wouldn't take the responsibility of keeping me there any
longer. Then they let me out." His grey lips curled into a withering
sneer. "God! the authorities in this country _deserve_ to lose their
precious war! D'you think that in Germany they'd allow me to write the
pamphlets I do here? D'you think, if they decided not to shoot me,
they'd let me out of prison because they were afraid to force food down
my throat? The blessed innocents here said I might go, if I promised to
drop my propaganda; they brought in a pen and paper. Well, I'd been
without water for four days, and my throat and mouth were so swollen
that I couldn't speak. I couldn't write very elegantly, either, but I
collected enough strength to scrawl 'I'll see you in Hell first.' And
then, if you please, I was let out. And now I'm improving the occasion."

He collected a number of loose sheets and pinned them together.

"As long as you think it does any good," I said, "the Archangel Gabriel
wouldn't be able to stop you."

"You don't think it's a good thing to keep people from slaughtering one
another? Dear man, d'you appreciate that, if Kitchener and Grey were in
Potsdam at this moment with the unconditional surrender of Germany in
their pocket, they couldn't get anything to compensate our present
losses? There's imbecile talk about security and a 'war-to-end-war,' but
you won't _have_ war when people understand what it's like. That's what
I'm trying to shew them."

He threw himself back on the sofa and began reading what he had written.
I got up to leave, only pausing to give him a message for Mrs. O'Rane.
As I closed the door behind me, a taxi stopped at the corner twenty
yards from "The Sanctuary" and a man in uniform stepped out and
stretched one hand to somebody inside, holding the door open with the
other. His size alone, without the familiar mane of yellow hair,
identified him for me as Grayle; a moment later Mrs. O'Rane emerged and
stood by him under the street lamp at the corner. Bertrand might keep
Grayle as far away as the end of the street, but I felt that he had
boasted prematurely.

"You'll come in?" I heard Mrs. O'Rane say, as her companion hesitated by
the taxi.

"Not to-night, thanks. It's rather late."

I caught a light ripple of laughter.

"You're not getting suddenly anxious about my reputation, are you?" she
asked. "You _used_ to _like_ coming in and talking to me; and you know
how I hate going to bed. Of course, if you don't want to----"

Grayle opened his case and took out a cigarette.

"That cuts _no_ ice, Sonia," he said. "Good-night and thank you for
coming. I shall see you to-morrow."

"I don't think I shall come."

"Oh, yes, you will."

"If you're so afraid of being compromised----"

"You are coming to-morrow."

She was silent; and, if it had been day-light, I would have staked my
life that she was pouting suitably.

"You _used_ to say that to-morrow was a very long way off," she remarked
irrelevantly.

Grayle's voice became authoritative.

"You are coming to-morrow, Sonia."

No doubt it was the old small change of flirtation which had exasperated
Bertrand, and I had already been made to hear more than I relished.
Stepping into the circle of dim light, I bade her good evening and asked
Grayle if he had finished with his taxi.

"Hul-_lo_! I didn't know you were back in England!" she cried. "Have you
been calling? I wish I'd known. You've got to come back now."

"I looked in for a moment," I said. "Now I must get home, though."

"I'll give you a lift," Grayle volunteered.

Mrs. O'Rane looked from one to the other of us, and her eyes and mouth
hardened in an expression of pique.

"My society seems rather at a discount to-night," she observed.

"You'll find Beresford waiting for you," I said. "I've been talking to
him, but I've got to get home now."

She turned to Grayle, and I will swear that she was watching to see if
Beresford's name was a challenge.

"I must get home, too," was all that he would say. "I shall see you
to-morrow."

"Oh, I meant to tell you. I can't come to-morrow," she answered with
easy gravity, as though I had not heard every syllable of her earlier
conversation. "Well, if you won't come in, I'll say good-night. Thanks
for a most delightful evening."

Grayle and I drove in silence for half of the way. Then he asked me
abruptly how I had got on in America.

For some weeks I continued to attend to my own work uninterrupted by the
O'Ranes, but towards the end of the Easter term I had to make my way to
Melton for the Governors' meeting. A note from O'Rane invited me to call
before going back to London, and at the end of our business I invaded
his rooms to find him seated, as ever, cross-legged on the floor with
his head thrown back, lips parted and eyes seemingly fixed on the
ceiling or on something beyond it. The room was crowded with what I can
only call a cluster of boys sprawling on chairs and tables or
precariously perched with linked arms on the broad mantel-piece. Some
were conventionally dressed, some were in flannels, some in uniform; the
majority, however, preferred a motley of khaki breeches, puttees and
vivid blazers. It was the end of a field day, and a few of O'Rane's
friends had dropped in to talk with him. After some moments it occurred
to the boy nearest the door to ask if I wished to speak to Mr. O'Rane,
and on that, to my regret, the seminar dissolved.

As the last boy clattered into the Cloisters, O'Rane felt for a box of
cigarettes and asked me how I had got on in America.

"George told me you were back," he said. "Have you been round to our
place?"

"I went round there almost immediately," I told him. "I say, O'Rane----"

Perhaps he guessed what was coming, for I was not allowed to finish my
sentence.

"Was Beresford there?" he asked.

I hesitated for what I should have thought was an imperceptible moment;
and O'Rane repeated his question.

"As a matter of fact he was," I said.

"Ah! I wish I'd known that before.... Oh, _now_ I see why you
hesitated!" He gave a buoyant laugh. "I can assure you that Beresford
doesn't make me in the least jealous or in the least apprehensive. I'd
trust him pretty well as far as I'd trust Sonia; our outlook's so
similar, we've got so much in common. Well, the authorities have got
their eyes on him, and he'll find himself arrested again, if he isn't
careful. And he's only alienating possible sympathisers with the stuff
he's writing now. Did you read him on the typhus outbreak at
Wittenburg?"

He jumped up and brought me a copy of "The Watchman" from his
writing-table. Beresford's article made me very angry. A few days
earlier my nephew Felix, dining with me at the Hyde Park Hotel, where I
had now taken up my residence, had given me a sickening account of the
epidemic in the prisoners' camp; a fuller and yet more sickening account
had appeared in the Press, and from end to end of the country there
burst a storm of indignation stronger than anything since the outcry
against the atrocities in Belgium. At this moment and from this text
Beresford, who saw red at the news of the mildest cruelty to man or
animal, preached a cynical, superior sermon to prove that, if misguided
fools went to war, this was the kind of thing they must expect. The
object of war was to kill, and the only reason why the Germans did not
massacre their prisoners was that on balance their own losses might be
greater. But in scientific warfare it was unjustifiable to expect German
doctors and nurses to risk their lives for the sake of preserving the
enemy's. The English might; the English habitually boasted of picking up
survivors after a naval engagement, but it was not war.

"God knows _I'm_ not in love with war," said O'Rane, as I flung the
paper away, "but an article like that infuriates just the decent-minded
people he's appealing to. Well, bad taste is not an indictable offence,
but I had a hint dropped this week-end that made me think that Beresford
had better go warily. We had a man dining in Common Room on Sunday whose
job in life is to advise on people like him and the stuff they turn out.
We got on to the Wittenburg article, and it came out that I knew the
author. Well, there was nothing much the matter with that branch of
Intelligence Service; they knew all about Beresford, but they didn't
want to give him a free advertisement and make a martyr of him, so they
tried to get hold of him under the Military Service Act and stop his
mouth that way. He was ordered to join up on a certain day, so he wrote
a polite letter to say that he disapproved of war and did not propose to
fight. When the day came, he was well and duly put in charge of a guard
and marched off to the recruiting office to be presented to the army and
turned into a soldier. Before that could be done, though, the doctors
had their say. To cut it short, he was rejected rather more completely
than anyone's ever been rejected before--heart, lungs, knee.... One
doctor told him that if he didn't live in the open air and blow himself
out with milk, he'd be dead in six months. That was a week ago. The
army's been cheated of its prey, and my friend of Sunday night must find
another means of stopping Beresford's mouth. What the fellow must
understand is that they intend to catch him this time; their temper's
none the better for the little rebuff at the recruiting office. I was
meaning to come up and talk to him at the next Leave-Out, but I'm
afraid he may put his head in the trap before I can get at him. That's
why I asked you to come and see me; I want you to take him in hand."

After the Wittenburg article I was not inclined to raise a finger on
Beresford's behalf. And so I told O'Rane.

"But do you want him to die?" he asked. "If they shove him in prison and
he hunger-strikes again, you may never see him alive."

"I think I could endure that," I said. "The man's mind is perverted."

"Ah, then, you mustn't treat him as if he were normal," O'Rane put in
quickly. "I want you to go to him and tell him to drop the whole
business. Lord knows, I've been up against authority in one form or
another most of my life, but there's nothing heroic in getting shot, if
you don't achieve anything by it. You can get him to see that, surely."

By this time I confess that I had become one of many who found it hard
to refuse O'Rane anything; perhaps it was because he never asked for
himself.

"I'll try,--as a favour to you," I said. "Though I've no idea why I
should want to do you a favour. O'Rane, you're making a considerable
mess of your life."

The expression on his face suddenly changed, and he became courteously
unapproachable.

"Do you think we shall do any good by discussing it?" he asked.

"Every day that you let slip makes it harder to mend the breach. This
term's running out. What are you going to do in the holidays?"

"I'm going home."

"To the sort of doss-house life that you led before?"

"I--suppose so."

I put on my coat and started towards the door.

"Your wife will leave you," I warned him.

"I've told her--and I believe I told you--that I'd never keep her
against her will."

"My friend, you are making a great fool of yourself."

O'Rane opened the door for me, and we passed into the Cloisters.

"I didn't think we should do any good by discussing it," he said.


3

If I could have persuaded anyone else to carry O'Rane's warning to
Beresford, I would have done so, but old Bertrand and George had crossed
to Ireland for a week's fishing, and, when I called on Mrs. O'Rane in
the hope of catching her for ten minutes in a serious mood, it was my
ill-luck to choose the night before Pentyre went out to the Front. An
impromptu dance was taking its noisy course, and the only satisfaction
which I derived from the visit was my discovery that the estrangement
was not yet common property. Indeed, Mrs. O'Rane was fortunate in that
her behaviour, however outrageous, was judged and condoned by a special
standard. "That's so like darling Sonia," Lady Maitland and her like
would say. I took the trouble to pump young Deganway, whom I personally
dislike, but even his long nose had not scented a scandal. It never
seemed to dawn on Sir Roger and Lady Dainton that anything was amiss;
they both disapproved of O'Rane, they both felt, without taking the
trouble to disguise their feelings, that Sonia had disappointed their
ambitions and was wasting her life; but with a curious timidity or
survival of self-respect Mrs. O'Rane never let her own relations see
that eight months after her marriage she was in effect separated from
her husband.

Failing to transfer my burden to other shoulders, I drove one night to
Sloane Square and ran Beresford to earth in his rooms at the top of a
modest block of service flats. There was no lift, and I was out of
breath and temper by the time that I had climbed eight flights of stairs
and lost myself in an uncharted maze of stone-flagged passages. At last,
with a stitch in my side, I found his name painted on a wall and leaned
helplessly against the door, as I looked for the bell. The door yielded
unexpectedly, and I found myself stumbling into an unlighted passage,
where a phosphorescent rectangle hinted at a second door. Groping for
the handle, I knocked and entered. Beresford was lying in an arm-chair
with the injured leg on a coffin-stool and a reading lamp on a rickety
oriental table behind him. In semi-darkness the room was youthfully
bizarre. There were low cases, filled with paper-labelled books, running
round three walls, a window with a divan under it in the fourth,
Japanese silk hangings above the book-cases and praying mats insecurely
scattered on an over-polished floor. The furniture consisted of a red
lacquer cupboard, chest and clock; in one corner a Buddha smiled from
behind folding doors with placid and baffling benevolence; a discoloured
Moorish lamp hung from the middle of the ceiling with the Hand of
Welcome outstretched to support it; a joss-stick in a porcelain vase on
the mantel-piece smouldered fragrantly.

At the creak of the door's opening, Beresford raised himself abruptly in
his chair and as quickly subsided.

"Oh, it's you," he said.

"I didn't see any bell, so I walked in," I told him. "Are you busy?"

Out of the corner of his eye he glanced at the table beside him. There
was neither paper nor book to offer plausible protection.

"I didn't look for this honour," he said with a slight sneer. "I was--as
a matter of fact--thinking out an article,--thing I've got to finish
to-night, you know." I sniffed--disapprovingly, I fear--the close,
rather sickly atmosphere and loosened my coat. "It's a few reflections
on the anniversary of the 'Lusitania,'" he went on, in a tone of
challenge, "pabulum for thoughtful Yanks. Do you want to see me about
anything in particular? I--I've got to get this finished to-night."

His theme gave me my cue, and I furnished him with a digest of my
conversation with O'Rane. He heard me out, impatiently but without
protest.

"I'm sure it's very kind of you both," he said at length, "but I'm
afraid it's no use. We should never have had this war, if a few other
people had done what I'm doing instead of blathering about peace and
disarmament in a sixpenny review, like young Oakleigh, and throwing
everything to the winds the moment war was declared. I appreciate your
coming, all the same----"

He pulled himself upright and limped to the lacquer cupboard, from which
he took out a writing-block and pad. I was ready and anxious to leave as
soon as I had delivered myself of my message, but--petty as it may
seem--I resented his hunting me out of his flat quite so
unceremoniously; hitherto I had perched on the arm of a chair; I now
lowered myself with an obstinacy unbecoming my age into its depths.

"But surely you can see that it's no good trying to separate fighting
dogs when once they've got to work? That's why George brought his paper
to an end. You've got to wait for a decision of some kind."

"We reached a decision when the Germans were checked at the Marne," he
yawned, pulling back his sleeve to consult the watch on his wrist.

"But that's over and done with. Any peace efforts now only have the
effect of weakening our own endurance and making a German victory the
one possible decision."

"But you know as well as I do that there's going to be no military
decision. If they couldn't break through our line, we can't break
through theirs, and I want to stop this hideous slaughter on both sides.
I want to make people see that they must get Wilson or the Pope to
propose terms of arbitration." The pupils of his eyes suddenly dilated.
"And that's what I shall go on saying. I'm not going to be persuaded by
you, I can't be intimidated by the militarists, and I won't share your
responsibility for future bloodshed, I won't join in this criminal
nonsense about crushing Prussian militarism--humiliating Germany until
you've made sure of another war in ten years' time. I think I've told
you what the next war will be like." His voice had risen almost to a
scream; with an effort he controlled himself, snorted disgustedly and
limped to the sofa where I had laid my hat and cane, considerately
picking them up for me.

I moved towards the door. As I did so, my ears caught the sound of a low
whistle, followed in the ensuing silence by a light step and the rustle
of silk clothes from the flagged passage outside the front door. At last
I understood why it had been left open, why the industrious Beresford
was unoccupied on my arrival, why he had given me so many encouragements
to retire. An unexpected sense of male freemasonry made me sorry for
him. There was but the one door to the room, and already the rustle had
passed from the passage outside and was audible in the dark corridor
where I had fumbled for the handle twenty minutes before. Beresford
stared before him with tragic eyes and parted lips; he grasped my wrist
and let it fall again; then the door opened, and I could hear a double
quick intake of breath.

Mrs. O'Rane was standing on the threshold in a black dress with an
ermine coat open at the neck, an artificial pink rose in her hair and a
cluster of them at her waist. One hand in a white glove circled with a
platinum watch-bracelet rested on the finger-plate, and she smiled at
Beresford demurely. The smile grew fixed and then faded when she saw who
bore Beresford company; with unfeigned admiration I saw her collecting
herself and preparing an offensive.

"Are you better?" she asked, coming into the room as though she were
paying an afternoon call. "Good evening, Mr. Stornaway. Peter's not been
at all well, and I promised to come and talk to him. I hope I'm not
interrupting you; I'm rather before my time." She glanced at her watch,
laid her hands on Beresford's shoulders and gently impelled him towards
his chair. "Darling Peter, how often have I told you that you mustn't
stand? Sit down like a good boy, put your foot up and tell me how you
got on with the doctor."

She seated herself on the arm of his chair, waved me to another and
threw open her coat.

"They took the blood-tests," said Beresford, gallantly trying to
imitate her nonchalance. "I'm to lie up and not to work.... At least,
those are the orders."

Bending over him, she touched his forehead with her lips.

"And you're going to obey them," she said.

Beresford shrugged his shoulders sullenly.

"What good will it do?" he demanded.

"It will please me," she answered promptly. "Lady Maitland says that all
I want is love, ten thousand a year and my own way. I don't want you to
die, Peter mine."

He looked at her and turned his head resignedly away.

"I feel sometimes I've not got a great deal to live for," he sighed.

She jumped up with a show of indignation.

"You dare say that, when I've outraged Colonel Grayle by leaving his
party to come and sit with you! Never again, my Peter! If you think so
little of having me here----"

"It would be better for him and more seemly for you to drop this kind of
thing," I suggested.

She looked at me with her head on one side and then swung slowly round
to Beresford.

"I believe he's right, you know, Peter. I come here radiating sunniness,
but I only seem to depress you. Shall I give you up, baby?"

"You think that will make me less depressed?" he asked gloomily.

"I feel I'm a bad habit." Her expression lost its smile and became
charged with abrupt neurotic irritability. "You've had more of my time,
more of my sweetness----"

"Do you think I don't appreciate that?"

"I ought never to have let you fall in love with me. Mr. Stornaway's
quite right. It's all my fault, and the sooner I end it the better.
Good-bye, Peter. It was a mistake, but I'm not ungrateful. When I was
miserable, when I wanted sweetness----"

Beresford jerked himself erect and caught her arm, as she tried to get
up.

"You're not going?" he begged.

"Yes. And I'm never coming back."

"God in Heaven! Sonia! Don't say that!"

For perhaps the fourth time that night I picked up my hat and cane.
However little I might care for Beresford, common humanity ordained that
this kind of game should end.

"This fellow's an invalid," I reminded her. "You're only making him
worse by exciting him. You had better let me see you home. Taxis are few
and far between, and I took the precaution of telling mine to wait."

She turned her little platinum watch to the light and compared it with
the clock on the mantel-piece.

"I can get a train, you know," she told me, losing all her irritability
and becoming matter-of-fact. "And I hate going to bed more than anything
in the world except getting up. When we had a house in Rutland Gate my
first season, Lord John Carstairs who lived next door always used to say
that he knew it was time for breakfast when he heard my taxi bringing me
home after a ball. So nice to feel that one sometimes really does one's
duty to one's neighbour; it justifies the church catechism. He was very
grateful about it and, whenever I lost my latch-key, he used to come
down and help me in through the fan-light. Then there was a dreadful day
when I got stuck on a piece of broken glass--father's bill for
fan-lights was so heavy that we couldn't take a moor that year; he
always thought it was the suffragettes--and Lord John stood below in the
divinest green silk pyjamas and an Austrian military cloak, I lay
half-way through the fan-light, we exhausted every possible topic of
conversation, including the Academy, and at last he proposed to me. I've
never been so angry in my life! If he'd proposed first and talked about
the Academy afterwards, nobody could have minded."

Having prattled herself into a good temper, she paused to take a
cigarette from a gold case at her wrist. I reminded her that we had lost
sight of the particular in the general.

"It is late," I said. "Too late for you to be calling on young
bachelors and far too late to be left unchaperoned."

Her big brown eyes, usually soft and entreating, gave forth a glint of
defiance.

"Dear Mr. Stornaway! If you knew how often I'd been to see Peter----"

"That makes it no better."

"You think I'm not respectable," she exclaimed with the slightest
perceptible toss of the head.

"I've other things to think about. If you want to call on Beresford, you
can call in the day-time; your only reason for choosing an hour of this
kind is that you think there's something rather venturesome and improper
about it. It's this sort of behaviour that led me on a famous occasion
to tell you that you were second-rate."

Possibly acting on a hint from George Oakleigh, I was beginning to share
his experience that Mrs. O'Rane never resented a certain brutal candour
of criticism.

"You do hate me, don't you?" she laughed.

"I have no use for the second-rate."

"And that disposes of me!" She leant down and drew Beresford to her
until his head was pillowed on her bosom. "Baby, you're in love with a
second-rate woman. So are ever so many people more, I'm afraid. It
doesn't speak highly for the first-rate intelligence of men, but then I
take men as I find them."

"Pardon me, you go out to look for them, Mrs. O'Rane," I said.

"It's the same thing."

"Not for a married woman."

We had bantered hitherto without very much malice, but my reminder
seemed to carry a sting.

"I don't regard myself as a married woman," she said very deliberately.

"I cannot remain out of bed to hear stuff of this kind!" I exclaimed.
"Melodrama is only excusable when it is convincing."

"Don't you be too sure that you won't be convinced!" she cried,
springing up and facing me. The ermine coat, drooping half off her arms
and back, fell to the ground and left her bare-shouldered and with
heaving breast. The rose in her hair trembled, and two normally pale
cheeks were lit each with a single spot of burning colour. The weakness
that underlay the softness of her mouth had vanished, and her eyes,
grown angry and hot, had lost their beauty. "Will you come and see me, I
wonder, when I'm living with Peter?" she asked flauntingly.

"I shall not," I answered. "I may say that this kind of talk----"

"But you wouldn't mind seeing him?" she interrupted. "This is all right
in a _man_. David can go off with that woman----"

"Good-night, Mrs. O'Rane," I said, holding out my hand.

Like everyone else, I sometimes feel intuitively when people are
speaking for effect. Mrs. O'Rane spoke purely for effect when she
boasted of the times that she had been to call on Beresford; she was
still speaking for effect when I warned her against being melodramatic,
yet sincerity crept in when she referred to her husband. I hardly knew
whether to be glad or sorry. For her to be jealous of Hilda Merryon
presupposed that she was not so indifferent to O'Rane as she pretended;
even to feign suspicion argued an unbalanced mind.

"Good-night," I repeated, as she stood ostentatiously refusing to take
my hand. "You had better let me see you home, though."

"I'm not coming home. I won't be ordered about! You advise me and find
fault with me and insult me.... Mr. Stornaway, let me tell you this.
You've been--poking your nose into my affairs for some time, so I'm sure
you've a right to know everything. You side with David and think
everything he does is wonderful, perfect, magnificent. Well, I don't. I
know I'm vain; and I'm vain enough to think he's not treating me as I'm
entitled to be treated. He'll be coming home in a fortnight. I wrote to
him to-day and asked him if he wanted to see me. If he does, he can. If
he wants me and not the scourings of the London streets.... If not, if
he doesn't love me enough for that, I shall look for someone who does."

I ended my succession of unsuccessful starts and reached the door. Mrs.
O'Rane strode after me with arms akimbo.

"You don't believe it!" she cried passionately. "You don't think I
dare!"

"My dear young lady, in your present mood you're capable of most
things," I said. "But Beresford and I are going to forget what you've
been saying to-night, and I think you'll be glad to forget it, too."


4

One says rhetorically that one will forget a phrase or an episode, but
my single glimpse of Mrs. O'Rane's temper had frightened forgetfulness
away. I kept on telling myself that it was no business of mine, that my
rule for thirty years had been to let the younger generation take care
of itself untrammelled; yet, when George Oakleigh telephoned to me from
the Admiralty, begging me to cancel other engagements and dine with him,
I had to prepare myself for any kind of bad news.

I could see, when he came into the club, that there was something on his
mind, but we had no opportunity for private conversation during dinner,
as Maurice Maitland attached himself to our table for first-hand news of
the Irish rebellion. I had imagined that George, even with an Irish
estate, an Irish upbringing and an unmixed Irish ancestry, was too much
overlaid with his English associations to feel more than academically on
the Irish aspirations. To see him after a holiday in Ireland, where he
had gone to fish and had never stirred nearer the county Kerry than
Dublin, was to see a hillsman made suddenly mindful of the hills and of
his own infancy. Forgotten fires of racial love and antagonism had been
blown into life. There was no attempt to be judicial; he had arrived too
late for the rebellion (or I dare swear he would have had a hand in it),
he was not concerned with the bloodshed which it had caused; it was the
sight and stories of the repression which made his blood boil and his
voice ring.

"So much for Skeffington!" he cried. "And Casement prosecuted by Smith,
who threatened exactly the same tactics before the war! My God! I wonder
when you English think this will be forgotten! You've seen the
sentences? One woman was carted off to penal servitude for life. 'For
life' one of her friends kept saying. 'But Ireland was free for three
days,' answered the woman. We've a rare palate for phrases in Ireland.
How soon do you imagine that phrase will be forgotten? I'm seeing red at
this moment. For two pins I'd join our young friend Beresford in any
propaganda against this country that he cared to start." Then he caught
sight of Maitland's expression of shocked perplexity. "I mean it,
General. When the Huns pretend to be amazed that the Belgians don't eat
out of their hands, we're righteously disgusted at the hypocrisy of it.
On my honour, you English are every bit as dense or hypocritical with
us."

"But the trouble is over now, surely?" Maitland unwarily asked.

"It will never be over in your lifetime or mine! Redmond made the old
blunder of trusting the English, he promised a united front in Ireland,
when the war broke out, instead of holding the government to ransom. And
the government responded by scrapping the Home Rule Act. You've lost
Ireland, the Nationalist party's dead and damned, henceforth you'll have
a swelling Sinn Fein army held down by English troops--as in Poland, as
in Alsace-Lorraine, as in north Italy before the liberation. And I don't
envy you the job of making things sweet with America."

Dinner was over before our discussion of Ireland, but, when Maitland
left us to return to the War Office, the interruption changed the
current of George's thoughts. I was not sorry, for I had endured two
nights of Irish debate with Grayle, who saw in the rebellion fresh
proof of governmental incompetence and new need for a change in which I
was to assist him.

"I didn't ask you here to listen to me tub-thumping," George began
apologetically, when we were alone. "How lately have you seen anything
of the O'Ranes?"

I told him of the meeting in Beresford's flat.

George smiled wanly.

"They'll kill poor old Bertrand between them," he said, "if they keep up
this racket much longer. Raney wrote to say that he was coming home as
soon as term was over and expected Sonia to be at 'The Sanctuary,' and a
couple of days later the Merryon woman arrived with the greater part of
the luggage and a box or two of books. She hadn't come to stay, but he'd
sent her up to verify a few references in his library for some work he
was doing; she was going back to help him finish off his exam-papers and
reports, and they were coming up together in about a week's time. This
took place yesterday. Now, I'll say at once that Raney's behaved like a
psychological ostrich over that woman, and nobody but Raney would have
thought it anything but outrageous for a man to let his wife stay in
London and calmly accept the services of a secretary--in his wife's
place and against her wishes. She'd put her eyes on sticks for him, too,
Miss Merryon would; and, if Raney doesn't know it, you bet Sonia does.
Well, I think it was partly jealousy; Sonia was furious at the idea of
anyone else being near her husband. Partly it was shame; when the girl
came in with Raney's belongings, arranging this, ordering that,
verifying the other, you may be sure that Sonia knew very well that she
was letting someone else do her job. And partly it was because she
couldn't get her own way. The combined result was a first-class row, in
which she said that the girl was Raney's mistress and told her that she
wouldn't have her in the house. It wasn't mere words. She escorted her
to the door, where the taxi-man was wrestling with the luggage, slammed
it behind her and pulled a chest against it. On the business principle
of having everything in black and white, she then wrote a descriptive
account of it all to Raney, which will no doubt be read aloud to him at
breakfast to-morrow by Miss Hilda Merryon."

He mopped his forehead and sent a waiter to fetch him some water.

"And what are you doing?" I asked.

"What _can_ I do? Raney's not going to be told that this woman's his
mistress; he'll probably make Sonia apologise to them both--or try to;
and he certainly won't let her be turned out. I should think.... I don't
know, but I should think that, on the day he comes back, Sonia will try
to run away again, and, if he doesn't stop her by main force, by using
all the authority he's got and all the brutality he's capable of
exhibiting, he'll lose her for good. Sonia's pretty well worked up, too.
So am I. These young people are preparing an early grave for me; it's
getting on my nerves."

"But her parents--" I began.

My unfinished suggestion was received with a silent smile, which was
perhaps the cruellest and most comprehensive criticism ever passed on
Sir Roger and Lady Dainton.

I was in the smoking-room at the House the following night, talking to
Vincent Grayle, when George's card was brought in, and I went out to see
him.

"I've just left 'The Sanctuary,'" he said. "And I thought I'd report
progress. Raney got her letter all right and sent very much the reply I
should have expected. _He's_ pretty well worked up now. Sonia's _got_ to
apologise, and he _orders_ her to receive Miss Merryon. It was an
ultimatum, if there ever was one. Sonia--she was like I remember her the
last time we met before she broke off her engagement with Jim
Loring--every nerve tingling. She stalked to the telephone and rang up
Beresford, informing me over her shoulder that she would not have _that
woman_ in the house, even if she had to bring friends in to turn her
out. Fortunately Beresford was not at home. Then she rang up this place
and tried to get hold of Grayle--'Mrs. O'Rane. _Most_ urgent.' Again,
fortunately, the reply came back that Grayle was engaged----"

I looked at my watch and interrupted him to ask when the message had
been sent.

"Oh, this moment--half an hour ago. It was just before I left to come
here. Well, we're likely to have the pretty scene of Raney driving up to
the door and finding himself barricaded out by his own wife. Beresford
can't do anything very active, but Grayle----"

"You needn't fear him," I said.

When the telephone message was brought into the Smoking-Room, Grayle
glanced at the paper and said that he was engaged. I did not know, of
course, who was trying to speak to him, but the messenger repeated that
the call was "_most urgent_." At this Grayle grew impatient and said
again and very deliberately, "I--am--_engaged_." Then we resumed our
interrupted conversation; he was crossing to France almost immediately
on a visit to General Headquarters and would be away for several days.
He had promised to introduce a deputation of his constituents to one of
the Ministers and wanted me to act for him in his absence.

"She's gone just too far with him," I said, "and he's lost his temper.
But there mustn't be a scene, whatever happens. You'd better tell O'Rane
to see you before he goes home; explain the state of mind she's in....
And, George, for the love of Heaven, get hold of Mrs. O'Rane and knock
some sense into her head--you say she'll stand a good deal from you.
This is becoming frankly intolerable."

Then we left the House; he made his way to "The Sanctuary," while I
drove home. Had we changed places, he would have been more successful in
his mission, for, as I paid off my driver, Mrs. O'Rane hurried up and
engaged him. Whether she recognised me or not I cannot tell; but I had
nothing to say to her and I was at pains to avoid an encounter. She was
in evening dress, I remember, walking eastwards along Knightsbridge, and
I wondered suddenly whether she had been calling on Grayle in Milford
Square. Then I remembered that Grayle was still at the House, when I
left. As the taxi drove away I asked myself, not for the first time,
whether I had not enough work and worries of my own without having to
play the double part of bland bachelor uncle and private detective.

A week later O'Rane came up to London and called on George at the
Admiralty. He was so far amenable to advice that he went alone to "The
Sanctuary" and talked for an hour with his wife, though they parted
without reaching a compromise and on the reiterated understanding that,
if Miss Hilda Merryon set foot in "The Sanctuary," Mrs. O'Rane would
leave and never return. I met him myself later in the day at the House
and was relieved to find him preoccupied with other cares. He had called
on Beresford and been privileged to hear the proofs of that
indefatigable pamphleteer's latest composition. It was entitled, I
believe, "Lettres de Cachet," and contained a bitter attack on petty
tyranny and misuse of authority as practised by the army. O'Rane had
tried to get the article withdrawn, but Beresford was inflamed and
fanatical with memories of his own treatment in prison and of the
attempt to silence his mouth by the exercise of military discipline. I
fancy, too, that he was puffed up with his own initial victory and
believed that, so far from seeking opportunity for another encounter,
the agents of government were rubbing their bruises and keeping out of
the way.

"I couldn't move him an inch," O'Rane had to admit. "I'm sorry, for I
don't want to see him killed.... And I--I must have been extraordinarily
like him when I was a kid of about fifteen, and the whole world was a
black dungeon of iniquity and injustice, and I had to keep hold of
myself with both hands for fear of murdering someone.... The first time
I talked to Beresford I agreed with most of what he said; I could feel
myself going white, if you understand me; we got emotionally drunk
together. And then I saw that he wasn't going to do any more good than I
should have done at fifteen, if I'd yielded to the impulse of killing a
man.... I felt that, if someone could relieve the shadows a bit ... I'm
not giving in yet."

We were interrupted by a division bell, and I gave him an arm to the
lobby. Then Bertrand carried him off to dinner, and I made my way to the
Berkeley, where I had promised to meet George and his cousin, Lady
Loring. Arriving a few minutes before my time, I was smoking a cigarette
in the hall when I caught sight of Grayle and crossed over to speak to
him. He was scowling in an arm-chair facing the door, with his eyes
impatiently fixed on his watch and an evening paper on his knees.

"You've not started yet, then," I said. "If you're going to be in London
to-morrow, I'll give you back your deputation."

"I leave the first thing in the morning," he answered shortly. "What
d'you make the time? Five to eight? On the stroke of eight I leave. I
don't wait _more_ than half an hour for any woman."

He hesitated for a moment longer; then pulled himself slowly erect and
limped with the resolute fixity of ill temper to the cloak-room. I
picked up the paper and was beginning to read it, when he limped back
with his coat and cap on, buttoning his gloves.

"If Mrs. O'Rane turns up while you're here, give her that, will you?" he
said, throwing an open envelope on the table. "You might say that I've
gone on."

Protruding from the envelope was a theatre ticket.

"Aren't you dining?" I asked.

"I had a whiskey and soda while I was waiting," he answered. "Can't hang
about indefinitely, you know. It's Eric Lane's new play. The thing
starts at eight of all ungodly hours, and I want to see some of the
show." I thought it unnecessary to remind him that we had met at the
identical theatre some ten days before. "If a woman can't have the
decency to come in time--Ah!"

He interrupted himself as Mrs. O'Rane came in, stood looking round for a
moment and hurried forward, smiling at two or three friends on the way.

"_You_ were very nearly late," she said, nodding at his cap. "If I'd
had to wait--Well, I suppose Mr. Stornaway would have taken pity on me,
however much he hates me. The spectacle of a young distressed female
simply fainting for a cocktail--did you remember to order my special
cocktail?" she asked Grayle.

"You are late," he observed, without regard to her question.

"I? But that's too abominable! If you're not going to be sweet to me, I
shall go straight home and never speak to you again. Late, indeed! I
didn't get home till after seven, but I had a hot bath _and_ dressed
_and_ disposed of four people on the telephone, all by seven-thirty----"

"Dinner was ordered for seven-thirty," Grayle interrupted.

Mrs. O'Rane puckered her lips mischievously and laid one finger on them
to enjoin silence.

"Are you listening to my story?" she asked. "If you'd just be patient
and not pretend you're working out the times for an infantry advance--"
She turned to me with a quick smile. "How long would you say it took to
get here from 'The Sanctuary,' Mr. Stornaway?"

"That depends how you go," I said. "It's no time in a taxi."

She clapped her hands in delight.

"That's what I always say! When anyone finds fault with Westminster or
the Embankment--fancy finding fault with the Embankment! It's like being
compromised with the Albert Memorial. But people do, you know; the
Embankment, I mean; they say it's not healthy--well, when they find
fault, I always say, 'Ah, but it's so central. You can jump into a taxi
and get anywhere in no time!' Just what you said, Mr. Stornaway. Well,
as dinner was at half-past seven and it took me _no_ time to get here,
there was no point in leaving the house before half-past seven, was
there?"

Grayle was nodding at each new development in her rather diffuse story,
but there were hard, unamiable lines from nose to mouth, and I fancied
that her smiles and tricks and absurdities were not amusing him. As she
paused for want of breath, he took a step backward.

"Don't go away, when I'm talking to you!" she cried, catching him by the
sleeve. "It's rude, to begin with,--and you know you're always sorry
after you've been rude to me. Oh! the times you've had to call with a
taxi full of flowers! I will say this for myself, I'm very forgiving--;
and, in the second place, you're missing the _real_ pathos of the story,
what the Americans call the sob-stuff. I left home at seven-thirty, as I
must have told you before, but you will keep interrupting; I walked to
the Houses of Parliament--no taxi--; I persevered down Whitehall--no
taxi; fainting with fatigue and weeping from sheer mortification, I
dragged one foot after another--for the honour of England, you know--up
the Haymarket--no taxi--; and, believe me or believe me not,
_as_--_you_--_like_, I never saw a taxi till I got here. Then an
angel-creature drove up and said, 'Taxi, miss?' and it was almost more
than I could bear. I wanted to jump in and drive round and round the
Park to shew people that there was just one taxi left in the world and
that I'd got it. Nothing but the thought of this _wretched_ play brought
me here at all--the play and the cocktail; you must admit that, if
anyone ever deserved a cocktail, it's me. And, if you say you haven't
ordered me one or that they're bad for me, I shall go home."

She handed me her gloves and held out a bag to Grayle, as she began to
take off her cloak.

"Now, is that the whole story?" he asked.

"That's a synopsis," she said. "I can elaborate it, of course. Some of
the people I met on the way----"

"I think we can dispense with that. Dinner was ordered for seven-thirty,
and the play begins at eight. I was starting out, as you came in, but I
waited to hear if you had anything to say, any explanation to give.
Stornaway has your ticket, and the table's that one in the first window.
I may see you later."

Mrs. O'Rane looked at him for a moment without understanding; then her
mouth opened slowly.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.

"Good-bye."

"Come back this _instant_!"

Grayle turned his back on us with a perfunctory bow and limped away.

"If you don't come back, I'll never speak to you again!" she cried.

Whether he heard her or not made no difference to his steady progress.
As he reached the door, Mrs. O'Rane turned nonchalantly to me with a
smile and a shrug. A moment later she glanced casually over her shoulder
to see if he was coming back. A moment later still, with amazement in
her eyes, she was hurrying after him into the street.

When George Oakleigh arrived with his cousin at a quarter past eight, he
told me with some concern that he had forgotten to book a table. We were
very comfortably accommodated, however, in the first window.


5

For three weeks I endured an unsought holiday in bed with influenza at
the Hyde Park Hotel. In my absence everything seemed to have gone on
very much as before, and, when I met O'Rane at the House on the eve of
his return to Melton, he told me that he, too, had spent the recess in
London with his wife and that Miss Merryon had been packed off to the
sea for a change of air. Outwardly all relations were amicable, but
Bertrand told me afterwards that Mrs. O'Rane consistently displayed the
guarded civility of a wife who had discovered her husband's infidelity,
but decides to stay with him rather than create a scandal.

"Are you going back to Melton, then?" I asked O'Rane.

"Yes. I haven't found anything else suitable so far. You see, I feel it
must be war-work of some kind; and it must be paid. I don't seem much
nearer solvency than when I came back from France twelve months ago."

I had a vision of "The Sanctuary," as I had seen it at the O'Ranes'
house-warming, crammed to overflowing with their friends and his chance
acquaintances. I knew something of his prodigal generosity and of his
wife's no less prodigal extravagance; and I could form no idea how they
kept their heads above water. Bertrand, of course, contributed to the
up-keep of the household; O'Rane had his salary as a Member and some
trifle from Melton; his wife possessed a few hundreds of her own, eked
out with chance gifts from admiring friends. Sir Adolphus Erskine, the
great financier, would give her a set of furs or a pearl necklace, Lord
Pennington would send her a case of champagne out of some unexpected
discovery at an auction, but this hardly helped to appease the
tradesmen.

"I don't know what you can expect," I said.

O'Rane frowned in perplexity.

"I made a lot of money and I saved a lot of money before the war," he
said, "but I don't seem able to do it now.... When other people ... I
know it's impracticable to go out and give a loaf to _everyone_ who's
hungry, but it's frightfully hard to refuse when you do in fact meet
them. I daresay it's mad, but George and everyone will tell you that
I've always been tolerably mad, and I'm afraid I've got much madder
since the war." He gave one of his whimsical, Puck-like laughs and then
added soberly, "Poor Sonia!"

"I hope you're in a state of grace," I said. "You know, a madman can be
very cruel."

He looked into my eyes, and I shivered; for, though I knew him to be
sightless, he seemed to be looking into my soul.

"Sometimes I feel there's not room for compromise in this life," he
said.

"You are--thirty? I'm afraid I'm a quarter of a century older, O'Rane."

"Thank God! there's room for inconsistency," he laughed.

I was at my office the following afternoon when George Oakleigh
telephoned to say that his uncle wished to see me at once on a matter of
urgency; could I make it convenient to come round immediately? I replied
that it was exceedingly inconvenient, but that, if he could play truant
from the Admiralty, I could absent myself equally well from my own
department.

"Thank God you can come!" he exclaimed with disquieting fervour. "It's a
bad business."

I arrived at "The Sanctuary" to find all silent and tense with expectant
tragedy. Bertrand sprawled with slackened limbs on a long wicker chair,
an untasted drink by his side and an unlighted cigar in his mouth.
George was looking bleakly out of the window, with his right hand
gripping his left wrist behind his back; the afternoon sun exposed every
line and wrinkle of his face, and I found him ten years older,
effortless and numbed.

"Tell me what's happened," I said, as I closed the door.

Bertrand looked at me for a moment, though I could see that his
attention was wandering, and then turned to his nephew.

"You'd better go back to him," he suggested. "I don't think _we've_ got
anything more to say to each other."

The second closing of the door was followed by a long silence.

"Tell me what's happened, Bertrand," I repeated.

"Oh, nothing!" He gave a barking cough of mordant bitterness. "I _told_
George it wasn't fair to drag you in, when you had in fact been spared
it. David came back unexpectedly this afternoon to find his wife in
Beresford's arms." He buried his face in tremulous hands. "My God! my
God! They've not been married a year! And a blind man!"

When Bertrand is cynical, I find him tiresomely cynical; not content
with condoning human depravity, he seems to take personal credit to
himself for it. When he is humanly moved, I find him unnerving.

"Tell me the whole story," I said, "before I try to comment on it."

"Comment on it?" Bertrand echoed and sat silent, staring at a picture on
the opposite wall.

The story, when it came, was old and simple. The end of the holidays
found the O'Ranes as undecided about the future as at the beginning; it
had been easier, I presume, not to discuss it, and no word had passed
until the evening before. Then O'Rane had announced his approaching
return to Melton, and from that the game, encounter, what you will, had
developed automatically. His wife begged him not to go, hinted that he
had promised to stay in London and after the usual interchange was
undecided whether she would keep him company. It depended.... There
followed the expected debate on Miss Merryon. O'Rane was taking her to
Melton whether his wife came or not, as he needed the services of a
typist; Mrs. O'Rane would not go, if "that woman" went, and, if O'Rane
went with her alone, he knew the consequences....

"Then I went to bed," said Bertrand, pressing his hands to his head. "I
imagine they must have had an unprecedented row, and this morning O'Rane
went off to Waterloo, leaving his wife like a spitting cat. I slunk out
of the house as soon as possible; I didn't want the quarrel at
second-hand. Sometime this afternoon O'Rane came back. When he got to
Waterloo, he felt that he couldn't part from his wife for three months
on such a note. He came back to make friends, to see if they couldn't
arrive at some _modus vivendi_.... He felt his way round the library; it
was deserted; felt his way round the hall and found her umbrella in the
stand; went upstairs. Her door was locked, and he tapped on it, begging
her to let him in. She shouted out that he wasn't to come in; and he
stood there minute after minute, praying her to remember their love, to
forgive him, to be reasonable, generous, to forget their wretched
quarrel. Never a sound came from inside the room. He had worked himself
up until he was sweating with emotion. When he stopped, there was utter
silence. Then he heard a cough...."

Bertrand paused to sip the drink at his elbow. It was not Sonia's cough;
it was the bursting cough of a man who had been trying in a long agony
of suffocation to repress it. At the sound something primitive and
overmastering took possession of O'Rane. He stepped back and flung
himself against the door, but it was old, and the weight of his body
only wrung a hollow groan from its solidity; within all was still
silent. Again and again he charged the door with his shoulder until one
panel split and broke in, and the lock creaked in outrage. Insensible to
physical pain which was quickly maddening his brain, he took a last
flying leap which wrenched handle and lock from the wood-work and sent
him to measure his length on the floor.

The same uncanny silence greeted his entrance. He drew himself upright,
rubbing his bruised shoulder, and embarked on what from Bertrand's
account was truly the grimmest game of Blind Man's Buff. With the
muscles of his back and arms braced to resist an attack, he advanced
slowly with arms outstretched and body bent, like a foot-ball player
waiting to collar his man. In the first half of the room his groping
hands touched only the familiar tables and chairs, but with every yard
forward he was uncovering a retreat for the adversary. Retracing his
steps, he kicked the door closed, pushed a bed against it and advanced
once more towards the window. In the unbroken silence he had to keep
stopping suddenly for a half-heard sound of hurried breathing, but his
own pulses were hammering so loudly that he could not trust his ears.
Nearer and nearer to the window he crept, until an unnamed sense told
him that he was within touch of a human body; as he paused, there was a
shiver followed by a sharp intake of breath; someone's nerves were
breaking under the ordeal. The waving arms swept forward and closed on a
woman's shoulders.

"Sonia!" he panted and could say no more.

For a moment longer the silence continued; then from behind her came
the foot-shuffle of the man whom she had been shielding. O'Rane's hands
dropped, and he sprang beyond her, only to bark his knuckles on the
wall, as his unseen quarry doubled and ran; there was an instant's vague
chase, the sound of a lame man sparing his injured leg, the squeak of
rolling castors, as the bed was dragged back from the door, a scratching
for the handle that was no longer there and finally the echoing slam of
the door itself. O'Rane sprawled once more on the floor, as his foot met
a rucked billow of carpet; the hurried limp grew distant and faded;
there followed the slam of a second door, and the house returned to its
afternoon silence.

What either found to say to the other neither Bertrand nor I had any
means of guessing.

"She's gone," he told me hollowly. "I saw her driving away, as I came
back from the House--just before we sent for you. O'Rane was standing in
the middle of the library like a--like a man in catalepsy. George came
in a moment later, and we had the story as I've given it to you." He
paused and breathed deeply. "I'm getting too old for this sort of thing,
Stornaway; my--my brain strikes work at a time like this, you must tell
me what we've got to do. There'll be murder, if he ever gets his hands
on Beresford, and we've got to stop that. I'd murder the fellow myself,
if I could, but we can't have David hanging for him. And we must do
something for David."

With a quavering hand he picked up the tumbler from the table by his
side and sipped its contents mechanically. His eyes were half-closed,
and his mind at least was asleep with very exhaustion. My own worked
feverishly with utter want of concentration. I told myself that I might
have expected this after my surprise meeting in Beresford's flat, that
it had been going on for Heaven knows how many weeks; then that none of
this was to the point, that O'Rane was in a bath of liquid fire, that
something must be done; lastly--yet my first thought and
appreciation--that none of us knew what to do, that nothing could be
done.

I have no idea how long I stood staring at Bertrand's shrunken face and
closed eyes. Death had left his fingerprints on the big, self-indulgent
face when the old man had his stroke at the beginning of the war. I
remember wondering how many more rounds he would survive.... Yet he had
lived fully, powerfully and pleasurably for more than his allotted span;
young O'Rane was little more than thirty and he had already undergone
what would have broken men of less heroic spirit.

Instinctively I moved towards the door, and at the slight sound Bertrand
opened his eyes and asked what I was going to do.

"God knows!" I answered.

Instinctively I found myself walking down the stairs which Beresford and
O'Rane had descended so precipitously an hour or two before. The same
strained air of expectancy hung over the passages and hall, and, when I
pushed aside the curtain and entered the library, George started like a
surprised criminal. The room was in twilight, and it took my eyes
several moments to grow accustomed to the change from the sunset glow
upstairs. Then I caught sight of O'Rane sprawling on the sofa,
motionless and silent; his hair was dishevelled, his clothes dusty on
one side, and I could see white skin and a stain of blood through a rent
in one trouser-knee.

"It's--Stornaway," George explained.

For a moment O'Rane seemed not to have heard; then he said:

"Thanks. Thanks to you both. Later on, perhaps.... Just now I'd
rather----"

I exchanged glances with George, who shrugged his shoulders and rose
silently to his feet. O'Rane collected himself and walked to the door,
fortified by the routine of social convention, as though he were
speeding a dinner-guest on his way. I passed by the flame-coloured
curtain and turned the handle of the door, looking round to recapture
the vision seen one night when O'Rane caught his wife to his heart,
while I looked on and envied them something that had never been granted
to me. There was no response to my pull, but, at the rattle, O'Rane
stepped forward with a muttered apology, pulling a cumbrous key from his
pocket and feeling for the lock with the fingers of his other hand.
George and I passed into the street, the door closed behind us, and I
caught the sound of rusty wards turning in an unaccustomed lock. George
put his arm through mine and asked if I was going back to the House.

"I shall dine at the Club," I said; and I wondered how either of us
could speak so conventionally.

We walked the length of Millbank in silence.

"You'd have thought he had enough to put up with already, wouldn't you?"
George asked dispassionately; then, with a tremor in his voice, "God in
heaven! it's a smash-up for Raney! I didn't think she was capable of it,
I've known her all her life, I'd have sworn she'd have pulled up in
time.... Of course, she's always _had_ to have people fluttering round
her and paying her compliments, and I wasn't a bit surprised to find a
boys' school of young Guardees hanging about the house the moment she'd
moved into it. It was the same when she was engaged to Jim Loring--God
knows, she knocked a big enough hole in his life, you'd have thought
there'd be some reactive effect on her.... But, on my soul, because
she'd been doing it so long, I thought she could be trusted. I thought
she really loved Raney, I thought he was the only person who could
manage her.... He _would_ treat her like a man. 'No one's ever let up on
me. Trust people, and they'll repay your trust....' All that
balderdash.... It's succeeded amazingly well with men, he can do what he
likes with them. But women must be fundamentally different.... We're
both bachelors, of course.... But I always feel there was a lot to be
said for Petruchio. Raney loved her most kinds of ways, and she loved
him on and off in some fashion for years; he really only _won_ her, when
he was frankly brutal to her--I had the story from both, so I know; she
was caught in Austria, like you, and he smuggled her back and shewed
her pretty clearly who'd got the stronger personality; then she married
him after he'd gone blind, when all our emotions were in tatters; and,
having once married her, he seemed to think that mere love and trust
were enough to keep her. I don't know; I've never had to live with a
woman; I can't help feeling, though, that, just as he won her by main
force, so he could only hope to keep her by main force. And he didn't
even give her the 'mere love and trust' I've been talking about; he
_trusted_ her all right, but I think the kind of practical Christianity
that he tried to set up was too much to ask of anyone--let alone a
spoilt darling like Sonia.... He's always been so infernally
uncompromising, it's his strength and his weakness; it's because he was
uncompromising that he's kept alive and it's because he's been
uncompromising with her that he's brought this on himself."

We had walked up Whitehall and were waiting for a gap in the traffic by
the Admiralty Arch.

"But this is all ancient history, George," I reminded him. "What are we
going to do?"

"To soften the blow? Nothing. We _can't_ do anything. Sonia's cleared
out, I suppose she' gone off to join Beresford. Well, Bertrand thinks
Raney's equal to murder, but you can trust Beresford to keep out of the
way.... I suppose there'll be a divorce.... I honestly don't know what
to do about Raney. He's my oldest and dearest friend, but I don't know
more than the surface of him.... God! If I had Sonia's throat in my two
hands!" He broke off and pulled me roughly off the kerb, gripping my arm
until we were half-way down Cockspur Street. "I've never been faced with
this kind of thing, Stornaway. I suppose you must have been?"

"Nothing so bad as this," I was able to answer him.

We walked on into Pall Mall without speaking. Then George gripped my arm
again.

"That poor devil alone in the dark with this--_this_ to occupy his
thoughts!"

I made no comment. I do not see what comment was possible.

"I feel so hopelessly at sea!" he exclaimed agitatedly. "Stornaway,
you've had to pull people out of holes before; can _nothing_ be done?
Can't we get her to go back? Would he receive her back? Of course, we're
all of us seeing red now, but somehow every hour that she spends with
Beresford makes it harder to get her back; if we could use Raney's love
for her----"

"D'you want her to go back?" I interrupted.

"God knows _what_ I want!" he sighed.

We had reached the steps of the County Club, and I told George to come
in and have some dinner with me. Both of us were already engaged in
different parts of London, but we wanted to hold together.

"Come to Hale's," he said, shaking his head. "It's pretty well deserted
since the war; everybody's fighting. I can't risk meeting a crowd of
people I know and having to pretend nothing's up."

Leaving St. James' Square, we walked through King Street and entered the
squat Regency house which had sheltered succeeding generations of
London's exquisites for a hundred years. The coffee-room was deserted,
and we had a choice of wine, food and service; but I have never eaten a
gloomier meal. Every few minutes George would say, "Look here, you know,
something's got to be done about this!" and I would reply, "Nothing
_can_ be done." Then we would attack a new course. Though we had chosen
Hale's to be secure from interruption, I am not sure that we were not
both a little relieved at the end of dinner when Vincent Grayle limped
in with an evening paper under his arm and asked leave to join us for
the short remainder of our meal. I can get on with him at a pinch;
George cannot; but we shared a common need for diversion.

"I've just this moment got back from France," Grayle said to explain his
late arrival. "I've been having a lively week at G.H.Q., watching the
professional soldiers losing the war for us." He summoned a waiter and
truculently ordered dinner. "Anything happening in London?" he asked.

"Nothing much," I told him. "What news from the Front?"

"Everybody's very cheery, getting ready for the big push. They all seem
quite sure that they're going to break through this time, and there's an
amount of ammunition and reserves that really does put you in good heart
when you think how the men out there were starving in the first part of
the war--thanks to the gang we had running things on this side. Whether
we've got the generals is another question; if not, we must make a
remarkably big clean sweep, politicians included."

He was evidently preparing one of his usual attacks, and, though I had
welcomed the momentary diversion, neither George nor I wanted a
political argument at such a time. With a trumped-up apology we went
into the morning-room for coffee and liqueurs, leaving Grayle to his
opinions and his evening paper.

"We don't seem to have thought out anything very helpful," sighed
George, as he threw himself into a chair. "D'you think it's the least
good going round to Beresford's place and forcing Sonia to go back?"

"Do you want her to go back, even if you can make her?" I asked once
more. "She's been saying for weeks that she regarded her marriage as at
an end; now she's proved it. Do you want to send her back on those
terms? And does O'Rane want to have her back?"

George covered his face with his hands, shaking his head despairingly
from side to side.

"I--don't--know," he groaned. "And this must have bowled poor old Raney
over so much that I don't suppose _he_ knows. Ordinarily--but it's
absurd to use such a word.... I can only say this; he loved her so much,
he loved her for so many years, he believed in her--or in some wonderful
idealised conception of her by which he saw every kind of saintly
quality where the rest of us only regarded her as a good-natured, but
quite heartless, fascinating coquette--he thought of her and dreamed of
her, she was so much a part of his life, the big part, the only thing
that mattered...." He paused, out of breath. "You'd have said that it
would have been like cutting off his arms and legs, if he'd lost her, if
she'd died or married Jim Loring or the other fellow she was engaged
to.... But I don't know now. When you've given all that love and trust,
when you've idealised anyone, and the whole conception crumbles away....
Stornaway, he's extraordinarily frank; I fancy I know more of him than
most people. Well, I _do_ know how he loved that strumpet; I don't know,
I can't say whether he'd love her still or whether he'd just want to
strangle her and then cut his own throat.... But I think it's worth
trying. We can at least give him a chance, we can keep his hands off
her----" He jumped up, leaving his coffee untasted. "I'm going to have a
shot."

"Shall I come with you?" I asked.

He was already half-way to the door.

"I want everyone I can get!" he threw back over his shoulder.

We drove to Sloane Square, and in ten minutes' time I found myself once
more mounting the stairs to Beresford's flat. The lower floors were
silent and deserted, but, as we climbed higher, I heard voices and the
tramp of heavy feet growing louder and more distinct with every yard
that we covered. As we rounded the corner of the passage, I stopped with
a sickening sense of foreboding, when I found my path blocked by a
policeman. For a moment no one spoke, and I fancied that we were being
scrutinised with disfavour, even with suspicion. George, however, was
too much preoccupied to be daunted.

"Is Mr. Beresford at home, d'you know?" he asked. The constable shook
his head. "D'you happen to know where he is? I have to see him on a
matter of great urgency. If he's not in, I'll go in and wait till he
comes back."

He made a step forward, but the man shewed no sign of yielding.

"Afraid I can't let you by, sir," he said. "No one's allowed in."

I was assailed by a dreadful certainty that we had arrived too late.

"Why not?" I demanded, but my voice quavered too much to be effective.

"Mr. Beresford's been arrested."

"But, in God's name, what for?"

"That's none of my business," was the answer.

George was diving significantly into his trouser-pocket, but I felt that
what lay before me was too serious for trifling with half-crowns. I
handed the man my card and repeated my request.

"It's not mere curiosity," I said. "If you don't tell me, there are
others who will; but I want to save time."

I always have the letters "M.P." printed on my cards to impress
government departments, for throughout the public service there is an
inherited dread that a question may be asked in the House; the hierarchy
from top to bottom makes it the first business of life to avoid such
publicity. This instinct of self-preservation, deeply-rooted as a
horse's fear of a snake in the grass, led the constable to inform me
promptly that Beresford had been arrested for issuing seditious
literature; his flat was at the moment being searched.

My own sigh of relief was drowned by a deeper sigh from George.

"When did this take place?" he asked.

"To-day, sir. I can't tell you the time; I've only just come on duty."

"Was there anyone there besides Mr. Beresford? Is there anyone there
now?"

"The inspector, sir; and two men."

George thanked him and led me by the arm to the head of the stairs.

"Thank God!" he whispered. "You--you thought so, too; I could see it in
your face. Oh, Christ, if they were going to arrest the fellow, why
couldn't they have done it sooner? _I_ don't know what to do now. At
least--I must go back to 'The Sanctuary' and see what's happened there."
He dragged me down stairs and into our taxi at a pace which more than
once threatened to break both our necks. "Where the devil can _she_ have
gone to, Stornaway? She'd naturally come here. But, when they arrested
him ..."

The shrouded lamp over "The Sanctuary" door was unlighted when we
arrived; the door was locked against us, and, though I now remembered
hearing the key turn when O'Rane shewed us out, the cherished little
piece of his beloved childish symbolism was grown painfully familiar.

"Come round to the other door," said George, and we were admitted and
ushered into Bertrand's room. "Any news?" he enquired gently.

Someone had drawn the blinds, someone had brought in a tray of food;
otherwise the room was unchanged in aspect, and Bertrand seemed not to
have moved since I left him stretched in the long wicker chair three
hours earlier.

"News?" he repeated, opening his eyes and blinking at us. "David's gone
back to Melton. Ah! this is a bad business! Give me a hand up, George;
I'm tired. I sometimes think I've lived too long."



CHAPTER FOUR

THE DOOR CLOSED

     "Proprium humani ingenii est, odisse quem laeseris."
                                   TACITUS: _Agricola C. 42._


1

As I write, the war has been in progress for two and a half years, and
it is beyond the wit of man to foretell how much longer it will
continue, though there is the annual feeling that peace will come before
the autumn. In August we shall reach the end of the three years which
Lord Kitchener had in mind when he began his preparations, but I for one
look forward to the summer of 1917 with greater apprehension than ever I
felt a year ago. During 1916 I was the unconscious psychological victim
of men like Grayle who were so convinced of our predestined failure
under the existing régime that they went some way towards convincing me.
In June the field of war was extended by the Bulgarian inroads into
Greece, and, though we talked still of the "Russian steam-roller," it
was not until July that the Austrian counter-drive in Russia and Italy
was checked. The New Army, which had been so grandly raised, went into
action at the Somme and covered itself with immortal renown; we did not
quickly see how much had been spent and how little achieved--"Six
hundred thousand casualties and an unbroken German front," as Grayle
declared to me in the Smoking-Room at the House one night.

Grayle's political sense was good in that from the breakdown of the
Somme offensive he saw that the days of the Government were numbered.
Ministers never recovered the prestige which they had lost in the Irish
rising. The disastrous expedition to the Dardanelles was being
discussed so widely and bitterly that an enquiry had to be instituted;
so with the no less disastrous expedition to Mesopotamia; and, as more
men were frittered away in Salonica, we began to wonder whether we
should not have to hold a third enquiry, indeed an enquiry into every
subsidiary enterprise which every amateur strategist in the Cabinet
undertook in any theatre of war.

There were many who began at this time to swell Grayle's clamour for a
change,--a series of changes, indeed, simultaneously in the Ministry
which was weak enough to embark on this succession of costly failures
and in the soldiers who failed to achieve success with such conditions
of men, material and ammunition as the Germans had never equalled in the
days when the balance tipped highest in their favour. I had, myself,
always simulated rather a superior aloofness, for I felt that, as the
war was a bigger and longer enterprise than my fellows would admit, so
we must be prepared for greater failures in coping with it. Yet I can
see now that I began to listen less impatiently to the critics. The War
Office at this time was in the charge of a distinguished soldier who had
had the vision and courage to prophesy a long war and whose personality
and reputation were of inestimable value in creating the armies which
came to bear his name. Largely on newspaper prompting, the Government
had made Lord Kitchener Secretary of State for War, and the country as a
whole was reassured by the presence of an expert military brain in the
deplorably civilian councils of the cabinet. There was a simple-minded
faith, which expressed itself in Maurice Maitland's phrase, "Leave it to
K."; a volume of work which no single man could accomplish was thereupon
trustingly concentrated in the hands of one who loved to hold as many
strings as possible. Stagnation in the War Office gave way to chaos,
until one function after another--recruiting, equipment and
munitions--were withdrawn from his grasp and confided to others. Later
the Staff control was separated from the political control, and Lord
Kitchener gave no orders that were not countersigned by his Chief of
Staff; later still an effort was made in the cabinet to deprive him of
an office which he had ceased usefully to fill. He was sent to inspect
the Eastern theatre of war; he was sent also to Russia....

I am unlikely to forget a day when I was lunching with Bertrand at the
Eclectic Club. Maitland sat down with a blank face and said, "I've got
some bad news for you men. K's been drowned. He was going out to Russia,
and his ship--the 'Hampshire'--was sunk by a mine or torpedo--they don't
know which, and the North Sea must be full of loose mines after this
Jutland action. The sea was so rough that the escort had to turn back
almost at once...." Some time passed before we could discuss Maitland's
news, for Lord Kitchener had been so imposing an idol, so aloof and
mysterious--until you met him at close quarters, as I had done a few
days before, when a deputation of us waited on him and sought
enlightenment on subjects which we could not discuss openly in the
House--so well-established and unshakable; we never expected him to die
in the middle of the war, certainly we never dreamed of a death so
fortuitous, unnecessary, so much the freak of Providence.

"Yet I'm not sure it's not the best thing for his reputation," Maitland
said. "_Felix opportunitate mortis_, you know. There's a whole crop of
failures to explain, and his prestige must have suffered. Don't you
sometimes feel that we want a clean sweep, Stornaway?... I'm a soldier
myself, but it was a great mistake, whatever people may think, putting a
soldier at the War Office...."

The news was being cried in the streets, as I went back to my
department; half-way through the afternoon a messenger came into my room
to say that all blinds in all government offices were to be drawn; that
night, Yolande told me, was the worst she had known since the tidings
reached her nearly two years before that her brother had been killed in
the retreat from Mons. Wave after wave of men poured from the
leave-trains and surged into her canteen, demanding confirmation of this
story which was being whispered at the coast. And, when she told them or
pointed to the official report, they still, would not believe it. He
was the man under whom they had enlisted....

Yet, when a civilian was once more at the head of the War Office, I
believe that a new embarrassment was substituted for the old. As the
Somme campaign had failed to achieve a decision, men like Grayle openly
resumed the criticism which they had suspended for a few months and
demanded the removal of the responsible Commander in Chief and the Chief
of the General Staff. Thereupon two schools arose in the Press, the
House and, I believe, the Cabinet; the civilian backers of Sir William
Robertson and Sir Douglas Haig pitted themselves against their civilian
detractors; individual commanders were surrounded by social cliques and
supported by individual Ministers and papers. I was told by Grayle and
by the section of the press influenced by him that we wanted a
reconstruction of the Ministry and of the Higher Command; I was told by
the Press Combine that Sir Douglas Haig was the one general of
outstanding genius whom the war had brought to the surface.

Between the two I confess that I lost my temper. Even with South Africa
and the Antwerp expedition to his credit, Grayle was no more fit to
appoint or depose a Chief of Staff than I was to cast a play or select a
_prima donna_. But I found it difficult to say who was better placed
than either of us. Grayle certainly was a pragmatist.

"Results! results!" he would declaim at me. "I want the contract put out
to tender. Can you or can you not break the line? What men and guns do
you want? Here they are; you may have three months, and, if you fail, no
dignified home commands, but the completest breaking a man's ever had.
That's the way Napoleon would have done it; that's the way the Germans
would do it."

Grayle was very active in the summer of 1916. I could see him drawing
together and co-ordinating the scattered groups of disaffected critics,
and my mind went back to George Oakleigh's account of the "Stunt
Artists." There was the Liberal Ginger Group, the Conservative Ginger
Group, the Mesopotamia Group, the Dardanelles Group, all firing
occasional volleys into the arms and legs of the Ministry, none daring
to fire at the head or heart. The apparently strongest man in the House
at this time was Sir Edward Carson. Not content with criticism, he could
force the Government to bring in a bill, modify a bill or drop a bill.
Glad indeed would Grayle have been to consolidate opposition under such
leadership, but at this season unity was regarded as the first
requisite; no one was yet prepared to split the Government or the
country into rival factions.

If not active, I was at least very assiduous in my attendance during
those summer months. I was assiduous, too, at my office and in my
department. The last act of the O'Rane tragedy at which George and I had
assisted hit me as hard as the death of a very dear friend. I had
thought that I had outgrown other people's troubles; I found that I was
younger than I thought. When I met Bertrand or George, I shunned
discussion of the subject; when I went to Melton, I will say frankly
that I avoided a meeting with O'Rane. During May I fancy that the others
joined me in my conspiracy of silence, and we were aided by events. I
read one day that a certain Peter Beresford, described as an author, had
been prosecuted for issuing a pamphlet entitled "Lettres de Cachet,"
which was calculated to undermine the loyalty, discipline, and moral of
the army; the pamphlet was confiscated, and its author sentenced to a
term of three months' imprisonment. Whether he repeated his
hunger-strike or not, I had no means of knowing, as he passed out of my
life on his arrest and only re-entered it many weeks later.

Mrs. O'Rane had disappeared as completely and far more mysteriously. In
the early months of the year, quite apart from deliberate meetings at
her house or Grayle's or Lady Maitland's, I had caught sight of her at
least once a week lunching or dining in a restaurant or chattering to
one or other of her many admirers at a play. After the catastrophe,
though I probably dined and lunched in as many of her favourite
restaurants as before, I never met her. There was a vague assumption
that she was in the country. One night, as I was smoking a cigarette in
the _entr'acte_ at some theatre, Gerald Deganway came up, screwed his
eye-glass in place, squeaked a welcome and asked whether I had seen
Sonia lately. I told him that I had not. He rather understood that she
was staying with her people at Crowley Court.... After consultation with
O'Rane, George transferred himself to Westminster to look after his
uncle and to keep the household in commission. I believe that he
forwarded letters to Melton and I have an idea that there was a second
vague assumption that she was with her husband at the school. The ties
and relationships in social life were so much disorganised by the war
that no one was ever surprised by an unexpected meeting or a failure to
meet; everyone was too much occupied with his own business to care.

I had convincing evidence of this one day when I received a call from
Lady Dainton. She wished to equip Crowley Court as a hospital for
shell-shock cases--anyone could deal with ordinary wounds and
operations; there was no adequate scheme for treating these nervous
derangements, and she felt that her house was unusually well adapted for
the purpose. After we had thrashed out her proposal, I undertook to
recommend my Emergency Fund Committee to make a grant. There our
business ended, and, as I walked with her to the door, she looked at her
watch.

"It's no good," I remember her saying. "I hoped to leave time for a call
on Sonia, but I shall only miss my train, if I try. It's really dreadful
how driven we all are. I never have a moment for anything, don't you
know? This is the first time I've been in London for months, I've seen
nothing of Sonia for I don't know how long--Ah, surely, that taxi's
disengaged? I mustn't miss it. This petrol shortage is really the last
straw. As if we hadn't enough discomfort before, don't you know?"

I returned to my desk with a pusillanimous sense of relief. The
Daintons, then, neither knew nor suspected what had become of their
daughter. The secret was in the keeping of the O'Ranes, the two
Oakleighs, Beresford and myself. Somehow the disaster seemed hardly so
complete while there was no public scandal, and neither the Oakleighs
nor I were likely to add that last touch. For the others I could not
speak; Mrs. O'Rane or Beresford or both might welcome a petition for
divorce; no one knew what was passing in O'Rane's mind.

Before term was a month old, George went to Melton on a roving
commission.

"I would as soon spend a week-end with a well-bred block of ice," he
confided to me on his return. "He was courteous, hospitable--nothing too
much trouble to make me comfortable. We talked by the hour of fellows
who'd been at school with us, things we'd done--you know, endless
ridiculous anecdotes of how somebody's leg had been pulled, how we'd got
into some appalling row together. As a rule I find school 'shop' rather
fun, but Raney might have been reciting the kings of England with their
dates. He was utterly lifeless and mechanical; never a smile.... When we
went into Common Room for dinner, he played up and was a different man;
_they_ chaffed _him_, and _he_ chaffed _them_, and we dug out more
school 'shop' and he threw himself into it heart and soul. It was the
same on Sunday, when a pack of his boys came and talked to him after
evening chapel; he didn't let _them_ see there was anything up. It had
been the same when the enigmatic Miss Merryon came in the morning; the
usual smile.... Of course, he never came within a thousand miles of
mentioning it.... When I left on Monday, I told him that I wanted to
invite myself again before the end of the term, and then we did get to
grips a bit. He shook hands and said, 'Look here, old man, it spoils
your week-end and--I don't want to be ungracious--it doesn't do me any
good. I've got to go through this alone."

From George's sigh I felt that in this he was at one with O'Rane.

But, if not more than six people knew what had happened, there were many
who would be more curious to find out than Lady Dainton had shewn
herself to be. It was easy enough for Bertrand or George or one of the
servants to say that Mrs. O'Rane was away from London and then to hang
up the receiver of the telephone, but it was a different matter as the
weeks went by and as the more pertinacious enquirers called in person. I
could sympathise with George. The only person likely to interrogate me
was Grayle, and from the fact that he never mentioned Mrs. O'Rane's name
I judged that they had quarrelled finally and finally parted on the
night when I was privileged to meet them at the Berkeley. I had enough
psychological curiosity to wonder what had happened when she hurried out
into Piccadilly after him. Grayle had assuredly scored a game when he
asserted himself and made her run after him; but the game had been won
when he was too tired to be desirous of winning it.

My first tidings came to me at the end of May from my niece. She and her
husband were dining with me one night at my hotel, and she asked me
whether I had been at "The Sanctuary" lately.

"I've been very busy," I told her. "And I believe Mrs. O'Rane's away."

"She's not away," Yolande answered: "I saw her at Harrods' yesterday.
That's what made me think of it."

Yolande, then, knew nothing of what had happened.

"I wonder when she got back," I said as unconcernedly as I could. "Did
she tell you?"

"We didn't speak." Yolande's expression became hostile. "I suppose I
dislike her every bit as much as she dislikes me, but so far we've kept
up appearances. I bowed to her yesterday, and she couldn't help seeing
me, but for some reason best known to herself she thought fit to cut
me."

"She couldn't have seen you," I said.

"She couldn't _help_ seeing me," Yolande repeated.


2

Three days later I myself met Mrs. O'Rane in Hyde Park. Remembering
Yolande's experience, I determined that she should not cut me and, as we
had no opportunity of pretending not to have seen each other, I blocked
her path, bowed and held out my hand to her.

"I've not seen you for weeks," she said with a composed smile. "You've
not been to America again, have you?"

"I've been kept very busy at the House and in my department," I
answered. "Have you been away?"

"For week-ends and things." She glanced collectedly round to assure
herself that she was not being overheard. "Why did you button-hole me
like this, Mr. Stornaway?"

I suppose my real reason was that, if there had to be any cutting, it
should not be by her; and I had not made up my mind how to act when we
found ourselves suddenly confronting each other at the park gate.

"When a man meets a woman he knows----" I began.

Mrs. O'Rane laughed with soft, repellent scorn.

"As if you didn't know everything."

"That is, I believe, an attribute of the Almighty," I replied.

For a few moments she was absorbed in the task of digging with the end
of her parasol round the edge of a prominent black pebble. As the dry
earth crumbled, the pebble worked loose, and she was free to hit it away
and look up at me again.

"You know enough."

"For what?" I asked.

She sighed and waved her hand across the dusty, unshaded walk.

"For passing by on the other side."

"Habit is sometimes very strong," I said.

We stood looking at one another reflectively for a few minutes, each
perhaps wondering why the other did not make an excuse to break away. I
found her so self-possessed that it was difficult to believe what I knew
to be the truth. I have met unfaithful wives before, I have seen men and
women living in many kinds of social outlawry, but with none of them did
it seem to make so little difference as with Mrs. O'Rane. She was not
defiant, she was hardly even callous; and her manner was so natural
that I felt the last six months might well have been blotted out of her
life. Once she lowered her eyes to look at the little platinum watch;
then raised them again with a friendly smile. She was dressed with
unostentatious distinction in a blue coat and skirt, with a high collar
to the coat and a tight-fitting amber-coloured waistcoat with round,
pageboy's buttons; there was a high-crowned hat to match the coat, white
gloves, grey stockings and black shoes with a pearl-coloured border.
Though her eyes were tired and her cheeks a little pale, she looked
wonderfully young and carefree.

"You thought I wouldn't do it," she said at length, more to convict me
of bad judgement, I think, than to defend her own conduct. "Men are so
curious.... You all had the clearest warning, only you wouldn't take it.
You wouldn't see that it was the only thing left for me to do."

"And you are still of that mind? You feel it was the right thing?"

"It depends what you mean by right," she answered slowly. "Most people
would say it was wrong, but then most people are fools. And none of them
could possibly know what I had to go through," she added through her
teeth.

"They'll never know that," I said, "because you'll never be able to tell
them. As long as you're happy----"

"I'm very happy," she interrupted.

"And you think you'll continue to be?"

"No one can answer that.... I'm happier than I was. You, of course,
think that I've behaved criminally. I only feel that we made a mistake.
I thought David loved me, and he--didn't. I believe _he_ thought he
loved me.... I made every possible allowance for him, I did everything a
woman could do to make a success of our life, but you must have seen
enough to know that he never gave our marriage a chance. I was ready to
put up with everything until he humiliated me in my own house. Then it
was time to admit we'd made a mistake and to get out of it as soon as
possible." Her parasol was again at work on the hard-baked gravel. "If
he'd hated me, if he'd enjoyed hurting me, he couldn't have done
better. I never knew what men were capable of before."

In my turn I looked at my watch and held out my hand.

"I have not criticised you, Mrs. O'Rane," I said, "so I prefer not to
assist in any criticism of your husband."

Her lips curled into a sneer.

"You haven't criticised me in _words_," she qualified.

"I am trying to suspend judgement till I know the facts. You will admit
that it requires _prima facie_ justification when a young wife leaves a
husband who worships her--I will cut out the offending phrase, if you
like--leaves her _blind_ husband----"

I have only once seen Mrs. O'Rane's beauty of face wholly desert her. At
the word "blind" her cheeks flushed, her eyes grew hot and the line of
her mouth became broken and unsightly. Months before, Bertrand had told
me that her husband's blindness was the one thing restraining her, and,
though she had lashed herself into disregarding it, she evidently could
not forget it. I could see that a passionate retort was maturing, but
she pressed it back and took my hand.

"Good-bye," she said. "Remember, I didn't ask you to speak to me. This
is a matter between David and myself. You needn't think it was an easy
thing to do, but I faced it, I've gone through the worst----"

"Not more than six people in the world know that you're not living with
your husband," I put in.

She hesitated, and I could see her lips compressing.

"I'm ready for that, too," she assured me, valiantly enough.

"Where _are_ you living?" I asked.

"You must excuse me if I don't answer that. Good-bye."

As I walked on towards my office I wondered what use I ought to make of
my chance meeting. Yet how would O'Rane or George be benefited by
knowing that she was living--was _probably_ living in London? And this
was all that I could tell them save that, however great her
provocation, however unheeding the passion which had possessed her and
allowed her to receive a lover in her husband's house to punish her
husband, she was not yet insensible to every twinge of conscience: I had
succeeded in once flicking her on the raw.

Then I blamed myself for wasted opportunities; if I had been less
conventionally suave, less afraid of a noisy scene, I might have put
many more questions even if I received as few answers. Her life with
O'Rane was over, but what was she going to put in its place? He could
divorce her, of course, and she could marry Beresford--when he came out
of prison. I never felt, however, in the days before the catastrophe
that she loved Beresford;--to be adored and admired by him was one
thing, but I never regarded him as more than a diversion, when no one
else was by to flatter her. Even had the passion been there, I could not
imagine her marrying such a man. The blue coat and skirt, the
high-crowned hat and patent-leather shoes did not accord with a rusty
sombrero, Harris tweeds and a loose, orange-coloured tie; I recalled the
bizarre, bachelor rooms of Sloane Square and, in exaggerated contrast,
Mrs. O'Rane's ermine coat, as I had seen it when I surprised them there.
In any day I dare swear that she could not tell whether she had spent
five pounds or five hundred; but, if she did not know how much she
squandered in a year, at least she could be sure that it was far more
than she would ever get from Beresford. And, if she did not propose to
marry him, where and how would she live? Would she try to drag out a few
more months or years as his mistress with the four or five hundred
pounds a year which her father allowed her? Where and how was she living
now?

To a long list of idle questions I added one more and asked myself how I
was to behave, if I met her again. It was not easy to avoid her at the
second encounter when I had forced myself upon her at the first; it was
certainly no easier to continue as O'Rane's friend and to meet his wife
as though nothing had happened.

An unsolved problem spoils my temper, and I was with difficulty even
civil when a messenger came into my room to say that Lady Maitland
wished to see me. She was shewn in and proceeded straight to the point.
Was it true that under this ridiculous Military Service Act all men
under forty were to be dragooned into the army? I must remember how kind
I had been in finding a position for her son in my office. Well, he had
come home the previous evening and told her of a report that _all_ young
men were going to be taken. It made no difference that he had only been
allowed to attest on condition that he could not be called up without
leave of his chief. That was all a _scrap of paper_, apparently. Every
case had to be submitted to the War Office, every man given a
certificate of exemption or packed off with the roughest clerks and
factory hands into the ranks. What was she to do? It was intolerable.

It argues, if not self-control, at least great gratitude for past
hospitality that I did not remind Lady Maitland of the first dinner I
ate on English soil after my release from Austria, when she deafened me
with her denunciations of the young shirkers who stayed at home and
allowed others to die for them. I was finding no fault with her boy, who
might be all that she said; I had seen him twice and pushed him hastily
into a fool-proof room where he read the "Times" and acted as
précis-writer for one of my colleagues; if he were unfit for the army,
there was a chance that he might be rejected, though embittering
experience taught me that it was only a chance. If he were passed as
fit, the first girl in the street could take his place after a day's
instruction, and the office would be rid of a young man who was doing no
good to himself or anyone else with the number of whiskies and soda
which he found time to consume on his way to the office or with the
cigarettes which he smoked all day when he had made his reluctant way
thither.

"Has he been medically examined?" I asked Lady Maitland.

"It would be a waste of time," she answered. "I tell you, that boy is a
mass of nerves."

"Well, send him before a medical board with a letter from your own
doctor," I suggested.

To judge from her expression, my proposal was unexpected and inadequate.

"Isn't the best thing for you to send a letter to the War Office?" she
asked. "Bertie tells me that his work is very technical."

I was grown tired of that word through many a "conscription scare" and I
resented its presence on the lips of Lady Maitland, who had been too
free with her taunts ten months before, too disparaging of the volunteer
army and too easily insistent on the conscription from which she was now
trying to extricate her boy.

"_He_ had to learn it," I reminded her. "And, if he died to-morrow,
somebody'd have to learn it in his place. If you want to move the War
Office, surely your husband's the man to do it."

"I don't like to bother him," she answered.

As she walked to the door, I felt that I had lost a friend. It says much
for her magnanimity that I was invited to the house within a week to be
told that the War Office--without encouragement from Sir Maurice--had
behaved most sensibly, reviewing the junior members of my department _en
bloc_ and granting them all certificates of exemption on the grounds of
indispensability.

"We seem drifting back to the old life very much," said George,
pensively watching the bubbles break on the champagne, when I told him,
with some distaste, of my interview. "Here we are eating and drinking as
usual, I'm always being invited to dances.... We're getting _used_ to
this infernal war, you know, Stornaway, and we shall lose it, if we
can't put up as relatively good a show as the fellows who are being
killed. I suppose we're too far away from the front even with an
occasional air-raid to remind us."

"I was glancing through my diary the other night," I told him. "There's
hardly a reference to the war. The political situation, my own work----"

He laughed a little sadly.

"If I kept a diary, I'm afraid I should find a good deal of it devoted
to Raney and his wife."

"I did," I told him.

He looked up quickly and then lowered his head until his chin rested on
his fists.

"God! that has been a tragedy!" he groaned. "It's the biggest tragedy of
my life, bigger than when Jim Loring was knocked out. Presumably it was
all over with him in a few minutes _or_ hours _or_ days at most.... But
that poor devil Raney--he's some years younger than I am."

"What is he doing?"

"He gives no hint. It's about as much as he can stand--the agony of
it--without trying to analyse it or think what he's going to do next.
Did I tell you I went down there again? Well, I did--in spite of what he
said. I've a convenient young cousin whose people are over in
Ireland--Violet's brother, you met her at dinner with me at the
Berkeley--and I can always legitimately go and see him. It was rather
less of a success than my last visit. The first person I ran into was
Lady Dainton, who asked me to shew her the way to Raney's quarters. She
couldn't make it out, she said, that she'd written to Sonia about a
concert at the hospital, written twice and had had no reply. Obviously
she was away from home, but apparently it was nobody's business to
forward letters." George smiled ruefully. "It was a hit for me, though
she didn't know it. I send all letters to Raney, and Sonia's go in a
special envelope marked 'For filing only'; it was a formula he and I
agreed on, so that Miss Merryon could just chuck them into a box
unopened.... I don't believe even _she_ suspects, though it's bound to
come out.... And she's in love with him, and _that's_ supposed to
sharpen a woman's intuition.... Well, I've no doubt Lady Dainton's
letters were in the box with the rest, but that didn't bring her much
nearer getting them answered. I felt I must really leave Raney to deal
with her, so I said I'd promised to call on the Head and would come back
later.... By the way, Burgess sees there's something up; he'd see there
was something up if you built a brick-wall round it. When I went into
his study, he looked at me for about five minutes, stroking his beard
between his thumb and first finger. 'He is thine own familiar friend,
whom thou lovest,' he began without any beating about the bush. 'I know
the whole story, sir,' I said. 'If I thought for a week, I couldn't
think of anything worse. If I may make a suggestion, sir, the kindest
thing you can do is not to notice anything.' Burgess stroked his beard a
bit more; then he said--'The adder is not more deaf.' But I'm prepared
to bet he's made a very shrewd guess."

"Did you gather how O'Rane disposed of Lady Dainton?" I asked.

George shrugged his shoulders.

"He had to say that Sonia wasn't at 'The Sanctuary' and he had to admit
that he didn't know her address at the moment. Fortunately, Lady Dainton
is so ready to think ill of him and so very unready to think ill of her
darling daughter that she never dreamed or suspected what had happened.
I don't know whether she went further than thinking that Sonia was
staying with friends and that Raney wasn't sufficiently interested in
her to discover her whereabouts; perhaps she did, for she took the
opportunity of saying that it was monstrous for him to desert his wife
like this for three months at a time, but that, on her honour, he didn't
deserve to have a wife, if she was to be condemned to the life he had
led at Melton or in London. Raney was smiling to himself and saying
nothing, when I came in, so she turned her batteries on to me. As a rule
she frightens me into agreeing with anything she says, but this time I
did pluck up courage to tell her that, in my opinion, when two people
married, they must be left to work out their own salvation. There's a
certain irony there, Stornaway,--I was conscious of it at the time--when
you think of the way you and Bertrand and I laboured to keep their boat
from capsizing. She didn't appreciate the irony, though; she only
thought I was being rather rude. That didn't matter so long as I got rid
of her."

He pushed away his plate, sighed and rose from the table.

"Did you have any talk with O'Rane?" I asked, as we went upstairs
together.

"That depends on your definition of talk," he answered with a joyless
smile. "We emitted words at each other. It--I don't mind telling you,
Stornaway,--it hurt like sin to find that I couldn't get near him. I
suppose it was a compliment to our friendship that he didn't try to cut
jokes as he did when I dined with him in Common Room the last time, but
it was an unfilling sort of compliment.... No, to offer him any kind of
sympathy would have been to get myself pitched out of the room. I felt
that. He was in a suit of mail.... I should have thought--but then I've
not been through it and, please God! I never shall. It did hurt, though,
because there hasn't been much that we've kept from each other all these
years."

He laughed a little at his own sensibility. I thought for a moment and
then told him of my meeting that day in Hyde Park. From behind their
rimless glasses, his eyes were fixed unwaveringly on mine, and at the
end he made no comment.

"What line do you propose to take if _you_ meet her?" I asked.

His brows set in a forbidding frown, and, when he spoke, it was between
closed teeth, and his voice trembled.

"I think I told you, my _instinct_ is to get her neck between my two
hands and shake her as a terrier shakes a rat. I suppose that would be
out of place in the more public parts of London, so I shall walk quietly
past her. What induced you, knowing all you did----"

"I have no idea why I did it," I said, quite humbly.

"Are you going to do it again?"

"My dear George, once more, I have no idea. I'm like O'Rane in that I
haven't been in the mood to analyse or make decisions. I've shirked
them. I've deliberately tried to keep my mind occupied with other things
so that I _shouldn't_ have to think about this miserable business. Most
of us are doing that, I fancy."

He was silent for many moments, and I fancied that he was visualising
my meeting in the light of an early summer morning in Hyde Park with
Sonia O'Rane, brown-eyed, red-lipped, redolent--to the senses--of purity
and young freshness.

"As long as that swine's under lock and key," he said at length, "she
can't make a move. And, when he's out, they're bound to hold their hand
till they see what Raney's going to do, whether he's going to face a
divorce--when I say 'face,' it's on her account, of course. He'd stand
anything for himself, but I don't know that he'd let any damned
two-and-one junior put questions to Sonia--I don't know, and he doesn't
know...." He covered his face with his hands. "God in Heaven! Stornaway!
I remember when I was the oldest fourth-year man and he was a freshman
and she was nothing at all--a lovely little slip of a girl who'd been
sent up for Commem. in place of a woman who'd failed us. Raney'd loved
her ever since he'd first set those god-sent eyes of his on her, and
they solemnly got engaged that night--when he was nineteen and she a
baby three years younger...." The rising voice which was beginning to
make our neighbours turn curiously round stopped of a sudden. "Sorry!
I'm apt to break out every time I think of that boy coming back from the
front ... and not letting it make _that_ much difference to him ... and
starting again at the bottom for God-knows-the-how-manyth-time--and
then--_this_.... Well, Raney's not in a state to say whether he'll
divorce her or not, what he will do, what he wants to do. You're quite
right, we're none of us in a position to analyse. By the way, what do
you propose to do, if you run into Beresford?"

"I don't see myself engaging him in conversation," I said.


3

As a false merit seems still to attach to frankness, let me record that,
when I met Beresford some three weeks later, I bowed to him and
subsequently went up and exchanged a few words. This meeting also took
place in Hyde Park, I was again making a slight _détour_ for the sake
of seeing the flowers and once more I turned in at Albert Gate and was
nodding before I saw who had nodded to me. When I recognised Beresford,
there was a moment's impulse to stalk away, but I am glad to say that I
did not yield to it.

He was sitting in a bath-chair, out of the wind and in the sun,
alternately dozing and waking with a start to look at the flowers and
then close his eyes again. I have seen sick men in various parts of the
world, but I doubt if I ever saw one who was still alive and yet looked
nearer death. All flesh had disappeared from his face, until the bones
of jaw, temple and nose threatened to cut through the waxen skin; his
eye-lids were more vermilion than pink, with a permanent dusty-grey
shadow darkening the hollow sockets. One hand lay exposed outside the
rug, so thin that it seemed as if the bones must grate together; the
other pressed painfully to his side whenever he began to cough.

"Why, how do you do?" he exclaimed in a weak whisper, bowing a second
time, as his eye-lids flickered open and he found me watching him.

"You look remarkably ill," was all I could say.

"I'm better than I have been. It was really rather a close shave this
time. They evidently felt it was a point of honour not to be beaten
again and they kept me there just twenty-four hours longer than I could
conveniently stand. I wasn't conscious of anything,--I hadn't been for
some while before and I wasn't to be for some time after--but they had a
bad scare. After doing their best to kill me for five days, they spent
five weeks trying to keep me alive--so like war and peace, you know;
wasteful, irrational and utterly, utterly purposeless. In a few weeks'
time I shall be where I was when last we met; the Government will have
kept me quiet for perhaps two months and will have expended a portion of
a magistrate's time, ditto ditto prosecuting counsel, and six weeks'
bed, board, share of prison staff and really first-rate medical
attention. No one could have been better treated when once they were
afraid they'd killed me."

He tried to laugh, but only succeeded in making himself cough. As he
shook and rocked, growing momentarily pink and then reverting to a
deathlier white, as I watched that bag of tuberculous bones being held
together by a nervous refusal to die, I shared the sense of waste which
O'Rane had once expressed to me. An impulse came to me, and I acted on
it before I could give myself time to be cautious and niggardly.

"If I can get you out to South Africa, will you go?" I asked him.

He tried to speak before he had finished coughing, and the attack
redoubled in violence.

"That would be playing their game _rather_ too much," he said with a
skeleton's grin.

"You're playing their game as quickly and more permanently by staying
here."

"You mean I'm going to die? Now, there you're wrong. Of course, I shall
die _some_ time like everyone else, but I'm actually getting better now.
If you'd seen me a month ago----!" He looked round at the flowers with
eyes that burned feverishly. "I've got so much to do, there's so much to
live for! Don't you feel you _can't_ die, you _won't_ die, when you see
all the new leaves with that shade of green which seems only to last for
a day before it becomes dark, dull, mature, dirty.... And the first
flowers--before we've had time to be sated with them. This is June,
summer.... And long before that, the little pink, sticky buds bursting
everywhere.... And those curious fluffy things which you find on some
shrubs and which seem to serve no purpose in nature.... I shall die in
the autumn, when I _do_ die; I couldn't in the spring, when the whole
world's renewing itself and there's so much to do. God! there is so much
to do!"

He smiled to himself, and his eyes suddenly closed. It was more than
time for me to be on my way, but the scrape of my heel on the gravel
roused him, and he held out his hand.

"It was kind of you--about South Africa, I mean,--but I can't get
away--for reasons which I needn't discuss. And in any event it isn't
necessary; I'm going to get well without that."

I shook hands and turned my steps eastwards. There are few things more
painful than the dying consumptive's belief that he will recover.
Beresford called me back with a cry that brought on another fit of
coughing.

"I'm in my old quarters," he said. "You were rather--disgruntled by your
last visit, I remember, but, if you've got over the shock and can ever
spare a moment to call----"

This time I shook my head without hesitation or compassion. I do not
remember ever being more affronted. A chance encounter in the street
might be excused me; one may be pardoned for not upbraiding one's worst
enemy when he is as near his death-bed as Beresford was; but it was
another thing altogether to condone the past and acquiesce in the
present. It was also what Mrs. O'Rane had virtually challenged me to do,
when she lost her temper in Beresford's flat and asked whether I should
continue to know her when she had come to live with him.

"I shall not call," I said. "Good-bye."

Thereafter I denied myself the walk from Albert Gate to Hyde Park Corner
and went to my office through Belgrave Square and the Green Park.

I kept my own counsel about our meeting and went on with my own work,
trying not to think of the O'Rane tragedy until it was brought to my
notice by a chance encounter with O'Rane himself. I was deliberately not
seeking his company, but I was pleased when he joined me in the Smoking
Room at the House.

"_Your_ voice at least is quite unmistakable," he said with his old
smile. "So is Grayle's. The people who beat me are most of the Irish and
a sprinkling of the Labour men--fellows who don't open their mouths from
one end of the session to the other. And I'm here so little that it's
slow work learning. Still, I'll back myself to be right ninety-five
times out of a hundred, if I've heard a voice more than once. Do you
know whether old Oakleigh is about?"

"I saw him here before dinner," I said.

"I promised to walk home with him. Why don't you come along, too?
There's nothing of any interest on, and you can smoke in greater comfort
at my place. Let's see if we can hunt him out."

Bertrand had sat down late, and we found him finishing his coffee in an
almost deserted dining-room. It was still light, however, when we got
outside, and we strolled at an easy pace along Millbank to "The
Sanctuary." I had not been there since the night nearly three months
before when O'Rane's life was broken in two. As we walked, I thought of
the other night when Grayle and I met him for the first time, when, too,
he had carried Beresford on his own back into the now empty house. He
could not but be thinking of it himself, and I hardly knew whether to
pity or admire him the more for his unembarrassed way of admitting us to
his secret without suffering us to allude to it.

Unlocking the door, he went ahead to turn on the lights, came back to
relieve us of our coats and bade us help ourselves from the side-board,
while he opened a box of cigars. Perhaps from nervousness he talked
rather more than usual and shewed himself unnecessarily solicitous for
our comfort; otherwise we might have been sitting, as we occasionally
sat ten months before, waiting for Mrs. O'Rane to come back from the
theatre.... I confess that I started--I believe we all started--when we
heard a taxi draw nearer and nearer, turn out of Millbank and stop at
the door. Bertrand and I were facing the room, and we both of us gave a
quick glance over our shoulders. O'Rane continued talking unconcernedly,
only stopping when the curtain was pushed aside and George came in.

"It's a great thing to have a place where you can be sure of a drink
after licensed hours," he remarked contentedly. "I've had no dinner and
not much lunch; and I've left the Admiralty this moment. This war's got
beyond the joke some people still think it. Don't mind me, Raney, I'm
going to fend for myself and eat solidly for the next half-hour. What's
the question before the House?"

He seated himself on the arm of my chair with a hunk of bread and
cheese in one hand and a tumbler of whiskey and soda in the other. We
were talking of the way in which our original intervention on behalf of
Belgian neutrality had been overlaid by the nationalist ambitions of
Italy in south Austria, France in Alsace-Lorraine, and by the frankly
imperialist trend of Russia towards Constantinople and of ourselves
towards Mesopotamia and in Africa and the Pacific.

"It may have been wise, it may be necessary," said O'Rane dubiously.
"Perhaps you couldn't bring Italy in without promising Trieste and the
Trentino, perhaps you couldn't keep Russia in without promising
Constantinople."

Bertrand sighed and then yawned.

"I wonder if we've not bitten off more than we can chew," he growled.
"_I_ went through the phase of 'crushing Prussian militarism,' cutting
up the map of Europe with a pair of scissors.... I hope nobody will put
me up against a wall and shoot me, if I now doubt the possibility. I
don't believe we _can_ crush Prussian militarism."

"We--_can't_."

The words, spoken in a familiar, sneering drawl, came from behind me.
Bertrand and I swung round in our chairs to face the door; George leapt
to his feet, letting fall his bread and cheese and discharging a torrent
of whiskey and soda into my lap. If the ghost of Peter Beresford had
walked in to reinforce Bertrand at the point where their doctrines most
nearly touched, he could not have dumbfounded us more. But it was not
Beresford's ghost. The July night was descending so slowly that we were
content with a single lamp in the middle of the room. In the gathering
dusk by the door, standing out against the orange glow of the
door-curtain, I saw Beresford himself, leaning with one hand on a stick
and grasping a shapeless soft hat with the other. He was as waxen of
complexion and almost as cadaverous as when we met in the Park three
weeks before, but he had made a spasmodic effort to seem collected on
entering, and the sneer in his voice was reproduced by a suggestion of
swaggering contempt in his attitude.

I wondered helplessly and almost without anger why he had inflicted
this outrage upon us. Trembling and speechless, Bertrand propelled
himself slowly to his feet; speechless and breathing quickly, George
took two steps forward. We were all too much preoccupied to look behind
and see what O'Rane was doing until I heard what I can only describe as
a rattle in the throat; Beresford's eyes opened wider, and he took a
half-step back; I turned my head in time to see O'Rane spring like an
animal on its prey, both arms outstretched and both feet off the ground.
There was a thud, as the two fell together, a gasp from Beresford, the
noise of boots scuffling on polished boards and then a silence only
modified by laboured breathing.

George was the first to move.

"He'll kill him!" he called back to us. "Help me separate them!"

As quickly as an old and a middle-aged man could move, Bertrand and I
hurried to his assistance. O'Rane was straddling Beresford's body,
pinning both arms to the floor with his knees and gripping his throat
with both hands until the eyes glared in the early stages of
asphyxiation and the mouth fell open, gobbling hideously. The face was
swollen and mulberry-coloured by the time that we could see it, and the
first feeble resistance had given place to the dreadful placidity of
physical exhaustion.

"You fool, you're murdering him!" George roared, slipping both hands
inside O'Rane's collar and putting forth a reserve of strength which
lifted assailant and assailed bodily from the ground. "Pull his hands
away, you men!"

I caught O'Rane's left wrist in both hands, but the polished floor gave
no purchase to my feet, and I might as well have tried to pluck a
propeller from its shaft. His arms were like flexible, warm steel. When
I planted my foot against his shoulder, it was like resting it on
masonry that quivered slipperily, but never yielded.

"Fingers, man, fingers!" George shouted again. "Pull 'em apart, twist
'em, _hurt_ him!"

I take no pride in having followed his advice save in so far as it
saved the boy from the scaffold. Bertrand and I, each with our two
hands, gripped O'Rane's third and fourth fingers, tugged and twisted
until a stifled cry of pain broke from his lips. George was shaking him
like a rat, and at last the grip relaxed and Beresford's head fell with
a second thud on the floor.

"Don't let go!" cried George. "Now, Raney, will you swear on your honour
not to touch him again?"

There was a sullen, long silence varied by the rip of rending clothes
and the clatter of feet, as O'Rane made three unsuccessful plunges
forward.

"You're--hurting my--hand!" he panted at length with the whimper of a
little child.

George shook his head at me passionately.

"Will you swear on your honour, Raney?"

"Let me--_get_ at him!" O'Rane sobbed.

"We'll break your fingers off at the knuckles if you don't swear!"
George returned through clenched teeth.

There was a second silence, a last plunge.

"I won't touch him," sighed O'Rane.

We stepped back, panting and mopping our foreheads; then Bertrand walked
to the nearest chair and subsided into it; I leaned against a sofa;
George stood for a moment, rocking from his late exertion, then pressed
one hand to his heart and hurried into the street, covering his mouth
with a handkerchief. O'Rane stood where we had relaxed our hold on him,
bending and unbending his tortured fingers; Beresford lay motionless and
silent.

George's re-appearance with a request for brandy galvanised us all, but
chiefly O'Rane, who walked up to him with out-thrust lips and cried:

"You can clear out of this, George Oakleigh, and I don't advise you to
come back here."

"Don't be a fool, Raney," George answered wearily.

"If _you_ hadn't put them up to it----"

"That's precisely why I did it. It was the only way of stopping you.
Don't think I enjoyed it, old man." He caught O'Rane's right hand
between his own two and patted it, as if he were caressing a woman. I
learned afterwards that in addition to losing his sight O'Rane had been
wounded in both hands. "Go and get some brandy--or wait, I'll get the
brandy, while you lift Beresford on to a sofa. I've pulled my heart out
of place."

Between us we made a rough bed and tried to bring the unconscious man
round. His heart was fluttering like a captive bird, and for longer than
I cared to count there was no other sign of life. At last the eyes
opened for a moment, and I saw George relax his labours and lead O'Rane
to one side.

"You'd better go to bed, old man," he said. "I'll report progress later,
and we'll get him away as soon as we can. You'll only make things worse,
if you're here when he comes round."

To my surprise, O'Rane allowed himself to be led away, and George
returned to share our vigil. A second and third time the eyes opened;
twice Beresford tried to raise himself and once his lips moved in
soundless speech.

"Don't try to talk," I said, as I gave him some water to drink.

He closed his eyes, and a quarter of an hour passed before they opened
again.

"W--w--why----?" he stammered suddenly.

"Don't--try--to--talk," I said again.

"But _w--why_ did he do that?" Beresford persisted with slow obstinacy.
"Is he m--m--mad?"

George, Bertrand and I stared at him and then at one another.

"Don't try to talk yet," was all that I could find to say.


4

Bertrand allowed himself to be sent to bed at midnight, but George and I
took it in turns to watch by Beresford's side. We had a doctor in, but
the danger was past before he arrived, and his only orders were that we
must report any change. Until dawn we tried sleeping for an hour and
watching for an hour, but, as an opal light came to warm the rafters on
the west side of the room, George sacrificed his turn to sleep and
joined me on the sofa.

We looked at each other for some moments without speaking, both equally
tired, dishevelled, unshaven and perplexed.

"Well?" I said at length.

"Well?" he echoed. "By the way, I promised to report progress to Raney;
and I never did. I don't see what we can say at present. We've got to
clear this up before he comes down."

"What do you _think_?" I asked.

George hesitated.

"The fact of the fellow's coming here at all----" he began slowly.

I nodded.

"We must wait till we can question him direct," he went on evasively.

"But, _if_ we're right, he mustn't know," I put in.

"Till everyone knows," sighed George.

Beresford stirred restlessly, and the sound of a moan silenced us.

"If--" George began again in a whisper. I nodded. "God above! if we
hadn't managed to pull him off in time!"

I put my finger to my lips, as Beresford stirred again.

"He's waking."

We were sitting in a line with his head and outside his field of vision,
unless he raised himself on his elbow, which at present he was incapable
of doing. We saw his eyes open and close again, open and close again,
the opening each time growing brisker than the faint closing, until he
was strong enough to stare about him and take in two-thirds of the room.
I saw wonder dawning in his face as he found himself unexpectedly in
familiar surroundings; he carried his hand to his head in the effort to
remember how he had got there; then his fingers mechanically slid down
to his throat, and I watched him gingerly exploring certain purple
marks. Abruptly his eyes closed for another long quiescence, but he was
gaining strength and at the next opening he dragged himself unsteadily
to a sitting posture, clapped both hands to his temples and slowly
turned his head until he had brought the whole room under observation.

"Where's Sonia?" he demanded abruptly, looking at me with flickering
eyelids.

"She's not here at the moment," I answered.

He stared uncomprehendingly until a pain at the bruised back of his head
made him wince and despatch one hand to assess the danger.

"How long----" He winced again. "How long have I been here?"

"Since last night," I told him. "You had a fall."

He continued to stare at me without comprehension and then grew suddenly
indignant.

"Had a fall?" he repeated. "I _didn't_ have a fall. What d'you mean?
It's all coming back to me now. I was dining--I don't know where I was
dining, but afterwards I thought I'd come round and see Sonia.... Why
did O'Rane attack me like that? Was he mad?"

George's foot pressed lightly against mine.

"What do you mean--'attack' you?" he asked with fine simulation of
surprise.

"He attacked me," Beresford persisted doggedly. "He knocked me down."
His eyes closed once more. "Where's Sonia?" he asked again.

"She's staying with friends," George answered. "I say, I shouldn't talk
too much, if I were you. You're looking rather cheap, and I hear you've
been pretty bad."

For the first time Beresford was able to twist his features into a
malevolent grin.

"I'm putting on weight again now," he boasted. "You'd look cheap, if
you'd gone through what I have."

"How long were you in prison?" I asked.

Beresford sighed and shook his head.

"I don't know. I was unconscious for some days at the end. They arrested
me on the third, the trial was on--I forget...." He lowered himself
till he was lying full length on the sofa.

"They arrested you on the fourth, you say," I began with a glance at
George.

"The third. My birthday," he corrected me, caressing his bruised throat
with one hand. "There was a ring at the bell, and I got out of bed and
went to the door, expecting to find the postman. Instead of that, there
was an inspector with a warrant. He asked whether I was Mr. Peter
Beresford, read me the warrant. He wouldn't let me shave, I remember; I
suppose he was afraid I might cut my throat; and I was only allowed to
have a bath on condition that he was in the room. I don't know which was
the more embarrassed...."

He paused to laugh feebly, and I withdrew to the window and checked his
date by my engagement book. George raised his eyebrows to me and at my
nod tiptoed to the door and made his way to O'Rane's room.

"What _happened_ last night?" Beresford demanded, covering his eyes with
the hand that had been feeling his throat and rubbing his bruised head
with the other. "Was everyone drunk?"

"I can't quite explain now," I said.

Whether O'Rane had been to bed or not, he was washed and shaved, dressed
and booted, when George went into his room at five o'clock. Beresford
was reported out of danger, and after some hesitation George asked again
to be given the fullest account of O'Rane's unexpected return two months
before.

"I'll tell you my reason now," he said, as O'Rane's expression hardened.
"I want to make certain--I'm _advocatus diaboli_,--I want your evidence
that it was Beresford at all."

"Evidence? I _heard_ him, she admitted it! Who else could it be? And he
comes back here----"

"Steady on, Raney, this is no way to conduct a trial. I'm going to get
Stornaway up here, if I can, and we're going into this very thoroughly."

Beresford was sleeping so tranquilly that I left him without
compunction. Upstairs the court of enquiry had been joined by Bertrand
in pyjamas, dressing-gown, and slippers; George was sitting on the bed
with a blotter and writing-pad on his knee, O'Rane walked to and fro
with the noiseless tread of a cat. We were all grey-faced and haggard in
the diamond, five-o'clock-in-the-morning light. I found myself a chair,
and the proceedings opened with a repetition of the story which Bertrand
had given me as second-hand. It was more temperate and less dramatic, as
O'Rane told it two months after the events; it was slightly fuller, but
in no respect did it vary substantially from the earlier account.

"I'm not a lawyer." George said at the end, looking up from his notes,
"whether you'd get a divorce on that, assuming you wanted one ..." he
added quickly, as O'Rane's eyes narrowed. "We haven't finished yet,
though. You say Sonia admitted it?"

O'Rane nodded and then seemed to repent his nod.

"She didn't _deny_ it," he said to correct himself. "I say, you fellows
don't want me to go into this part of it, do you? It's not very pleasant
for me. I'll just tell you that I _assumed_ it was Beresford----"

"Why did you assume it?" I interrupted.

"She was very intimate with him. She used to talk--I thought it was in
joke, of course, a silly joke that I didn't like--she used to talk about
going off and living with him, if we ever had a disagreement about
anything. Besides, I'd heard him hopping out of here and down the stairs
on one leg. I naturally assumed.... And she accepted it. I--I _can't_
tell you what we said to each other, but it was never in doubt, it never
_has_ been in doubt till this moment."

George pursed up his mouth and shook his head reflectively.

"This is only telling us what the sergeant said," he observed. "However,
let's get every shred of evidence before we let Beresford open."

He looked enquiringly at his uncle, who shrugged his shoulders a little
impatiently.

"It's not _evidence_," Bertrand began. "I'm old-fashioned, I daresay I
attach too much importance to trifles; I can only give you what I've
seen and heard."

It was indeed not direct evidence, it was not even circumstantial
evidence. Mrs. O'Rane had been very intimate with Beresford; when he was
lying ill at "The Sanctuary," she would sit stroking his hand; they
sometimes remained together until a very late hour, and she thought
nothing of kissing him good-night. On his side Beresford made no secret
of his infatuation.

"Neither made any secret of anything!" growled Bertrand, thumping his
fist on his knee.... "I suppose it's the modern method.... I don't
understand it. That's why I say my evidence is no use. If you get up and
tell them they've no business to be kissing, they'll retort that it was
all open and above-board, that I was present as often as not.... And
it's true. I used to come in late from the House, I used to come in at
all hours when I was on Special Constable duty; there they were, billing
and cooing and not in the least embarrassed by me. You'd have said they
rather liked an audience."

The unhappy O'Rane was wincing at every sneer or word of disapproval.
Two months before he would have turned it off with a laugh, as everyone
else did, and protested that it was Sonia's way and that we did not know
Sonia.... But, if he could have been induced to speak frankly, he would
probably have agreed with me that some of his wife's friends and a good
deal of his wife's behaviour were meretricious.

"I'd better add my testimony, while we're about it," I said. The boy
winced again, and I could see him bracing himself.

I told him how at his request I had called on Beresford to warn him
against running his head any further into the trap which was being laid
for him. I described his obvious anxiety to get rid of me, the
embarrassment of our meeting, when Mrs. O'Rane came in, her
light-hearted assurance that I should be _really_ shocked, or something
of the kind, if I knew how often she had visited her patient at such an
hour. It was not pleasant work, but I spared O'Rane nothing that my
memory retained.

At the end George crumpled his notes into a ball and rose from the bed
with a yawn of mental and physical exhaustion.

"As I said, I'm not a lawyer," he observed. "If Raney were bringing a
petition, there's a hundred-to-one chance in favour of his getting a
decree; I suppose there's a six-to-four chance on circumstantial
evidence that you could bring the charge of misconduct home to
Beresford." He paused to frown in perplexity, unconscious that the word
"misconduct" had cut O'Rane like a lash across the face. "If it weren't
for last night," he muttered. "It's--almost incomprehensible. Unless he
came to make a clean breast of it, to tell Raney to divorce her and be
damned...."

O'Rane stopped short in his cat-like prowl and faced us.

"The only thing is to see Beresford," he said. "You'd better come with
me. I can tell something from his voice, but of course I can't see him.
Watch his mouth, don't look at his eyes; it's the mouth that gives a man
away, when he's lying."

The library was stale with cigar-smoke after our long vigil. Beresford
was asleep, but the noise of our feet roused him, and he sat up blinking
at O'Rane, who was a pace before the rest of us.

"Why did you attack me last night?" he demanded the moment that we were
in sight.

O'Rane came to a standstill with his hands in his pockets, swaying
slightly from heel to toe.

"We'll go into that in a moment, if you don't mind," was the answer.
"What was your motive in coming here?"

I had Beresford under vigilant scrutiny, and his surprise was real or
uncommonly well assumed.

"To see Sonia, of course," he replied. "I didn't know you were at home.
Do you usually try to _murder_ people who come to see her?" he demanded
with weak truculence. "I know, of course, that you neglect her and
ill-treat her yourself."

O'Rane rocked contemplatively to and fro, nodding thoughtfully to
himself.

"When did you last see my wife?" he asked suddenly.

"I can't tell you."

"You've got to tell me, Beresford."

"I'm afraid I can't. I spent six weeks in prison and I've had another
fortnight getting convalescent. It was some time before that."

"You have got to tell me the day, the hour and the place."

Beresford lay back with his mouth obstinately shut.

"Come along!" O'Rane cried.

"I can't and I won't. It was some time shortly before I was arrested. If
you want to find out any more, you can ask her."

I refreshed my memory with a glance at my pocket-book.

"You were arrested on the third of May, you told me," I said. "Going
back three weeks, I can definitely trace one occasion on which you met
Mrs. O'Rane----"

Beresford's pale face suddenly flushed.

"If you're going to drag in your foul-minded suspicions about that," he
cried, "have the decency to wait till Sonia's here."

"I told you that Mrs. O'Rane was away," I reminded him. Then I took
O'Rane by the arm. "I want to have a word with you."

I was too tired to labour upstairs again, and we could be by ourselves
outside. There was a haze over the river, rising almost before my eyes,
as the sun climbed higher. A succession of young factory girls hurried
along the Embankment on their way to work; one or two early carts
rumbled over the cobble-stones in the neighbouring streets, and a chain
of three black barges glided noiselessly towards Westminster Bridge. All
else was still. I caught sight of my dusty boots, the cigar-ash on my
waistcoat and a pair of grimy hands,--the whole desecrating the clean
clarity of the summer morning.

"Well?" said O'Rane.

I put my arm through his and walked towards the river.

"I'm prepared to bet that the last time Beresford saw your wife was when
I spoiled their _tête-à-tête_ in his rooms," I said. "He doesn't know
I've told you already and he's in dread that I'm going to. Didn't you
feel that? And it's not that he's afraid of you--I don't think he's
physically afraid of anyone;--he doesn't want you to know that she was
foolish enough to come to his rooms at such an hour."

O'Rane disengaged his arm and rested his elbows on the parapet and his
chin on his hands.

"This was three weeks--before?" he asked.

"I don't believe he's met her since. I don't believe it _was_ him."

He shook his head slowly.

"I couldn't see him, of course; I've told you I didn't get near enough
to touch him, but I heard him going across the room and down the stairs
on one leg. You aren't in a mood then to weigh your suspicions very
judicially.... I taxed Sonia with it. My God! I can't go through it
again, we were both of us out of our minds, I don't know what we said!
But I assumed it was Beresford--I remember I kept on using his name. She
never denied it. If it wasn't Beresford ...?"

"Let's first of all establish whether it was Beresford," I suggested.

He hesitated a moment longer and then pulled himself abruptly erect,
took my arm and walked quickly back to the house. Bertrand and George, a
pair of strangely disreputable figures, were dozing in arm-chairs;
Beresford had his eyes open and fixed on us the moment we were inside
the room.

"You wanted to know a few minutes ago why I attacked you," began O'Rane.
"I'm going to tell you, but I should like to ask one question first. Are
you aware that my wife is no longer here?"

"So Stornaway told me--twice," Beresford answered wearily.

"Do you know she's--left me?"

"I'm not surprised. I'm only surprised she ever came back. I don't know
why she ever married you."

O'Rane paused to steady himself.

"I believed until recently that she had left me for you," he went on.
"Now you can understand, perhaps, why I behaved as I did last night. I
can't offer any apology worth having."

As he stopped speaking, he held out his hand almost timidly. Beresford
stared at it contemptuously for a moment; then his cheeks flushed, and
he took it.

"You can imagine I don't want this to go any further," said O'Rane in a
matter-of-fact voice.

Beresford pulled him close to the couch.

"I--I don't think I'm there yet," he whispered. "Say it all over again,
will you? Sonia's left you? She used to say she was going to, but that
was only to tease you."

O'Rane's lips were quivering, and his voice trembled.

"I'm afraid it's all grim earnest," he said.

"She's left you? O'Rane, she couldn't! She loved you so much! I--I often
thought you didn't treat her properly, you were frightfully
unsympathetic sometimes, but there was nothing you could do to force her
to this!"

Bertrand roused himself to control the excitement of Beresford's voice,
which was beginning to react on O'Rane.

"Deal with realities, young man," he grunted. "The facts are as stated."

Beresford disregarded him and turned to O'Rane.

"But where is she?"

"We don't know."

"You don't know who she's with?" His face became suddenly more hopeful.
"You've no _proof_ that she's with anyone? She went away once before,
remember."

A smothered sigh broke from O'Rane.

"I think I may say positively that she's with someone. She's not merely
staying with friends. I'm afraid I thought it was you and I must beg you
to forgive me."

He tried to smile and again held out his hand.

"You needn't have thought it was me, O'Rane," said Beresford quietly.

"No. But I only heard a lame man hopping away on one leg. And I was
seeing red."

"But you could both of you trust me! If there'd been a moment's danger,
I'd never have seen Sonia again. I'm not the only lame man in London.
You might have picked on Grayle before me, if she hadn't hated him so
much."

O'Rane covered his eyes with his hand.

"I thought of you both," he said. "When I heard the man going short on
one leg, I felt certain that it must be one of you.... It's
extraordinary how quickly you think at a time like that. I remember
wondering whether I should be equal to tackling Grayle, if it were
him.... Then I knew it couldn't be, because he'd insulted Sonia in some
restaurant, and they'd had a row. Besides, he was in France at the time.
And so I decided that it must be you. I'm sorry. You couldn't expect me
to behave quite--dispassionately, could you? I'm only glad it has been
cleared up. I'm afraid you'll have to stay with me again till we've
patched up last night's damage. You can understand that for Sonia's sake
this mustn't be talked about. When people want to know where she is,
I--I usually say she's staying away and I--don't--quite know--when she's
coming back...."


5

At the end of August I contrived a holiday for myself on the north coast
of Cornwall, where Lady Pentyre had been good enough to offer me a
house. Yolande and her husband accompanied me, and on a passing impulse
I pressed O'Rane to join us. We could have given him society and some
kind of mental distraction, but the House was still sitting, when I left
London, and he made this an excuse for declining. In his place George
came for a week, to be followed by several of Yolande's colleagues and
friends, whom she invited--I am fairly sure--less for themselves than
for the chance of giving an inexpensive holiday to some exceedingly
tired women.

It was a fortnight of pure enchantment. We rose at eight and walked over
hot, spongy turf to the precipitous cliff-path which led us to our
favourite bathing-place in our chosen bay. We bobbed and basked in a sea
of liquid sapphire under a blazing sun and only left the water when
hunger drove us home. Through long, happy mornings all four of us
scrambled like children over the rocks, in and out of unexpected pools,
slipping on treacherous bunches of sea-weed and cutting our feet on the
cones of a mollusc's shell. We were always so wet and unpresentable by
luncheon-time that there was nothing for it but to bathe again and put
on dry clothes, which made us late and ravenous, so that we gorged
ourselves on dishes which were becoming unprocurable in London and then
lay sleeping repletely or glancing at the papers until it was time for
another walk among the gorse and heather, a last descent to the
foreshore where the Atlantic lay drowsy under the setting sun, creaming
and lapping the black and dun rocks.

The papers, when we mustered energy to read them, brought us better news
each day. Pressing north and west, the Italian and Russian armies were
taking their revenge for the damaging thrust which each had lately
sustained, and Austria-Hungary, squeezed simultaneously on two sides,
had to adopt the unwelcome and desperate expedient of handing over the
eastern troops to German command. The precarious hold on Salonica was
strengthened by the safe landing of reinforcements, and, before we left
in September, Roumania had thrown in her lot with the Allies.

Even in London, where for two years the soldiers on leave from any front
had found individual self-depression and national self-depreciation
flourishing most luxuriantly, became infected with brief optimism. In
September a report from General Headquarters announced that an infantry
advance had been assisted by a mysterious new mechanism that rolled its
uncouth way imperviously through the rain of bullets and shrapnel which
poured on to its armoured sides, some land battleship which dropped
unconcernedly into craters and climbed as unconcernedly over
fortifications and chance _débris_ of houses, an invention--the first of
British initiative in the war--that bestrode enemy trenches and
spattered a hail of death on either hand, a good-humoured steel giant
that convulsed the troops until they held their sides and forgot to
advance, a something, in fine, that the English soldier with his genius
for happy and meaningless nicknames decided to call a "tank."

Old Bertrand, who had a pretentious theory to explain each new set of
facts, enunciated a new art of war with the text "Machines _versus_
Men;" the rifle-man to the savage with a spear in his hand was as the
machine-gun to the rifle-man--or the tank to the machine-gun. War had
been revolutionised, and our old calculations of effectives and losses
must go by the board.

The mood of optimism passed as quickly as it had come. Hardly had we
finished triumphing over German machine-guns with our tanks, overcoming
the Zeppelin menace with our anti-aircraft guns--there was smart sport
in October, amounting almost to a battue,--when the autumn campaign
ended and we settled down to count the cost and prepare for a third
winter. The figures of our losses made the Somme a Pyrrhic victory, and
there was troubled wonder where the new drafts were to be found.
Ireland, which had been left in suspect and timid neglect--like a dog
which has snapped once and may snap again, but is quiet for the
moment--became once more a public interest as a candidate for
conscription. And ships were mysteriously scarce. And food prices were
exorbitant. And the Government was tired, lethargic, void of
initiative....

"Thank God! my duty as a citizen is done when I've paid my taxes!"
Bertrand Oakleigh exclaimed one night at the House. "I'm glad I'm not a
farmer, I'm glad I'm not mixed up with industry. I should be unpatriotic
if I didn't double my output of foodstuffs and unpatriotic if I kept
one potential piece of cannon-fodder to grow 'em; I'm a pro-German if I
manufacture for export to keep up the foreign exchanges--Victory
_versus_ Trade!--and Lord knows what I am if I don't cheerfully pay
taxes on a business I've had to close down. If I lose money, nobody
sympathises; if I make any, I'm called a profiteer, and someone takes it
away from me.... Curious how a phrase or an abusive nickname dispenses
the people of this country from using such wits as a niggardly
Providence has given them! You've only to whisper something about a
'hidden hand,' and a crowded meeting of City men will sit and hypnotise
themselves into thinking that there's an active service of secret
agents--with poor Haldane as Director General--quietly penetrating our
social life and paralysing our efforts in the war. Hidden hand!
Pacifist--they can't even throw their absurdities into decent English!
Profiteer! We're so astonishingly petty as a nation! I wonder if the
same thing's being reproduced in all other countries--the old '_Nous
sommes trahis_' nonsense.... They're all governments of old men,
too,--and they're tired--and no one outside knows what they've had to go
through--and everybody's nerves are snapping. I'm sometimes surprised
that these fellows have lasted so long, but I think their days are
numbered. If you throw your mind back, you'll remember a phase when
Asquith's worst political enemies said he was indispensable, the only
Prime Minister, the one man who could hold the Government and the
country together. You don't hear that now; we've outgrown that phase.
Now people are openly saying that he's not master in his own house, that
we shall never win the war so long as he's in the saddle, that they'll
turn him out the moment they can find someone to put in his place....
Lloyd-George would be in power to-day, if his friends in Fleet Street
could be sure that he wouldn't hanky-panky with the Army.... To read the
papers, you'd think it was the cumulative effect of reverses like
Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, the shortage of food, and the fact that we've
done nothing to increase our home production, and our failure to
grapple with submarines. It's deeper and blinder than that.... It's
because the Government _hasn't won the war_ that it will fail; and any
new Prime Minister will fall in exactly the same way, unless he can win
it. Results! results! That mountebank Grayle is quite right; he
represents average, unthinking, third-rate, violent opinion, and that
opinion's becoming articulate. As I've told you before, I don't think a
change will do any good, because we set ourselves too big a task, we
started on too high a moral plane. I suppose I should be called a
'_pacifist_' if I suggested that that phase was over and that we'd
better moderate our tone before we're compelled to."

The particular non-party War Committee headed by Grayle was waking to
activity after its suspended animation during the summer campaign. In
his paper, in conversation at the Club and still more in the Smoking
Room of the House he was calling for more vigour in administration....
The House of Commons position was curious, he informed me; if he could
be sure of a certain number of votes--he would not trouble me with the
figures,--we could have a ministry after our own heart. There followed
an interval of perhaps five minutes, in which I allowed him to do all
the talking. The Unionist members of the Coalition were sick and tired
of this eternal "Wait and See;" there would be a secession the moment
that a better alternative government had been sketched out; you had only
to call a Unionist party meeting and put it to 'em straight. But you
didn't want to take an unnecessary toss, you couldn't afford to supply
powder and shot to rags like the "Daily News," which were always talking
about an intrigue and saying that no government could exist with the
Germans in front and back-stabbers behind....

"Nothing's settled yet," he told me after considering academically the
offices for which we were both fitted. "But you know the constitutional
theory; you're not justified in upsetting a government unless you're
prepared to go to Buckingham Palace and take on the job of forming a
new administration. Excuse me! I want to have a word with Oakleigh."

The following day I asked Bertrand under what guise the devil had
appeared to him, but he had evidently been less patient.

"Grayle went away with a flea in his ear," he grunted. "He's been
worrying me so long that I had to stop it once and for all. God knows, I
don't care about this ministry; I shouldn't have much faith in any
ministry formed out of the present House--the best talent's already on
the Treasury Bench--and I don't believe in bringing in your superman
from outside--the House of Commons can't be learned in a night, and even
a government department needs study. What I object to in Grayle is his
picking on _me_ as one of his fifty or sixty new allies; you can picture
him buzzing round with his fellow-conspirators--'Shall we try Oakleigh
and Stornaway? They're solid, moderate, old members--highly respected.
They don't add anything to the common stock, of course, but they carry
more weight than the men who are always talking and playing an active
part. We might try them, their names would look well on the
prospectus--inspire confidence, you know.'" He chuckled maliciously. "I
suppose I'm getting very old, but I can't stand young men's conceit in
the way I once did. Grayle's like a boy just down from Oxford, doing
everything for the first time and imagining that no one's ever done it
before. Does he _really_ think this is the first political intrigue in
history? I recommended him a course of Disraeli's novels--to improve his
technique. Good God! I was playing this game of detaching wobblers and
handing out offices that were not in my gift and mobilising the solid,
moderate, highly respected old members under _Gladstone_! I toiled and
schemed to keep the Liberal Party out of Rosebery's hands; I was making
new parties and pigeon-holing possible cabinets all through the
Morley-Harcourt days, I was intriguing to keep C.-B. in command when the
Liberal Leaguers intrigued to kick him into the Lords. I've been
through it all; and be hanged if I didn't do it better than Grayle!"

Perhaps my manner was too sympathetic. Certainly I was not to escape so
easily as Bertrand had done, for Grayle met me leaving the House and
offered to drop me on his way home. I accepted because I was nominally
amicable with him, because I did not want a wet walk to my hotel and
because I could not decently refuse. He talked persuasively the whole
way home and was obviously chagrined when I did not invite him into my
rooms. He rang me up at breakfast next day and tried to secure my
presence at luncheon; once at my office in St. James' Street, once in my
department, and once again, when I was tranquilly dining with the
Maitlands, I was called to the telephone with an apologetic but urgent
request that I would arrange a time when Grayle could have five minutes'
conversation with me.

My position was simple and clear. I would be neither bribed nor bullied
into any kind of office, I would give no blank cheque for the future to
Grayle or anyone else, but I should no doubt be found voting with him
against the Government--or with the Government against him--as I had
done in the past, judging every division on its merits. A note on my
dressing-table informed me that Colonel Grayle had telephoned from the
House at eleven.... I picked up my hat, buttoned my coat again and
turned my steps towards Milford Square; a far more patient man might be
excused for thinking that Grayle was making a nuisance of himself.

The servant who opened the door informed me that Colonel Grayle was out.

"I'll wait," I said. "I've got to see him."

"But he's out of town, sir. He didn't say where he was going or when
he'd be back. He very often goes away like that."

The man was sleek of appearance and glib of speech, well-experienced, I
thought, in shutting the door to people whom his master did not wish to
see. But I did not fall within that category, and Grayle had plagued me
sufficiently to justify reprisals.

"When did he go away?" I asked.

"Before dinner, sir."

"Ah, then he must have changed his plans," I said. "He telephoned to me
from the House half an hour ago; he's been trying to get hold of me all
day, but this is the first opportunity I've had. Is Mr. Bannerman in? If
so, I'll talk to him till Colonel Grayle comes in."

"Mr. Bannerman has moved into rooms of his own," the servant told me,
yielding ground reluctantly.

I walked into Grayle's smoking-room and left the man to warn him that I
was in effective occupation and that he must yield to the inevitable and
come down to see me, if he were already at home, or submit to a few
minutes of my company when he returned. A moment later I saw that he
could not yet have come back from the House, as a pile of letters
awaited him on the table and the whiskey and soda set out for his
refreshment were untouched. "A model servant," I said to myself, "to
have everything ready when you do not expect your master home." I mixed
myself a drink and was preparing to light a cigar when I found that I
was without matches. On going into the hall, I found my sleek, glib
friend mounting guard, as though he expected me to slip out with my
pockets full of silver.

He produced a box of matches and struck one for me. As I began to light
my cigar, a taxi drove into the square and drew up opposite the house.

"What name shall I tell Colonel Grayle?" asked the servant, as he held
open the smoking-room door for me.

Before I had time to answer, I heard a latch-key grating in the lock;
the servant moved forward and stopped irresolutely; then the door opened
to admit Mrs. O'Rane. Our eyes met for a moment, and for the first time
since I had known her I saw her out of countenance. In another moment it
was all over, for I had backed into the smoking-room and pushed the door
closed. I heard her clear, rather high voice asking whether Colonel
Grayle was home yet. The servant murmured something in reply, and I
caught the sound of his footsteps growing fainter along the flagged
passage. Mrs. O'Rane turned the handle and came in to me, once more
self-possessed and in control of herself; there was neither
embarrassment nor defiance in her manner; she greeted me as she had once
before greeted me, when I first met her at "The Sanctuary."

"I hope you've not been waiting long," she said. "Vincent's usually home
by this time. There's not an all-night sitting or anything, is there?"

"Not so far as I know," I answered. "Mrs. O'Rane, I don't think I'll
stay any longer."

She looked at my newly lighted cigar and untouched whiskey and soda.

"It's just as you like," she said. "It seems a pity to run away without
seeing him, though. I presume you came to see him and not me?"

"I came to see him. I didn't know you were here."

"But I've been here the whole time. Didn't you know that?"

"We didn't."

"But where else was I likely to be?"

"Your husband never suspected that Grayle had any hand in it. I fancy
you and Grayle did your best not to enlighten him. You let him think it
was another man, and Grayle gave an alibi. I suppose it was all right;
I'm not versed in the ethics of the thing."

I made a step towards the door, but Mrs. O'Rane was in my way.

"Yes, I don't know why Vincent said that," she observed reflectively.
"Unless he thought that nobody was ever going to know.... But I'm not
_quite_ so abandoned as that. I warned you all, I told you my old
married life was over; and I was free to start another. As for not
enlightening anybody, it's not my business to correct all the mistakes
people choose to make.... Now that you've been here, you can report
everything you've seen. _I'm_ not hiding anything, and you can say I'm
not ashamed of what I've done and I'm quite prepared for all the world
to know. He can divorce me as soon as he likes."

The discussion did not make me want to stay any longer in the house, and
I had to ask her to let me pass.

"You can tell him that," she added carelessly.

"I don't know that he contemplates divorcing you," I said. "He's never
mentioned the subject."

"But he'll have to. He can't go on being nominally married to me, when
I'm--well ..."

"Are you sure you don't mean that your own position will be a shade less
discreditable when Grayle marries you?" I asked. "Frankly, you haven't
been thinking of your husband very much, have you?"

She sighed impatiently.

"You will keep on speaking of him as my husband."

"He is."

"Until he divorces me."

"Unless he divorces you," I substituted.



CHAPTER FIVE

THE LIMITS OF LOYALTY

     "O knights and lords, it seems but little skill
     To talk of well-known things past now and dead.

     God wot I ought to say, I have done ill,
     And pray you all forgiveness heartily!
     Because you must be right, such great lords; still

     Listen, suppose your time were come to die,
     And you were quite alone and very weak;
     Yea, laid a dying while very mightily

     The wind was ruffling up the narrow streak
     Of river through your broad lands running well;
     Suppose a hush should come, then some one speak;

     'One of these cloths is heaven, and one is hell,
     Now choose one cloth for ever; which they be,
     I will not tell you, you must somehow tell

     Of your own strength and mightiness; here, see!'
     *       *       *       *       *       *       *

     After a shivering half-hour you said;
     'God help! heaven's colour, the blue'; and he said, 'hell.'
     Perhaps you would roll upon your bed,

     And cry to all good men that loved you well,
     'Ah, Christ! if only I had known, known, known ...'"
                 WILLIAM MORRIS: _The Defence of Guenevere_.


1

When I first met Sir Aylmer Lancing, I was a very young and very
impecunious member of the Diplomatic Service; he was in early middle
life and a millionaire many times over. It was a time of mental
green-sickness with me, when I had an undergraduate's morbid craving for
ideas, something of an undergraduate's contempt, too, for those to whom
ideas made no appeal. In describing Sir Aylmer as a man without ideas, I
am saying something which he would have endorsed and interpreted to mean
far more than I intended. He had no ideas outside his business, though
within it he shewed a deliberate, dogged objectivity, the sublimation of
commonsense, which was staggering and irresistible as a battering-ram. I
have met no one with whom the essential was so invariably the obvious.
One day, when we were crossing together to America, I asked him what
were the qualities which made most for success in any career. He
answered, for all the world like the tritest of stage millionaires,
"Always know what you want and go for it; always be quite clear about
what's going on in your own mind."

Lancing left an estate of over twenty millions; I had made before the
war about two hundred thousand pounds; despite the difference I boldly
affirm that the first intellectual quality for success is an ability to
know what is going on in other people's minds. Bertrand Oakleigh has the
quality in a high degree. I made fun of him, indeed, over many years,
because he was so oracular. At his house in Princes Gardens, in the
Smoking-Room and at the Club he would sit looking up at the ceiling with
a long black cigar jutting defiantly from under his heavy walrus
moustache, always a little more profound and unhurried than the rest of
us, always armed with a general principle, always ready with a
philosophic theory, sometimes paradoxical and usually pretentious. But,
when he dropped what George once called his "sneers and graces," forgot
to be prejudiced or pontifical, he was shrewdly intelligent. Had he been
less indolent, less fond of gossip, less detached and content to be the
amused spectator, he could have made a considerable political position
for himself, for he had a rare faculty of hearing innumerable opinions
on the same subject, melting them down, so to say, and producing a
prophecy. But, as he grew older, he would not take the trouble to think
for himself or to ascertain what others were thinking.

I went to him for advice on the results of my visit to Grayle's house in
Milford Square.

"Well, I take it that the one person we're interested in is David," he
said by way of giving me a lead.

The remark was characteristic of his love for O'Rane, but I am afraid it
was also indicative of his general aversion from women and of his
dislike for Mrs. O'Rane in particular, a dislike which dated back to a
time long anterior to her marriage. I was weakly ready to go farther and
interest myself in her, too, if only on account of her youth and an
obstinate belief that youth has a good title to happiness.

"Well, we're looking for the best solution," I suggested, "not meting
out justice. Grayle and Mrs. O'Rane are waiting for O'Rane to file a
petition. That was her message. Now, O'Rane's never said whether he'll
divorce her or not; probably he hasn't made up his mind, and certainly I
don't know his views on divorce. She's in an impossible
position--socially--as long as she lives with Grayle without marrying
him; and Grayle's position will be very uncomfortable as soon as the
story gets about. It's enough to spoil his political career; whereas
he'll live it down, if there's a conventional divorce and he lies quiet
for a few months. If O'Rane wants to take his revenge, he need only
refuse to set her free."

"He's not looking for revenge," said Bertrand oracularly.

"Then you'd say--anyone would say--that the kindest and most generous
thing he could do would be to divorce her. I'm only uncertain because I
know something of Grayle; I presume he'll marry her, but, when the
honeymoon period's over, he'll make her supremely unhappy. Perhaps
that's no more than she deserves, but, if O'Rane thought she'd be
unhappy by marrying Grayle, conceivably he might exercise his power to
prevent it."

"Conceivably he might," Bertrand assented dryly.

"Well, those are the alternatives--to divorce or not to divorce. I'm
amazed to find how well the secret's been kept, but it can't be kept
indefinitely. It happened to be me last night, but Tom, Dick or Harry
might just as well have made the discovery. Any day now you may have a
nauseating scandal. We none of us want that, and O'Rane does nothing to
stop it."

For a moment Bertrand dropped his omniscient manner and shrugged his
shoulders with slow helplessness.

"What do you suggest he _can_ do?" he asked.

"Have the minor scandal of a divorce--I regard that as less bad than the
common knowledge that she's been living for weeks, months, years with a
man who's not her husband,--get it over quickly and give people a chance
of forgetting it. If he won't do that, let him see if he's got any power
to keep them from living together. I don't think he has. Grayle has
sufficient money, his position's not big enough to make him susceptible
to blackmail----"

"You may take it that David's got no power," Bertrand interrupted.

"Well, it's your turn," I said a little impatiently.

Bertrand stroked his moustache and closed his eyes sleepily.

"I'll answer your specific question. You know who she's living with and
you can tell David or not, as--you--like. It won't make a pennyworth of
difference," he added cheerfully. "You see, there's one thing you're
leaving out, Stornaway, the only thing that matters. David wants her
back. I could see that on the day itself, when he'd caught them, when
she decamped.... Nothing on earth will make him divorce her--for purely
selfish reasons, if you like; he can't and won't let her go. But I don't
know that you'll do much good by putting a pistol of that kind at her
head. I've known that young woman on and off for about ten years. I
don't see her knocking at the door and saying, 'Oh, by the way, as I
can't live with the man I want to, I've come back.' Your general
question what to do I can't answer. At least, we can only go on
waiting----"

"And praying that other people won't find out?" I asked.

"They will, I'm afraid. Well, Sonia's utterly reckless, I gather; _she_
doesn't care who knows. Grayle _wouldn't_ have cared in the old days.
When he was living with her predecessor--you know, the wife of the man
in the Brazilian Legation;--Grayle's so untidy in his amours; they
always overlap--it was common property, they went almost everywhere
together, she took the head of his table. Since those happy, careless
times Grayle has discovered political ambitions. From the fact that not
more than a handful of people know, I judge that Grayle wants to keep
the thing quiet; I'm prepared to bet that Grayle would like best of all
to be free of the whole tangle and, if he can't do that, he'd like the
divorce to come on as quickly as possible. There's another thing you've
left out. Do you suppose Grayle had contemplated a scandal, a divorce,
the necessity of marrying the woman?"

"I don't suppose anyone in his position sits down and thinks it out in
cold blood," I said.

Bertrand opened his left eye and looked at me with a malicious smile;
then closed it and opened the right.

"Some do, some don't," he answered. "That's been my experience. I don't
much mind your healthy incontinent animal, but I hate your continent
calculating man--the creature who regulates his passions by his fears.
He's artificial, to start with, and he's dangerous. Now, I sit here like
the sailor's parrot. Grayle is becoming the calculating animal, Grayle
for the first time in his life feels that he has a reputation to lose,
Grayle is combining disreputable tastes with a decorous exterior."

Bertrand paused to chuckle cynically.

"Well?" I said.

"Well? Everybody seems to leave out one thing in his calculations, and
Grayle was no exception. I put it to you a moment ago that he never
contemplated the position he's in now; I suggest that Grayle saw a very
beautiful young woman and decided, as you'd expect of him, that she was
fair prey. He studied her carefully. She wasn't to be bought, because
throughout her life she's been receiving everything and giving nothing
in return; she wasn't to be drugged, because her head's strong and her
nature's cold; she wasn't to be cajoled--Beresford was doing the
chivalrous devotion business, and she treated him like a tame cat, which
is what he was;--Grayle discovered that the only thing to do was to
bully her. He went away, neglected her, snubbed her when they
met--enough to mortify her without even suggesting he cared enough to
_try_ and hurt her,--shewed her quite plainly that he could get on
without her. Down she came with a run and began to make advances to him.
He was too busy to waste time on her. She was piqued, she began to throw
herself at him until at last he got her into his power.... I don't know
who made her think she'd any cause to be jealous of Miss Merryon; it may
have been Grayle, she may have evolved it for herself to excuse her
leaving her husband; certainly she lashed herself into thinking it was
all true, and that was Grayle's opportunity. But, once more, he never
thought of anything more than a passing intrigue, which would have been
easy enough with the husband away three months at a time. Unfortunately
the husband turned up unexpectedly just as the intrigue began, and that
lifted everything on to a much higher plane. Grayle cut and ran like a
boy caught robbing an orchard--to be followed a couple of hours later by
the woman." Once off the subject of O'Rane, Bertrand was enjoying
himself prodigiously. "I would have given something to see his face when
she arrived. Now, in my experience, there are mighty few crimes and
cruelties that the female won't commit to protect the male--the male
she's interested in;--she'll lie and thieve--and we've probably both of
us seen her fixing the blame on the wrong man, letting him be cited as
co-respondent to save her lover. Well, Beresford was sacrificed to
protect Grayle; Grayle himself, who'd stayed behind in England to carry
out the intrigue, used the excuse of his mission to the Front to cover
his tracks. For two months and more he's contrived to keep the thing
secret. Do you imagine he isn't ready--however much infatuated about
her he may be or may have been--to get rid of her and start again
unembarrassed? When we talk about lifelong devotion, we none of us
expect to be taken at our word."

Bertrand opened his eyes to look at me, and I saw that he was shaken
with noiseless chuckles of malice. I could not share in his merriment.

"I don't see how this helps," I said. "_She_ wants a divorce, _he_ wants
to get rid of her, and O'Rane--she _won't_ come back to him, and, if she
did, I can't conceive of his taking her back."

"Then you don't know David and you've not had much experience of young
men in his state of mind," answered Bertrand with assurance. "In the
meantime you can do nothing and you'd better wait till the story begins
to get round London. It may be weeks or it may be months, but that
little scandal is not going to lie hid for ever."

In spite of Bertrand there was one thing that I could do, and I did it
when next I met O'Rane. It was intolerable, to my way of thinking, that
he should be allowed to meet Grayle in ignorance of the blow which
Grayle had dealt him. To do the fellow justice, I had never seen him
seeking O'Rane's company either before or after, but I could not stomach
the idea that O'Rane might unsuspectingly join him at dinner or even bid
him good-night. I broke the news on my autumn visit to Melton. As soon
as I approached the subject, O'Rane's face grew rigid; when I had
finished, he said, "Oh, that was it? I see. Thank you."

Our brief meeting took place in October, and I do not know whether
O'Rane came more than once to London until the Christmas holidays. I did
not see him, certainly, and I have never heard whether he ran across
Grayle. About a week after our meeting, I happened to be dining with the
Maitlands and once more found Grayle among my fellow-guests. Until that
moment I had not tried to think what line of conduct I should follow on
meeting him; I do not yet know what is the conventional course. When
Lady Maitland went to the drawing-room, however, and he moved
unconcernedly into the chair next mine, I had no difficulty in arriving
at a decision. Grayle was middle-aged, rich, of unimpaired physique; he
had tasted most kinds of enjoyment, his life had been brutishly happy
and brutally successful; this last intrigue meant as little to him as a
kiss snatched from an unreluctant dairymaid. It meant more to O'Rane.

I waved away the decanter which Maurice Maitland was pressing upon me
and asked if he would make my apologies to his wife and allow me to slip
away unobserved to finish some work which I had been compelled to take
home. A day or two later I entered the House as Grayle was leaving it.
He turned back and requested the favour of three minutes' conversation
with me.

"I just want to understand," he began with an outward show of reason and
an underlying menace. "I knew you knew, of course, but I didn't suspect
you of so much melodrama. Am I to take it that you don't want to meet
me?"

I am afraid that the threatening high voice left me undaunted.

"Grayle," I said, "you must admit you've been a pitiful, heartless cad
over this."

"You don't want to meet me?" he repeated. "I only want to be sure of my
ground."

"You remembered, of course, that O'Rane was blind?" I went on.

He dropped the menace and assumed an expression of mild perplexity.

"I'm afraid I don't follow where you come in in all this," he said,
running his fingers through his luxuriant flaxen hair. "I'm quite ready
to meet O'Rane here or--elsewhere. If he _likes_ to plead blindness as
an excuse, he can."

"And you will only plead it as an opportunity," I said. "Frankly,
Grayle, I never want to see you or hear of you or speak to you again.
And I wish I could find someone less fat and flabby to horsewhip you."

So a forty years' acquaintance ended. We spoke as and when we found
ourselves members of the same company, but I was only to meet him once
again in private and only to hold private communication with him twice.
Perhaps I was too busy to frequent the places where I was likely to see
him; perhaps, and more probably, he was living in comparative
retirement.

During October and November I was constrained to watch the fulfilment of
Bertrand's prophecy. The fact that Mrs. O'Rane was living apart from her
husband, if not the fact that she was living with someone else, could
not be concealed indefinitely. I had entered their social group so
recently that I could not count more than half a dozen or a dozen
friends in common, but in the course of those two months I heard many
references that indicated suspicion or at least curiosity. Lady
Maitland, I remember, shook her massive head and told me that it was a
great pity for Colonel Grayle and Mrs. O'Rane to be still going about
together so much; she had hoped that all that nonsense was over.... Lady
Pentyre had heard that there was some estrangement.... And one night,
when I was dining at Bodmin Lodge, young Deganway, who prided himself on
the range of his social information, peered knowingly through his
eyeglass and asked our host whether the famous Mrs. O'Rane did not hail
from his part of the country. I forget what answer Pebbleridge made, but
Deganway started talking with fine mystery about a certain member of
Parliament who should be nameless.... George Oakleigh interrupted him by
asking if he knew her.

"I _do_," he added significantly.

"Well, but is it true?" Deganway demanded resiliency.

"I haven't heard the story yet," George answered. "I don't know that I
particularly want to."

His tone was not sufficiently discouraging to closure the discussion,
and Pebbleridge observed that he had not heard the story either. I felt
that it was time to intervene.

"I've heard _a_ story," I said. "If Deganway and I mean the same thing,
there's nothing in it. She used to be rather a friend of yours, usen't
she, Deganway?"

"Oh, I've known her for years," he answered imperviously and
impenitently.

George and I walked part of the way home together along Knightsbridge.

"It can't go on, you know," he exclaimed. "We had a frontal attack from
Lady Dainton to-day. She called at 'The Sanctuary' on her way to
Waterloo and was mildly surprised to find me in possession and very
fairly staggered when I said Sonia was away and that I didn't know her
address. Between us we managed to shut Deganway up to-night, but the
story's being circulated by other people as well. I deny it, of
course.... And I've seen Sonia with him three times in ten days."

I wondered whether she was trying to force his hand--and her husband's.

"Grayle's probably meeting the story, too," I said. "I wonder how he
likes it."

"He must have been through this sort of thing so many times!" George
sighed.

"But I doubt if he wants to be the hero of a _cause célèbre_ at this
moment," I suggested. "The political position is becoming very
interesting."

A few days before I had found myself at a political meeting in the City.
We were assembled to demand a "ton-for-ton" policy of compensation for
the merchant shipping which was being sunk by German submarines, and my
seat on the platform was next to Guy Bannerman's.

"Grayle couldn't come, so I'm representing him," he explained. "You may
imagine his hands are pretty full at present."

"I can well imagine it," I said, "though I don't go out of my way to
meet him nowadays." Guy looked at me enquiringly to see how much I knew.
"The last time I was at Milford Square I was told that you'd moved into
quarters of your own."

Guy nodded abstractedly.

"You know, I don't think you've heard the whole story," he said.

"I've heard more than I want to," I replied, as I began to consult the
programme of the afternoon's proceedings.

"Ah, but only on one side. There was such provocation----"

I laid my hand on Guy's knee.

"That was good enough for her, but it won't do for me," I said. "I've no
doubt Grayle worked it up very convincingly, but you're far too clever
to be taken in by it and not half clever enough to impose on me. We both
of us know that it's impossible to say a single word for either of them.
There we'd better leave it. It can't be undone now."

We were interrupted by the chairman's introductory speech, but at the
end of the meeting Guy took my arm and walked with me to Cannon Street
Station.

"I'm _not_ trying to defend them," he said. "In a thing like this no
outsider can give an opinion worth having. I'm only saying that you
might be a bit more lenient, if you'd heard both sides."

"It can't be undone now," I repeated.

As we seated ourselves in the train, he asked me if I had any idea what
O'Rane proposed to do.

"Did Grayle tell you to find out?" I enquired.

"Of course he didn't," was the indignant rejoinder.

"But he _would_ be interested to know," I suggested. "Well, I can't help
you, Guy. O'Rane has not told me; he has not told anyone, so far as I am
aware. Why don't you interview him on the subject?"

Though Guy is a friend, I could not help being a little brutal to him in
manner; I have always admired his loyalty to Grayle, but at this moment
it was a quality which alienated me from him.

"It's no business of mine," said the faithful squire. "I don't know
O'Rane, but I can't imagine any man sitting down under this sort of
thing."

"Is Grayle so desperately keen on a divorce?"

"I've never met anyone who went through the Divorce Court for _love_ of
the thing," he answered.


2

Half-way through November O'Rane returned to London for the mid-term
Leave Out. I was apprised of his arrival by a telephone message begging
me to cancel any other engagements and dine with him informally at "The
Sanctuary."

It was Saturday night, and I stayed in London to meet him. George and
Bertrand were his other guests, and we dined at one end of the long
refectory table on the dais, with the rest of the room lit up only by
the flicker of the two fires, which sent shapeless, indeterminate
shadows dancing up and down the panelled walls. It is usually as easy to
detect when a woman lives in a house as when a house has been unoccupied
for months. The library was perhaps tidier than Mrs. O'Rane used to
leave it; otherwise it was unchanged, but it had become indefinably
masculine. O'Rane was as quiet and self-possessed as I had always found
him, but now without the noticeable effort which I had observed at our
last two or three meetings. As might be expected, we talked throughout
dinner of the war and of political changes in the House of Commons. Only
when we were gathered round one fire with our coffee and cigars did he
turn the conversation on to himself.

"I must apologise for spoiling your week-end," he said, addressing
himself to me, "I had to take the opportunity of seeing you when I
could. All three of you have been amazingly kind and amazingly discreet
and sympathetic. It's--my funeral, of course, but I wanted you to be
present. George, perhaps you're the best person----"

There was a silence of some moments, while George turned his cigar round
in his mouth and stared at his boots.

"I only know what you asked me to do, Raney," he began diffidently. And
then to us, "O'Rane told me to fix up a meeting with Sonia. I went round
to Milford Square last night and told her that he wanted to--discuss the
future, I think I said. Grayle was present. She said she'd come, if he
came with her; and I arranged for half-past ten to-night."

He stopped with obvious relief. O'Rane was standing with his back to the
fire, rocking gently from heel to toe, with his hands in his trouser
pockets. I saw him put his watch to his ear, touch the repeater and
smile.

"It's not ten yet," he said to Bertrand and me. "If you'd rather be out
of it.... I got George to attend as my second and I wanted you two to
be--well, to hear what we said and keep us cool. I've been thinking over
this business pretty steadily for some months and I feel it can't go on.
My idea about marriage--well, to begin with, people mustn't marry unless
they feel they can't get on without each other.... If they find they've
made a hopeless mistake, nothing to my way of thinking justifies
spoiling two lives by keeping them coupled together. Sonia knows that,
I've always told her so.... Well, no one could find anything to say for
our present position, it's neither one thing nor the other. If Sonia's
made her choice----"

He broke off and shrugged his shoulders. Bertrand turned his eyes away
from the boy's face and gazed slowly round the long, warm,
softly-lighted room. George had discovered a spot of grease on the
sleeve of his uniform and was industriously scraping it with the end of
a wooden match.

"Go on, O'Rane," I said as gently as I could. "We haven't got much time.
She's coming here, and you're going to ask her what she means to do."

He nodded almost gratefully.

"Yes. If she tells me coolly and dispassionately--that's why I've got
you men here; I don't want a scene--that she'll be happier with
Grayle----" I saw his underlip tremble before he could get out the
name--"After all, it's her happiness ... isn't it?"

There was another pause.

"You'll set her free?" I suggested.

"I suppose so," he whispered.

I looked at Bertrand, and he first shrugged his shoulders and then shook
his head. The first gesture seemed to mean that he did not mind what was
said, the second that he himself did not propose to say it.

"You will divorce her?" I went on to O'Rane. "I only want you to see all
sides of the question. It's not--pleasant, but--if she wants it and
you're ready to face it on both your accounts.... There will be a big
scandal, O'Rane. She's very well known in society. And any Member of
Parliament, even if he wasn't as notorious as Grayle.... It will make
good copy for the papers, I'm afraid."

"I'd save Sonia from it, if I could," said O'Rane, moistening his lips.
"Of course, if Grayle doesn't mind----"

"I should think he'd mind very much," I interrupted. "If he doesn't want
to appear in the Divorce Court just now----"

"He should have thought of that before," said O'Rane grimly. Then he
held out his hands in entreaty. "You don't suggest I can let it go on
any longer? Most people would say it had gone on too long, that if I'd
had a spark of pride--_I can't_. Try to imagine if _your_ wife....
Thinking of it night and day, night and day, forgetting for a moment
when you're asleep and then waking up fresh to it every morning...." His
hands stole up and pressed his temples as though they were bursting.
"You lie for a moment wondering what it is that's hanging over you," he
whispered, "and then you remember.... And you forget again for a moment
when you're working or people are talking to you ... but you always know
it's there ... and it comes back--comes back with a stab in the middle
of whatever you're doing.... And _they_ mustn't see.... God knows, a
divorce won't alter things much, but at least it's a definite break,
I've given her up, I've got no claim, no rights.... It can't go on any
longer. Have--have all you men got something to smoke?"

He came quickly forward from the fire-place and touched his way to a
table behind our chairs. Though his back was turned, I could see out of
the corner of one eye that he was furtively wiping his forehead with the
back of his hand.

"If by any chance they don't want a divorce, will you insist on it?" I
went on unsparingly.

"Of course not. Provided they separate. You don't imagine----"

"If they do? If your wife asks you to forgive her and have her back?"

O'Rane had never smoked, I have been told, since his blindness; he could
no longer taste the tobacco nor keep it alight. I observed him now
putting a cigar in his mouth and chewing the end.

"It's not very likely to arise," he said.

"But if it did?"

"I'll wait till it arises."

He came back to his old place on the hearth-rug, and we remained silent
until the clock struck half-past ten. At the sound I could see the
others growing tense and expectant, as I was doing. O'Rane had been
whistling through his teeth, but he abandoned even this distraction. For
myself, uncomfortable as I knew us all to be, I could not help thinking
that Mrs. O'Rane and Grayle could be hardly free from all feelings of
embarrassment. To return to the house, which had been given as a wedding
present sixteen months before, accompanied by the lover with whom she
had left it, to meet her husband and discuss how he proposed to deal
with her infidelity--the bare bones were enough without clothing them in
imagination. I pictured Mrs. O'Rane giving the familiar directions to
the driver, tapping on the window when he lost himself in trying to take
short cuts through the streets of Westminster, stopping him at the door
and being helped out by Grayle.... And Grayle, for all his seasoning,
had never, I was very sure, been led by the wife into her husband's
house and presence....

I scribbled on an envelope and handed it to George:

"Couldn't they have pitched on some other place?"

"I wanted a private room in an hotel--neutral ground," he wrote back.
"Raney insisted on this. Moral effect, I suppose."

As I crushed the paper into my pocket, I reflected that O'Rane was
taking risks. The sight of the room and of himself might act on his wife
like the smell of blood on an animal.

The clock struck again, and I exchanged glances with Bertrand. It was so
characteristic of Mrs. O'Rane, even in my short acquaintance with her,
that she should be late on such an occasion.

"You _did_ say to-night, didn't you?" O'Rane asked, trying to keep his
tone unconcerned.

"I don't suppose they've been able to get a taxi," George answered. "It
was raining before dinner."

A moment later we grew tense and expectant once more at the sound of an
engine. I heard the slam of a door and Grayle's voice saying, "Will you
wait a bit?" Then Bertrand, George and I rose from our chairs, as the
flame-coloured curtain was drawn aside and Mrs. O'Rane walked composedly
into the room, with Grayle in his staff uniform a pace behind. She
narrowed her eyes and then raised her brows almost imperceptibly when
she saw who was present.

"I'm sorry if we've kept you all waiting," she said, as she slipped her
arms out of her coat and handed it to Grayle.

O'Rane swallowed.

"Won't you sit down?" he murmured.

George and I each pulled an extra chair into the half-circle, and I
watched Mrs. O'Rane settling herself. Presumably she must have started
the evening pale, for her cheeks were slightly rouged--and I had not
observed her to use rouge before. Her eyes, too, looked tired, as I had
seen them at our chance meeting in Hyde Park several months before, but
she was perfectly controlled, and I could trace no sign of nervousness
or embarrassment. As though she were shewing herself off to young
Beresford or any other of her admirers, I saw her look down at the pink
dress which she was wearing, smooth a crease out of one glove, lift one
transparent sleeve higher on to her shoulder and settle the folds of her
skirt. Grayle spent some moments laying her coat carefully across the
back of a chair; then dropped on to the end of a sofa with his stiff leg
rigid in front of him and began peeling off his gloves and tossing them
into his cap. He, at least, was not at ease; and, when George picked up
the cigar-box and offered it him, he stammered in his refusal.

There was a moment more of silence, and then we turned slowly and with
one accord towards O'Rane. As though he felt our eyes upon him, he
tossed the cigar behind him into the fire and faced his wife.

"I--George probably told you, Sonia--I'm spending the week-end in
London. I thought we might discuss things a bit."

Mrs. O'Rane looked unhurriedly to left and right.

"By all means," she acquiesced. "Do we want--_quite_ all these----?"

"I should have preferred to meet you alone. As Colonel Grayle said he
was coming----"

"He had a right to come. Of course, if you prefer everything dragged up
in public...."

She shrugged her shoulders and began to play with the watch on her
wrist.

"I think everyone here is acquainted with most of the facts," said
O'Rane. "But I'm not proposing to drag up anything that's happened. I
asked you to come here because I wanted to talk about the future. I
expect everyone will agree that the present position can't continue."

He waited for a sign of assent. Mrs. O'Rane took off one glove and
helped herself to a cigarette from the gold case at her wrist.

"I told Mr. Stornaway that you were at liberty to divorce me," she said
with a glance in my direction. "I said I was willing to face it. I don't
know whether you ever got the message."

I decided to watch Grayle, but he was sitting with his head back,
staring at the ceiling and occasionally blowing elongated smoke-rings.

"The Divorce Court is--an unsavoury place," O'Rane observed. "I want you
to believe, Sonia, that what I've always said is as true now as when I
first said it. I put your happiness higher than anything in the world,
I'm trying to leave myself out of this."

Mrs. O'Rane looked once at her husband, and her eyes seemed to harden;
then she glanced without apparent purpose at the half of the room which
was within her field of vision. I noticed for the first time that the
flower-vases were empty; I fancy that she noticed it, too. Her mouth
began to purse, and I knew that O'Rane would have done better to hold
his meeting elsewhere.

"It's very kind of you," she said stiffly. "Isn't it rather late in the
day for you to be thinking of my happiness? When I lived here---- But
you said you didn't want to go into what was past. The future's simply
in your hands. I've told you I'm willing to face it. I don't believe in
this modern business of the man always letting himself be divorced by
the woman. I'm--willing--to face it. You've got your witnesses; they'll
stand by you, if anybody criticises you."

"But if I don't _want_ to see you in the Divorce Court, Sonia?"

"I'm afraid that's one of the things you can't help."

O'Rane's chin dropped on to his chest, and he began to pace up and down
the ten-foot rug in front of the fire with his hands plunged into his
pockets and his fists so tightly clenched that the knuckles of either
hand stood out in four sharp lumps against the sides of his trousers.
Grayle still sat like a husband reluctantly dragged to hear a dull
sermon; Mrs. O'Rane set herself to light a second cigarette from the
glowing stump of the first, leaning forward so that the ash should not
scatter over the pink dress. A quarter past eleven struck, and I
remember that Bertrand and I gravely consulted our watches and pretended
to compare them by the clock on the mantel-piece.

At last O'Rane halted by Grayle's chair.

"You're in this, too, Colonel Grayle," he said. "Once more we need
concern ourselves only with the future. I should like to hear your
views."

Grayle brought his head forward with a sharp jerk.

"It's her happiness we're considering," he agreed slowly, with his eyes
on O'Rane's waist. "I--well, it's for her to say; I obviously can't tell
you what will make her happiest, she's the only person who can do that.
You've not put forward any case for yourself, I musn't put forward any
for myself. She must tell us both whether she's been happy enough these
last months to want to go on.... I may say--you haven't attacked me, so
perhaps I don't need to defend myself--I may say that, when a woman's
unhappily married, I don't regard her as being under any obligation to
her husband; she's free to start her life again; and any man is free to
share that life, if she sees fit. That--that's my _theory_, in case you
feel there's any question of _rights_ involved."

His tone was becoming truculent, but O'Rane nodded gravely.

"Yes. But we agreed to leave the past alone," he said. "I've knocked
about a good bit the last thirty years and I can assure you that I never
want to be put on my trial for _any_thing. Let's stick to the future. Do
you wish--my wife to go through the Divorce Court?"

I looked at Mrs. O'Rane to see if the offending word would rouse her,
but she seemed not to have heard it. The hard composure of her entrance
had broken down, she seemed ready to faint with fatigue, and the patches
of rouge on cheeks that were grown suddenly white gave her an absurd
something of a Dutch doll's appearance. I fetched her a tumbler of
soda-water, and her smile of thanks was the first human thing that I had
seen about her that night. As she began to sip it, I saw her glance
over the brim at Grayle.

"I don't _wish_ it," he said at length. "What--what else is possible?"

"You can say good-bye to her," O'Rane suggested quietly.

Grayle looked up uncomprehendingly; and Mrs. O'Rane's eyes flashed in
sympathy.

"Desert her, you mean?"

"It's hardly the word I should have chosen, but we needn't go into that.
Colonel Grayle, neither you nor I want a scandal. By the mercy of God,
there's only one man outside this room who knows what's been taking
place all these months. We've agreed that my wife's happiness is the
thing that we're both unselfishly seeking, we won't bandy rights and
wrongs or grievances or justifications--we won't even try to put our
love for her into a scale. If you give me your word of honour that
you'll never see or speak to my wife again, I will take no further
steps; I'm not trying to steal her away from you so that I may get her
back myself--she must determine her own happiness. You and I can at
least spare her the unhappiness, the vulgarity, the morbid, sniggering
curiosity of a public scandal. She can live in another part of the
house, live away from me, let it be known confidentially that we somehow
didn't manage to get on very well together.... Are you prepared to make
that sacrifice for her happiness?"

Grayle lit another cigarette, coughed and fetched himself a syphon and
tumbler.

"You're begging the question," he said at length. "_You_ can't define
the conditions of Sonia's happiness."

"I know what will make her _un_happy. That's good enough as a negative
definition."

Mrs. O'Rane pushed her chair back a few inches and rose to her feet. She
looked round for her coat and walked to the chair where Grayle had laid
it.

"I've said I'm ready to face everything and everybody," she said over
her shoulder, as she slipped her arms into the sleeves.

"But, please God! you don't know what you're facing!" O'Rane cried with
an outburst of emotion which he was no longer able to contain. "Grayle,
you _say_ you love her! If you care a snap of the fingers for her, if
you've any humanity, any decent feeling in the whole of your
composition, if you hope for mercy in this world or the next, you've got
your opportunity now! The one thing you can do for her abiding happiness
is to take my hand and swear you'll never see her again. You know it is!
You can walk out of this house and leave her so that no one will dare to
say a word against her for fear of being thrashed within an inch of his
life. If she doesn't get on well with me, if we part by common consent,
that's my fault; everyone will say that I was always eccentric, that she
was a fool to marry me, that I've spoiled her life.... Will you do that,
Grayle? Will you shew that what you call your love for her means
something?"

As he ended, I heard a muffled banging on the front door. George hurried
away, and a moment later there came the sound of an engine starting.

"It was only the taximan," he explained, as he came back. "He's got a
train to catch at Victoria, so I paid him off. We can telephone for
another one when it's wanted."

Mrs. O'Rane looked at her watch and frowned.

"I _wish_ you hadn't done that, George," she cried petulantly. "It was
pouring when we came, and now we shall probably have to walk home.... I
don't see that there's anything more to be said. It's very kind of
everyone to take so much trouble about me, but, if I'm prepared to go
through with it, that ends the matter."

"But you're talking about something you don't understand, Sonia!' cried
O'Rane.

"Perhaps I understand better than you think," she answered. "It's just
conceivable that Vincent and I both thought about the consequences
beforehand. Good-bye."

She turned to the door, and Grayle followed her. George moved
mechanically forward to open it for them. Bertrand and I remained where
we were, watching O'Rane smooth back a wisp of black hair that was glued
to his forehead.


3

It was characteristic of O'Rane that he went back to Melton at the end
of his leave without hinting to anyone what he was going to do. After
his wife and Grayle left "The Sanctuary," I waited for perhaps ten
minutes to see whether he wanted my opinion or advice, but he made no
reference to the scene at which we had all been present. All that he
said to the Oakleighs was, "Well, I'm rather tired. I think I shall go
to bed." He disappeared as quietly and suddenly as he had come; perhaps
we were to see him back in six weeks' time at the end of term, but even
this was uncertain.

The advent of autumn, bringing with it the recognition that there must
be another winter in the trenches, roused the country from the uncaring
optimism or placid resignation in which the summer had been passed. In
the London press, at the Club, in the House and at private dinner
tables, I found very general agreement that the war had entered upon a
new phase. A timid minority earnestly confided to discreetly chosen
audiences that the people who talked about a deadlock and a stale-mate
peace were proving right after all. With the exception of Beresford, who
thought no opinion worth holding unless he shouted it from the
house-tops, the new peace-school was obviously frightened of being
called unpatriotic or pro-German. Bertrand would shake his head gloomily
and begin sentences half-jocularly with--"I suppose I shall be called
the Hidden Hand next, but all I can say is...." Whatever it was, he said
it in an undertone and made sure of his man before saying it. Others
tried to avert personal attacks by discussing war and peace in the
abstract, adducing uncertain historical parallels and wondering
academically whether it was wise to aim at humiliating a great country
too much; were we not sowing the seeds of future wars?

The discussion seldom continued to be academic, and the peace school by
its furtiveness and timidity invited persecution, as does the mild
urchin at school who never stands up for himself and becomes a
legitimate target for his fellows' kicks. Early in December there was
much talk of the American "peace-kite." President Wilson had been
re-elected, his hands were free, and for four years he could mould the
policy of the United States without fear of an election. It was said
that his patience was nearing its limits, that he was ready to break off
diplomatic relations with Germany and that the "peace-kite" was a last
attempt to arrive at terms of settlement before deciding to plunge his
country into war.

The rumours of peace discussions and possible terms produced an
immediate repercussion in London and developed a greater intensity of
political feeling than had been known since the war began. There was
said to be a peace-party in the Cabinet; the blunders and catastrophes
of more than two years were set down to the malevolence of Ministers who
had been driven to war against their will and were only anxious for an
immediate end, even if such an end meant victory for the enemy; I heard
once again Lady Maitland's confident assertion that the Government was
in German pay.... There could be little academic discussion in such an
atmosphere, and the one public attempt which I heard Bertrand make was
literally shouted down.

"All I say," he kept repeating one night at Ross House, "is that I see
no reason why we should be successful in 1917, when we've failed in
1916. I may be wrong; I don't pretend to have sufficient data. I only
warn you that in six months' time you may have to accept worse terms
than you could get now--with a balance of half a million or a million
lives the wrong way. That's a big responsibility."

"You'd let Germany keep all she's got," Lady Maitland asked, "as an
instalment?"

"Germany's broken, as it is," Bertrand answered. "She can never make
good her losses and she'd gladly discuss terms. But, good Heavens! even
if we didn't accept the terms, there's surely no harm in discussing
them!"

Maitland shook his head sagely.

"When I'm dealing with the burglar who's collared my silver," he said,
"I prefer not to argue until he's divested himself of what I believe is
called the swag."

"You may _prefer_ not to. Can you enforce your preference?" Bertrand
asked rather curtly.

"Then let's go down fighting," Lady Maitland proposed valiantly.

"With great submission, a live dog's better than a dead lion," said
Bertrand. "I've so much faith in the potentialities of my country that I
want to preserve her."

Lady Maitland turned on him with unaffected ferocity. "If you make peace
now, you'll _disgrace_ her!" she cried. "We shall never be able to hold
up our heads again!"

Young Lady Loring, who was between Bertrand and me, was no less strong.

"Uncle Bertrand, you can't be serious!" she exclaimed. "We should be
faithless to those who've died, if we didn't hold on. I--I would sooner
have my husband killed a _second_ time than go back on the dead!"

Her intensity of feeling caused a stir, followed by an embarrassed
pause. Maitland brought it to an end by shaking his head
good-humouredly.

"I say, Oakleigh, old man, if I may say so, you oughtn't to talk like
that, you know. You're a man in a responsible position, people quote
what you say. It produces a devilish bad impression."

My instinctive sympathy is always with the minority, and I came mildly
to Bertrand's support.

"I agree with Oakleigh to this extent," I said. "All of us here are
either women or men over military age. We ought to check the easy
impulse to make _other_ people fight to the bitter end."

"You won't hear any peace-talk at the Front," interposed Maitland.
"I've just come back from G.H.Q., you know."

Bertrand gave a snort of impatience.

"You won't find people lighting pipes in high-explosive factories," he
answered. "It's against the rules. At the present time the policy of the
war is dictated by people who can't conceivably be sent to carry it out.
Stornaway's quite right. _We_ fat old men sit at home and water the
fields of Flanders with _other people's_ blood. _We_ say that, if _they_
don't go on to the bitter end, there'll be another war in ten years.
It's wrong, and we've been wrong every day we've gone on after we shewed
the Germans that they couldn't overrun Europe at will. _I_ went through
the phase of dismembering Germany, deposing the Kaiser, commandeering
the Fleet."

There was an unfortunate note of intellectual superiority in his voice,
as though he alone had waded through the depths and shallows of folly
and was at last (and alone) on dry land. His reward was immediate
interruption by a chorus from every quarter of the table at once.

"Perhaps if you'd had a brother in solitary confinement for eight months
because he called the guard a _Schweinhund_, which was the only word
they'd given him a chance of learning----" began little Agnes Waring on
my left with considerable heat.

"You wouldn't stir a finger to avenge Belgium?" demanded Lady Maitland.

"Oakleigh! Oakleigh!" her husband expostulated. "You're too old to fight
yourself; for God's sake don't damp the ardour of those who can, those
who'll go on till they've dictated their own peace
terms--_in_--_Berlin_," he ended proudly.

As the chorus subsided for want of breath, Frank Jellaby, who was now
one of the Liberal Whips in the Coalition, allowed his incisive, nasal
drawl to rise and dominate the table.

"The trouble about you, Oakleigh, is that you go through so many phases;
we poor, benighted folk can't keep up with you. There was a
phase--quite a long one, for you--when any war with Germany was
impossible, unthinkable. Didn't you run a paper to prove it? When the
war came, someone twitted you in the House, and you made a personal
statement--and a pretty complete recantation. You've been wrong here,
wrong there.... If I may put it quite brutally, how are we to know
you're not just as wrong now, how soon may we expect another personal
statement?"

"Have all _your_ prophecies been right?" Bertrand enquired.

"What prophecies have I made?" was the bland and temporarily safe
rejoinder.

It was the one articulate effort which I heard at this time to determine
the limits of military effort. It was derided and drowned; and from
that--as we had to go on fighting--there was a short and easy road to
criticism of present methods.

"We've put our hands to the plough," said Maitland placatingly, when the
ladies had left us. "We can't turn back, Oakleigh. And I'm afraid I
believe that the biggest trial's still ahead of us."

"And you're satisfied we shall come out of that any better?" Bertrand
answered. "Your experience of the war leads you to expect that? God
knows, the _men_ don't lack courage or sticking-power, but can you find
them generalship?"

"We must go on till we do."

Bertrand smoked for some moments in a reflective silence.

"It's a curious thing," he observed at length, "that a war of this size
hasn't thrown up a single soldier of first-rate genius."

Maitland, for all that he had made the cleanest possible job of an
Afghan raid and was now counter-initialling minutes in an extension of
the War Office, took the criticism as personal.

"That is precisely what the soldiers say of you politicians," he
retorted.

"The soldiers' job is to understand warfare and run a war," Bertrand
propounded.

"The statesman's job is to govern," Maitland retaliated. "That's just
what the Cabinet doesn't do and just what you M.P.'s don't make it do."

In the altercation which followed I listened to Maitland and watched
Jellaby. The first acted as a barometer to mark the variations of
average, prejudiced, unthinking opinion; it was the business of the
second to follow the daily movement of the barometer. I did not need a
second look at Jellaby to know that he was worried. He and I had talked
in odd half-hours at the House about the possibility of attaining the
objects for which we had entered the war; when our prospects were far
brighter, Jellaby had been more rationally despondent, and I chose to
think that his attack on Bertrand was an inspired attempt to suggest
that any consideration of peace was at present out of the question and
that a hard-pressed Government had better use for its time and energies
than debating-society resolutions. He made no defence or comment,
however, when Maitland developed a damaging attack on the Cabinet, and I
fancied that he could not speak without indiscretion. Whether the Press
reflected the public or the public reflected the Press, there was a
widespread feeling that an ungainly cabinet of twenty-two talked
incessantly and decided nothing, that countries were overrun and
opportunities thrown away, because no one acted in time and that,
paralysing as this collective lethargy so often and so tragically
proved, it was still no check on the spasmodic and misdirected energy of
individual members. Bertrand was one of a school which scented Press
intrigue in every political development, but, as Grayle was credited
with having said, "A Government which can't down Northcliffe can't down
the Germans."

Of Grayle I saw nothing at this time, though a fresh crop of rumours
told me that he was engaged once more on the task which he had begun a
year and a half before, after the battle of Neuve Chapelle. Watchful
friends discovered him slipping in and out of the houses of Unionist
ministers; there were tales of informal gatherings and chance week-end
meetings at Brighton or on Shannon Wood golf-course.

"He wants a new coalition under Lloyd-George," Bertrand explained, "but
the Tories aren't nibbling. You see, there's no popular cry that they
can put up. George is at the War Office; if he and they can't make their
will effective, they'd better resign like Carson, they mustn't proclaim
their own impotence by whimpering. But they can't resign on the ground
that the war's being mismanaged, because they're jointly and severally
responsible for the mismanagement. There's no issue."

Later on he talked to me with a mixture of resignation and
disappointment.

"If the Government falls, it will be simply because it doesn't know its
own strength. It runs away every time anyone shakes a stick at it; it
never says, 'Turn us out and be damned!' Meanwhile its authority is
being sapped daily.... It's the old complaint I brought against it for
eight years before the war. Ministers are so high and mighty that they
never remember who it is that keeps 'em in power. 'Never explain, never
complain!' It won't do! For months the Press has been urging that
something must be done to raise fresh drafts after the Somme slaughter,
that food prices must be controlled, that Ireland can't be left where
she is. The Government goes about like Caesar's wife.... And everyone
thinks it's doing nothing, and where should we be without Lord
Northcliffe? And give us a Man! I don't know when or where the break
will come, but I hear most ominous cracks."

The break came--unexpectedly, so far as I was concerned--in the first
week of December. I say "unexpectedly," because I have yet to discover
why the Government did not fall three months earlier or endure until
three months later. Bertrand, who took on a new lease of life when the
days of crisis approached, told me that the point of cleavage was the
question whether more troops should be sent to Salonica. True or false,
this was obscured by an ultimatum in which the Secretary of State for
War called for a Merovingian War Cabinet in which the Prime Minister was
to have no place.

As I walked home from my office, the contents bills bore the legend,
"England's Strong Man to Go." George Oakleigh and one or two others were
dining with me, and by the time that I was dressed the news was being
shouted in the streets that the Government had resigned. I suppose that
I am as near to an Independent as the caucuses and the House of Commons
will allow, but, though I had opposed the old Liberal administration in
fully half of its measures, I felt a sentimental regret that the long
rule was over. It closed an epoch to me at a time of life when I did not
want to close epochs.

"I had four years of it at the beginning," said George
unenthusiastically. "I'm afraid that in my youth and inexperience I
hoped more of it than it was capable of giving. And I was rather glad to
be out when the war came along. Beresford's quite right, you know; for
seven or eight years the fate of this country was in the hands of three
or four men who accepted our support and never gave us an inkling where
they were taking us. Are _all_ political rank-and-filers treated as
cavalierly as we've been? It goes on right to the end. The Coalition
came into existence without consulting the Liberal Party and now it's
gone out--every bit as much on its own. You and I don't know why; there
was no vote, no trial of strength. Nobody can say how many supporters
anyone else can claim; there isn't even the usual man who's defeated the
Government for the King to send for. They _have_ treated the party like
dirt! Now it remains to be seen whether an alternative Government _can_
be formed."

That night and for a day or two afterwards London was filled with a
greater political excitement than I can ever remember at any other time.
Bertrand told me that, in the interests of governmental and national
unity, there had been a disposition to accept the terms of the
ultimatum, but that a majority had decided that here at least a stand
must be made.

"Now you simply _must_ tell me what's happening!" young Deganway
exclaimed when I met him dining late at the Club. "Bonar Law's been sent
for, as you know, but I hear he's told the King he can't form a
Government. That leaves only George. How much life do you give him?
Three weeks? I want you to say three weeks, because I've got a fortnight
bet on the other way with a man in the War Office and I'm rather
inclined to hedge."

The next day it was announced officially that Mr. Bonar Law was unable
to form a Government and that the King had sent for the Secretary of
State for War. There was fresh furious speculation how short a time
would suffice to shew that he would fail, as his predecessor had failed,
but the speculation was incommoded by the intrusion of fact. Bertrand
informed me that the Prime Minister-Elect had struck a bargain with
Labour, but that the Liberal and Unionist members of the Coalition were
refusing to serve under a man who had slain his master. I next heard
that the Unionist attitude was modified, that it was felt the King's
Government must be carried on, that pressure had been brought....

"Of course, when once the rot sets in!" cried George Oakleigh, when we
met by the tape-machine at the Club. He was undisguisedly disappointed,
which was interesting. For eight or nine years I had heard from him
plain and bitter criticism of the Government, but the old faith in his
political idols had survived unexpectedly to make him forget the war and
become the most excited of partisans. No terms were too strong to
describe the treachery which had laid the Government low; his new-born
good-will towards the dead Ministry was only exceeded by his blind
antagonism to any alternative. "There was a day when Lloyd George could
not get a man near him; then the Tories began to rat and everyone tried
to elbow his way in before his neighbour.... He'd got the liver in his
pocket, everyone was afraid of being left out, the doors of the War
Office weren't wide enough to let them all in. This latest development
has rather disgusted me with politics. I shouldn't have minded, if it
had been an ordinary peace-time political intrigue. I suppose I've been
hoping for a higher standard since the war ... gratitude--things of that
kind. How are you going to vote, Stornaway? Bertrand keeps saying that
he must support the _de facto_ Government. Is that your view?"

"I want to see the _de facto_ Government first," I said.

"You've an intelligent anticipation here," he answered, handing me a
copy of the "Night Gazette." "Sir John Woburn can be relied on to have
good stable information."

The first page of the paper contained a streaming headline--"Do It Now"
or "Wait and See?" Underneath came an obviously inspired forecast of the
new ministry with the old Unionist and Labour members back in place as
to some eighty per centum of their numbers; the old Liberal
office-holders were collectively abstaining, and their place in the
party scale was filled by consequential nobodies and by the leaders of
the Liberal "ginger group."

"If they've got rid of the brains, at least they've kept the
dead-heads," George observed. "I don't see stability or long life here,
Stornaway. Everyone knows that Woburn and the Press Combine turned the
Coalition out, and now, before a single name has been submitted to the
King, the Press Combine's at work devouring its own child. The new
Ministry's too much tarred with the brush of the old, Balfour and Robert
Cecil and the less featherbrained are to be pushed out of their offices
some time before they get into them. It's going to be a very clean
sweep."

I heard later that the attack on the elder Unionist statesmen was
abandoned on the day when the Unionist party threatened to withdraw its
support from the new Coalition unless newspaper attacks on its members
ceased immediately.

"Is Grayle included?" I asked, as George drew an expressive finger down
the draft list.

"He gets a new Ministry of Recruiting. At least, when I say that he gets
it," George corrected himself, "this is quite unofficial, of course.
He's suggested for it."

"I wonder if he'll get it," I said.


4

In London, more even than in the fabled Indian bazaar, the secret of
to-day is the thrice-told tale of to-morrow. The same few thousand men
and women migrate so regularly from one to another of the same few
hundred houses that, if you let fall a piece of gossip at luncheon in
Chesterfield Gardens, it will have taken wing to Portman Square and Hans
Place by tea-time and will set tongues wagging over the dinner-tables of
Westminster, Pall Mall and Piccadilly. By Saturday night the
germ-carriers have spread themselves for a hundred miles to the west,
north and south; before the week-end is over, the news may reasonably be
expected to have reached Paris and, in these latter days, General
Headquarters; and there has probably been more than one sly hint in the
personal columns of the Sunday papers. Lady Maitland hears the story
that very day at luncheon from the Duchess of Ross, who has met Gerald
Deganway the night before at the Opera; _he_ had been dining with Lady
Pentyre, who had spent the week-end at Oxford with the Cutler-Blythes;
young Haviland had come over to lunch on Sunday and had brought the
story from All Souls'....

Deganway's name appeared most regularly in these lists, but I doubt if
he had the wit to invent scandal; he was content to collect and hand it
on during the hours when his energies might have been more disastrously
employed at the Foreign Office. It was from him that I first publicly
heard even a rumour of Mrs. O'Rane's escapade; George Oakleigh and I
succeeded in stopping his mouth, and for a few more precarious weeks
Milford Square sank back to its former insecure silence. Then the busy
tongues got to work again, and within thirty-six hours I had heard six
various accounts in as many places, starting with an early morning
encounter in Hyde Park with my niece, who observed triumphantly, "_Now_
I know why you haven't been talking about the great Sonia O'Rane the
last few months."

"How much do you know, Yolande?" I asked.

"I heard yesterday that she'd run away," was the answer. "I wasn't told
who with.... I can't say I was surprised."

At luncheon the name was supplied, unsupported by details, however. I
was sitting next to Lady Pentyre, who welcomed me with even greater
fervour than our old friendship warranted.

"I've been longing to see you!" she began eagerly. "You know Mrs.
O'Rane, don't you? And you know Colonel Grayle. Well, is it true ...?"

"Is what true?" I asked, as she paused delicately.

Her full question was inaudible, but I caught the words "_chère amie_."

"Ask someone who knows them better," I suggested. "I've hardly seen
either for months."

There was less delicacy about Pebbleridge, when I dined with him; less
still about Frank Jellaby, when I met him at the Club. To the party
organiser moral depravity is of interest only in so far as it
contributes to damage a hostile cause.

"Grayle's hardly chosen a fortunate moment for the double event," he
observed gleefully.

I made it a rule in these days never to admit knowledge of the facts
until I had discovered how much my antagonist knew. The House of Commons
on this occasion was better informed than Pont Street, the County Club
or Eaton Place.

"Well, you know, he's been living--for months, apparently--with Mrs.
O'Rane? I'm told O'Rane is bringing a petition. It will rather cook
Grayle's goose, if this all comes out just when he's waiting to be sent
for. It'll be a pretty bad case, from all accounts. You know O'Rane,
don't you? Well, he lost his sight early in the war, which won't get
Grayle much sympathy; and he was pretty newly married, which will appeal
to the sentimental; and the whole business seems to have been conducted
without any regard for human decency. Grayle used to go to the house as
a friend, have them to his house, meet O'Rane in the Smoking-Room.... If
he goes into the witness box, he'll be broken for all time, but, whether
he goes in or not, he's dished himself for the present; even in war-time
the Nonconformist Conscience wouldn't swallow a scandal of that kind.
It's a bit ironical, isn't it? Like Parnell when he'd got Home Rule in
the hollow of his hand. Grayle has done more to bring about this crisis
than any six other men--including Northcliffe. He worked the Tories; he
could call for anything he liked; and now you and I have only to wait
for the story to get round a bit, and you'll find that Grayle's duties
at the War Office are so important that he won't have time to attend the
House, let alone taking a job." He laughed jubilantly. "Nemesis!
Nemesis!"

"_If_ the story is true," I said. "Where did you hear it?"

"Oh, everybody's talking about it! You don't suggest it's untrue?"

"I agree that everybody's talking about it, though that by itself
doesn't make it true. Indeed, I've heard so many versions that I'm
beginning to get confused. You say that O'Rane is bringing a petition?
That's quite well-established? If so, this is the most convincing
version that I've heard since lunch, because I don't suppose he would
act on mere suspicion."

Jellaby looked up to the ceiling and pinched his chin thoughtfully
between thumb and finger.

"I can give you my authority, I think. I was talking to several of the
Lobby correspondents--it was that little man Palfrey, the fellow from
the 'Night Gazette.' He told me that Grayle had been sent for all right,
but not to be sounded for an office. This story was going about, and
they wanted to know if it was true. I don't know where Palfrey got his
facts from, but he's usually very well informed. He told me quite
definitely that O'Rane was applying for a divorce."

I hardly knew whether to be surprised or not. When I last saw O'Rane he
did not seem to have made up his own mind. At first he had told us
unmistakably that he would be driven to bring the marriage to an end,
unless his wife and Grayle separated; later, when she was for a moment
once more in his house, he forgot to threaten and expended himself in
pleading, with an appeal to Grayle which I should have been unable to
resist, if I had been in his place. Her voice and bodily presence, the
memories of the few weeks when they had lived together there seemed to
have killed any feeling of resentment and of personal interest; O'Rane
was begging the two of them to spare him the necessity of an extreme
step. He did not convince them, but, when I left, I was not sure that he
had not convinced himself.

Jellaby was about to leave me, when I called him back.

"I want to ask a favour of you," I said. "Don't make party capital out
of this--yet awhile, at least. I know all these people; and I should
like you to hold your hand for the present. If the story's true, if the
case comes into court, it's public property for the world to discuss.
But, until then, don't spread a story which may not be true and, true or
not, must be tolerably unpleasant for young O'Rane."

"But I'm not spreading it!" Jellaby protested. "Everybody seems to have
heard of it except you."

"Everyone's heard of it at about fifteenth hand. Whether it's true or
not is very simply tested by events. O'Rane's not likely to let his wife
go _on_ living with Grayle, if that's what she's doing now; if he takes
action, you'll know your story's true; if he doesn't--well, for pity's
sake don't even repeat such charges against a perfectly innocent woman."

The epithet made Jellaby wag his head at me very knowingly.

"There's no smoke without fire, you know, Stornaway," he said.

I cannot deal with debilitated minds which employ proverbs in place of
arguments; Jellaby remained unanswered.

I had hardly got rid of him and ordered myself a glass of port wine,
when a page-boy brought me a card and stated that Sir Roger Dainton was
waiting in the hall and would like to see me for a moment. Now, I had
been on nodding terms with Dainton a dozen years in and out of the
House, but we had never attained greater intimacy, as I am
temperamentally unable to suffer bores gladly. A call from such a man at
nine o'clock in the evening could mean only one thing.

"Ask him, with my compliments, if he will join me in a glass of wine," I
said.

Under his usual garb of awkward diffidence and universal apology, I
could see that my visitor was perplexed and worried. For several moments
I entirely failed to check his flow of regret at disturbing my dinner;
when I silenced him with three interruptions and as many invitations to
taste his wine and try some of my nuts, he planted his elbows
impressively on the table, leaned forward, opened his lips and then
flung himself back and swept our corner of the Coffee-Room for
eavesdroppers.

"I hope there's nothing wrong," I said.

He planted his elbows in position a second time and abruptly covered his
face with his hands.

"It's--incredible," he began. "My little girl--Sonia, you know Sonia?
Have you heard about it?"

"I don't know what you're referring to yet," I pointed out.

"Sonia's run away from her husband!" he whispered uncomprehendingly.
"She's gone off with another man. They say--they say David's going to
divorce her."

He lowered his hands, and the round, child's eyes, harmonising perfectly
with the chubby, boyish face, were as full of horror and incredulity as
his voice had been. I knew, of course, that Dainton had lost his elder
son in the first year of the war and I believe that the younger had
been wounded at least twice; this was the first time, however, that he
had been flung against the sharp rocks of life, and he was as helplessly
and bewilderedly scared and resentful as a child who has fallen among
the breakers on a rugged coast.

"You had better tell me all about it," I said.

His stammering, self-interrupted narrative added nothing to the three
sentences which he had already spoken. The blow had fallen that day at
luncheon. Dainton found himself one of a large party which was for the
most part unknown to him. Half-way through the meal he caught the sound
of his daughter's name with some comment which would have been
grotesque, if it had not been uttered with so much assurance. There
followed the silence which drives home to a speaker that he has said
something unpardonable and that he alone is unaware what it is.
Dainton's neighbours rallied simultaneously and doused him with two
conflicting jets of conversation, only to find that he was not listening
and that, when they paused, he asked in an amazed whisper whether they
had heard what was said.

"I may not have caught it right," he explained hopefully.

But both denied that they had heard the words in question.

When luncheon was over, an unknown woman with a scarlet face came up to
him and apologised with tears in her eyes. What he must think.... She
wouldn't have done such a thing for the world.... Really it was partly
their hostess's fault for not introducing them properly. Honestly, she
had no idea....

"I asked her to say it again," Dainton told me dully. "It was the very
first I'd heard, the first I'd _suspected_.... I can't believe it
_now_--not _Sonia_.... She--she said it was only a rumour, she couldn't
vouch for it, but there was a report that David was going to ..."

He paused to raise his glass, spilling the wine generously. "I didn't
know what to do. I couldn't go about asking every Tom, Dick and Harry
whether _my daughter_--When I got away from the office to-night, I went
round to her house to see if I could find out anything from Oakleigh or
George--I could talk to them fairly freely.... I remember my wife told
me, I forget when it was, that Sonia was away and that George had moved
in there to look after his uncle; neither of us ever _dreamed_ then....
They were both out, so I thought I'd come and bother you. I knew you
were pretty intimate with them. I--quite frankly I want you to tell me
if what that woman said was true."

I did not find it easy to face Dainton's troubled, boyish eyes.

"I'm afraid it is," I said. "She's left O'Rane, she _did_ go off with
another man. I'm sorry to say that your luncheon-party wasn't the only
place where it was being discussed, and several people have told me that
the petition's actually been filed."

Dainton picked up a pair of nut-crackers and twisted them nervously open
and shut.

"This will kill Catherine," he muttered. "We've both of us always been
so proud of her, she was always so wonderful, even when she was a little
child.... Stornaway, is this true? Is there no doubt of any kind? You
don't know what she is to us!" he cried fiercely, as though I had been
responsible for the shipwreck of their pride.

"There seems to be no doubt at all."

"I wonder if I may have another glass of wine," he said absently. "I'm
afraid I've spilt most of this."

We must have sat for another hour in the deserted Coffee-Room, now
silent as Dainton yielded inch by reluctant inch to the slow penetration
of inevitable truth, now discussing explanations and canvassing
expedients for retrieving a lost position. Beyond giving Grayle's name
and mentioning that I had been present when an attempt was made to
obviate divorce proceedings, I volunteered no details and did my best to
give patient hearing to schemes which the rest of us had either rejected
already or refused to consider. He would _force_ Sonia to return to her
husband, _force_ O'Rane to take her back, _force_ Grayle to give her
up....

"There's no kind of _force_ you can use," I had to tell him. "We've
tried argument and entreaty, and that's failed."

"Her mother can make her!"

"No one can make her!"

Dainton looked at me as though I had contrived the catastrophe and were
pluming myself on its completeness.

"But do you mean we've got to stand by and see our Sonia in the Divorce
Court, to have her examined and cross-examined--our own child, with
reporters scribbling it all down and everybody reading about it next day
in the papers? It's unthinkable, Stornaway, it's unthinkable!"

"Tell me any way of avoiding it, and you may count on any help I can
give you. By all means see her yourself or get Lady Dainton to see her.
Of course, assuming that O'Rane has started proceedings, I don't know
that you'll stop him. He's behaved with the greatest love and loyalty,
and, if I may say so, your daughter exceeded them when she went back
with Grayle after we'd tried to persuade her. But get Lady Dainton to
see her. It can do no harm, but I advise you not to build too great
hopes on it. Your daughter's last words, pretty well, were that she'd
thought it all over beforehand and was prepared to face everything.
Conceivable she may be frightened when she's taken at her word, but I'm
inclined to think it will only make her set her teeth the harder."

Dainton looked at me dazedly, as though his mind had lagged a sentence
and a half behind everything that I was saying and he were trying to
overtake me. With marked indecision he raised his glass, lowered it,
raised it again and gulped down the last mouthful of wine. Then he rose
to his feet and beckoned me to do the same.

"There's not a moment to lose," he said gravely. "I'm going round to see
Sonia at once. If you'll shew me where the telephone is----"

I led him to one of the boxes by the porter's office and dawdled in
front of the tape-machine while he searched for Grayle's number and
awaited his call. There was little news, but numerous prophets were
helping the new Prime Minister with a wealth of conflicting suggestions
to construct his cabinet. I had not succeeded in finding Grayle's name
mentioned more than once when Dainton emerged and led me to a sofa.

"She's not in," he said. "I don't quite know what to do. I _must_ tell
my wife at the earliest possible moment.... My God, if she came up here
and had it broken to her as I did to-day.... I should like to catch the
11.10 to-night ... and I could go and see David to-morrow. Poor boy! I'm
not blaming him, but he can't understand what he's doing, what this
means to us--Sonia! If only I _knew_ about it!..." He turned to lay his
hand timidly on my knee. "She seemed very determined, when you saw her?"

"Immovable," I answered.

"You think she'd disregard her own father and mother? Stornaway, you
don't _know_ what she is to us!"

His voice gave me the answer, but I saw no way of bringing home to him
that he and his wife were less than nothing to her at this moment.

"You can only try," I said. "I've seen her at 'The Sanctuary' with
O'Rane and Grayle, I've seen her in Milford Square by herself----"

He looked at his watch and turned to me excitedly.

"Look here, I can't be in two places at once and I _must_ get down to my
wife. Will you--I've no claim on you; I ask it, because I can't help
myself--will you go to Sonia, _insist_ on seeing her, tell her of our
meeting to-night and beg her--in her mother's name--and mine----"

His faltering sentences lagged and halted until they stopped altogether.

"If you wish me to," I said.

"I can never thank you enough! I pray you'll never be in a similar
position, but if you are----"

"Don't build extravagant hopes on it," I warned him again.

When I had seen him into a taxi, I drove to Milford Square with
profound and momentarily increasing distaste for my mission. I felt
instinctively that it was foredoomed to failure; I knew that, two hours
after I had failed, the Daintons would be staring blankly at each other
or pacing nervously up and down the room, refusing--despite my repeated
warning--to abandon hope until my failure had been confessed. And I knew
that I must see Mrs. O'Rane alone--which Grayle would try to
prevent--and make an emotional appeal--which I was ill-equipped for
doing....

My taxi drew up at the door. I rang and enquired of my old, smooth-faced
antagonist whether Mrs. O'Rane was at home. I was told that she was not.

"Then I'll wait for her," I said, squeezing past him into the hall and
taking off my coat and gloves. "Is Colonel Grayle in?"

"Not yet, sir; Mr. Bannerman's in the smoking-room."

"I should like to see him," I said, "if he's not engaged."

Guy dragged himself out of an arm-chair with a mixture of surprise and
distrust.

"Hullo! what brings you here?" he enquired. "I never expected to see
you."

"Well, I never expected to see you," I answered. "I thought you'd been
banished."

He looked at me with cautious absence of expression and then applied
himself to treading a little mound of cigar-ash into the carpet.

"Grayle ought to be in soon," he volunteered. "He said he wouldn't be
late."

"It was Mrs. O'Rane I came to see."

Guy looked at me closely and raised his eyebrows slightly. Then he
buried the lower half of his face in a tumbler of whiskey and soda,
glanced at me again over the brim, swallowed and set the glass down
empty.

"What d'you want with her, if I may ask?" he enquired.

Guy has a dual personality compounded of loyalty to his master and love
for humanity at large. The combination is not an easy one to imagine,
but he contrived at once to blend the qualities and yet keep them
distinct. I told him frankly and fully of my conversation with Dainton.

"I warned him that he was sending me on a fool's errand," I said. "But
how could I refuse? I'd submit to being sent on a dozen fool's errands
each day, if I thought I could spare him--and his wife--and O'Rane--and
his wife----"

Guy raised his hand to interrupt me.

"Look here, how much do you know?" he asked, as I had been asking every
second person that day. "Not the early part; what I mean is, are you up
to date?"

"Two or three people have told me that O'Rane's actually filed his
petition," I said. "Is that true?"

"I don't know. Is that _all_ you know?"

"My dear Guy, the whole of London's discussing the thing, I've heard an
approach to the truth and most kinds of variants."

"But is that _all_ you know?" he repeated.

"I imagine so," I answered.

Guy shrugged his shoulders helplessly.

"Then you're not up to date," he said. "_I_ got Dainton's enquiry on the
telephone and I told him that she wasn't in. It was true--as far as it
went. She's gone, Stornaway. I've not the faintest idea what happened,
but there was--a big row of some kind--not the first by any means, I may
tell you,--and she walked out of the house."

"But where's she gone to?" I asked, as soon as I was sufficiently
recovered from my surprise to ask anything.

"I've no idea," he answered.


5

I wanted to ask so many questions that I hardly knew where to begin, but
Guy--with the best possible intentions--was not in a position to tell me
anything worth hearing. Mrs. O'Rane, at the end of an hour-long
altercation behind closed doors, had come into the hall with a
pearly-white face, collected a fur-coat and umbrella and walked into
the Square.

"She stopped for a moment on the top step and unfastened her
latch-key--she used to carry it tied to her bag with a bit of ribbon;--I
found it in my hand the next moment, and she was saying good-bye and
telling me quite casually that she wasn't coming back. Grayle--he didn't
even trouble to come out of the smoking-room. What it was about I can't
say, but they must have had an unholy row." Guy looked at me dubiously,
weighing my discretion. "I suppose, now that it's all over, there's no
harm in saying that rows were the rule rather than the exception....
Right from the earliest days, when she used to come and dine here or he
took her out. I don't know how either thought they could possibly live
in the same house. Of course, she fascinated him," he conceded with the
gusto of a Promenade _habitué_, "but she never cared for him. I'm as
certain of that as I am of my own existence. She's a curious woman; it
used to make me go hot and cold sometimes to see and hear Grayle with
her--he was cruel,--but, the more he bullied her, the more she respected
him. If he shewed her the sort of deference a man does shew a woman, he
seemed to lose his grip. I don't know how much you saw of them before
she came here, but she was playing cat and mouse with Grayle. Or trying
to. He soon put a stop to that. He's had a good many ordinary
_affaires_, but he was really fond of this woman, and, when he found
that O'Rane was openly living with someone else----"

"That's well-established, is it?" I interrupted.

"I believe so. Well, he naturally wanted to protect Mrs. O'Rane. _She_
treated it as a joke, until he swore he'd never see her again. (He was
always saying it, but this time he meant it.) Then she got frightened.
First she rang up,--and he ignored her; she wrote,--and he didn't answer
her letters; called,--and he refused to see her. The next thing was
complete surrender." Guy Bannerman spread out his hands and shrugged his
shoulders. "You _can't_ compound a common life of _that_ sort of storm
and sunshine. Grayle found that, if he wanted to get his way,--well, he
didn't actually take a stick to her, but it was the next best thing."

Guy paused to sigh in perplexity, trying vainly to reconcile his idol's
behaviour with his own romantic canons of chivalry.

"Go on," I said.

"Well, he was gradually breaking her spirit, killing all her charm; and
then I really think that he began to get tired of her. They were wearing
each other out, and you couldn't expect her to be mewed up inside the
house, and people were beginning to talk.... I've told you pretty well
all I know."

I digested Guy's story in silence until I heard the jingle of a hansom
cab outside, followed by a word or two in Grayle's voice. A moment later
he was standing in the door-way, scowling in surprise at seeing me
there.

"Hast thou found me, oh mine enemy?" he sneered. "I seem to remember
your giving it as your considered opinion that you never wanted to see
me or speak to me again. I'm honoured by your visit, of course, but you
can--just--clear--_out_!"

He pushed the door open to its widest extent and stood aside as though
nothing would give him greater pleasure than to assist my departure with
a kick. In his present mood he would have done it without much further
provocation, but I am no more of a physical coward than my neighbour and
I was not going to let him threaten me.

"I came to see Mrs. O'Rane," I told him without getting up.

"Well, no doubt Bannerman's informed you that she's not here."

"I want to know where she is. I may mention that I've seen her father
to-night. He'd heard nothing till lunch-time to-day, and, though it's no
affair of his, I thought he was rather upset. He's gone down to
Hampshire to break the news to his wife, and I promised to see if I
could arrange a meeting with his daughter."

Grayle walked to the sofa, picked up my coat and tossed it to me.

"I don't know where she is," he said shortly. "And I don't care."

My hat followed the coat through the air and dropped on to my knees.

"Dainton wants to stop the divorce," I said. "That must have a certain
academic interest for you, Grayle. He's seeing O'Rane to-morrow
morning."

I looked in vain for any sign of pleasure, relief or concern.

"I tell you, I don't know where she is," he repeated. "She left this
place to-day--and--she's--not coming--back."

"You mean you turned her out," I suggested.

"Oh, I'm sick of this!" He limped to my chair and caught my wrist in one
hand, bending it back until I had to get up to prevent his breaking my
arm off at the elbow. "As a matter of courtesy I told you she'd gone,
and the best thing you can do is to follow her. You've found time to
meddle with my affairs for a good many months, but I'm tired of it now;
it's got to end. I give you fair warning, Stornaway, that I am
instructing my servants not to admit you, if you come here again; and,
by God! if you try to force your way in, I'll thrash you out with a
crop. Now--_march_!"

My exit was painless, though I will not pretend that it was dignified. I
walked a few yards along the Brompton Road, wondering what to do next.
It was futile to speculate where Mrs. O'Rane was gone; she could not
return to "The Sanctuary," she could not go home to her parents; after
abandoning her husband and being abandoned by her lover within six
months, she could hardly--with her pride and temper--ask a friend to
take her in. Any grandeur with which she had tried to invest her
recklessness and infidelity at our last meeting was sorely draggled. And
she was about thirty--a year or two more, a year or two less--in the
full bloom and beauty of her life, with some hundreds from her father
to pay her hotel bills, debarred by the war even from hiding herself for
a few months abroad. I stood still to wonder where she was at that
moment, how she was facing the future.

Then I turned down Sloane Street and made for the Underground station. I
had meant to go home and, perhaps, to telephone to Dainton, but it could
do no good, and I wanted to hold a council of war with the Oakleighs. In
Sloane Square I met Beresford hobbling along on a stick and made him
turn round and keep me company. In some way I felt that he deserved to
be present. Bertrand was in bed when we reached "The Sanctuary," but I
found George reading a book with his feet up on a sofa, and, when I told
him that my business was urgent, we adjourned upstairs to the scene of
more than one early morning session. I told them as shortly as I could
of my interviews with Dainton, Bannerman and Grayle and left the facts
to sink in. The ensuing silence was broken by Beresford, speaking more
to himself than to the room.

"The cad!" he muttered. "Oh, my God! the cad! And you don't know where
she is now?"

"No. I've given you all the facts."

After the one outburst Beresford remained quiet, and the other three of
us started a rambling debate to decide what we wanted done and what was
practicable. Bertrand acted as chairman and put the questions. We agreed
that for the sake of O'Rane and the Daintons the proceedings should be
stopped, if possible; it was established that Mrs. O'Rane and Grayle
were unlikely to meet again, and, if we could get back to the terms
discussed a few weeks earlier, it was still conceivable that the scandal
might be suppressed.

"But O'Rane doesn't know they've parted," I reminded Bertrand. "Someone
must tell him. I'll go down, if necessary, as I had the news at
first-hand. Of course, if he refuses and says they had their chance and
missed it----"

"He won't refuse," said Bertrand. "You'll go? I believe we can stop it
even now. He's not particularly vindictive--he shewed that the other
night--and he'd sooner spare his wife than punish Grayle." He grimaced
with disfavour. "Stornaway, I've never liked that man, but I didn't
think he was capable of this."

"Nor did she, poor soul!"

We had reached our decision, and, if I had to leave for the country by
an early train, I wanted to get home to bed. George and his uncle were
chewing the cud of my story, and I saw no end to that. I was putting on
my coat, when Beresford begged me to stay a moment longer.

"You're not _leaving_ it at this, are you?" he asked, with a white face.

"Have you anything to suggest?" I asked.

"You're going to let Grayle ride off? Merciful Christ! And I thought
some of you were Sonia's friends!"

He struggled to his feet and in another moment, bumping past me, was
half-way to the door. George sprang from his chair and had one foot
planted solidly in the way before Beresford could reach the handle.

"Here, where are you off to?" he demanded.

"Something's got to be done about Grayle," was the reply.

"What do you mean?" I asked, for Beresford had the voice, the eyes and
the bearing of homicidal mania.

"I'm going to have a word with him," he answered between clenched teeth.
"Let me go!"

There was something pitifully incongruous between the purposeful
language and the emaciated, consumptive speaker. Grayle, for all his
unsound leg, could pluck him up by the ankles and crush in his head
against the wall like the shell of an egg.

"Let's hear some more about it first," I said, taking his arm despite a
quiver and jerk of protest. "I know Grayle fairly well, and, if you're
going to match yourself against him in physical strength, you might just
as well try to knock holes in the side of a battleship with your naked
fists."

Beresford wriggled against my grip.

"I can have a go at _spoiling_ him first," he cried. "After that, I
don't mind what happens."

Their motives were different, but I was vividly reminded of the Cockney
Huish preparing to advance, vitriol jar in hand, against the unerring
rifle of Attwater. I looked over Beresford's head and lifted my eyebrows
at Bertrand, who raised himself in bed and called him twice by name.

"You mustn't do anything hasty," he urged, wagging his forefinger with
great parade of reasonableness. "Any kind of attack on Grayle is bound
to recoil on Sonia, and that's the last thing you want. I assure you
that twenty-four hours after you'd gone for him----"

Beresford shook free of my arm and limped menacingly up to the bed.

"_You_ don't care a curse for her," he cried, "but you pretend to care
for O'Rane. You're going to let Grayle break up O'Rane's life, take away
Sonia from him, throw her out of doors----"

Bertrand spread out his hands with a gesture of bland expostulation.

"My dear boy, we can't prevent it. It's _done_, and any act of private
vengeance will hit David and Sonia hardest of all. Haven't we been
scheming and contriving to prevent the divorce for that very reason? We
all know that it would dish Grayle's political career to be cited as a
co-respondent at the present time; it would keep him out of the Cabinet
or compel him to resign. But I can tell you that it would dish the
O'Ranes very much more completely. Dear boy, when we're hoping to close
down one scandal, for Heaven's sake don't open up another."

If not impressed, Beresford was at least interested and temporarily
checked. He stood reflecting with a scowl on his face and his underlip
thrust forward.

"Is that--brute going to be taken into the Government?" he asked.

"According to the papers there's every possibility," Bertrand answered.
"No one will ever know, but I choose to believe that he tired of Sonia
from the moment when his plans were threatened by the possibility of a
scandal."

Beresford looked at him wonderingly and then turned to me.

"Do you bear that out?" he asked. "I don't know enough of public life
to say if it's true. Do you mean that, if Grayle went into the Divorce
Court, he'd be broken?"

The eagerness of his tone frightened us a little, for we thought that we
had talked him out of danger. Bertrand assumed great determination of
manner.

"Grayle's not going into the Divorce Court, if we can help it," he said.

"Grayle's going to be broken, if I can work it," was the retort.

"But you can't. No one would support you more readily, if it were
possible."

Beresford dropped into his former chair without answering and propped
his chin on his fists. Bertrand watched him uneasily; George came back
from the door and led me away to the window. Tentatively he asked me how
far I thought the threat of proceedings could be used to block Grayle's
path of office.

"I don't know how far you can blackmail a man," George admitted.
"Particularly a man like Grayle. It's only an idea, I've just thought of
it. If we could make him sign an undertaking--something that we could
use against him and that he couldn't turn and use against us. It all
wants the devil of a lot of thinking out.... If Raney doesn't divorce
Sonia now, when the offence is still fresh, I suppose he weakens his
position; he may not be able to get a divorce later, and then our
barrier's kicked to matchwood. I'm not a lawyer; perhaps Bertrand...."

We walked to the bed, where Bertrand was sitting with his eyes on us. I
cannot say whether my friends have been more unfortunate than the
generality, but one has bound himself by a similar undertaking not to
play cards, two more not to enter certain cities, and four or five to
resign certain positions and to live abroad. As a rule, however, a
felony was being compounded, or the offence was one against honour
wherein there was no statute of limitations.

"It's mere bluff, and he'll beat you at that game," Bertrand said
without hesitation. "What Grayle's done is to outrage public opinion,
and the public has a short memory. You could break him now, but in two,
three years' time people would say, 'This is very ancient history, we've
heard _her_ story, but not his; probably he wasn't so much to blame as
she makes out; she couldn't live with one man, so it's conceivable that
she couldn't live with another. But, anyway, it's ancient history.' In
three years' time your man of the world would think none the worse of
him;--and you can't tell how far _she_ may have travelled in three
years. Time's on his side."

"But this is the opportunity of his political life," George persisted.
"In three years' time it may have gone beyond hope of returning."

"But he knows that David wouldn't sacrifice his wife to punish him.
Haven't we talked ourselves hoarse to find a way of stopping the
proceedings? Grayle's a level-headed fellow----"

"Hardly at this moment," I interrupted.

Bertrand looked at me in some surprise.

"Well, discuss it with David," he said unenthusiastically. "If he
agrees, go to Grayle and try your luck. I never like brandishing weapons
that I'm not prepared to use. _I_ tell you it's an empty threat and that
Grayle will see through it. You know, you're all carried away by some
idea of poetic justice, you think you've got a pocket retribution packed
up and ready for him; you imagine that people are punished for their
crimes in this world. I've outgrown that phase."

The superfluous touch of cynicism flicked us all and Beresford most of
all.

"_Some_body's going to punish that man," he cried. "I don't know who and
I don't know how, but it's going to be done. I'll drop everything else
and sacrifice all I've got to it."

Bertrand sighed and lay back on his pillows.

"Grayle's not worth it," he said.

"But Sonia is!" Beresford cried passionately.



CHAPTER SIX

THE UNWRITTEN LAW

     "She said, 'Be good with me; I grow
       So tired for shame's sake, I shall die
     If you say nothing:' . . ."
                          A. C. SWINBURNE: _The Leper_.


1

For a fugitive from justice London is either the best hiding-place in
the world, or else the worst; I have never had an opportunity of
deciding, and Mrs. O'Rane's experience has not helped me.

She left Milford Square in the first week of December; in the middle of
January her husband and friends gleaned their first news of her. So both
succeeded and both failed.

She has told me that her first action after leaving Grayle was to enter
a tube station and to study a railway map of London. Her knees were
trembling violently, and her brain was numbed so that she stared at
names without reading them until something inside her head like the
ticking of a watch, now silent, now intrusive, as her attention was
captured or left free, warned her to concentrate her thoughts; she had
to get away, and time was being lost, time was being lost....

The "inner city" was _ex hypothesi_ closed to her; Chelsea, Kensington
and Hampstead each contained a sprinkling of friends; beyond them she
spelled out the names of places on the outer fringe through which she
had passed on her way north, west or south from London. Willesden--you
met Willesden on your way to Holyhead or the west of Scotland;
Wimbledon--that was an old friend, encountered every time that you went
by the London and South Western to Melton; Croydon--surely Croydon lay
on the way to Dover? But nobody _lived_ there.... Certainly no woman in
her senses journeyed to Croydon and inexplicably put up at an hotel.
What was one to do during the day? Invent excuses to get away from the
hotel between meals? But one must not stray towards London. For three
hours, morning and afternoon, one could walk between interminable rows
of villas....

Yet why confine herself to London, when the whole of England lay before
her? She had only to drive to King's Cross, Euston, Waterloo,
Paddington.... But she stood in a blouse, skirt and fur-coat; and all
her other clothes were at "The Sanctuary" or in Milford Square. She
could buy others, of course, but her one prayer was to avoid meeting
people. They were talking about her, they would stare past her, when
they met, or else--worthy souls!--warn her for her good that Colonel
Grayle's name was being coupled with hers,--when he had flung her out of
the house! An hour before she had her speeches ready; she was nervously
anxious, after the long strain of waiting, to defend herself and defy
society in the same breath,--but there was now nothing to defend. She
had bought her last dress a fortnight ago at Worth's,--and Grayle had
accompanied her to the shop....

But the clothes were a trifle--though she would have to start from the
beginning, buy a portmanteau, have it sent to--well, to her temporary
headquarters, paying for her room in advance,--assuming that the
management would take her in--awaiting the brand-new trunk and the
succession of parcels and milliners' boxes. There was not very much
privacy about such an escape.... And, if you _got_ your clothes and
_got_ away, you were compelled since the war to give your true name
wherever you went; anyone who chose to enquire of the police
anywhere.... And you could not get even to Ireland without a permit. It
was natural enough, but hard on her, when she was so bruised and beaten,
when she wanted so desperately to hide....

No weakness or self-pity! Back to the map, though it were but the map
of London. All England might lie stretched in a welcoming expanse, but
it was lamentably true that one knew very little of England. One had
stayed in country houses here, there and everywhere; one had gone to an
hotel in Harrogate, an hotel in Brighton, perhaps three more; one had
never explored England like a Cook's tourist or a commercial traveller.
One's imagination would not venture beyond a familiar ring--Brighton,
Harrogate, Oxford or London.

She stared at the map until a furtive young man who had passed and
repassed, slily trying to catch sight of her face, asked whether he
could be of any assistance. The shock of being addressed by a strange
voice and the need of collecting herself to answer it cleared her brain.

"I want to get to--Euston," she said--and was surprised by the ease and
assurance of her tone, steady and authoritative.

"You change into the Hampstead Tube at Leicester Square," he told her.

She waited until he had turned his back and then went upstairs to a
public telephone and rang up Grayle's house. It was prostitution of her
pride to communicate with the house even from a distance, but she had to
have clothes. The butler answered the telephone, and, in the same
steady, authoritative voice she asked him to send everything to the
Grosvenor Hotel. There was no difficulty about engaging a room, if she
could say that her luggage was coming later; no difficulty about
anything, if she kept her head.... And then she could look round at her
leisure, though she would have to change her hotel next day, since she
had revealed where she was going.

The next thing? Money. She drove to her bank, drew twenty pounds and
enquired the balance. For some weeks she could be easy in her mind on
the score of money. Of course, if her father heard anything and thought
fit to stop paying her allowance.... The drive from the bank to the
hotel was the worst ten minutes of her life. Hitherto she had only
wanted an asylum where she could shelter until she was strong enough to
face the world disdainfully; now she knew that she could never face the
world and that she must prowl from one hiding-place to another,
lingering apprehensively until she was identified and then wearily
slinking away into greater seclusion.... Of _course_ her father would
hear, everyone would hear. And it would give such pleasure to her
enemies when they saw that they could put her out of countenance!
Everyone had enemies; the most popular and beloved girl of her
acquaintance had been prosecuted for some fraud over the insurance of
jewellery, and a chorus of jubilation had gone up from these
smooth-faced, false friends. And, when she herself had broken off her
engagement with Jim Loring, the vilest things were said; she heard them
years later from other friends who wanted to make mischief. Women were
contemptible creatures. And there would be a thunder of exultation at
_her_ downfall. They hated her because she told them frankly that women
bored her; they were jealous because she was admittedly one of the
greatest beauties in London; for years men had been falling in love with
her and begging her to marry them; she could have had her choice....

And now she had been turned out of her lover's house! And the world
would know it any day. Already her husband's solicitors had written to
Grayle, asking for his solicitor's name and address. The letter had been
on the Buhl cabinet, and she had opened it in his presence. From the
very first she had always opened his letters like that; he had enjoyed
it; it had seemed to bring them closer.... But this time he was furious.
That was the first of the big scenes which had ended with her leaving
the house.... She did not know when the case would be heard, but the
story would race round London; and other stories would be reminiscently
tacked on to it--her two broken engagements before she married; it would
be said that no man could endure her for more than six months.... She
found herself shaken with quivering, dry sobs.

In the hall of the hotel a man bowed to her, and she tried not to see
him, as though she had no right to be there. And, when the room had been
allotted her, she hurried to it and locked herself in; no one could
stare at her there, no one could begin to speak and then recollect and
break off. She looked at her watch, dreading the descent to the
dining-room, though it was not yet four o'clock; and suddenly she
remembered that she had promised to dine with Lord Pentyre and go to a
play. He was home on short leave, they had met at luncheon two days
before, and she had chosen the restaurant and the theatre....

It was a test case. Since leaving "The Sanctuary" she had occasionally
dined out with Grayle, occasionally met him by chance at other houses
and often dined with him at home; they had also dined separately with
their respective friends, trying to reveal no outward change in their
lives until it was forced upon them. Soon people would refuse to meet
her, for, whatever else the altercation with Grayle had made clear, they
were being of a sudden universally discussed. Bobbie Pentyre had said
something about bringing his mother, who had come to London for his
leave and wanted to see as much of him as possible. If Lady Pentyre
refused to come ... if her absence had to be laboriously explained....

The telephone meant questions. She wrote out a telegram and sent it down
by the hand of her chambermaid; then she lay down on the bed and tried
first to make her mind a blank, but Grayle's voice was echoing in her
ears, then to surrender to her headache, but it absorbed only half her
attention. If she could explain and cry to someone ... a man.... Staring
dully at the clock, she told herself that _now_ she would have been
dressing, _now_ telling the butler to get her a taxi; now, when her
dinner was brought in on a tray, Lord Pentyre would be waiting in the
lounge at Claridge's; another moment, and he would have been hurrying
forward to shake her hand, order her a cocktail, offer her a
cigarette....

The hotel would be filled with people that she knew and wanted to
see--not that she cared about them, but because there was something
friendly about knowing and being known. She loved living in a crowd. In
her first season, when she came up from the country and was uncertain of
herself, she could have cried with mortification when everyone else was
so much at ease and she was left in the cold until she spoke of
comparative strangers by their Christian names, like the others, to
pretend that she, too, had known them since she was a child. Instead of
which.... She _was_ extraordinarily attractive, her father never grudged
money, her mother worked indefatigably; and--there was no harm in saying
it, when it was all over,--she had been taken at her own valuation,
socially boomed.... When she was engaged to Jim Loring--she could see it
now--what a _mésalliance_ the old marchioness must have thought her
beloved boy was making! It was all over now, but, when she dined with
Bobby Pentyre, she _did_ rather like seeing two-thirds of the people
bowing to her and knowing that the rest were whispering, "Isn't that
Sonia Dainton? Sonia O'Rane, I should say. Who's she with?" In her first
season someone would only have said "Pentyre's got a very pretty girl
with him."

But it was all over--with that night. And how petty, when you were flung
against realities! To-morrow, if Pentyre dined at Claridge's, the idlers
would nod to him and say to one another, "Pentyre reminds me. Usen't he
to be rather _lié_ with Sonia O'Rane? Someone was saying at lunch...."
And it would all come out! At least, it wouldn't.... She didn't care a
_damn_, if _anyone_ knew the _truth_, but, when they whispered and the
women pretended not to be listening for fear it was improper--listening
all the time till their ears flopped out of their heads ...!

To-morrow--She started guiltily. To-morrow they would be expecting her
at ten for the Belgian Refugee Committee. And she was lunching out with
someone--her head ached too much to recollect who it was; she had
promised to lunch and dine out for a fortnight, as she always did;
luncheon was arranged for one o'clock at the Piccadilly Grill Room (so
it must be some _very_ young admirer!), because she had to go on to a
charity performance at the Alhambra, where she was appearing in a
_tableau_ with Lady Sally Farwell and a crowd of other people--something
eighteenth-centuryish, but she had never found out precisely what they
were supposed to represent.... And the day after she was starting a
great housing scheme for the refugees in London, begging for unoccupied
houses with one hand and superfluous furniture with the other, bringing
the two together. _That_ was the kind of war-work she liked.... Sir
Adolphus Erskine had promised her one of his cars, and she was going
round to call on house agents in a new green and black hat with broad
green ribbons at the back and a silk cloak bordered with Valenciennes
lace.... Grayle had sat, beating a stick against his leg, while she
chose it....

That was all over, too. A bigger woman, she supposed, would have gone on
her way unperturbed, refusing to be frowned out of existence and regally
contriving to place everyone else in the wrong--"The Second Mrs.
Tanqueray" in her rehabilitation. Though that was on the stage, of
course; she had never seen it in real life.... Anyway, she could not sit
on a committee with Violet Loring and know that she was saying to
herself, "I can't make out why Jim didn't see through her." Jim never
_had_ seen through her, he would have cut off his hand to marry her, cut
off both hands when she broke the engagement. But Violet Loring would
think that God had stepped in just in time to save him--"You're well out
of it, my dear! Rather even poor David than you."

It was a long time since she had concentrated her thoughts on David, but
it was too late in the evening to fit him into his place. At least it
was only half-past nine, but she was too tired to think. It was not much
use going to bed, because she obviously could not sleep, but it would be
something to turn the lights out. Undressing slowly, she discovered that
she had not begun to unpack; all the things that she did not want would
be at the top, and all the things that she wanted at the bottom. It
really was not worth it.... She climbed into bed, wondering for a
moment why the sheets were so warm and discovering that she had not
taken off her stockings. As she pulled the pillow into the nape of her
neck, a comb pressed hard against her head, and she found that she had
not brushed her hair. "I suppose a man's like this, when he goes to bed
drunk," she told herself. Then her eyes closed, and she fell asleep.

At two, five and seven she woke suddenly, wondering what the vague
menace was that had frightened her. It stabbed her mind; her heart
quickened its beat, and she lay panting until gradually she passed into
a waking dream. At nine she was roused by the chambermaid, who said that
a gentleman had called to know if Mrs. David O'Rane was staying in the
hotel. He gave no name of his own, but hers was set out in printed
capitals.

"Mrs. David O'Rane," she murmured, taking the paper and trying at once
to seem unconcerned and yet to identify the writing of the printed
letters. "No, it can't be for me. Who did you say brought it?"

"He didn't give any name, ma'am."

"But what was he like?" she asked, conscious that she was speaking too
quickly for perfect composure.

"I didn't see him, ma'am. One of the porters brought it up. I'll
enquire, if you like."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," Mrs. O'Rane answered. "I was only wondering....
Mrs. David O'Rane.... It can't be meant for me...."

It was well that she had registered without a Christian name, though she
had been compelled to give "The Sanctuary" as her address--she had no
other; her unknown visitor had apparently not troubled to carry his
investigations so far. It was an escape; it was also the first verbal
lie that she had ever told.

Then for the day's engagements.... Perhaps nothing would be known as
yet; but to-morrow or the next day it _would_ be known, she would not be
expected at her Committee; at least, they would wait wondering whether
to expect her or not.... It was better to telegraph and say that she
was slightly indisposed....

The past was closed as she left the telegraph office. She had to dodge
back, as she caught sight of Lady Loring and the Dowager walking away
from the Cathedral, no doubt going through the Park on foot to kill time
before their joint committee meeting. She _must_ get far away from all
these associations and reminders; and she _must_ find something to do.
All her life she was so restless, she had tried to do too much, she was
always looking for new excitements; motherly souls like Lady Maitland
always told her that--and then asked her to sell flags outside the War
Office. And with every man who fell in love with her there was a phase
in which he implored her tenderly and unselfishly to take better care of
herself--and then robbed her of her afternoon rest in order to dine
early and go to a play. People were wonderfully selfish at heart,
especially those like David and Vincent, who made most parade of their
unselfishness and devotion.... Even when she stayed away in the country
and was supposed to be doing nothing, she was never happy without some
diversion; she _could_ not sit down and read or wander about a garden,
or go for aimless, dreary walks; she had always needed the stimulus of
something to shew her off, to polish and sharpen her, something rival
and competing, an audience....

It was not going to be easy to fill her endless day, her life of endless
days. When war first broke out, she found that her world was come to an
end, that the men were taking commissions and the women training
themselves to nurse. She, too, had tried to nurse--and had given it up
because the physical strain was too great. Then after her marriage she
had collected these committees and acted and sung for charity, but there
were very few things that she _could_ do. And she had not learnt to do
anything in the interval. A government office might engage her, if she
chose to furnish satisfactory references, on unskilled, mechanical work.
She would go unrecommended, without qualification.... No. _That_ could
be dismissed. She was not going to the Foreign Office, say, to have
Gerald Deganway sniggering to his friends about her; or to find herself
unexpectedly carrying an armful of papers to Sir Harry Merefield, or
Lord John Carstairs, who had been transferred from the Diplomatic. She
_knew_ people in all these offices. Before the war she had met them
every night at dances....

Of course, a man like Sir Adolphus Erskine with his spider's web of
commercial interests would find her work, but she was not going to take
_him_ into her confidence; he had known her in her glory, when London
was at her feet. If she had been in the mood to discuss herself or ask
for sympathy, she would have gone the day before to Crowley Court and
braved her mother. She had not gone, she would never go; if she had
brought this kind of thing on herself, she would go through with it
single-handed.

As soon as the Lorings were safely out of sight, she walked into Ashley
Gardens on her way back to the hotel. Opposite the Cathedral a car,
driven by a girl in livery, was awaiting its owner. Mrs. O'Rane suddenly
decided to go up and speak to her.

"I wonder if you'll give me some information," she began with a smile.
"I want to know where you have to go to get taken on for a job like
that."

"Can you drive a car?" the girl asked.

"I've driven a Fiat and an Argyle and a Mercedes."

"Repairs?" the girl asked in a business-like voice.

"I took the Mercedes up to Scotland single-handed once. I don't say I
could take an engine down, but I'm equal to the ordinary things."

The girl considered.

"The General--I drive for General Calverly, you know--" Mrs. O'Rane
nodded and turned apprehensively to see whether the General was in
sight. They had met a week before at dinner with the Duchess of Ross.
"He was asking me the other day if I could find anyone for a friend of
his, some man in the Admiralty. I suppose you know your way about
London? If you like to give me your address, I'll mention it to the
General. Or, of course, you can go to the school where I went, get
yourself tested and then choose for yourself when someone applies. It's
the 'Emergency Motor Drivers' in Long Acre. Aren't you Mrs. O'Rane?"

"I am. How did you know that?"

"I thought you must be," the girl answered with a laugh. "I've seen your
photograph in the papers so much. The General will probably want you to
come and drive for him."

Mrs. O'Rane tried to seem pleased by the compliment when she was only
thankful for the warning.

"I'd better go to the school, I think," she said. "They may say I'm not
good enough, and I don't like disappointing people. Thanks most awfully.
Good-bye."

She hurried away as a portly figure in uniform clattered down the steps,
screwing an eye-glass in place, while his driver stiffened to attention.


2

On the morning after my council of war with the Oakleighs, I telegraphed
to Dainton that I was motoring down and suggested that I should pick him
up at Crowley Court and drive him into Melton for an interview with
O'Rane. He must have guessed, I should have thought, that my mission
overnight had failed, but I could see, when we met, that he and his wife
were emptily hoping. Both were waiting at the door when I arrived; both
looked past me into the empty car, as I got out.

"You couldn't get her to come?" Dainton enquired anxiously. "Ah!"

He was a flabby, ineffectual little man at the best of times, and the
shock had made him pathetically more flabby. God knows! it was not my
tragedy, and I cannot boast that I am capable of an unusually brave show
under affliction, but I wanted to make Dainton throw out his chest and
hold his head up--and do some hard manual work and a few physical
exercises. I wished, for her elevation, too, that his daughter could see
the state to which she had reduced him; she was not sufficiently clever
or detached to realise how much his limp indulgence had contributed to
her pampered, neurotic wilfulness, but the consequences were there for
all to mark. Lady Dainton shewed no sign of weakness. She had not slept
much, I dare swear, since her husband returned, but she was collected
and equal to every demand.

"I expect we shall find lunch waiting," she said, as I came in. "We can
only give you cold comfort, I'm afraid. When we turned the house into a
hospital, Roger and I only kept two rooms for ourselves, so, if you find
my nurses running in to see me every two minutes, don't you know?... I'm
glad you were able to come, because we're spending your money here and I
want you to see that we're spending it properly."

A table had been laid for us in a room which from its "Vanity Fair"
cartoons, gun-cases, "Badminton Library" and estate-maps, I judged to be
Dainton's study. The servants were hardly out of the room before he
turned to me.

"What happened?" he demanded anxiously. "Catherine knows everything."

"I'm afraid it's rather more and perhaps rather worse than either of you
know," I warned him. "I called at the house, and she wasn't there.
They'd had a quarrel, and she'd--left him. I've no idea where she is,
though George Oakleigh was going to make all possible enquiries to-day.
You've not seen O'Rane since last night?"

He shook his head, turning his face away abruptly so that I should not
see it, and seemed unable to speak.

"We thought it better to wait till we'd heard from you," explained Lady
Dainton. "She's--left this man, you say? I shall want a moment to
consider this."

I only broke a long silence because I observed her husband preparing to
speak and knew that he would contribute nothing worth hearing.

"As I see it, Lady Dainton," I said, "there's an element of hope. We can
never set things as they were before, but we may prevent them from
growing worse. On the one hand, O'Rane may _now_ consent to stop
proceedings. I've not seen him since he made up his mind to move, I
can't say what decided him, but, _if_ we're all agreed that we don't
want the scandal of a divorce, you may be able to stop it. On the other
hand, I've been thinking this over the whole way down and I'm not sure
that a divorce isn't the necessary and the best thing for both of them,
however painful it may be at the time. Quite clearly your daughter and
O'Rane can never take up their old life; you see, there are no children
to keep them together, even in appearance; they're both quite young, and
I question whether it's fair on either to condemn them to their present
state. O'Rane can't wake up in ten years' time and discover that it
would be a good thing for both of them to resume their liberty."

Neither spoke for some time. Then Lady Dainton said--

"It's all come so suddenly, don't you know? that one is quite bewildered
and stupid. First a divorce and then an idea of stopping it and now an
idea of not stopping it.... All of you have known about it so much
longer.... By the way, why did you never tell us, Mr. Stornaway? I'm not
reproaching you, of course, but as Sonia's mother----"

"I thought about it a great many times," I answered. "Our lips were
really sealed by O'Rane. As long as he hoped to get her back, we wanted
to spare you all knowledge of it; we wanted to make it easier for her by
keeping down the number of people who _did_ know."

"You didn't think that I could help to persuade her?"

Lady Dainton might say that she was not reproaching me, but her voice
was the embodiment of reproach directed not only at me or the Oakleighs
or O'Rane himself, but at our whole sex for presuming to interfere
between mother and daughter. I could see that she was confident of her
power to restore peace, if only we had not ignored her until it was too
late. My nerves were in tatters, I could feel the blood rushing to my
head and in my turn I began to grow impatient with her, not for myself
or my sex, but for her daughter. If ever the sins of the fathers were
visited on the children, poor Sonia O'Rane was being punished for the
lax indulgence and pretentious ambition of her mother; had she once been
checked or chidden, had she been allowed to marry some man in her own
walk of life instead of being fed with flattery and encouraged to look
for what her mother considered a "good match," I should have been spared
many months of worry and my present extremely painful interview.

"With great respect, I don't think anyone could have persuaded her," I
said. "She started with a preposterous but sincere belief that her
husband was unfaithful to her, their life was fantastically impossible,
both had strong wills, O'Rane was culpably trustful and Grayle was a man
who had been uniformly successful, as it is called, with women. You had
all the ingredients of disaster there, though it's always a big thing
for a woman to compound them. Once she'd done it, there was no recalling
her. I've seen her twice since, Lady Dainton; no power on earth would
have sent her back to her husband, even if she'd wanted to go."

She finished her meal in silence, only shrugging her shoulders gently as
if to suggest that, however wrong I might be, there was no profit in
discussing the past. Dainton kept asking me what I thought O'Rane would
do and what we must insist on his doing; I retaliated each time by
asking him whether he wanted a divorce or not; and there was never any
answer.

I had warned O'Rane that I was coming, but he stiffened perceptibly when
the Daintons came in with me. In a moment, however, he was calm,
dispassionate and lifeless as I had always found him since the
estrangement began. And then for the third time, with the knowledge that
our nerves were raw and quivering, I had to tell him of my visit to
Milford Square and my meeting with Bannerman and Grayle. We talked as if
we were solicitors attending a consultation with counsel, treating
O'Rane, and O'Rane treating himself, as the lay client.

"I saw she wasn't coming back to me," he explained, "so I thought the
kindest thing was to let her lead her new life unembarrassed by ties
with me. I _could_ have let her bring the petition, I suppose, but I
rather draw the line at that. I didn't see, however much I loved her,
why I should get up and lie and say I'd been disloyal to her."

The Daintons looked at me, as though they wanted me to be spokesman, and
I reminded O'Rane of his offer to stay proceedings, if his wife and
Grayle separated.

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled mirthlessly.

"It started as blackmail, I'm afraid. Afterwards I _did_ want to spare
her, if I could---- I hoped she'd come back to me. When she refused ..."

"I was telling Lady Dainton," I said, "that, if you don't expect her to
come back, you probably ought--in the interests of you both--to let the
proceedings take their course. I know you don't like the idea of it,--we
none of us do--but you wouldn't like the idea of her being tied in any
way for the rest of her life. Of course, this isn't a thing that you can
decide offhand, but, when you consider it, there's one factor you musn't
leave out, and that is Grayle."

O'Rane raised his head slowly.

"He doesn't come in now."

"To this extent he does," I said. "If he's cited as co-respondent at the
present time, he'll have to retire from public life. You and Dainton and
I know that quite positively----"

"I don't _much_ mind _who_ retires from public life," he interrupted
with a thin-lipped smile.

"But that man's quite capable of quarrelling with your wife--well, not
to put too fine a point on it--to get rid of her, to avoid a scandal, to
accept your terms. I believe he'd have accepted them that night. I
confess I can't make up my own mind what to do...."

O'Rane's head drooped forward for a moment; then he raised it and faced
us.

"I can't decide anything, either," he said. "My brain seems to have gone
to pulp."

One glance at him was enough. I got up, and he did the same. The
Daintons looked at each other and at me, refusing to move, as though
they could force a decision by staying there. I shook my head and opened
the door into the Cloisters.

"But--before we go----" began Lady Dainton, half-rising.

"The difficulty is that we don't know what we want," I pointed out.

Sir Roger became stammeringly urgent.

"We _do_ know!" he cried. "We want to avoid a scandal, we want to keep
our poor Sonia from--you know, all the talk and the papers----"

"But after that?" I asked.

Lady Dainton slipped her hand through her husband's arm and led him
through the door. I said good-bye to O'Rane, but he insisted on
accompanying us to my car and, when the Daintons were out of ear-shot,
enquired whether the news had been a great blow to them.

"I ask, because I should have thought they _must_ have had some
suspicion of it," he said. "People here don't _say_ anything to me, of
course, but I'm sure they know. There's a sort of bed-side manner about
them; you notice these things, if you're blind; it's as if you were
calling on a fellow in hospital, when he's had his leg off, and you're
being awfully bright and not seeing any difference.... Is it being
discussed in London?"

"I'm afraid it is."

He walked with his face averted.

"What do they say?" he asked, steadily enough.

"That she's living with Grayle and that you're going to divorce her."

O'Rane's pace slackened.

"H'm. The first part's no longer true, the second part isn't true yet.
Stornaway, you've been uncommon kind to me; d'you feel disposed to throw
good money after bad and help me a bit more? We've been discussing
what's the _best_ thing to do and how we ought to treat Grayle and that
sort of thing, but so far we haven't taken Sonia into account much. I
want you to find her for me. Do anything you like and, when you've
found her, discuss with her what _she_ wants done. I'll--generally
speaking, you may tell her I'll do anything. If I drop the petition now
and some time later on she wants to be free again,--I don't like it, but
I suppose it can be managed; these things have been done before.... As
for Grayle----" He shook his head wearily. "I feel our tariff of
punishment in this world is so inadequate. You can hang a man who
commits a murder, but you can't hang him twice, when he murders two
people. He's broken up our two lives pretty much,--and I dare say we
weren't the first; if I could make him suffer as much as I'd suffered
through him, we still couldn't cry 'quits.' If he loved Sonia--God in
Heaven! we all make mistakes! Think how ridiculously _few_ people we
have to choose from before we marry! We may _think_ it's the real thing
and afterwards find we were wrong; I was prepared to think that with
them, and if she was going to be happier with him...." He stopped
abruptly and gripped my arm with fingers of steel. "Do you honestly
think he behaved like this, because he was afraid of having his
prospects injured by the scandal?"

"That's Bertrand's view," I answered. "He's a very fair ruffian, you
know. He would always have an intrigue with a woman, if he thought there
was anything to be got out of it; it doesn't require a great stretch of
imagination to assume the converse."

We were approaching Big Gate, and he pulled gently at my arm to stop me.

"If that's true, we _can't_ leave it where it is," he sighed. "Grayle
can't have it both ways. If he doesn't resign his seat in a week, I
shall go on with the proceedings."

"But if you decide to go on in any event?"

"Well, he's no worse off. He'll be in private life then with no
political career to bother about."

"And if he refuses and you find you can't enforce the threat? I mean, if
your wife asks you not to?"

"I shall find some other way of breaking him. This is not a time for
thinking about niceties of law."

"He's not the man to surrender easily," I warned O'Rane.

"I don't know that I am," he answered, and the muscles of his cheeks
twitched. "Well, my solicitors are in communication with his----"

"But _if_ he refuses to be bluffed?" I persisted.

"We'll try some other means," he repeated. "Will you be kind enough to
convey my message--you're sure to see him at the House----"

"We're at some pains to avoid each other," I said.

"But you could meet him for my sake--just to give him the message?"
O'Rane begged.

I assented without more reluctance than was unavoidable and said
good-bye. We drove in silence to Crowley Court, Sir Roger staring with
troubled brown eyes out of one window and Lady Dainton, set and
unrevealing, out of the other. At the door she offered me tea, but for a
hundred reasons I wanted to get away as soon as possible.

"For the present I suppose we can do nothing," she said, as we shook
hands. "I rely on you to tell us when you have any news." For the first
time she was unable to keep an expression of physical exhaustion out of
her eyes. "I don't know what any of you are doing, of course; what steps
are being taken to find Sonia."

"I'm making myself personally responsible," I promised her.

Then I drove back to London and arranged with George to dine with me at
the Club. After a restless night he had called at eighteen of the
likeliest hotels in the hope of arriving at news of Mrs. O'Rane for the
comfort of her husband and parents. Someone of the same surname was
staying at the Grosvenor, but it was not Sonia. I described my visits to
Crowley Court and Melton, and we concerted a plan for tracking her to
her hiding-place.

Two years and a quarter in the government service had made George more
of a "handy-man" than I have ever met before or since. He knew the right
official in every department for hurrying through the most diverse
business for the largest number of friends. If news were required of a
prisoner-of-war, if cigars were wanted out of bond for the use of a
neutral Legation, if a German governess had to be repatriated, a
passport obtained, naturalisation papers taken out, export permits
secured, George would triumph in the quickest possible time over the
greatest possible obstacles. It was absurd, he told me, to advertise or
insert cryptic messages in the "agony" column of the "Times"; absurder
still to employ detectives. For what other purpose did Hugh Mannerly and
the Alien Control Department exist? He telephoned to the Home Office
forthwith, but Mr. Mannerly had praetermitted his control of aliens in
the interests of dinner.

"I'll get on to him to-morrow," he promised. "We'll have every hotel and
boarding house in London searched for her; and, if she's not in town,
we'll go to work in the country. It will take a day or two, but Hugh
Mannerly is unfailing and perfectly discreet."

After my tribute to George and his to Mannerly, I am sorry to record
that the first three days of the hunt were blank. It was ascertained,
indeed, that Mrs. O'Rane had stayed at the Grosvenor for the night, and
that her address was fully inscribed in the Visitors' Book. ("Damned
fool I was not to call for the book!" George exclaimed. "I felt certain
it must be her and then, when they said it wasn't, I felt equally
certain that it couldn't be.") Where she had gone from the hotel no one
knew.

"She's staying with friends somewhere in town," George decided, "or else
she's gone out of London. I'll get Mannerly to work again outside. I've
spoken to a friend of mine in the Permit Office, so she can't leave the
country, and I've found out from Raney that she banks with Philpott's in
Victoria Street. Mannerly's told the manager to watch the account and
report all lodgements and drawings; if she deals by post, we may find
out whereabouts she is and, if she comes to the bank in person, we can
arrange for the manager to keep her there till we arrive."

I confess that, however efficient George might be, I found him a little
high-handed.

"I'm the complete bureaucrat," he assented grimly, polishing his pipe
on the sleeve of his uniform. "And I may tell you that, when I consider
the opportunities for oppression afforded by the public service, I'm
amazed at my own moderation. Anyone would start a revolution to-morrow,
if he knew the black conspiracy against personal liberty which a few
thousand of us are carrying out."

Once again, after being promised the full sinister support of all the
conspirators, I feel ungracious in having to record that the utmost
efforts of Mr. Hugh Mannerly failed to produce any result. His
department, let me say, was admirably organised, and a ridiculously
short time passed before I was informed that no one giving the name of
Sonia O'Rane or Mrs. David O'Rane was registered in any hotel or
licensed lodging-house throughout England, Scotland or Wales. The
manager of the Victoria Street branch of Philpott's Bank, with a
disregard for the confidential relations between a bank and its
customers which would have amazed me in peace-time, stated that Mrs.
O'Rane had personally cashed a cheque for twenty pounds three days
before, that her balance--unusually large, I imagined, for her--was one
hundred and eighty-seven pounds fourteen shillings and five pence, that
no lodgements had been made since the beginning of the month, but that
he would promptly report all future transactions so long as Mr. Mannerly
desired him to do so.

"I telegraphed to Dainton, after I'd been to see Hugh," George told me.
"As we haven't struck oil so far, I thought it would be useful to apply
a little more pressure. I imagine Sonia must be living now solely on her
father's allowance, so I suggested that he should stop it and see what
happened when she'd exhausted her present funds. It's funny about Hugh;
he's usually so good.... A nuisance, too, because time's so important.
You see Lloyd-George is getting out his Ministry? About two-thirds of
the offices seem to be allocated with some certainty."

"Have they found a place for Grayle yet?" I asked.

"He's mentioned for all sorts of places," was the answer.

I felt that the Government might not want to include Grayle until he had
cleared himself. People were still asking vaguely whether it was true
about Grayle, but no one could find flesh wherewith to clothe the bones
of the scandal. Grayle himself had not crossed my path since our warm
parting in Milford Square; indeed, everyone who button-holed me to
discuss appointments or ask my view of the rumour admitted by
implication that he had not seen Grayle. Someone--I cannot remember
who--told me that he had left London on one of the surprise visits to
G.H.Q., which with Grayle played the same part as the old "diplomatic
chill" of other days. As the government of the country and the conduct
of the war were at a standstill, as members of both houses were flocking
back to Westminster from all quarters to join in the scramble for
office, I found this explanation unconvincing.

I was soon to find it baseless. In fulfilment of my promise, I sent a
note by hand to Grayle's house, asking him to meet me on urgent business
at a time and place to be arranged by him. My messenger, who had been
instructed to enquire whether Grayle was at home, reported that he had
received my note with his own hands and had replied that there was no
answer.


3

As Grayle would not come to see me, I had to go and see Grayle.

I did not want to call in Milford Square unattended,--for Grayle had
said in his haste that he would thrash me out of the house with a crop,
and I knew that he would only disappoint me from motives of prudence.
Had he been accessible, I should have liked to have George at hand to
ring the bell and, if necessary, to send for the police; and, if
prudence so far triumphed over natural impulse as to allow Grayle to
discuss terms, George would once more be a useful witness to balance
Bannerman.

Failing George, I was at a loss to know whom to invite, for Bertrand
was too old to be embroiled in such an undertaking. Beresford, of
course, was in the secret and I was wondering whether he would really
conduce to the harmony of debate, when his card was brought in with a
request for five minutes' conversation on private business.

"I came to see if you'd had any news of Sonia," he began, as the door
closed. "I've been on the look-out so far as my leg would let me. You
see, in the old days, when we were together so much, I knew something of
her haunts and habits. I haven't found a trace. At least, not of her."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

He pulled forward a deed-box and rested his leg on it, smiling grimly to
himself.

"Do you remember the first and only time you honoured me with a call?"
he asked. "It was to say that the authorities were watching my articles
very closely, one night when Sonia came to see me, and you _naturally_
assumed----"

"Appearances were against you," I said, "and it was criminally foolish,
anyway."

"Well, well!" He smiled with sardonic indulgence. "We won't waste time
on that. Appearances have been pretty consistently against me before
_and_ after, until the night when O'Rane tried to strangle me. Has it
ever occurred to you that appearances were _fabricated_ against me? We
know that Grayle let you all think--and Sonia, too, but she'd lost her
head.... I find that the thing goes much further back. I never told you
about my exploits when you were in America, did I?" he went on, nursing
his injured leg. "The first time they imprisoned me? There isn't much to
tell, but it's illuminating. I'd been writing for weeks in the
'Watchman'--all above board and over my own name. You, no doubt, would
call it pernicious stuff--or you would have then; people are coming
round to my views a bit more now--I just told the truth...." His eyes
suddenly flashed, reviving my sense that I was dealing with a man who
might any day be certified insane. "The whole truth and nothing but the
truth! The magistrate nearly choked when bits of my articles were read
aloud in court.... Well, all copy has to be in by Tuesday morning, we go
to press on Thursday, and the paper comes out on Friday. I had my usual
two sets of proofs delivered on the Wednesday; I corrected one and sent
it back, the other I tore in two and threw into the waste-paper basket.
The next day----"

"Where did this take place?" I interrupted.

"At 'The Sanctuary.' Didn't I say that? The next day, when our
housekeeper opened the office, he found an assortment of the police with
the usual warrants to search the place and confiscate anything that took
their fancy. By the time they'd taken our ledgers, our subscribers'
register, our letter-books, file copies and the whole of that week's
issue, there wasn't much for the delivery vans, when they turned up at
nine, and literally nothing at all for the editor and me at half-past
ten except two nice, kind gentlemen who put us under immediate arrest.
Quick work, wasn't it? You'd have thought that not a soul outside that
office could have known for certain that I was even writing that week,
still less that I'd written anything stronger than the usual articles. I
suspected at the time, but I couldn't bring myself to believe that
Grayle would go to that length to get me out of the way; I knew it bored
him to see Sonia talking to me, but he had a fair slice of her time, and
I didn't think then that he was more than flirting with her. Well, that
was the first step."

He paused to beg a cigarette.

"Go on," I said, as I threw over my case.

"Well, that broke down, because I did a hunger-strike, and they had to
let me out. There was another misfire about the army----"

"I heard about that," I interrupted.

"About the misfire? I wonder if you did--the early part, I mean. Do you
know that I attested in the old voluntary days? Ah, I thought not. I
kept that to myself--for fear of seeming patriotic," he added with a
sneer. "Well, when the Derby recruiting scheme came on, there was enough
hanky-panky to sicken you. I don't need to tell you that I'm not in love
with war or the idea of driving people out like sheep to be slaughtered,
but, if you have it, let it hit all classes alike. From the very first,
anyone who was strong enough to resist could be sure of getting off. The
miners said they'd strike, if anyone tried to conscribe _them_; the
Civil Service decided for itself that no one could get on without it.
Well, I thought this wanted shewing up, so I went along to Great
Scotland Yard to collect evidence at first hand. I got it right enough.
The first men I saw were a hulking lot with a crowd of papers in their
hands to declare that they were indispensable to the satisfactory
working of their departments--people like that young sot
Maitland;--they'd been forbidden even to attest till that day, but the
numbers weren't keeping up, so they were turned on to keep things going.
(I believe the police and the Merchant Marine were dragged in, too, just
to give the thing a fillip.) The doctors hardly troubled to look at me
before I was rejected; which was a pity, because I wanted copy about the
medical examination; but rejected I was, fair and square, with a
certificate and, I suppose, some record on their books. In time the
Military Service Bill was passed, and I found myself called up. Now, it
may have been an honest blunder.... It's certainly a damned odd
coincidence."

As he paused to laugh, I was more than ever struck by his likeness to a
grinning skull with a wig on it.

"But the coincidences were only just beginning," he went on. "It was a
coincidence that someone should have been nosing round among my
papers--I don't know who it was, I hardly ever lock anything, least of
all my own front door. But I _thought_ one night that things looked
unusual. I have my own taste in untidiness. Then someone let out to
O'Rane that I was being watched once more. (If I didn't seem grateful
that night, it was because you were devilishly in the way and weren't
telling me anything I didn't know before.) Then came another warrant,
another search and another arrest. By one of these _curious_
coincidences it was all on the day when O'Rane was due back at Melton,
the day when, by one last coincidence, Grayle got back from France
earlier than he'd been expected." Beresford raised his hand and brought
it resoundingly down on the table. "I can prove nothing!" he cried. "I
only say that this succession of coincidences--it's queer. And, if I was
a nuisance to Grayle in the early days, he found me very useful later
on. My God! what would I not do to get level with that man! Thank the
Lord! there's no Christian forgiveness about me. I'll leave that to
people with more time on their hands. I've a great deal to get through
in a very short space and I'd like to do him in once for myself and
three times for Sonia. Is O'Rane taking any steps?"

"There are limits to _his_ powers of forgiveness," I answered
reassuringly. "I'm calling on Grayle to-night to suggest that he should
retire from the House."

The same light of fanatical hatred came into Beresford's eyes.

"I'd give something to be there!" he cried.

I looked at him and resumed the train of thought which his entrance had
interrupted. I knew that he could control himself, if he tried, but I
did not know whether he would try.

"I was thinking of asking you, when you came in," I said. "You're in the
secret, and I don't want to admit anyone else. You know what happens!
Everyone tells everyone else on condition that it doesn't go any
farther. But can you be trusted to behave yourself? I want you as a
witness, and you may have to call for help, if Grayle tries to fulfil
his promise of thrashing me out of the house. But you're not to speak,
you're not to attempt any violence, you're not to bring even an umbrella
with you. Frankly, you see, I'm not inviting you for your amusement, but
for my convenience."

I could see his teeth grating.

"I expect I shall get my amusement out of it," he answered.

"Of course, we may not be able to get into the house, but we'll go
together. But you promise not to open your mouth or raise a finger?"

Beresford pushed away the deed-box and held out his hand.

"I promise," he said.

It was a wet, starless night when we arrived in Milford Square at ten
o'clock. I dismissed my taxi, rang the bell and waited. There was no
answer, and I rang again. It was inconceivable that, to keep me out of
the house, Grayle had disconnected the front door bell or given
instructions that it was to be disregarded on principle.

"I'm afraid I've brought you on a fool's errand," I said to Beresford,
as I rang a third time.

We looked to right and left for a second bell, an area door or any other
promise of admission. Two interested maids from a neighbouring house
joined our search-party, and a constable flashed his bull's-eye
impartially on us all and asked if we had lost anything.

"I'm trying to get into this house," I said, pointing to Grayle's door,
"and I can't make anyone hear."

He pondered for a moment and then led us into the Brompton Road.

"There was a light in the studio, when I came on duty. You may be able
to get in that way."

We groped through a narrow passage to a wooden door set in a high brick
wall. Over our heads I could see the outline of two windows, securely
curtained but with a phosphorescent border. There was neither bell nor
knocker to the door, but I battered resonantly on the thick, blistered
panels with my umbrella. For perhaps two minutes there was no answering
sound, and I banged again. This time I was rewarded by the slam of a
door, the noise of feet on a stone passage and the rasp of a heavy key.
The door opened, and my eyes, which were grown used by now to the
darkness, recognised the massive outlines of Guy Bannerman.

"Hullo? Who are you? What d'you want?" he demanded sharply.

I slipped the end of my umbrella into the doorway.

"Is Grayle at home, Guy?" I asked. "I'm Raymond Stornaway, if you don't
recognise my voice. I have to see him on very important business."

There can be few minor humiliations so disconcerting as to slam a door
and find that it will not close.

"You'll only ruin a good umbrella, Guy," I said. "Listen to reason, man.
You remember our talk the last time I was here? You know that Grayle's
by way of being cited as a co-respondent?"

"Take your umbrella out!" Guy whispered angrily, feeling for it with his
foot, but not daring to detach either hand from the door.

"I've come with a proposal from O'Rane," I said.

The energetic foot relaxed its industry.

"Grayle's given orders that you're not to be admitted," he said.

"I know. And you're enough in his confidence to say whether he's likely
to be interested by hearing O'Rane's proposal. I sent him a note this
morning, but he didn't see fit to acknowledge it. If he's going to take
the same line now, tell me at once, and I'll go away. If, on the other
hand, he'll let us in and behave himself, we'll come. I may tell you, as
I've already told Grayle, that I don't come to see him for any morbid
pleasure which I may derive from our meetings!"

Discretion and discipline did battle within Guy's spirit, and at length
he asked, "Who's 'us'?"

"I have Beresford with me," I said.

"I can't let _him_ in," was the prompt reply.

"Then we'll go home, Beresford," I said. "Good-night, Guy. Open the door
a fraction of an inch so that I can get my umbrella out, there's a good
fellow."

He did as I asked him, though guardedly. I pulled at the umbrella,
turned my back and started down the passage, followed reluctantly by
Beresford. I walked briskly for fear of spoiling the effect, and, before
I had gone ten yards, Guy was running heavily after me.

"If you care to leave a message," he began, bringing a massive hand to
rest on my shoulder.

"I don't," I interrupted.

"But, look here, Stornaway----!"

I walked on and, omitting certain obvious intermediate stages, found
Beresford and myself shortly afterwards ensconced in arm-chairs before
the fire in Bannerman's match-boarded, paper-strewn work-room over the
garage at the end of Grayle's garden. Our surroundings were serviceable
rather than sybaritic. Oil-cloth, a fur hearth-rug and a couple of
Japanese mats covered the floor; the walls were concealed, half by stout
blue volumes of the Parliamentary Debates, half by a map of Canada,
another of British South Africa and a third of the Western Front. A
double writing-table stood in the middle of the room with a sloping
desk, an oil reading-lamp and three numbered deed-boxes. There was a
reek of petrol from a private and probably illegitimate pyramid of
leaking tins, which had projected themselves upstairs from the garage.

Guy produced some cigars and left us to take care of ourselves while he
reconnoitred the house.

"I've let you in on my own responsibility," he said, as he opened the
door leading into the garden. "Whether he'll see you or not I can't
tell."

"I think he will see us," I murmured to Beresford, when we were alone.

I for one had satisfied my intellectual cravings for Canadian geography,
when we heard steps approaching on the gravel. A moment later Grayle was
framed, though he had to stoop for it, in the doorway. He looked at me
with a frown which deepened at sight of Beresford.

"Well?" he demanded.

"Good evening, Grayle," I said. "I've come with a message from O'Rane."

"What are you doing here?" he asked Beresford.

The promise was honourably observed, and there was no answer.

"I brought him as a witness in case you shewed any tendency to be
violent," I said. "Grayle, O'Rane thinks that, the sooner you give up
your seat in the House, the better. For what it's worth, I agree with
him."

He was still standing in the doorway with his fingers on the handle.
Clearly he expected something more.

"Is that all?" he asked.

"All," I said, as I got up from my chair.

"Then what the hell d'you want to come here for, wasting my time?" he
thundered. "You told Bannerman you'd got a proposal to make!"

"O'Rane proposes that you should retire from public life," I explained.
"I always think it's better to do a thing voluntarily than under
compulsion."

On that he left the doorway and came into the room.

"This is a threat, is it?" he asked, looking down on me with arms
akimbo.

"A forecast," I substituted. "I see from the papers that you may be
invited to join the Government. You will never join the Government,
Grayle, or, if you do, you'll leave it before you have time to find out
where your office is. If you retire voluntarily, you may live to an
honoured old age; if you force O'Rane to go through with his petition,
I'm afraid you'll have a very ugly fall."

Grayle loosened his belt, though with too much deliberate preoccupation
to suggest that he was about to use it as an argument in favour of our
retirement; then he unbuttoned his tunic, removed a bundle of papers
from a woollen khaki waistcoat and transferred them to one of his
outside breast-pockets.

"Do you know? your forecast does not strike me as exhaustive," he
observed, as he settled his belt in place once more. "As a preliminary,
however, does O'Rane propose to go on with the divorce?"

"Frankly, I can't tell you," I said. "He would like to consult his
wife's wishes. I make no bones about telling you, Grayle, that you get
very little out of any proposed arrangement. If she wants a divorce,
your--fair name, shall we call it?--is smirched, whatever you do; but I
fancy, unless you find your parliamentary duties too exacting for your
enfeebled health--and that within one week from to-night,--your fair
name will be smirched whether she wants a divorce or not. I can't say
what's in her mind, of course, but, if you accept defeat at once,
there's a fifty per cent. chance that you'll escape a scandal in which,
when all's said and done, you don't cut a very gallant figure. By the
way, I have to have your answer to-night."

"My answer's 'no.'"

It was given without hesitation and, so far as I could see, without
bluff. I have been connected with large commercial enterprises long
enough to be a tolerable judge.

"I'll let O'Rane know at once," I said, getting up again and motioning
Beresford to do the same. "It will be an unsavoury case, Grayle."

"Which is presumably the reason he's so unwilling to go on with it,"
Grayle sneered. "But make no mistake who comes out of it worst. _He_
hasn't bothered to think. Your--proposal I reject with thanks, but I'll
make another. You're quite right in thinking that I would sooner not be
mixed up in these proceedings any more; if O'Rane will give me a written
undertaking to drop them _here--and--now_ and never to revive them, we
can let it rest at that."

Beresford had not promised to refrain from laughter, and I excused it as
the only possible comment on the offer.

"Come along," I said to him. "We're wasting the nation's time; and the
nation won't have the benefit of it much longer."

Grayle shrugged his shoulders and led the way to the door on the lane.

"So be it!" he said. "Yet mine was a fairer bargain than yours. There
was at least a _quid pro quo_."

"I'm afraid I don't see it."

"Then I'm afraid your principals haven't instructed you very
thoroughly," he answered impatiently. "From your general tone to me, you
evidently think that I've behaved very badly, that it was my fault, that
the sympathy of the court will be entirely with O'Rane and his wife. It
may be with O'Rane," he added meaningly. "I'll tell you at once that I
propose to defend the action and, though it's only guess-work, I shall
be very much surprised if O'Rane gets a decree.... If he _likes_ washing
his wife's dirty linen in public, that's his affair, but what seems to
have been overlooked is the attitude of Mrs. O'Rane throughout. To begin
with, I can call witnesses to prove that O'Rane repeatedly proclaimed
that he wouldn't raise a finger to keep his wife, if she preferred to
risk her happiness with another man. She used to say _she_ wouldn't stay
with him, if she was unhappy; I can produce witnesses who'll testify to
that, too. Any pretence, therefore, that I burst in on a happily married
couple and forced them apart is historically untrue. And this will come
out in court. But what matters more from the point of view of Mrs.
O'Rane's reputation is the evidence--I think you were with me,
Stornaway, when she rang me up one night at the House. What you've
overlooked in your haste to condemn me, what O'Rane's overlooked in his
haste to save his wife's reputation is the part played by his wife. I'll
accept full responsibility for my share of whatever's happened, but I'm
afraid you'll find it won't ease your position. Mrs. O'Rane's letters to
me, which will, of course, be read in court, prove that it was she and
she alone----"

It was not difficult to imagine the end of the sentence. Grayle spoke
with the bored indifference of a man who has had unwelcome attentions
thrust upon him, who has tolerated them as long as he can, but who at
last and at the risk of wounding an importunate mistress.... I never
heard it, though, because Beresford, unpardonably if excusably
forgetting his promise of silence and immobility, had twitched my
umbrella from my grasp and whirled it backhanded into Grayle's face with
a cry of,

"You cad! you cad! you _bloody_ cad!"


4

The moment that the blow was struck I felt that lives would be lost
before we parted. Beresford had come to the house clamorous for blood, I
will admit at once that I had wrapped a taunt round every word that I
had spoken, and for weeks Grayle had been in a state only describable as
eruptive. I found time, however, with that curious detachment which a
brain shews when it is working with twice its usual clarity and speed to
reflect what an absurd and incongruous trio we made; Beresford dying of
consumption, all skin and bones held together by will-power--lame,
shabby, ill-groomed, with two blazing eyes in a parchment-coloured face;
Grayle towering over the pair of us, blue-eyed, pink-cheeked--with a
thread of blood running from one corner of his mouth,--yellow-haired,
like some giant's child in uniform; and, if I could have seen myself, I
should have looked on a plump, middle-aged man with, I believe, a
benevolent expression, a good many wrinkles on the forehead and round
the eyes and a thick crop of prematurely white hair.

Beresford's action was so unexpected and sudden that we--and I include
him--were temporarily paralysed. After the brief outburst there followed
a silence in which we seemed to be waiting for the end of the world to
be proclaimed. Then Grayle put his hand to his face and brought it away
wet. I watched him raise his eyebrows at the sight, walk to the door
opening on to the garden, turn the key and pocket it. (I suddenly
remembered being bullied at Eton.)

"He brought this on himself," he observed quietly to me; and, before I
had leisure to guess what he intended or see what he was doing, he had
gripped Beresford by the collar, lifted him off his feet and was
belabouring him with his stick until the ribs cracked like dry wood in a
hot fire. At the end of six swift blows the stick broke in two, and he
looked round for another weapon. A round office ruler met our gaze at
the same moment, and from opposite sides we pounced on it
simultaneously and simultaneously caught hold of it. I had two hands to
his one, however, and with a wrench I contrived to twist it out of his
grasp.

"Drop him!" I cried, but Grayle only looked round for means to renew the
attack. "I'll break your arm, if you don't."

His grip on Beresford, who was still dangling and writhing in the air
with his face purple and his feet rapping out a tattoo on the oil-cloth,
never relaxed. I raised the ruler above my head and brought it down on
Grayle's forearm with all the strength that I could muster. I had aimed
at his wrist, but a plunge by Beresford spoiled my aim. Grayle gave some
body-twist, which I was too much preoccupied to see, and an instant
later I felt his powerful fingers inside my collar and my head being
savagely bumped against Beresford's. Every other time my ear was crushed
against his fleshless skull, and the pain was excruciating. I made
ineffectual backward sweeps with the ruler, hitting Beresford as often
as I hit Grayle; I battered on his fingers and tried to drag them away
from his collar, but every effort that I made and every new injury that
I inflicted made him the drunker with lust of battle. The side of my
head felt bruised to pulp, and, when I put my hand up to protect it,
Grayle only laughed like a maniac and changed his hold so that he could
avoid the buffer and bang us on our unprotected brows.

Beresford was limp and crowing, I breathless and sweating before it
occurred to me to use my feet. Exploring for Grayle's shins with my
heel, I made sure of my mark and lashed out and up as hard as I could
kick. It is to be presumed that I caught him on his injured knee, for I
heard a gasp of pain, we were jerked abruptly backwards, and Grayle
slowly subsided, like a wounded bull in the ring, dragging us on top of
him. For a moment we lay motionless; then I heard Beresford's struggles
for breath beginning again with feverish, rumbling acceleration. He had
fallen on the mat in front of the fire, and his face was pressed so
close to the bars that the heat must have been blinding and
insupportable. I saw him trying to make a screen of his hands and heard
a diabolical laugh from Grayle. The sound gave me new strength, and I
tugged at my collar till it burst away from the stud and remained
emptily in Grayle's hands while I struggled to my feet.

I had always imagined that, however desperate my plight, I should
refrain from some methods of warfare, yet now I struck again and again
at the wounded knee, I kicked him in the wind and, if this last had not
sent him rolling and gasping on to his side, I believe I might have
tried to gouge his eyes out. It was the only time that I had ever had to
fight for my life; the instinct to live was stronger and more
resourceful than I had imagined.

As Grayle's fingers relaxed, I pulled Beresford away from the fire and
set him on his feet with his back to the wall. He was not seriously
injured, despite the drubbing from Grayle's stick, and, as soon as he
could breathe again, I saw him preparing to meet a fresh attack. My one
hope was to escape before Bannerman broke down the locked door and
redressed the balance in our numbers, before, too, Grayle had collected
enough wind to resume hostilities. Without waiting for my hat and coat,
I hurried to the door leading by the stone passage to the lane and flung
it open, calling on Beresford to follow me. As I turned on the
threshold, he made no sign of moving. I called again, telling him that
there was no time to be lost, for Grayle had taken his hands away from
the pit of his stomach and was testing his leg before getting up.
Beresford also saw that no time was to be lost, but, instead of making
for the door, he threw himself on top of his antagonist and dug
furiously in the pocket where Grayle had so ostentatiously secreted his
bundle of papers.

Though the struggle was resumed with more than all of its old fury, I
remember having another interval of lucid detachment. I had intervened
before, because Beresford was being murdered, but I had not come there
to steal papers which did not belong to me and I could not come to his
assistance again.

"Break away!" I roared at them, picking up my ruler again and hitting
both impartially.

I might as usefully have expended my energies on beating the floor. Both
were too busily engaged to heed me until with a short-arm blow of
well-nigh incredible force Grayle lifted his assailant into the air and
dropped him again into the fireplace. Then he scrambled on to one knee
and faced me.

"Stay where you are, or I'll brain you!" I cried.

He dragged himself forward, and at that I struck. I was more frightened
than I have ever been in my life before or since, for, if the phrase
have a meaning, there was murder in Grayle's eyes at that moment. The
ruler came down on the top of his head with an echoing crack, and his
trunk reeled. I hit again, though my first blow was dyeing his hair
crimson. This time a hand shot up in defence and grasped the ruler. I
pulled until I had dragged him forward on his face, but he only added a
second hand and twisted against me, as I had twisted against him three
minutes earlier. It was a question of seconds before I was disarmed, and
I contrived that, as he possessed himself of the weapon, I could spring
to the far side of the writing-table, ready to feint and dodge when he
began the attack.

There was a second pause, a second silence. With the same movement we
looked towards the fireplace, but Beresford was lying huddled and
motionless. Grayle once more put his hand to his head, once more raised
his eyebrows when he brought it away covered with blood. Dragging a
chair by his side and using its back as a prop, he limped to the second
door, pushed it closed and locked it.

"_You_ brought this on _your_self," he whispered in a voice that choked
with rage.

In equipment, physical power, training, endurance, even in length of
reach, Grayle was my superior. His one weak point was the injured knee,
and I concentrated my attack on that before he could reduce the distance
between us. Picking up the first of the deed-boxes from the table, I
raised it above my head and discharged it at his legs. It struck his
feet, I believe; certainly he staggered. Either the second was lighter
or I was over-anxious not to throw short again, for this time I hit him
in the chest and sent him stumbling and cursing until his back met the
door. He stooped as though he would return my fire, but evidently saw
the wisdom of not replenishing my ammunition. I picked up the third box,
waited until he was back in his old position and then let fly with all
the strength that I could put into an overhand swing. The missile was
too big and swift to avoid easily at so close a range, but Grayle
contrived to make a bend in his body, the box flicked his tunic over one
hip and slid along the floor until it bumped into its fellows at the
door.

"And _now_," said Grayle. "Bannerman's out of ear-shot, and even the
fiendish noise _you_'ve been making won't bring anyone to save you.
Before I've done with you, I _think_ you'll be sorry you interfered
quite so much."

He dragged himself and his chair to the edge of the table and leaned
upon it with his fists, gripping the ruler. The next moment I had sprung
back, as he threw himself forward and aimed a blow at my head with the
full reach and swing of his long body and arm behind it. The point of
the ruler glanced off the welt of my boot and dented the oil-cloth.
Grayle pulled himself back, rested his hands again on the table and
waited, eyeing me reflectively. I was coming cautiously back to my
place, when he projected himself suddenly to the right; I jumped in the
opposite direction, he stopped, and we gradually came back to our old
positions. A moment later he dived to the left, but I had hardly to
move, for he was throwing his weight on to a leg which would not bear
it. The next plunge was to the right, and this time he made a
half-circle of the table until each of us was occupying the other's
stance. With these tactics I could keep him at bay for as long as I
liked; and I have no doubt that he realised it. While he panted and
looked round him, I turned my head for an instant to see whether he had
left the key in the door. The one table-lamp, however, threw a yellow
circle of quavering light over the middle of the room and left the
extremities in shadow. Whether Grayle divined my thoughts, whether he
even noticed or understood my action, I cannot say, but the next moment
I received a violent blow on the thighs and was hard put to it to keep
my balance, as the table, furiously impelled by him, careered madly
towards the door, pinning my legs and holding me, as though I were
buried to the waist, to await his attack.

He gave himself a moment to draw breath and enjoy his triumph. The
murderous blow which had just missed me never left his intentions in
doubt, but in that moment he gave me time to use the last and only
weapon left to me. Snatching the big lamp, which flared afresh at my
grasp, I raised it aloft and brought it with a crash and tinkle on to
his head. For some time I could not understand what had happened, for
the room seemed in darkness and yet brighter than before. By the dancing
light of the fire I saw that Grayle had disappeared; and the table
yielded when I pushed against it. Then a blaze of yellow sprang up in
front of me, and I caught sight of him lying on his back with a flood of
burning oil spreading over his clothes, lapping the disorder of books
and papers which we had tumbled on to the floor and licking the border
of the Japanese mats. How much I had injured him with the lamp I could
not see; he was clasping his head with one hand and still gripping the
ruler with the other.

"Grayle, pull yourself together, man!" I cried, as though by raising my
voice I could penetrate his unconsciousness.

In a moment the flames would be pouring over his neck and face; in five
minutes, if the petrol cans were reached, the whole lath-and-plaster
shanty would be a roaring and crackling furnace. I had to extricate
Beresford and Grayle or rouse them to extricate themselves--and I
discovered that my body was trembling from the excitement of the duel
and that my head was aching savagely. I had hardly found time to think
of my injuries until then; to think of anything, indeed, but the next
thrust or parry; I had no idea how long the engagement had lasted--and
was astonished to find that less than twelve minutes had passed since
Grayle first entered the room.

"Pull yourself together!" I cried again, looking for my overcoat to wrap
round him and smother the flames. In the unevenly distributed light I
could not see it. The oil was sinking into the closely woven tunic
instead of flaring itself out on the surface, and above the pungent
smell of hot petroleum rose the more pungent smell of singeing cloth. I
caught him by the arm and tried to drag him towards the door, but at my
touch the body subconsciously grew rigid. I pulled again, and this time
he opened his eyes, frowned uncomprehendingly at me and then stared at
his blazing clothes with the stupid wonder of a drunken man trying to
remember how he came to his present plight.

"Water!" I roared. "Where shall I find water?"

He looked up at me and the expression of wonder gave place to dawning
recollection. In another moment his face was transformed. I was still
holding one arm, and he allowed himself to be pulled to a sitting
posture. Then leaving the flames to shoot vertically on to his neck and
face, he swung the ruler for a last blow on the side of my head. I
remember that I saw it coming; one's moods change so quickly that I was
aghast to find Grayle still intent on murder when I had forgotten all
that nonsense and only wanted to help him. It was so ungrateful.... And
it was so incredible! I did not even let go his arm or relax my
efforts....

The ruler struck where my head was already soft and bruised from its
late banging against Beresford's. I felt my knees slowly bending, my
body gently collapsing. Five and thirty years before a party of
second-year men had decided that no one's education was complete until
he had once at least had experience of intoxication. I was plied with a
very great deal of liquor, very scientifically mixed; and I remember
watching for the danger-signals of oncoming inebriation. Throughout the
evening I could think rationally and speak clearly; I was neither
excited nor noisy, neither elated nor depressed. I even played a game
of whist, I believe, and won a few shillings from my host. The parting
brandy and soda, however, hit me like a battering-ram; I subsided on the
ground with every muscle limp and, to my shame, crawled downstairs and
across the court on hands and knees. When Grayle's ruler brought me
down, the same partial paralysis of brain and body must have taken
place. I remember lying on my back with my knees in the air, I remember
turning on one side and raising myself on my hands; I remember crawling
with vast preoccupation to the door, feeling for the key, turning it
and, as I hope to be saved, noticing my skill in going down the short
flight of steps on all fours without pitching forward on to my head in
the passage.

Outside in the lane I paused to take breath and test my strength. By
leaning against the wall I could draw myself upright and follow a
stumbling course into the Brompton Road. A girl walking by on a
soldier's arm pointed at me and tittered; an elderly woman paused to
exclaim "Disgusting!" Otherwise no one took any interest in the
absorbing story which I could have told him--the fight, the fire.... I
turned round, all but over-balancing, to see whether the wooden
work-room was yet burned down; to my amazement there was no sign of a
single flame. Was that because you were not allowed to shew lights owing
to the war? There _was_ a war; someone had told me, or I had dreamed
it--or else I was astonishingly drunk.... Was I really trying to crawl
home from Mark Goldsworthy's rooms in King's? If so, I must have been
drunk for a very long time, for I had been dreaming all sorts of
things--dreaming that I had gone down from Cambridge, that I had done
this and that, that I was an elderly man.... It had been so vivid, this
life-story which I had dreamed in a few seconds, that I could see again
the bluest water in the world, which I knew to be the Caribbean Sea,
though no one could possibly have told me; and the approach to Colon
(what other name _could_ it have?) ...

Then I felt overpoweringly sick, but what else was to be expected when
Mark Goldsworthy had laid himself out to make me drunk? It was curious
that I should have been dining with him that night, because I knew that
he had been killed years later at Omdurman; or would be. Did he know? It
was an astounding piece of second-sight, if I knew the name of the
battle before it took place.... And how dreadful for poor Mark, who had
been at my tutor's! He was going to be killed accidentally, shot in the
back by one of his own men who had been wounded. I must never tell him
of course.... And how absurd it would all seem when I awoke, but at the
moment it was so real that I could not help believing it.... Could I or
could I not get on to my feet before I came to the gate? It would look
so bad if I were found bestially drunk before I had been a week at
Cambridge. Perhaps, if I hailed a taxi and got inside and curled myself
up on the floor, we could drive out of college unseen. It was worth
trying....

"Take me to the House of Commons, please," I said.

The man stared at me and laughed insolently. I was so tired that I could
hardly resent his manner.

"I'll pay you now, if that's what you mean," I said; and, feeling in my
pocket, I took out two half-crowns and closed the discussion by entering
the cab. He shrugged his shoulders, laughed again and pulled down the
flag of his meter; it was the last movement of which I was conscious
until he opened the door and jerked out over his shoulder,

"Here's the House of Commons."

We were by the entrance to the yard. I got out and asked him how much
the fare was.

"You've paid me once," he answered with a mixture of sympathy, cynical
amusement and sluggish concern. "You've been knocking about a bit, you
have."

I turned away and walked unsteadily along Millbank. I suppose my brain
was about three parts clear by now; I no longer fancied myself to be
leaving an undergraduate debauch of thirty-five years before. Somewhere
and somehow that night I had met with severe physical injuries; Grayle
was involved in it--and Beresford--and a strong smell of singeing, but
my head was aching too much to let me think consecutively. I wanted to
lie down and close my eyes, I would have lain down on the pavement but
for the rain (and I had lost hat, collar and coat at some point in this
nightmare evening) ... but for the rain and the risk of being thought
drunk. Anyone but a fool would have turned the head of the taxi and
driven home; I knew the hotel--though I could not give it a name, and
the number of my room; but I could only think of one thing at a time and
I longed before everything else to lie down on one of those long sofas
in "The Sanctuary" ... which was so near, too.

Some time later I remember standing with my watch in my hand, trying to
strike a match against a wet lamp-post.

Later still George Oakleigh was bending over me and trying to carry me
from the door-step into the house. He was in pyjamas, an overcoat and
slippers; I cracked some feeble joke about his hair, which was
unwontedly disordered; then I saw that I was speaking in atrocious
taste, because poor George had been in bed and asleep, and I had
unfeelingly disturbed him. I apologised, and he said that it was of no
consequence, but I had to apologise again and again, because I could not
let him be so magnanimous and, moreover, I was not at all sure that he
was accepting the apology.... He told me that I was ill and must not
excite myself. To shew him that I was not ill, I struggled to my feet
and walked into the house.

"No bones broken," he muttered. "Lie down, while I get you some brandy.
Is Matthews still your doctor?"

"I don't want a doctor, George," I said. "I shall be all right when I've
rested a bit."

He gave me nearly half a tumbler of neat brandy. As I drank it, I
experienced the most curious sensation of my life; as though a thick
cloth had been tied round my brain, I now felt it being gently
withdrawn. I saw the room steadily and could tell George not to look so
anxious; I remembered the forgotten chapters of the night, even to the
last stumble when I fell on the door-step and beat on the panels with my
fists until I became unconscious. Piece by piece my memory reconstructed
the changing scene; I wondered what had happened to Grayle and
Beresford, whether the fire had been put out, what people were
thinking....

I was too warm and drowsy to wonder long, but I remember saying very
distinctly and, as I thought, impressively,

"Don't get a doctor to me, George; and don't let anyone know I'm here."

Then I dropped asleep.


5

George came into the library next morning on his way to the Admiralty. I
was awake, because after an hour or two of sleep the physical exhaustion
which made it possible gave place to physical discomfort which
effectually banished it. My head had a collection of dull, throbbing
pains which played for a while, each by itself on its appointed spot,
and then joined hands and danced in a ring with an initial kick-off
under my swollen right ear; over the forehead they went and under the
back of the eyes, scampering to the nape of the neck, drawing breath and
toe-ing and heeling it to the starting place once more. I had a basin of
water by my sofa and relays of handkerchiefs which I dipped and spread
over my temples, but by three o'clock my arms had stiffened until I
could not bear to move them, and I spent the remainder of the night
turning from side to back and from back to side, trying to find some
surface of my body which did not feel as if the bones were running
through the flesh.

"I told Bertrand you were here," George said, "and the housekeeper, of
course. But _she_ won't say anything. How you got yourself into that
condition----"

He broke off and smiled at my cuts and bruises. Later in the day, when
I got a chance of looking at myself in a mirror, I could forgive his
smile.

"It's a long story, George," I said. "Leave it till my head feels a bit
clearer. And, once more, don't tell anyone I'm here. At the present time
I don't quite know what my civic status is, whether I'm a fugitive from
justice or what. Have you seen the papers? Is there anything that you
can fit me into?"

"I only had time to read the war news," he answered. "Look here, I've
given orders for a bed to be made up in Raney's room, and we'll shift
you, as soon as you feel like moving. Is there anything else you'd care
for?"

"The one thing I want is the papers," I said.

They were brought me ten minutes later by Bertrand, who strolled into
the library, raised his eye-brows and withdrew his cigar long enough to
give a short whistle of surprise.

"You're a pretty sight," he chuckled. "George said you wanted these. I
suppose you've been fighting the police and want to see if they're
advertising a description of you."

I hunted through the main news sheets, losing myself in columns of
official _communiqués_ and unofficial cabinetmaking, before I was
rewarded with a four-line paragraph:--

"Accident to Well-known M.P.," I read, and underneath the heading,


     "A fire broke out last evening in the house of Lieutenant-Colonel
     Vincent Grayle, M.P., in Milford Square. It is not known how the
     conflagration originated and, at the time of going to press, it is
     not possible to gauge the amount of damage done. We regret to say
     that Colonel Grayle has sustained severe injuries, which might
     easily have proved fatal. His condition is critical, and it is
     feared that there may have been actual loss of life."


I put my thumb against the paragraph, handed it to Bertrand and resumed
my search. The "Times" and "Morning Post" contained no reference to the
fire, but the late London edition of the "Daily Gazette" gave me
plentiful reading matter and rich food for reflection. There was a
title, sub-title, headings to the paragraphs and a column and
three-quarters of close, descriptive print. It opened promisingly with
"Tragedy in M.P.'s House" and progressed through "Mystery Fire in
Milford Square" to an account which must have been supplied two-thirds
by Bannerman and the rest by the constable who had directed me to the
studio in the lane. Grayle's physical state or the delicacy of his
position had kept him from contributing anything.

The narrative, so far as I remember it, ran on these lines. Mr. Guy
Bannerman, who acted as secretary to Colonel Grayle, had been reading in
the smoking-room and went upstairs at about eleven o'clock. His bedroom
looked on to a strip of garden, and in making the window secure he had
observed that the curtains in the wooden loft over the garage were on
fire. After telephoning to the fire brigade, he had seized a jug of
water, hurried into the garden and tried to force his way into the loft.
The door was locked on the inside, however, and he had to run back and
round to a second door opening on to a lane at right angles to the
Brompton Road. The room, when at last he got into it, was a sea of fire.
Some years earlier it had been roughly fitted up as a work-room and was
filled with books, loose papers and maps. There was nothing to shew how
the fire had started nor how long it had been going on, but the papers
on the floor, the table-cloth and curtains, several straw mats and a fur
hearth-rug were blazing. However it had started, its destructive course
had been materially assisted by the oil from a big lamp which had been
overturned and broken. By the door the flames were fortunately less
fierce than at the far end of the room, or Bannerman would have been
unable to enter. He emptied his jug in front of him, ran down and
refilled it from the garage, emptied, filled and emptied it again until
the fire had been driven back a few yards. It was now possible for the
first time to see through the glare of the flames, and he was horrified
to catch sight of Grayle's body lying motionless half under the table.
Dragging him to the door, he was about to carry him downstairs when he
observed a second body on the far side of the fire-place. Then he
remembered that two men had called to see Colonel Grayle on business
half an hour before; he had assumed that they must have left before the
fire broke out, as it was inconceivable that three men should have been
unable to conquer the flames at the outset.

After carrying Grayle into the garage, Bannerman returned for the second
victim, whom he recognised as a young man named Beresford. Of the third
there was no sign in the front half of the room, and he had to go for
more water. The wooden walls had now caught fire, the book-cases and
chairs were smouldering and the oilcloth had blistered and cracked and
was smoking ominously. A very few minutes' work were to shew him that
one man armed with one bedroom jug could not even keep the flames from
spreading. He ran backwards and forwards drenching the floor with water,
but never clearing a path sufficient to allow of his advancing more than
a third of the way into the room. When the fire-engines arrived, the
flames had eaten through the walls and were licking the wooden gables of
the roof; they had licked to so great effect that the first jet of water
brought down a cascade of tiles and charred rafters.

While the hoses played, Bannerman looked to the men whom he had
succeeded in carrying out. Grayle was alive and breathing faintly,
though his clothes fell away in handfuls of black ash at the first
touch, and his face and head were shockingly burnt and disfigured.
Beresford gave no sign of life. His hair was singed and blackened where
he had fallen on his face against the bars of the grate; his clothes
were as much charred as Grayle's, but his body was almost unmarked, save
for a bruise over the heart, no doubt from contact with the point of the
fender. Death was probably due to asphyxiation; this was the unofficial
opinion of the doctor, pending the inquest. Partial and temporary
asphyxiation, indeed, was the only explanation why the three men had
not either put out the flames or escaped from the burning room.

There remained the second visitor, and, as soon as the fire had been put
out, Bannerman returned to the loft. By the light of a stable lantern,
it was possible to make a cautious search. Three-quarters of the roof
had disappeared, burnt away or fallen in heaps of broken tiles and
blackened timber on the floor or in the garden; the walls on two sides,
the floor at one end had disappeared equally. On what remained lay a
pile of charred table legs and chair backs, broken glass and blistered
deed-boxes, scorched books and odd, unidentified metal fastenings and
joints, the whole dripping and lapped with sinister black water.
Bannerman explored every inch of the wreckage and returned to the garage
empty-handed. At the end, where the ceiling had fallen in, a smaller
pile of wreckage reared itself fantastically on a platform of petrol
cans. A revolving book-case and a filing cabinet, charred but intact,
were half buried under broken tiles and blackened volumes of
Parliamentary Debates; a stout table leg and a small safe lay further
away; and there was the reeking half of a burnt fur-coat.

My interest in the "Daily Gazette" narrative quickened at this point.
Mr. Bannerman had admitted Beresford and another (whose name was not
given). They had tried the front door-unsuccessfully, because all the
servants were out for the night. A constable had suggested their going
round to the door in the lane; they had entered; there was no hint that
one had left before the other. No doubt in a few hours negative proof
would be forthcoming, but, until that appeared, or until a further
examination could be made, it was possible that the second visitor had
been a second victim.

"I'm afraid we've seen the last of young Beresford," I said to Bertrand.

"What's happened to him?" he asked.

"You haven't read this yet?" I said. "Well, wait till George comes back
at lunch-time, and I'll tell you the whole story. I rather fancy that a
good many people have seen the last of me. I say, Bertrand, have you
ever been present at a cremation?"

He looked at me sorrowfully.

"I should have thought you'd had enough trouble for one night," he said.

"I have, I can assure you. But my career of crime is in its
infancy--I'll explain all this at lunch;--I want to know what sort of
fire it takes to consume a human body so that there's no trace of flesh,
blood, hair, bone, clothing----"

"God knows!" he interrupted. "You'd better ring up Brookwood."

"I don't think I'm likely ever to ring up anyone again," I said--rather
rashly.

Some while before his usual hour George hurried in with a scared
expression and wondering, wide-open eyes. He was carrying the mid-day
editions of two or three evening papers, and I saw that I should not
have to explain much after all. The only point of interest to me was
that Colonel Grayle was not yet in a position to give any account of
what had happened.

"And, until he does," I told Bertrand and George, "I propose to keep
quiet, too. You see, there's unfortunately no doubt that he and I each
tried to kill the other and between us we've succeeded in killing
Beresford, though I can't say for certain if it was asphyxiation or the
blow on the heart. I'm responsible for that fire. When I see what story
Grayle puts up, I shall be better able to decide."

It was not going to be an easy explanation to frame, and the papers were
already beginning to wonder how two, and perhaps three, grown men could
be imprisoned in a room with two doors, one of them unlocked. If
Bannerman could get in some time later, they could have got out some
time earlier. I was only wondering why Bannerman had suppressed my name;
did Grayle think that he had _two_ lives on his conscience?

The evening papers gave a better account of him, though he was still
too weak to satisfy the curiosity of the reporters. They also reminded
their readers of his political career and the possibility of his being
included in the new government.

"Have you thought out your own position?" Bertrand asked me uneasily,
throwing aside his paper.

"I don't know that I have," I answered. "I'd sooner leave Grayle to
explain."

"H'm. You came here, stayed here--as much knocked about as you please,
raving, unconscious. But, when everyone in London's asking how the fire
broke out, no one in the house can find a word to say."

"If Grayle's unconscious, I'm unconscious," I answered. "He can invent
the explanation of the fire, and I'll stand by what he says."

Bertrand sat heavily on the foot of my bed with an expression of obvious
dissatisfaction.

"Every hour you stay here----"

"I don't pretend that it's ideal," I interrupted. "But I shall wait for
Grayle."

I was not allowed to wait for Grayle. And, if neither Bertrand nor I
were satisfied with my silence, we had no reason to be more satisfied
when I broke it. Yet I hardly see how I could help myself and I am sure
that on balance I do not regret my action. The morning papers next day
added little to the established facts and wide-ranging guess-work of the
evening before, though, as a humane man, I was glad to see that Colonel
Grayle's progress was as satisfactory as could be expected. There was a
brief report of the inquest on Beresford--death by misadventure, with
asphyxiation as the immediate cause, unsatisfied wonder on the Coroner's
part that such a fire could have taken place, coupled with regret that
Colonel Grayle was not well enough to give evidence. Of greater interest
to me was an obviously inspired hint that a new department was to be
formed for the control of recruiting and that Grayle was likely to be
made its head. If the announcement lacked novelty, its setting did not;
for the first time Grayle's own paper--he subsidised it, if he did not
in fact own the controlling majority of the shares--accepted
responsibility for the forecast.

I read the announcement about eleven in the morning. I thought over it
for perhaps half an hour. Then an idea came to me, which I was powerless
to resist. Without considering its effect on him or on myself, without
thinking of anything but that I meant to do this, had to do this, I
crawled out of bed and made my way painfully downstairs to the library.
I was astonishingly weak in body and I have good reason now to think
that I was a little light-headed at the time, but I am not looking for
excuses. When I had made sure that I had the library to myself, I
dragged two very stiff legs to the writing-table at the far end, sat
down and asked for Grayle's number on the telephone. It was repeated to
me, and I realised for the first time that I had not yet decided what to
say. And, before I could collect my thoughts, a woman's voice was
exclaiming rather impatiently,

"Hullo! Yes! Hullo!"

"I want to speak to Colonel Grayle," I said.

"I'm sorry to say Colonel Grayle is ill."

"It's essential that I should speak to him. Will you please have me put
through to his room?"

There was a perceptible pause, and I chose to fancy that my voice had
sounded impressive.

"Er, who shall I say it is?" she asked.

"It will be enough, if you say that it's very urgent."

"I don't know that he's well enough to speak. Are you sure you can't
give me a message?"

"If he's well enough to take a message from you, he's well enough to
listen to it from me. Please be as quick as you can."

The pause this time was longer, there were mysterious metallic clicks
and buzzes; then a man's voice said,

"Hullo?"

"Is that Grayle?" I asked.

"Yes. Who's speaking?"

As he had not recognised my voice, I could leave recognition or avowal
to come later.

"It's about this announcement, Grayle," I went on.

"_Who_ is _speaking_?" he asked again with growing irritation.

"Your appointment, I mean. You know what will happen, if you take it;
you can't say you haven't been warned. I suggest that, before it's too
late----"

Faintly, as though the sound were coming through cotton wool, I heard a
muffled cry. I waited, but there was no other sound.

"Grayle?" I began again.

But there was still no sound.



CHAPTER SEVEN

THE DOOR RE-OPENED

     " ... Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood
     at the door of the house of Elisha.

     And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan
     seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt
     be clean.

     But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought,
     He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of
     the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover
     the leper.

     Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the
     waters of Israel, may I not wash in them, and be clean ...?"
                                               II KINGS 5:9-12.


1

When a man has crossed the water-shed of forty, his power of
recuperation is sorrily reduced. Perhaps he succumbs less easily to
illness or injury, the bruises may take longer to shew themselves, but
they also take far longer to disappear.

I found this literally and metaphorically true during the weeks when I
lay at "The Sanctuary." After my one painful descent to the telephone, I
returned to bed and stayed there for a month. One part of my body after
another swelled and changed colour; I was pitifully weak, and for the
first time in my life my nerves seemed to have gone limp. The memory of
my fight with Grayle haunted me, I could not concentrate my mind on
anything and I lacked the native buoyancy to want to get well. Bertrand
and George were obviously anxious, but even to oblige them I could not
put forth strength which was not in me; the weeks rolled by, and I
remained a listless and, I am afraid, an exacting and irritable invalid.

As my name had not been published, as I could in fact plead serious
ill-health at the time of the inquest on Beresford, I saw no purpose in
thrusting myself on the public until I knew what explanation Grayle
proposed to give. Curious enquirers were simply informed that I had met
with an accident. In the early days we used to watch the bulletins of
Grayle's health and the formation of the new government in parallel
columns; and the second made more rapid progress than the first. The
chief offices were allotted, one after another, and the minor positions
down to the last Junior Lordship of the Treasury; at the beginning it
was occasionally stated that "at one time Colonel Grayle's name was
mentioned in connection with" this or that or the other appointment;
gradually the references to him became rarer until his own paper wrote
his political epitaph and announced with conventional regret that, while
the Prime Minister was believed to have been hoping to make use of his
services, his present condition of health put the acceptance of any
office out of the question.

Bertrand smiled grimly, as he shewed me the paragraph, but I was
impatiently waiting until Grayle's condition of health enabled him to
give me a lead. It came at last through the medium of Bertrand on a
night when he had been dining at the House and had seen Grayle for the
first time since the fire. I am a tolerably humane man and, though I had
struck upon provocation and in defence of my own life, I regretted the
state to which I had reduced my opponent. He now walked with two
crutches and a sling for his foot in place of the one stick; his head
was generously bandaged, and, though a curious faint down was beginning
to appear on the exposed portions of his scalp, he no longer wore a
moustache, and his eyebrows were singed out of existence.

A circle of his friends was bombarding him with questions and comments
from all sides at once--"You had a near shave," "Were you badly hurt?"
And then the inevitable enquiry--"How did it start?"

Grayle began a roaming description of the garage and loft, its
tinder-dry wood-work, its equipment of inflammable papers and the like.

"There was a large quantity of petrol there, too," he explained
confidentially, "but I don't want this talked about. I had no business
to have it there; it was too near the house; the place--as we've amply
shewn--was in no sense fire-proof. I should have the County Council or
some other damned interfering body on my back, if it came out; I'm not
claiming from the insurance company, as it is, for fear of too many
questions. They let me down lightly at the inquest, because there was no
one who could give evidence. So this is a secret session," he ended with
a laugh, as he began to hoist himself away towards a chair.

One or two of his companions followed and relieved him of his crutches,
as he sat down.

"But how did it start?" he was asked again.

"The lamp was overturned," Grayle answered promptly. "You see, I got a
message that this poor fellow Beresford--he was the deluded fanatic who
was always getting locked up for seditious pamphlets, you know--that he
wanted to see me on urgent business, so I went off, expecting to find
that the fellow was in trouble again--I knew him slightly, you see; we'd
met at people's houses--when I got there, we sat and talked a bit. Well,
he was lame--like me...."

He paused and pulled at the bandage on his head.

"Where had I got to?" he asked a moment later.

"You sat and talked," Bertrand put in from behind.

Grayle turned round quickly and caught sight of him for the first time.

"You're the very man I've been wanting to see!" he exclaimed; and then
to the others, "Excuse me a minute."

Bertrand pulled up a chair, as they withdrew.

"You must be grateful to me for coming when I did," he began. "The story
didn't seem to be going with much of a swing."

"You can leave my explanation to take care of itself," Grayle answered
shortly.

"I felt I could make it a bit fuller," Bertrand suggested.

Grayle looked at him enquiringly.

"I see. Well, you're at liberty to tell your tale, and I'll tell mine.
Or we can both leave it where it is. I admit that some people aren't
quite satisfied at present, but I manage to get rid of them,--as you've
seen. If you want me even to drop a hint that there was an attempt
at----?"

His lips formed the word, but he did not utter it; and the unexpected
silence was surprisingly sinister.

"It's no business of mine what lies you tell," Bertrand answered. "Is
that all you wanted to say? If so, I'll move along."

In the week before Christmas O'Rane returned from Melton to find me
immovably billeted upon him. After the first greetings he sat silent and
reflective. I could see that he wanted to talk and did not know how to
begin. The room was his wife's, and there were still marks by the lock,
where he had burst it from the wood-work. God knows what his thoughts
must have been! As I looked at his slight figure, lazily reposing in a
long chair, and at his self-possessed, unrevealing face, I found it hard
to picture the scene when he broke in the door. And for the thousandth
time since that day of tragedy I asked myself what had been left him in
life and longed for him to ask at least for sympathy, if he knew that I
could give him no more help.

When he spoke, it was to make some comment on the war. The month-old
rumour that the cabinet had broken on the question of peace negotiations
was still flourishing. Rather than face another winter in the trenches
the German Government was alleged to have made an offer to evacuate
Belgium and northern France with the alternative of a threat, in the
event of the war's continuing, that every neutral and allied ship
sailing under whatsoever flag would be sunk at sight without warning. A
school that was faint-hearted in asserting itself, even if it were not
faint-hearted in the prosecution of the war, whispered that we must not
miss our market and--in Bertrand's phrase--refuse terms now that we
should have to accept gratefully and after the loss of another half
million men in six months' time. The rival school of stalwarts
proclaimed with great show of reason that Germany would talk of peace
only at her own convenience--or necessity--and that her needs were our
opportunity.

We went on to talk of the new government and its prospect of life. In
the week before I was incapacitated political passion in London rose
higher than I have ever known it. The old government, tired and
indolent, half-hearted and uncaring, was losing the war beyond hopes of
recovery. The new government had intrigued its way into place, selling
its soul to Lord Northcliffe, as Faust sold his soul to the devil.... As
a very independent member I was privileged to hear both opinions in
approximately equal numbers and certainly with equal violence of
expression. I described to O'Rane two characteristic meetings within
five minutes of each other. I had been walking from my office to lunch
at the County Club one day, when I stopped to observe an unusual number
of cars and a considerable crowd of loafers outside the Reform Club.
George Oakleigh came up from behind and asked what I was watching.

"It's the party meeting," he explained. "Aren't you going?"

"Not invited, George," I said. "I'm left out of these pleasant little
gatherings. What are they meeting about?"

"To hear a statement from Asquith. There'll be a vote of confidence, I
suppose. He's still the leader of the Liberal Party!" he proclaimed with
a note of challenge.

"This partisan enthusiasm is new to you," I commented.

Any hint of raillery was lost on him.

"I daresay it is!" he cried. "I was a candid friend in the old '06
parliament, I've voted against them a score of times, but, when I see
how they held the country together in the first shock of the war, when I
see what they did.... And now to be turned out by a low press conspiracy
and a man who owes his political salvation to Asquith, a man who was
pulled out of the gutter at the time of the Marconi scandal ... when
the whole party nearly split. My God! talk about gratitude in politics!"

He hurried away still most unwontedly explosive, and I followed more
slowly. At the corner of St. James' Square I found Beresford also
watching the crowd. (It was our last meeting before he called on me in
the afternoon of our tragic expedition.)

"They're broken! Their noses are in the dirt,--and thank God for it!" he
cried, pointing excitedly across the road. "_They_ were responsible!
_They_ dragged us into the war, it was _their_ war, _their_ diplomacy!
Asquith, Haldane and Grey. And now they're in the gutter!"

I remember walking on to luncheon with both conceptions to digest as an
appetiser.

O'Rane and I talked long of political futures. The Government had
resigned without challenge or defeat; we may have felt that we ought to
have been consulted, as a compliment to the unfailing support which we
had given; we might even dislike the new ministry's mode of birth, but
we agreed in thinking that we must give the new management a trial
before reverting to those who had failed to keep order in their own
home. Suddenly O'Rane interrupted me with a question which shewed that
his thoughts had been for some time at a distance from domestic
politics.

"Er--Stornaway," he said with noticeable nervousness. "You remember when
you came to see me at Melton some weeks ago? You were going to set
enquiries on foot to find out where Sonia had got to."

I told him what had been done and how we had failed. There had not been
many days for me between giving my promise of help and involving myself
in the encounter with Grayle, but George and his sleuth-hound colleague
continued to ransack every resource suggested by friendship or
professional pique. And at the end of three weeks they were as near
finding her as at the beginning.

"She is either staying with friends or hiding away in rooms somewhere,"
I told O'Rane as my conclusion. "And I can't suggest any way of tracking
her down. It's a waste of time to advertise; she's hiding, because she
doesn't want to be found. If I may advise you, wouldn't it be wiser to
leave her where she is? I take it that you've stopped proceedings?"

"I've stopped proceedings," he answered, and his chin dropped forward on
to his chest so that I should not see the movements of his thin face.

"Then there's nothing to discuss with her. If at any time in the future
she or you want to regain your liberty, you can start out to get in
touch with her then. Any question of stopping her allowance is mere
persecution--and I don't even know that it's likely to be successful
persecution. She drew a cheque for twenty pounds on the day she left
Grayle; and she's not drawn a penny since. It'll take some time to
exhaust her balance, and, if she finds that her quarterly cheque isn't
being paid regularly, you know even better than I do that she'll starve
or beg or work her fingers to the bone before she'll give in."

O'Rane was long without answering. Then he dragged himself out of the
chair, shook hands and bade me good-night.

"I must have a look for her myself," he murmured, as though he were
thinking aloud.

"O'Rane, she's clearly avoiding you," I pleaded. "Will it do any good?"

"I _must_ meet her!" he cried tremulously.

If I said a very brutal thing then, I said it because I thought that in
the long run it was kindest.

"Let me tell you one thing before you go," I begged him. "O'Rane, you're
not facing realities, you know; you're playing with the idea of
reconciliations, you think that it's possible to get your wife back and
to live with her again. My dear boy, you must use your imagination.
Think of the mental process that took her away, think what her
experience has been, think what her mental state must be now. She will
never come back to you. And you couldn't live with her, even if she
did." O'Rane went out of the room without answering by word or gesture.


2

On Christmas Day George came into my room after dinner. He betrayed
considerable excitement and was carrying a stout red book in one hand.

"I've tracked her down!" he exclaimed almost before the door was closed.

"Tracked who down?" I asked without any great interest.

"Sonia. I caught sight of her at the Savoy--outside the Savoy,
rather--after lunch. The Maitlands were giving a party, and, as we came
out into the court-yard, Gerald Deganway put up his eye-glass and dug me
in the ribs. Then I saw her in some kind of livery or uniform, driving a
car. She didn't see me, and I don't think she wanted to be seen, because
she was sitting rather hunched up and with her face turned away.... Then
an old general stumped out and told her where to go; she said, 'Yes,
sir,' turned the head of the car and drove away. I just had time to see
the number and I spent a useful hour or two this afternoon finding who
it belonged to. Apparently the old boy calls himself Brigadier-General
Sir Andrew Lampwood. Now we'll turn him up in 'Who's Who.'"

He dropped into a chair, filled a pipe and began to turn the pages.
General Lampwood, I gathered from his fragmentary recital, had been
educated at Eton and Sandhurst ... had served in Egypt, India, Egypt
again and South Africa ... despatches, medals, clasps ... a widower with
two sons ... one house in Wilton Crescent and another in Norfolk ...
Naval and Military, Turf, Ranelagh....

"Well, if Raney wants her, he knows where to find her," he ended. "I
suppose you've never met this Lampwood? No more have I." He shut the
book with a snap and drummed with his knuckles on the binding. "No
wonder we couldn't find her; she's probably living in rooms near by,
driving for him all day.... I'm surprised that nobody should have seen
her till to-day; she's so well-known, and it's the sort of thing the
picture-papers love to get hold of." He sniffed contemptuously.
"'Recruit to the Ranks of Society War-Workers!' ... I suppose she can
only just have felt that she must do something and have somewhere to
live----"

"Do you find people still talking about her?" I interrupted.

"They always have and they always will." He lay back and smoked for a
few moments in a reflective silence. "Ever since she came out.... Of
course, she's a really beautiful woman--always has been--and she's got a
lot of glib society patter and she _can_ make herself almost
irresistible to most men. As she would say herself, her technique is
perfect. And, if you never waste your energy on emotions, I suppose
you're left with a tremendous lot for your precious technique. She can
be so charming to everyone, when she likes, that she'll make a success
of anything from a sticky dinner to a charity bazaar. She was always a
success, she knew it, she got temperamentally drunk on it--until I think
that the only thing she cared about was being admired, wanted, loved....
And now she's driving a car for a dug-out general...."

"But what are people saying about her?" I persisted.

"Oh, the old scandal's been toned down to almost nothing. She was being
seen about with Grayle too much, and Raney put his foot down and said it
was to stop." He grinned maliciously. "Lady Pentyre told me at lunch
to-day that it was perfectly abominable the way people went about
_inventing_ lies--and about a _sweet_ girl like that! It came so well
from Lady Pentyre."

He smoked in silence until O'Rane came in for the five minutes that he
always spared me on his way to bed. George repeated what he had told me
and asked if there was anything that he could do.

O'Rane listened without any change of expression and then said that he
would write to Lady Dainton.

"There's nothing more you'd like me to do?" George asked again.

There was a moment's hesitation in which O'Rane's unsmiling face became
graver.

"Well, I can't do it for myself," he said and paused again. "I--I wonder
if it would be possible for you to get a word with Sonia--find out what
time she starts in the morning and then intercept her----"

"Well?" George encouraged him.

"I wouldn't bother you, if I could see," O'Rane resumed apologetically.
"Tell her that if she wants anything----"

I felt that it was time to interfere.

"She can go to her parents," I said. "O'Rane, we're all of us different
men and women every day of our lives, we're always changing, never the
same. Some things change us more rapidly than others, marriage, illness,
great prosperity or great disaster, the death of a friend--my dear boy,
I'm only telling you what you know already. Because your name doesn't
change, because you look the same and your hair doesn't turn white from
illness or grief, you think that _you're_ the same. You're _not_. And
_she's_ not. Since you parted, there have been changes and developments
in both your souls which will prevent your ever coming together again.
You don't like me to say it, but you'll have to recognise it."

The boy's eyes seemed to shine with reflected pain at every word.

"But isn't there room for something new?" he asked. "A man may love a
woman with all his heart and soul, he may marry her, she may die; in
time he may marry again--without forgetting her, without transferring
the affection he once gave her--leaving her in the place where she's
always been since she died, but somehow creating a new love. Don't you
think that when two people ... separate, the husks of their love may die
... their old love, I mean, they may even hate the memory of it, but in
time, perhaps, a new one may be born ...?"

"Between the same people? My friend, the memory of the separation, the
reasons for it, will rise up like ghosts to keep them apart. You want
her to come back?"

For the first time a wan smile lit up his thin face.

"Do you wonder?"

"What can you give her that you didn't give her before?" I persisted.

He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.

"I shouldn't like to think that a second chance is always thrown away."

"And what inducement can you offer?" I asked him brutally.

He spread out his hands with a shrug.

"What inducement did I offer before? We've been in love with each other
so long! At one time she was actually engaged to another man.... But
there was something constant and unchanging. She didn't forget him or
hate him, but in time she had adjusted herself and come back to the
thing that had always been there, hidden and unchanged.... So now, isn't
it possible that, when the last six months fall into their proper
perspective, when the ghosts no longer rise up----"

"How many people have you known to marry a second time after they've
been divorced?"

"But there's no reason why they shouldn't."

"In fact they don't," I said.

I believe that George delivered himself of his message within about
three days. I believe, further, that he descended to bribe some smirking
kitchen-maid and stood through a downpour of rain to seize the
opportunity. Mrs. O'Rane masked any surprise that she felt--I suppose
that she must have been taking part in many unexpected
meetings,--thanked him for troubling to come and transferred her
attention to the wind-screen, as a choleric voice remarked, "Now, young
man, when you've quite finished talking to my chauffeur!"

The meeting confirmed my own diagnosis. The play was ended, and, if I
concerned myself with wondering what O'Rane and his wife would do with
the remainder of their lives, I felt that this would be a new play, no
continuation of the first. The brief scandal had flickered out as
abruptly as it had flared up. Lady Maitland--my barometer and
sounding-board--announced to Bertrand across the length of a
considerable table that she had seen darling Sonia, who had really
turned over a new leaf; it was the best thing in the world; she was
taking the war seriously at last.

"Do you know, that dear child is never off duty Sundays or week-days,
night or day?" she confided. "You try to get her to lunch or
dine--she'll tell you frankly that it's not the least use promising,
because, if her General wants her, out she has to go and she may be
driving for him all night. I don't see how she _can_ keep it up--not
seeing anyone, you know, or doing anything, and after the life she _had_
been leading. Of course, she was really very naughty about the way she
did it--all in a night, you know--threw everybody over--I was running an
entertainment on behalf of my society, and she simply spoilt one
tableau.... But then that's so like darling Sonia."

"She's less of a fool than I thought," was Bertrand's comment to me. "No
awkward questions, nobody to meet her and ask them! Can't live at home
when she has to be ready with the car at a moment's notice.... I hope
General Sir Andrew Lampwood has broad shoulders.... She's snug and
secure till the war's over, and God knows when that will be."

I made no answer, for I was thinking of O'Rane. On New Year's Eve he had
dined at home with George and Bertrand, and all three came up to my room
afterwards. We made a despondent party, for the endlessness of the war
daunted us as the third year added month to month with lengthening
casualty lists and a growing sense that, when we had already failed so
many times and in so many ways, there was no reason why we should not go
on failing. Each one of us was far enough from reality to be conscious
of helplessness and insufficiency; I could not count the number of
times that Bertrand had growled, "I've done with the House! I'm not
going down there any more. What _good_ can we do?"--the number of times,
too, that he repented and saw the House as the one independent and
courageous check on an imbecile and malign government. Stripped of all
mental elasticity and enthusiasm, George hated the Admiralty with a
savage ferocity that was made no less by the easy youth which he had
passed, uncontrolled, undisciplined and effortless. And underneath our
nervous depression and irritability lay a despondent sense that the
moral grandeur of the war had become obscured.

"I suppose the pace was too hot," George observed gloomily. "But in
those first weeks.... They may not have known what they were going out
to face, but they went like good 'uns; and the people who stayed behind
were ready for any sort of sacrifice of money, comfort, leisure. All the
spiritual fervour seems to go now in trying to make _other_ people do
things, keeping _other_ people up to the mark.... God! I'm sick of the
press agitations, I'm sick of all this political intrigue, I suppose I'm
sick of the war."

O'Rane nodded, but made no answer.

"I don't ask anyone to listen to me," George went on with unwonted
bitterness, "because I've been wrong all through. So have you, Bertrand.
We were wrong before the war, when we said there couldn't be a war; and
we were wrong when we started yapping about a 'war to end war.' We can't
even make a clean job of this, we can't make the Hun put up his hands
and say he'll go back to the _status quo_, and as for dismembering
Germany and deposing the Kaiser--we can't do it! But when I remember my
own tom-fool speeches at the beginning----"

"But we couldn't keep out of it, George," O'Rane interjected.

"And precious little good we've done by going in. I suppose we _have_
stopped Germany from dominating Europe, but, as for our own honour, we
offered that up on the altar of necessity when we found that we were
fighting a nation that meant to win if it darned well could. Our later
policy's become frankly imperialistic; there's no ethical connection
between Belgian neutrality and the partition of Turkey and Austria. I'm
afraid I've taken a deuced long time to see it...." He turned to me with
a scornful smile. "Do you remember when you first came back to England?
When we met outside the Admiralty?"

"I've often thought of that conversation," I said.

"Everything seemed to follow so naturally in those days," he sighed.
"Disarmament, nationality, a tribunal to arbitrate between states.
Raney, you were one of the most persistent optimists I've had the
ill-luck to meet; you're not going to pretend that the entire thing's
not the most futile, gigantic waste ... whole peoples in arms hacking
themselves to death and not a damned thing gained! _You_ don't think
we're going to win this war?"

For the first time in six months I saw O'Rane roused to impersonal
interest.

"I don't know if anybody's going to win," he answered. "And, what's
more, I don't greatly care."

"If you were back in August, '14?" George asked, looking him in the eyes
and then quickly turning away.

"I'd go through it again," was the quiet reply.

George got up and began to pace restlessly up and down the room.

"The big thing about this war is quite independent of results," O'Rane
explained. "It's the effect on the individual, the effort, the risk, the
readiness to make sacrifice. I always hold that there's no room in life
for compromise. You know that, don't you, George?" He held out his hand
and pulled George on to the arm of his chair. "From the days when we
were at Melton together. You and dear old Jim Loring and Tom
Dainton--dear God! how this war has killed them off!--you used to thrash
me, you brutes, to make me see that I must compromise, but you never
won. And always before the war I thought that compromise--what I call
moral cowardice and spiritual slovenliness--was the only thing that
people minded about. They didn't _care_. It wasn't their _business_! If
the world was cruel and licentious or base-minded, they always asked me
to remember that human nature was human nature." He sprang up with a
sudden wriggle as though he were jerking an incubus from his shoulders.
"As a nation we were contented with the second-rate--compromise,
toleration, ease; we were second-rate in life, art, politics,
second-rate in humanity, in soul.... And then there came the war--and it
was the big moment when we had to decide whether to fight our way
through the flames or to stand in distant security and explain to the
reporters that there was a child, sure enough, in the top storey, but
that it would be suicide to attempt a rescue and what was the fire
brigade for, anyway?... We had to decide, we had to make up our minds
that there was something big enough to suffer and sacrifice ourselves
for.... All of us who went out there thought, rightly or wrongly, that
we'd found something that admitted of no compromise.... Even if you went
out of bravado, like poor Val Arden, so as not to be thought a funk....
What it was--I don't quite know ..." he went on slowly. "I doubt if any
of us know, and we certainly didn't at the time. Perhaps it was for the
security of the people at home.... I know I was seeing red, I'd have
slit the throats of German women and children at that time--in revenge
for what they did in Belgium.... But before that started, before war was
declared.... You remember that last week-end of the Saturnia regna,
George? When we walked up and down, up and down at Loring Castle,
wondering whether there was anything worth saving.... Well, whenever I
catch myself feeling as you do now, I recall that about four million men
voluntarily decided that there was something in life better than their
own lives, something that had to be preserved, something that ruled out
all compromise. That's the moral value of war. After all, what is it you
do when you run into the flames and rescue the kiddie from the top
storey? You save its life, I admit, and that's something, if you value
human life, but the child may die a week later of whooping-cough, it
may grow into a drunkard, an imbecile, a criminal. What matters it that
you've taken yourself, your own soul, and given it a value?... When this
is all over, if we lose, if we're bankrupt and broken, if Germany
enchains us like so many tribes of African blacks, it still doesn't
matter to the men who refused to compromise, they've made themselves....
Yes, quite deliberately, I'd--go through it--all--again.... And, when
the war's over, we can't afford to tolerate anything but the best, we
haven't been fighting for the second-rate. And we've got to prepare our
own minds for that now, so that the material changes follow
automatically. You must start with the individual, your _own_
relationship to the world in all its aspects. Hanging for sheep-stealing
ceased automatically when the public mind had prepared itself, stirred
itself up to say 'This has got to _stop_!' and the compromisers, the
obscurantists, the vested interests daren't raise their heads. You
think, perhaps, that I'm not the best person to decry the usefulness of
compromise----"

He stopped abruptly, and all the light and colour died out of his big
eyes.

Bertrand, whom I thought to be dozing, raised his head for a moment and
lowered it again.

"Didn't Saint Paul say something about being all things to all men?" he
asked gently. "Saint Paul was a great diplomatist, a great man of the
world. You'd say he was a great compromiser, David, but at least he knew
how to suit himself to his audiences, to make allowances for poor,
despised human nature. And perhaps you'll even admit that he was not
altogether unsuccessful and that Christianity would never have spread a
hundred miles from Jerusalem but for him. I sometimes think he has been
unduly neglected," he continued with a yawn. "Christianity would have
been a poor thing without him."

"It would have been a poorer thing without Christ," O'Rane answered.
"And there would have been no Christianity at all, if Christ had said
that the Scribes and Pharisees were doing their best according to their
lights ... or that we must make allowances for Dives because he had a
great many calls on his charity and really couldn't investigate each one
personally. Of course, there'd have been no Crucifixion...."


3

The Christmas holidays passed rapidly, and I remember that O'Rane told
me one Sunday night that he would be going back to Melton in another ten
days' time. None of us cared to ask him how much longer he proposed to
continue this make-shift life, teaching seventeen-year-olds for nine
months in the year and learning procedure in the House of Commons during
the remainder; it was his means of trying to forget that his wife was in
the same city, living within a mile or two of him, driving perhaps
within a hundred yards of their house or passing him in the street,
elusive and unattainable.

After George's glimpse and single meeting, we heard little of her.
George told me that he had met "Sonia's General," as that no doubt
gallant soldier came to be called with unflattering disregard of earlier
and more varied achievements, that he was an agreeable fellow, that
someone was putting him up for the Eclectic Club. They fell into
conversation and discussed the prowess of the new driver; the General
had been taken completely by surprise.

"If she'd said 'Sonia Dainton,' anyone would have known," he explained.
"I'd forgotten she was married. She suits me uncommon well,--if she can
stand the strain...."

A day or two later Bertrand made the General's acquaintance and came
home with the not very surprising news that Mrs. O'Rane had terminated
her engagement.

"I never supposed that phase would last long," he grunted. "Up early,
back late, out in all weathers and thankful if you can snatch five
minutes to munch a sandwich out of a paper bag. There'd be very little
of this boasted 'war-work' done, Stornaway, if people weren't allowed to
go about in uniform, and none at all, if the first condition of your
employment was that no one was allowed to know that you were doing
war-work of any kind. _I_ can see the offices and hospitals yielding up
their social ornaments! Well, Sonia O'Rane's at least honest about it. A
week or two with only a livery and no one to admire her----!"

"She's got no excuse now for living anywhere but at home," I commented.

Bertrand grunted scornfully.

"Give her credit for a little more contrivance than that! She leaves her
General at the end of the month, by which time her husband will be
safely back in the country. But she hopes to take it up again, when
she's a bit stronger. I had this from the General; he shewed me her
letter. Damned ill-written scrawl," he added with the intolerance which
ran away with him whenever his prejudices were aroused. "She'll
recuperate by lunching and dining out and dancing and staying up till
all hours; and the moment David comes back to London she'll be well
enough to go back to her precious work. You see if I'm not right."

This time, however, Bertrand's ingenuity and malice overreached
themselves, for we heard from Lady Maitland that Mrs. O'Rane was
genuinely ill.

"I used to see her every morning," she told George, "as I went to
Harrod's, and nine times out of ten we had just a word together. Then I
missed her, then I saw the car being driven by someone else. I hope it's
nothing serious."

The conversation took place at a luncheon party where O'Rane was
present. George took it upon himself to reassure her, but from the fact
that Mrs. O'Rane had disappeared even more completely than after leaving
Grayle there was a risk in fabricating good or bad news about her.
General Lampwood supplied her address, and one evening when there was
nothing better to do George went round to her lodgings. They consisted
of a bed-sitting room in a street off Wilton Crescent conveniently near
to the garage. She was in bed, and the landlady doubted whether visitors
would be very welcome, as she was suffering a good deal of pain.

"That decided me," George told me. "She hadn't actually said she
wouldn't see anyone, because I'm pretty sure she didn't think it would
be necessary. I gave her the surprise of her life when I marched in; she
couldn't imagine how I'd heard she was ill, how I'd found out her
address.... She's now suffering from the most awful reaction after the
racket of the last year. Nothing that I said or did was right; she was
as lonely as a woman could be and at the same time resented my coming,
resented my saying she looked rotten and ought to see a doctor...." He
frowned and shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "She needn't bother. She
won't catch me going there a second time."

Yet rather less than ten hours passed before he was caught going there a
second time. Indeed he can hardly have left the house before Mrs. O'Rane
was writing in contrition--"Darling George, do forgive me if I was
snappy and ungracious, but I _did_ feel so rotten! It was my own fault
that nobody came to see me, because nobody knew where I was, but I felt
so horribly neglected, I was so furious with everybody for _not_ coming
to see me, that when you came into the room I laid myself out to be
hateful.... My dear, I did really feel iller than I can tell you, so
forgive me! Sonia."

"I suppose if I collect a few flowers ..." George began apologetically
next morning. "I shan't be able to stay more than a moment, or I shall
be so frightfully late at the office.... I might get my cousin Violet to
look her up, of course."

I was never told how he found Mrs. O'Rane on the occasion of his second
visit, but in the evening young Lady Loring paid us an unexpected visit.
I did not see her, but, when she had gone, George came into my room with
an expression of worried perplexity.

"Violet's been sitting most of the day with Sonia," he explained. "I
wonder if _you_ guessed.... I confess I never thought of it for one
moment. Sonia's going to have a child very shortly."

I, too, was taken by surprise and needed a moment to arrange my
thoughts.

"You're sure of that?" I asked.

"She told Violet. The question is--what are we going to do with her?
She's got to be properly looked after and she's got to be moved out of
her present pokey little room.... I suppose it means a nursing home.
Violet suggested taking her to Loring House, but that was more generous
than practical. I'm afraid there's no doubt Sonia did behave very badly
to Jim Loring when she was engaged to him ... and Violet knows it and
doesn't forgive her ... and Sonia doesn't forgive her for knowing it.
_You_ know what women are. Violet's got all the sweetness in the world,
she _thinks_ she doesn't bear a grudge, she can call on Sonia in bed,
make a fuss of her ... but it's different to take her into her own
house, particularly with the associations that house must have for
Sonia. But I needn't labour the point; the suggestion was turned down
almost as soon as it was made. Well, she can't go to her mother, because
Crowley Court's overflowing with wounded soldiers; and I don't know that
she's overwhelmingly anxious to meet her mother. She can't come here, of
course."

He stood reflectively rubbing his chin.

"Whose child is it going to be?" I asked.

"Grayle's the father. I suppose that, as Raney's taken up his present
attitude----" He left the sentence unfinished and began to fill a pipe.
"Ye gods, what a sweet mess people can get themselves into!"

"When's the event expected?"

"Pretty soon, I fancy. Violet didn't tell me the exact date, but she did
give me to understand very plainly that Sonia mustn't be left by herself
any longer. She was extraordinarily overwrought and hysterical, when I
saw her, but for some reason or other I never imagined.... I say,
Stornaway, if it had been Raney's child, if this had happened a year
ago?"

"Nothing would have saved them," I answered, "though it might have kept
them artificially together, making a hell of each other's lives, when
they'd be far happier apart. O'Rane was more responsible than any man
for the break-up of their life; Grayle was only the instrument. The
tragedy began when they married."

George smiled grimly.

"I suppose even Raney will see it, when his wife gives birth to another
man's child.... And _then_ what? Will he divorce her then? Have we got
to go through all this racket again? In the meantime the nursing-home
problem----"

He stopped guiltily, as the door opened and O'Rane came in to say
good-night to me.

"Who's been to call here?" he asked George. "I met a car driving away."

"It was Violet Loring."

"Oh, I wish I'd known that! When next you see her, you can tell her
she's a rude pig not to have pulled up. She must have seen me."

"She was in rather a hurry," George explained. "As a matter of fact, it
was me she came to see."

I suppose his voice betrayed uneasiness or at least embarrassment, for
O'Rane turned to him with quick sympathy.

"Nothing wrong, I hope?" he asked. "The boy's all right?"

"Oh, it wasn't that." George looked at me almost despairingly, but I
could only shrug my shoulders and leave him to make up his own mind.
"She came in to say that Sonia's a bit seedy," he went on. "I--as a
matter of fact, I saw her for a moment yesterday and, as she was rather
off colour, I thought it would be a friendly act for Vi to look her up.
I don't know if you heard Lady Maitland telling me at lunch the other
day that she was a bit done up."

O'Rane's face became rigid, and his voice was as set as his features.

"I didn't hear anything about it. I--You ought to have told me, George.
What's the matter with her?"

George looked at me again, without winning any more help than before.

"I only saw her for a moment," he answered evasively. "She seemed rather
overdone."

"But who's looking after her?"

"Nobody much at present. That was what Violet came about: she'd been to
see her and thought it would be more comfortable if she were moved into
a nursing home."

Nature must compensate the blind by developing their other qualities.
Though he could not see George's studiedly non-committal face, O'Rane
divined something hidden from him in the easily reassuring voice.

"Old man, I don't think that's the whole story, is it?" he asked with
persuasive gentleness. "The nursing-home rather gives you away. Has
Sonia got to have an operation?"

"There's no suggestion of it! Violet says it's nothing out of the
ordinary."

"Then why a nursing-home?"

"Because she wants rather more attention than she's likely to get in her
present quarters. But there's not the slightest need for you to worry
yourself."

O'Rane began to pace up and down the room, chewing his lips.

"She must come here, of course," he said at length.

This time I looked up at George.

"You won't find that practicable, O'Rane," I said.

"Why not?"

"She won't come."

"Because of me, you mean? I'll clear out, if she prefers it; I should be
clearing out in any event at the end of the week. But it's her home."

"You can't bring her home by force."

O'Rane's eyes lit up with sudden, burning passion.

"If I had my sight, I'd bring her myself! As I haven't, George is going
to bring her for me. Yes, you are, George. You're going to take a car
and have her carried into it and brought here. If she objects, you're
going to make her. I'll leave the house when she tells me to. You don't
understand me, you wouldn't understand me, if you lived to be a
thousand; but I took an oath and I'm going to keep it. I swore in the
sight of God that I would hold her in sickness and in health to love and
to cherish till death parted us. I said it with her hand in mine ... in
Melton chapel ... and I could feel her fingers trembling. It was a
scorching July day, and I could feel the sun coming hot on my face....
I'd never been at a wedding before, for some reason; we'd rehearsed it,
and Sonia'd told me how I had to stand and what I had to say.... And I
kept repeating the words as we came out into the Cloisters--it was cold
as the grave, and I felt her shivering as she leant on my arm. And then
there was a word of command and a rattle as the Corps presented arms....
And we came out into Great Court, and I could feel the sun again. And we
were marched off to Little End, and I heard a lot of yelping, and
something with a cold nose pressed against my hand, and Sonia gave a
little choke and said that Pebbleridge had turned out the hounds in our
honour.... And before we went to Burgess' house--the words were still
running in my head--I whispered 'I will love you, comfort you, honour
and keep you in sickness and in health, forsaking all other.' I swore it
then and I should be damned if I went back on it. This is her first
sickness since we were married, and I'm not going to leave her to go
through it alone until she tells me to."

His voice rang with excitement until the room echoed and Bertrand came
in with eyebrows raised.

"You don't in the least understand, Raney," George began in difficulty
and distress. "You were quite right; I hadn't told you the whole
story----"

"I don't want to hear any more--yet," O'Rane interrupted. "I shouldn't
be asking you to do this, if I could do it myself."

"Was that necessary?" George asked with a touch of stiffness and
impatience. "I'll go whenever you want me to."

"You must go now. Ring up Violet and tell her to meet you there in half
an hour with her car; you'll want a woman to help you. The rest of us
will have our work cut out to get things ready here. Stornaway, I'm
sorry to disturb you, but I shall have to find you a shakedown in some
other part of the house; this is Sonia's room. Don't waste a moment,
George----"

"I suppose you know it's after eleven," George interrupted.

"Move her to-night, if she's fit to move. Let Violet decide that."

George looked from Bertrand to me and turned helplessly to the door.
O'Rane had already rung my bell and was standing in the passage
tattooing the floor with impatient foot and waiting for his housekeeper.
I spread a bath-towel in the middle of the floor and began to pile on it
my exiguous personal effects, while Bertrand seated himself heavily in
an arm-chair and begged for enlightenment. A moment later the front-door
slammed, as George set out.

For an hour we worked hard to make the house ready for Mrs. O'Rane.
Bertrand's one comment, when I explained the new commotion, was, "The
boy's mad! _She_ won't come," and from time to time, when he was being
urged and driven to a fresh task, he would remonstrate gently and warn
O'Rane not to be disappointed. There was never any answer. By midnight
our labours were complete: the bedrooms had been reshuffled and beds
made, food and drink prepared. We met in the library with vague
uncertainty what to do next.

"You must tell me if it looks all right," O'Rane said to Bertrand. "I
want it to look exactly as it was before. She always loved this room,
and I believe it _is_ a beautiful room."

Bertrand glanced perfunctorily round and laid his hand clumsily on the
boy's shoulder.

"I told you before, David; you're going to be terribly disappointed, if
you think she's coming."

"_I_ would have undertaken to bring her!" he cried. "We can trust
George. And I don't suppose he'll even say where he's taking her."

"If she doesn't know where she's coming," I interrupted, "you'd better
keep out of the way till she says she'd like to see you."

"I must welcome her," O'Rane answered.

Bertrand and I exchanged glances and excused ourselves. As we turned at
the door, O'Rane was standing with his watch to his ear. About
three-quarters of an hour later I heard a car slowing down in the street
outside.

George has told me since that his cousin and he found their patient far
less difficult than they had feared. She was plunged in melancholy
bordering on hysteria. Loneliness, pain and neglect had reduced her
pride until she sat up in bed with her face contorted and tears
trickling down her cheeks, reproaching them for never coming to see her
and bitterly proclaiming that she _now_ knew how much trust to put in
people when they said that they were her friends. George took her hand
and explained that he had come to take her away where she would be
tended and made happy. At once there was an indignant outburst; she
would not move, she was quite well; if they would go away instead of
bullying her, worrying her, threatening her, she would be all right in a
moment. He let the storm spend itself and recaptured the hand that she
had snatched away.

"Violet's told me what's the matter with you," he whispered. "Unless
you're very quiet and good, you'll injure yourself. And you are going to
be quiet and good, aren't you?" He was talking to her as though she were
a child and she responded by throwing her arms round his neck and
weeping convulsively. "You're going to be very good, aren't you, Sonia?
And we're all going to take the greatest care of you. Violet's got her
car here, and we're going to wrap you in a cloak and explain to your
landlady that we're not really stealing the blankets, however much
appearances may be against us, and we're going to take you away, and
you're going to be in the midst of friends, and everybody's going to be
kind and sweet to you, and you're going to forget how lonely and
miserable you've been the last few days."

He lifted her into a sitting position, while Lady Loring hunted for
slippers and wrapped a cloak about her.

"I don't deserve it!" Mrs. O'Rane cried with sudden revulsion. "Why do
you come here bothering me? It's my fault, I knew perfectly well what I
was doing; I should never have done it, if he'd treated me properly, if
he'd loved me. It was David's fault, you know it was; and you come here
bothering me when I'm ill...."

George helped her out of bed and supported her across the room. From
time to time she muttered, "Why don't you leave me alone? It was _his_
fault, but he could never do any wrong in your eyes!" like a sobbing
child in the last stages of a tornado of temper. He carried her into the
car, while Lady Loring poured out a hurried explanation to the landlady.
A deep drowsiness descended upon her as she felt herself being packed
into a bed of cushions, while a bearskin rug was wrapped round her, but,
as the engine started, she opened her eyes and enquired sleepily where
she was being taken.

"You're to go to sleep and not ask questions," said George. "Is that a
promise? Say it quite slowly--'I--Sonia O'Rane--promise--that--I--will--
go--to--sleep--_at_--_once_--quite--quietly--and--will--not--ask--
_a n y_--questions.'" She laughed weakly and began to repeat the words,
only stumbling at her own surname. "Once again!" George ordered.
"I--Sonia O'Rane--promise...." She struggled half-way through the
sentence and then dropped asleep with her head pressed against his
shoulder.

She was still sleeping when the car drew up at "The Sanctuary." The door
stood open, George lifted her out and carried her across the pavement
and into the house. The lights in the library were burning, and, as he
carried her in with her head over his shoulder, she looked dully at the
familiar book-cases and panelling, the high, shadowy rafters, the chairs
and sofas and the preparations for a meal on the refectory table. He had
borne her half-way across the room, when she recognised her
surroundings and struggled violently to free herself. George had
perforce to lay her on a sofa before she threw herself out of his arms.
As he did so, O'Rane came up from behind.

"I asked George to bring you here," he explained. "I thought you'd be
more comfortable at home."

She dragged herself to her feet and hurried uncertainly to the door.

"My dear, you can't go out in that state!" said Lady Loring, as she laid
restraining hands on her shoulders.

"Let me go! It was a _trick_! You lied to me!"

O'Rane slipped forward and touched her wrist.

"I thought you'd be more comfortable at home," he repeated. "You won't
find me in the way, I'm going back to Melton. I was only staying to see
that you had everything you wanted."

"Let me go!" she cried again, shaking his fingers off her wrist.

"No, I'm going. But isn't it more comfortable?"

She looked stonily round, and her eyes came to rest on his face.

"Oh, yes. It's more comfortable. Now may I go, please?"

"You had better stay. Let me help you upstairs, and then I'll leave the
house. I was hoping you'd be glad to be back. And I'd waited so long."

He smiled and held out his hands to her. She looked at him for a moment;
then her eyes closed, and she began to sway.

"Take me home!" she whimpered, as George sprang forward to catch her.

"You must stay here to-night."

"I _ask_ you to take me home!"

O'Rane put one arm under her shoulders, and the other under her knees.

"It's too late now, and you're tired, darling," he whispered.
"To-morrow, if you like. I'm just going to carry you up to bed, as I
used to do at Crowley Court when you were twelve and I came over for
the holidays. Do you remember? And then I'll say good-night, and Violet
will put you to bed and take care of you. Don't struggle, Sonia
sweetheart! You can't hate me so much that you can't bear to let me
touch you or carry you up a flight of stairs when you're ill."


4

As I kept deafly and pusillanimously to my room, I am far from sure what
happened during the remainder of the night. O'Rane, I believe, carried
his wife up to bed, left her in charge of Lady Loring and accepted from
the tired butler at Loring House an armchair in the library for his own
accommodation. Bertrand was already in bed, I heard George going to bed
as the car started outside; by two o'clock all was quiet.

I remember that, when I was young enough to play baccarat for high
stakes and impressionable enough to be embarrassed by a scene, I stayed
in a house where certain unpleasantness took place at the card-table.
The dispute and recriminations were bad enough, the night of
reflection--after a dozen final councils adjourned from bedroom to
bedroom--was worse, but worst of all was our uncertain meeting next day,
when we stood whispering by the fire in the dining-room, peevishly
waiting for breakfast and watching the door to see whether the cause of
the unpleasantness would shew himself. Bertrand, George and I stood
whispering next morning with much the same embarrassment; breakfast lay
on the table, and none of us paid any attention to it. The time was
early for me and late for George; I have no idea at what hour Bertrand
usually rose, but I remember he was soothing himself with the first
cigarette I had ever seen him smoke, at intervals forgetting that it was
not a cigar and trying to hold it between his teeth.

Our attitude of vague expectancy was broken up by the arrival of Lady
Loring in a creased, black evening dress with a travelling rug over her
shoulders. Her eye-lids were pink with fatigue and her arms mottled with
cold.

"We look a nice band of conspirators!" she exclaimed. "Now, will
_some_body tell me what it's all about?"

"How's Sonia?" George asked.

"She went to sleep the moment her head touched the pillow and she was
sleeping like a child whenever I looked at her. I think you're all
needlessly alarmed about her, but then you're only men. _I_'ve been
through it all, so I know exactly what it feels like to imagine you're
being neglected. But what does anybody want me to do?"

She beckoned us to the table and sat down rather wearily, looking from
one to another.

"The trouble is, dear lady," Bertrand grunted, "that we don't know. I
suppose you've heard that these two young idiots have had a
disagreement? Does that young woman upstairs know where she is?"

"She'll know the moment she wakes up. Is David here?"

"He said he'd beg a shakedown at your house, Violet," George
interrupted.

Lady Loring hummed dubiously.

"To judge from her condition yesterday," she ventured, "she's hardly
accountable for her actions. It's not to be wondered at, you know, when
you think what she's been through--and the way she's lived on her nerves
for years. If you'll tell me what you want done, of course...."

It was easier to concentrate our attention on breakfast. George soon
hurried away to his office, Bertrand lighted a cigar and went off to a
committee meeting, after stumping the library for half an hour, with the
ends of his walrus moustache pulled into a circle, and murmuring at
five-minute intervals, "What are two fat old men like _us_ doing in this
galley?" A telephone message from O'Rane enquired how his wife was, and
Lady Loring took the opportunity of arranging with her maid for a supply
of clothes to be sent round. The conversation reminded me of her vigil,
and I told her that, if she would lie down until luncheon, I would take
a book, a chafing-dish and a bowl of bread and milk and sit outside Mrs.
O'Rane's door in case she wanted anything. Half-way through the morning
O'Rane tiptoed upstairs for a change of linen; Bertrand relieved guard
while I went down and took a light meal with Lady Loring. It was not
until three or four o'clock that I heard sounds of movement within the
sick-room.

I went in to find Mrs. O'Rane considerably altered since our last
meeting, but more collected than I had anticipated. She asked for food
and, when I had brought her the bowl of bread and milk, begged me to
stay and talk to her. Her first question was who had brought her to "The
Sanctuary," and, when I had told her, she lay back on the pillows with
closed eyes to avoid giving away any points.

"I feel better than I did yesterday," she said at length. "I shall go
back to my own rooms to-day."

"You'll be wiser to stay here."

She smiled rather sneeringly.

"You think it's the simplest thing in the world for me to stay here."

"The wisest," I corrected her. "Your husband's not here, by the way, and
you can be sure of being well looked after."

"Oh, don't say that again! You think it's _easy_ for me to lie here and
be looked after by people who despise me and hate me...."

I got up and lifted the tray from her bed.

"I'm going to leave you now," I said. "Sleeping's much better for you
than talking, and I'm afraid I've got rather a faculty for getting on
your nerves."

Her lower lip at once fell and trembled with nervous contrition.

"I didn't mean to be rude, but I do feel so _ill_! And you _do_ all hate
me! To bring me _here_!"

She gave a single breathless sob, and tears began to well into her eyes
and trickle down her cheeks. I pulled a chair to the bedside and took
her hand.

"The older I get," I said, "the greater disparity I find between the
theory and practice of hating. Theoretically I hate no end of a lot of
people, but, if I had the power of venting my hatred on them, I don't
see myself using it much. As a matter of fact, I had a talk with George
the other night about you; I said that the madcap life here was
fantastically impossible, that your husband had himself to blame more
than any other man for driving you out of the house----"

"That wasn't why I left him," she interrupted quickly.

"You didn't leave him because you thought he was unfaithful to you."

"I _know_ he was. I had proofs."

"Supplied by Grayle?" I hazarded. She looked at me steadily without
answering. "Well, when you've time, I should re-examine those proofs in
the light of your general knowledge of your husband. If you're
interested in my opinion of you"--her eyes lit up eagerly--"you'd sooner
be insulted than ignored, wouldn't you?"--expectancy gave way to
affected anger--"Well, I don't hate you, but you were a little fool to
marry such a man; your instinct, your knowledge of life, your knowledge
of him ought to have made it impossible. Having married him and
considering his affliction, I blame you for not effacing yourself,
obliterating your own individuality to stay with him. After that----" I
dropped her hand and strolled to the window. "You were young, entitled
to make your own life; it's not easy to justify, but it seems to follow
almost naturally from the premisses. It happens to have turned out a
failure, but no one can hate you for an error of judgement, particularly
when you've shewn that your instinct about men is unreliable; you shewed
it with O'Rane, I believe you shewed it before ... and fortunately
pulled up before it was too late. I feel this so strongly that I told
O'Rane it would be a tragedy, if you ever tried to come back to him;
there'd be a second catastrophe worse than the first.... I'm afraid he's
too much in love with you to use his imagination."

She pressed the palms of both hands against her eyes.

"I can't stay here," she exclaimed irrelevantly. "I've no right to turn
David out."

"You needn't worry about _that_. He's given you the right, and you're
turning him out for less than a week. For the matter of that----"

Her face grew suddenly set and her eyes scornful. "I suppose in spite of
all the fine words this is all a trick to try and _force_ me back here?"

"I've not the least doubt that O'Rane hopes you'll return to him," I
told her frankly; "he probably will, even when he knows what's the
matter with you,--no, he doesn't know even that at present;--but he's
living in a fool's paradise."

With another of her quick facial regroupings--which is the only phrase I
can find to indicate the shortening of a line here, its lengthening
there, the droop or lift of the corners of her mouth, the dilatation of
a pupil, the sudden gleam which turned her brown eyes almost golden, the
tilt of the nose or the sudden birth of a dimple--she was smiling with
her old demure self-confidence.

"I'm vain enough to think I can make almost any man want to live with
me," she said, darting a glance from beneath lowered eyelashes.

"Come, that's more like yourself!" I laughed.

Thereupon the smiles and coquetry vanished as though I had struck her in
the face. Yes, I had always hated her, always disapproved of her,
regarded her as a flirt, taken everyone's side against her. There was no
good in her, was there? Nothing ever to be said in her defense?... She
lashed herself from one fury to another for ten minutes, only stopping
from exhaustion and discouragement at my failure to answer.

"_I_ could make him love me!" she panted in conclusion. "I shouldn't
even need to make him, he's in love with me now. But _I_ could make him
happy. You think I can't. You think I can't! You _know_ you think I
can't!"

I laid my hand on hers; she slapped at it petulantly, but without any
great desire to hurt, I fancied.

"Mrs. O'Rane----"

"Why don't you call me Sonia?" she interrupted with complete detachment
from all that we had been discussing. "Everyone does. I suppose you
prefer to keep--at a distance!"

And then I did a thing which still surprises me. I got up and sat on the
edge of her bed. (There was a spring-mattress which I largely capsized,
so that she was thrown half on her side.) I put one arm round her
shoulders, drew her to me and kissed her on the forehead and both
cheeks. I remember thinking at the time what an amazing thing it was to
do, and the thought was confused with a knowledge that her face was dry
and burning. She put her arms on my shoulders and returned the kiss;
quite dispassionately I noticed that her lips were crumpled and dry as
brown paper.

"Don't you think you're really rather a silly baby, Sonia?" I said. "If
you could remember the times we've met, I should tell you frankly that
for half of them I wanted to go away and keep at the farthest possible
distance. For the other half----"

Her eyes brightened in anticipation of a compliment.

"Well?"

"It doesn't matter now. Why won't you believe that everyone here wants
to help you?"

"Because I don't see why they should. I didn't expect it, I don't ask
for it; I made up my mind at the time...."

She choked and drew herself closer to me, sobbing quietly but
inconsolably until I felt her arms relaxing and laid her back on the
pillows, a pathetically disfigured and moist piece of something that was
above all wonderfully youthful.

"If you'll promise not to cry, I'll stay and talk to you," I said.
"Otherwise----" I must have made some unconscious movement, for she
clutched at my sleeve. "Do you promise? Well, I'm only a man...."

She pulled herself suddenly upright.

"Where's David?" she demanded.

"At Loring House, I believe,--only a man, as I was saying, but I can
tell you that you'll wear yourself out, if you go on like this. You've
got a great grievance against all of us, you say we hate you and despise
you; wouldn't it be fairer _not_ to say that till we've given you some
better cause than you've had at present?"

Her teeth snapped like the cracking of a nut. Then the corners of her
mouth drooped, and she began to cry again.

"If you _would_ hit me!" Her head fell back until I could see only a
quivering throat and the under side of her chin. "My God! what I've been
through! No one knows! No one can _ever_ know!"

I gave her some water to drink and asked leave to light a cigarette.

"When I was a small boy," I said, "there was a big oak press in my
bedroom which used to reflect the firelight until I thought that all
manner of goblins were coming out to attack me. I never got rid of the
idea until I was shewn inside it by daylight--I remember it was full of
the drawing-room summer chintzes;--then I never feared it again. Does it
help you to talk about things, Sonia?"

Her face set itself again, but this time in resolution. For two hours I
listened to the most terribly frank self-revelation that I am ever
likely to hear. Like a sinner worked up to make confession, she told me
of her life from the age of sixteen, when she had fallen romantically in
love with O'Rane and when her mother had, quite properly, told her not
be ridiculous. For years she had been incited--I had almost written
"excited"--to make a great match; she had rushed into an engagement with
an honoured title, half feeling all the time that she was pledged to the
trappings of a man rather than to the man himself; and, when the
engagement ended, she had set herself, like a prisoner at the triangles,
to shew that it did not hurt, that she was not going to allow her
capacity for enjoyment to be killed; and, when her own people looked
askance at her, she had traded her charms among others who fawned on her
and whom she despised. The outbreak of war found her unplaced--without
mission or niche; she had thrown herself into war-work--and broken down,
she had lain useless, neglected and tacitly contemned until she met
O'Rane, blind and icily self-sufficient.

Then she had married him in the delirium of self-immolation, only to
find that his passionate idealism for the future was transmuted into a
white-hot zest to perfect the present. He was prepared to practise the
Sermon on the Mount in a tweed suit and soft hat. For a month she shared
his life as she would have partaken of an impromptu mid-night picnic in
the Green Park. Then a homing instinct had rebelled against the
promiscuous publicity of their life, she had felt that his love for her
was diluted beyond taste by a vague devotion to mankind. She had
treasured slights where no slights were intended and vented
irritabilities where none was justified. His smiling patience had evoked
a sense of hopelessness, followed by a desire for self-assertion. They
had quarrelled, and, rather than admit herself in the wrong, she had
blindly groped for evidence against him which the heat of inconvertible
resentment would torture her into believing. Grayle had supplied it....

She told me unreservedly of the conflicting influences upon her of three
men at the same time. All were in love with her after their kind. O'Rane
himself, most sympathetic with men and least understanding of women,
gave her the keys and cheque-book of his life, imagining that
undemonstrative, uncaressing fidelity would meet with like return;
Beresford offered a romantic devotion which posed her frigidly among
mountain snows and would have sent him through fire to avenge an insult
to his idealised conception. And Grayle had strode in, compelling and
indifferent, slighting and frightening her alternately, at a time when
she was instinctively yearning to be called to order, taken in hand,
shaken and even beaten.

"I was like the 'Punch' picture of the woman in a thunderstorm," she
laughed. "I wanted a man there just to tell me not to make a fool of
myself. Poor David never, never ..."

Grayle desired her until she felt safe in playing with him, then he
neglected her until in pique she set out to try the temper of her
charms; ultimately he terrorised her into a surrender which neither
blind trust nor deaf devotion could compass.

She told me of her mood when she felt that Grayle was overpowering her,
of her drunken willingness to believe what she knew was untrue. She
described her parting with O'Rane as she might have described herself
beating a child because she was out of temper and had to pretend that
someone else was in fault. I was given an unsparing account of her life
in Milford Square, which she entered with an unsubstantial hope that she
would find love and a quivering sense that she had come like a dog to be
beaten. Not a day and night had passed before she found that she had
outstayed her welcome, that she was pressing on him for all his life
what he desired for an unoccupied afternoon. Their life together was
like the record of wife-beating by a besotted husband refined in method
by the play of sarcastic wit on impressionable senses. At last there had
come a day when he put into words the taunt that hitherto lacked only
verbal clarity; she riposted with the charge that he was discarding her
to clear the way to his political ambitions; every hoarded grudge and
bitterness was dragged into the light, unseemly reproaches were uttered
with the knowledge that all were exaggerated and most without
foundation; and in a breathing-space both discovered that the
articulation of such hidden and reserved acerbity made it impossible for
them ever to live together again.

She had walked into the street with his last scurrility stinging her
ears and cheeks until she found herself tearlessly crying. It was no use
crying, when she needed all her wits to decide her next move, all her
composure to face it. A lodging for the night had to be found in some
place where she would not be interrogated, and for long her mind wavered
slowly from one to another of the neighbourhoods in which she had lived
and which all the while she knew were the first for her to
reject--Rutland Gate, Manchester Square, Curzon Street, Westminster. It
was hard to think of anywhere else; one needed a map, one of those easy
maps that were pasted on the walls of Underground stations....

The long recital had exhausted her pent antagonism, and she described
her experiences as General Lampwood's driver with humour and an
occasional preening of her feathers.

"One day I knew I was going to have a child," she threw out abruptly.
"It--it made me quite ill. Then--well, you know the rest. I'm not
complaining. I never thought it was going to be easy or pleasant, but,
if I had my time over again----"

"I think not, Sonia," I said.

"I never expected a bed of roses," she answered haughtily. Then she
suddenly covered her face with her hands. "You mean I'm not through with
it yet? Mr. Stornaway, is it--is it as bad as people say? I'm not a
coward, really; I don't believe I should mind if I _wanted_ it, if I
were praying for a child, if it was going to be a child I should
love.... That was what made me ill. When I first knew and I remembered
the awful day when he turned me out of the house.... I wanted to kill
myself. There was a big motor lorry racing along Knightsbridge, and I
made up my mind to step in front ... as if I hadn't heard it. I stood on
the kerb and put one foot forward.... Oh, but I wanted to live so badly!
I couldn't, I simply couldn't! It was like tearing myself in two with my
own hands. I just had time to think of next spring and all the early
flowers coming up.... And then I knew that I should have to go through
with it!"

Her eyes closed, and she lay without speaking until I made sure that she
was asleep. I was treading lightly to the door when she called out and
asked to be supplied with paper and a pencil.

"You're just in the mood to go to sleep," I protested.

She shook her head obstinately.

"I couldn't sleep, if I tried. You say David's at Loring House?"

"He spent last night there and looked in here this morning for clean
clothes. I've no idea where he is now."

She looked at me with the set, unrevealing expression which I had seen
once or twice already.

"Let me know if he comes in to-morrow," she said.

We had not to wait so long, for O'Rane, behind the pretext of packing
books and clothes for his return to Melton, came in after dinner and
examined me keenly on the condition of his wife. I mentioned that she
had hinted at a desire to see him or at least to know his whereabouts,
and, for all his control of himself, O'Rane's face was transfigured.

"I'm--here now," he said significantly.

"That means I'm to go up and find out if she wants to see you and if
Lady Loring will let her?"

There was a sound of voices, as I knocked at the door--the nurse mildly
begging her patient to go to sleep, Sonia resolutely and not too
petulantly protesting that she had just finished. I delivered myself of
my message, while she sat turning over a pile of manuscript and trying
to read it and listen to me at the same time.

"Will you look at this?" she said at length.

She had written a condensed but pitiless version of the story which she
had told me, starting with the day when she had chosen to believe that
O'Rane was unfaithful to her and ending with the morning when she knew
that she was going to bear Grayle a child.

"It's not very legible," she commented casually. "My writing's not up to
much at the best of times, but when I'm in bed it's hopeless."

"I can read it," I said.

"I want you to read it to David," she went on in the same tone.

I raised my eyebrows, but said nothing.

"Will you do that for me?" she asked.

"If you wish it."

"Thank you very much. Now I think I shall go to sleep."

I went downstairs and led O'Rane to the far end of the library. He
stood with his hands in his pockets and his back to the fire, rocking in
his old way from heel to toe.

"Have you read it?" he asked me, when I had explained his wife's
request.

"Yes."

He held out his hand for the papers.

"And you remember everything she said?"

"Pretty well."

He rocked in silence for a moment and then smiled whimsically.

"I suppose you could--forget it, if you tried?" he suggested. "Perhaps
it would help you to forget it, if we got rid of this. I usually burn
myself when I start playing with fire; perhaps you wouldn't mind putting
this in. Don't set the chimney alight, will you?"


5

The next morning I again mounted guard, while Lady Loring rested. We had
agreed that, if no change for the worse shewed itself, it would be quite
unnecessary to continue this day and night attendance. Physically Sonia
was quite normal, but her nerves were unstrung, and for a time it had
certainly looked as if hysteria might develop into something graver. Two
nights' untroubled sleep, the belated recognition that she was among
friends and, most of all, the relief of confession had braced her and
built up her self-respect. When I went in to see her she was still a
little defiant, but it was the defiance of courage.

"Is David here?" was her first question.

"He went back to Loring House when he'd finished his packing," I
answered.

Sonia looked at me in silence, and her eyes narrowed.

"Oh! So _that's_ it," she murmured at length.

"What is what?" I asked.

She sighed carelessly.

"You were right, and he was wrong, that's all. I was right too.... I
knew that, when I left this house, I'd left David for good; if I hadn't
known it then, I knew it when--when we came here that night and he
offered to drop the divorce if I'd leave--you remember? He thought he
was somehow so different from other men.... What did he actually say?"

"He didn't say anything, Sonia. I think you're on the wrong tack. He
just asked if I'd read the letter and if I remembered it. I said 'Yes.'
Then he smiled and begged me to forget it."

"But didn't you read it to him?"

"He asked me to burn it."

She looked at me for some moments without understanding, then pulled
herself lower into the bed and half turned away, shading her eyes with
her hand. I walked to the window and gave her nearly a quarter of an
hour to order her thoughts. At the end I asked her why she had written
the letter.

"I felt I owed it to him," she said slowly. "I don't regret it, though I
suppose it's a selfish sort of gratification.... If he'd left me alone,
I should have said nothing, but when he went out of his way to have me
brought here and looked after.... I--suppose it's very magnanimous to
burn a letter of that kind without reading it, but I'd sooner have had
him read it. If he comes here, I shall have to tell him ... at least
that I'm going to have a child. Please don't think that I'm running away
from what I've done. I'm not trying to work on his feelings, I'm not
trying to make him take me back; I couldn't go back, if he begged me, if
his life depended on it."

"Then it doesn't matter much whether he reads the letter or not."

Sonia nodded slowly.

"I must see David, though."

"It will upset you without doing him any good."

She bit her lip to steady herself.

"Perhaps it will cure him," she suggested.

I was not present when they met; I do not even know how long they were
together. Sometime before dinner O'Rane came into the library and sat
down in front of the fire without speaking. From his haggard face I
guessed that he had been taken as much by surprise as any of us. During
dinner he roused himself with an effort, and I remember that we
discussed the coming unrestricted submarine campaign, the danger of
starvation, the inadequacy of our food control and the likelihood of
finding America ranged on our side in the war. We talked very
earnestly--I believe, very intelligently,--as though we had a critical
audience and were shewing our best form; but it was wonderfully
unengrossing.

"It's just a year since I was in America," I remember beginning in
preface to some new argument.

"I say--she told you everything, didn't she?" O'Rane interrupted.

"Yes."

He forced a smile.

"It rather--brings it home to one, doesn't it?"

"And yet--is this any worse for you than when they were living
together?"

"I was really not thinking of myself for the moment. My God, Stornaway,
if you were a woman and hated a man as she hates Grayle, how would you
like to be feeling that he'd had anything to do with your child, how'd
you like to go through all this hell of childbirth to bear _him_, a
child? All your life, even if you came to love it or at least to be kind
to it, you'd always be reminded, wouldn't you? You'd trace a likeness,
it would seem to get stronger and stronger.... I wonder what we should
do?"

"I imagine most women would try to stop the child being born."

O'Rane looked up quickly.

"Sonia wouldn't."

"Then I'm afraid she's got to accept this as her punishment."

"Hers?" he murmured.

I made no answer, but my mind went back to the luncheon at Crowley
Court, when Roger Dainton sat with drooping mouth and troubled brown
eyes, wondering if he had heard aright that his own daughter was likely
to be divorced, waiting to wake up from the bad dream. And I remembered
Lady Dainton. She had an adequate allowance of maternal feeling, I doubt
not, but on that day she was less moved by Sonia's plight than by a
sense of social failure, of a rare and delicate instrument broken--as if
after twenty years' training the hand of the violinist was become
paralysed.

"It's a bit one-sided, isn't it?" suggested O'Rane quietly.

I still said nothing. Grayle was being punished in the one part of him
that I knew to be capable of feeling, but perhaps the punishment did not
stop there. For all I could tell he might in time know a pang of desire
to see his own child. O'Rane's black eyes were sunk low in their
sockets.

"It's damnably all-embracing," I said.

He pushed his chair back and returned to the fire, where he threw
himself on a sofa.

"D'you know where George is dining to-night?" he asked. "I want to talk
to him.... I suppose you think me a great fool, Stornaway, for not
seeing it before. I loved her so much, I love her so much still....
Anyone can manage a boat when the water's calm, it wouldn't have
required much love just to live with Sonia while everything was sunny,
but I was prepared to do so much more.... When I went down to Melton the
night after she left me, I set my teeth and told myself that I must keep
my head. I knew it wasn't a trifle, like a fit of bad temper, I knew it
was a very big thing she'd done. And I haven't much use for the kind of
man who blindly protests beforehand that he'll forgive his wife whatever
she may do.... It isn't love, it isn't generosity; it's just dam' folly.
But I did feel that my love for Sonia would be a poor, cold thing, if it
only lasted while everything was going well, if it wasn't strong enough
to live through a bad storm. You won't exactly have to strain yourself
to imagine what it was like thinking of her with Grayle.... I don't know
that I can explain, it's all the little things, the little personal
touches that I missed--even without being able to see her. She was such
fun, she always enjoyed life and got so much out of it; she made a story
out of everything and she loved telling me everything she'd been doing
and she knew I loved hearing about it. I missed that frightfully when I
was alone at Melton, before she left me; I used to feel quite jealous
when I thought of her going about with other people, being a success,
when I wasn't there to hear about it afterwards. But I always knew that
I should be with her again in a few months. Well, I felt that my love
for her would be just like other people's love, if I didn't first of all
mind like hell and then recognise that in _spite_ of it all, in _spite_
of it all.... You saw me trying to get her away from him--for her own
sake; it honestly was; I tried to keep myself in the background. You
know I always hoped she'd come back. But now...."

He drew his legs up under him and sat with his chin on his fists.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"That's what I wanted to see George about. She must have the house as
long as she wants it, and I'll try to persuade Violet to come and look
after her regularly when the time draws near. Then if she'd like to go
on living here.... You see, there's rather an important money question.
I've got the freehold, so there's no rent to pay, but Bertrand runs the
place. He won't stay on with her and without me, and I doubt if we can
afford the upkeep by ourselves. I shall make myself responsible for
Sonia, of course, but we shall have to cut things pretty fine. George is
my trustee, and I wanted to discuss it with him.... As regards the
child...." He paused, and I could see him furtively moistening his lips.
"Something's got to be done about that. It _will_ be Sonia's child, and,
whoever else is to blame, the kid mustn't suffer. If I make George
trustee of a fund.... That gives him an official status, you see; he'd
have a voice in the upbringing of the child, the education--I don't
trust a woman by herself----"

"Are you--recognising the child?" I asked.

"Certainly." He smiled for the first time. "Poor little devil! it will
have as much right to my name as I have. I daresay you know that my
father ran away with someone else's wife? Ever since the smash came--I'd
never thought of it before--I've been wondering how the other man felt.
Fellow called Raynter--he was at the Legation at Berne. My father ran
away with her, and Raynter wouldn't divorce her.... I've never precisely
_liked_ being illegitimate, because it seemed a reflection on my father,
but I always used to think there was a certain amount of romance about
the whole thing.... Bertrand knew my mother; he says she was one of the
most beautiful women in Europe; my father loved her and they were
frightfully happy for the little time that they lived together before I
was born. I--I thought it was very fine and plucky of them.... But
lately I've been wondering what Raynter thought of it all, what kind of
life _he_ had. I believe he loved my mother too, and it killed her when
I was born. I wonder what he thought of the man who'd killed his
wife.... I suppose you never met him in your diplomatic wanderings?"

"No. He left the service immediately after what you've been describing."

"What happened to him?"

"I believe he took to drink," I said.

O'Rane made a sound of disgust.

"But perhaps it's just because it doesn't appeal to me ..." he
apologised. "I certainly did hope to be finished off in France after I'd
lost my sight, but there's such a tenacity about life. I'm glad I pulled
through, even to be where I am and as I am now. Yes, I've been feeling
that there may be rather more to say for Raynter and--I suppose--rather
less--for my father."

He fell to musing, and I smoked in silence until George came in. Then we
had the discussion re-opened; Bertrand returned from the House at
eleven, and I heard it a third time. If O'Rane hoped for advice or
comfort, I am afraid he did not get it, though Bertrand did indeed tell
him bluntly that he was burdening himself needlessly.

"I could have got rid of it all by divorcing her," was the only answer.

"You're not responsible for the child."

"Somebody's got to be."

Bertrand sighed and held his peace, while George and O'Rane talked in
undertones.

"What are you going to do yourself?" I asked.

"I've hardly thought. You see, until four hours ago I'd always
contemplated having Sonia as--as part of my life. I've got to think
things out afresh.... But there's plenty of time. For the present, of
course, I'm going back to Melton. To-morrow."

"Have you said good-bye to Sonia?" George enquired. "I mean, have I got
to explain all this to her?"

O'Rane hesitated in doubt.

"I'm not quite sure. You see, she said she wanted to tell me something,
and I went in, and then she told me that she was going to have a child.
I can't say if I _shewed_ anything--more than surprise, I mean. I
said--I really don't know what I _did_ say. We talked about how she was,
and I said I hoped she was better, and was there anything that she
wanted? And she asked me when I was going back to Melton.... I told her
to let me know if there was anything I could do.... We didn't take any
formal farewell, but I came away as soon as I could, we weren't either
of us enjoying it very much."

"You gather that she proposes to stay here?"

"I think so. And I should tell anyone who asks. This is the natural
place for her to be, her friends may as well come to see her. I shall
get over to Crowley Court as soon as I can and tell her parents ... and
I think the best thing I can do is to find work of some kind abroad.
We've thrown dust in everyone's eyes for fairly long, but it can't go on
indefinitely, if she's living here and I never come near the place ... I
don't know yet; I haven't had time to think. I never thought that her
having a child by someone else could suddenly make all the difference,
but it has. I'm not _angry_ with her, or _aggrieved_, or anything of
that kind, but I've just discovered that she doesn't belong to me any
more. I'd still do anything she asked me to do, but something's been
killed, something's been taken away.... If only someone else were going
to benefit by it! I believe I could forgive Grayle, if he'd proved that
he was making her happier than I'd done.... We haven't made much of a
success, have we?"

He smiled wistfully, and his face looked suddenly older, as if the
accumulated strain of years had exhausted him. Bertrand took his arm and
told him to go to bed. George and I got off our chairs and waited
without knowing what to do.

"Is Violet on duty?" he asked. "If you're all going up, I'll come with
you and see if Sonia wants anything."

The bedroom door was ajar, and I saw Lady Loring reading a book. She
raised one finger warningly, as O'Rane came into the room; then
remembered that he could not see the signal and touched his wrist.

"Is she asleep?" he whispered.

"Yes."

He felt his way to the bed and ran one hand lightly over the blankets
until it reached the pillow. Then he bent slowly forward, listening to
his own breathing, and kissed his wife on the forehead.

"You'll look after her well, won't you, Violet?" he said, as they came
to the door.

"Trust me, David," she whispered. "I'll do all I can, and we'll get in a
regular nurse to-morrow."

It may have been fatigue, but I thought that she was looking worried.

"You told me this morning," I said, "that a nurse wasn't necessary any
more for the present."

"I didn't think so--then, but she's not quite so well to-night. We
mustn't talk here, or we shall wake her. You didn't say anything to
upset her, did you, David?"

"I hope not. What's been the matter?"

We came into the passage, and George and Bertrand considerately
whispered good-night and left us. I would have gone, too, but O'Rane had
slipped his arm through mine.

"She's so nervous and fanciful," Lady Loring explained, "that she makes
herself quite ill. I suppose, never having been through it before....
To-night she was quite ridiculous. Didn't it sometimes happen in bad
cases that the mother or the child had to be sacrificed? Well, what
happened then? And who decided? She worked herself up into the most
pitiful state, imagining herself unconscious and at the mercy of a mere
brutal man, who could order her to be killed." Lady Loring looked
through the open door and smiled compassionately. "She's so afraid of
dying, David, that it never occurs to her that this sort of thing is
happening every hour of the day and that it's the _exception_ for
anything to go wrong. I don't quite know what to do about her...."

O'Rane stood for a moment without speaking; then he disengaged his arm
and said good-night to us. I heard him busying himself in the library
for a few minutes; the front door closed gently, and I caught the sound
of footsteps, as he walked away. The next morning he telephoned to ask
how his wife was. In the afternoon he called with a cab for his luggage
and drove to Waterloo without coming into the house.



CHAPTER EIGHT

SANCTUARY

     "... And I have waited long for thee
         Before I poured the wine!"
     ROBERT BUCHANAN: _The Ballad of Judas Iscariot_.


1

The winter months of 1917 passed sadly for anyone who was condemned to
live in the depression of London. I was well enough to go back to work
in February, but I stayed on at "The Sanctuary," because, with all its
nerve-racking discomfort, I had not the heart to go away when both
Bertrand and George pressed me so warmly to remain. Three, they said,
were less depressing than two, though I came to doubt it. For the tenth
time, we seemed to be entering upon the last decisive phase of the war;
Germany had begun her unrestricted submarine campaign, it was inevitable
that America should abandon her neutrality. (Since the Presidential
election and with every day that brought intervention nearer, our press
became less scornful of the President; it ceased to misquote and
misinterpret phrases about a nation that was too proud to fight or a
peace without victory.) But the race would be hotly contested. The
submarine campaign at sea, a win-through-at-all-costs offensive on land
had to put Germany in a position to dictate terms before the
incalculable weight of American arms was thrown into the scale against
her.

Men wore grave faces in those days. Though few could give accurate
figures of the tonnage which was being sunk daily or of the stocks of
food on which we could depend, everyone knew that prices had soared
until they had to be arbitrarily fixed by the Government; everyone knew
that already certain foods were unprocurable and that the privations
were unlikely to grow less. Meatless days and three-course dinners were
but the beginning, and Bertrand, who was by now almost reconciled to the
continuation of war in the hope that it would discredit the new
Government, shook his head gloomily at me and wondered morosely how long
the proud-stomached people of England would consent to go on short
commons.

And it was not only in food that the shortage was being felt. Omniscient
critics, who had a figure and a date ready for every question, whispered
that, since the Somme campaign, we were short of recruits to the extent
of a hundred thousand men, and the whisper, growing in volume, was the
signal for a campaign, half malicious, half patriotic, and wholly
mischievous. The unessential industries must yield up their young men,
the civil service must be purged of its indispensables, and, that not
even one fish should slip through the meshes of the net, those who had
been exempted, rejected or discharged from the army, were required to
present themselves for re-examination. The campaign evoked one flash of
opposition, not serious in itself, but of interest as a symptom of
turbulent discontent; mass meetings of discharged soldiers, each with
his silver badge, assembled to declare their intention of not being sent
out again until others had done their share.

"The wheel has swung the full circle now," said George one night. "I was
up before a board to-day. The doctors seemed to feel that it was a
personal score for them that my eyes weren't bad enough for me to be
rejected; but, when they came to my heart, they were quite indignant.
They _couldn't_ pass me on that, but it was a personal grievance and I
shouldn't have been a bit surprised if they'd tested me to see if I'd
been chewing cordite.... I suppose it's not to be wondered at; I'm _not_
as keen to go out as I was two and a half years ago; I shouldn't be keen
at all, if it wasn't for the feeling that I'm left, that all my friends
have been killed.... And they must get men from somewhere. This Russian
revolution is a very fine and hopeful thing in itself, but the Russians
are so much absorbed in it that they can't spare time to bother about
the war, and the Germans are withdrawing the best part of their troops
from the East. _I_ don't know where you're going to get men from. The
papers keep yapping about Ireland, but I wonder how many of their
inspired leader-writers know anything about the country."

It was one of many discussions, when George would come home late and
tired from his office, Bertrand later and more tired from the House.

"If Germany threw up the sponge to-morrow!" George began one night,
"what should we have gained? The flower of our manhood's been destroyed,
we're smashed financially, the money market of the world has shifted to
New York, and we shall spend the rest of our days paying the interest on
our debt, trying to repair the damage.... I don't care to think of the
labour troubles we're going to have when we try to get back to
peace-time rates of wages or when the men find that their jobs have been
done as well or better in their absence by women. And what's it all for?
I get most infernally sceptical at times. As poor Beresford used to
prove with chapter and verse, in every war of this kind there's always
been a school of optimists to say that such a scourge will never be seen
again. And it always _is_.... As for social or moral elevation, with the
spirit of lynch-law and the methods of the press-gang.... It'll all be
the same!"

"It can't be quite the same after so universal a shake-up," I objected.

George shook his head wisely.

"In the early days, when men of our class were enlisting as privates,
even lately, when rankers were getting commissions, I used to think that
some of our social angles would be rubbed off, but just you have five
minutes' talk with an Old Army officer about the 'temporary gentlemen'
in his battalion, who've been fighting side by side with him, mark you!
While you're on the desert island, your Admirable Crichton may come to
the top, but once get him back in London with a drawing-room _and_ a
servants' hall!... I agree in theory with people like Raney, who say we
must get value for the lives we're spending, but I can't do it! Nobody
can do it. The men out there who are paying the price want to forget
about the whole thing, they'll come home at the end as they come home
now on leave, to attend to their own affairs, to enjoy themselves, to
make up for lost time and recapture the years they've wasted in the
trenches. And the people who've never been out have forgotten all the
old good resolutions; they're as tired of the war as the soldiers, tired
of drudgery, discomfort, economising; they want to forget it and enjoy
themselves and get back to the old life. Frankly, Stornaway, it still
makes you sick to hear of the way our prisoners are treated and that
sort of thing, but you don't any longer regard this war as a crusade, do
you? There's too much eighteenth-century diplomacy about it, too many
compensations, too much balance of power. It was one thing to send a
forlorn hope to Belgium, one thing to say that the German military
machine must be broken, but when it comes to conscribing men to coerce
Greece or win Constantinople for Russia ... I wonder when the accursed
things _will_ end."

Bertrand roused himself to light a fresh cigar. From the angle at which
he held it in his mouth, no less than from the way that he screwed up
his eyes and peered into the shadows of the rafters, I prepared myself
for a paradoxical and probably pretentious generalisation.

"I sometimes feel that war is the new expression of our national
activity," he began. "Don't the Rolls-Royce people build only for the
Government? Well, that's typical of a gigantic state-socialism which has
grown up in a night; you can't build a house or buy a suit of clothes
until war-needs have been satisfied. Production, transport, distribution
have all been taken over; you've an army of controllers directing the
machine; and in time we shall dress as we're told, eat the quantity of
food we're allowed, move here and there, do this and that, as we're
ordered. At one age we shall be drafted into the army, at another we
shall be knocked on the head to save feeding; there'll be birth-rate
bonuses amounting to state-subsidised polygamy.... Everything that a man
did in the old days for his own benefit or amusement,--his daily task,
his career, his material output, his accumulation of wealth, his
pioneer-work in developing and improving the world, his family-life,
even--will now be directed to feeding the war. I don't complain; we're
united in a labour gang of forty million souls, and our job is to turn
out a better war than Germany. I don't see where it's going to stop and
I don't see who's going to stop it. Not the soldiers, because they're
shot if they disobey an order; not the Government, because they're the
Board of Directors."

"You'll only stop it by a general strike at home," George answered
reflectively.

Bertrand spread out his hands with a gesture of sweet reasonableness.

"And who's going to carry through a general strike? The people with
small fixed incomes can't make themselves heard, and, for all the rise
in prices, your industrial wage-earner has never been so prosperous;
besides, whenever prices become _too_ high, the Government steps in and
controls them, subsidises producers. Again, it's not pleasant to be told
that your sons and brothers are being killed because you won't turn out
shells."

George wriggled his shoulder-blades impatiently.

"But, if you make it plain that you're not going to turn out shells, the
killing stops automatically. If _anyone_ would only come off the high
horse and discuss concrete terms!"

Bertrand shrugged his shoulders and blew a scornful cloud of smoke.

"But people are getting used to the killing," he objected. "Three years
ago--take anyone you like, Jim Loring; he could only die as the result
of illness or an accident; even if there _were_ a war, he wasn't a
soldier. And it came like a sort of icy grip at the heart.... Nowadays a
man becomes a soldier, whether he likes it or not, at eighteen. They
get mown down at twenty instead of dying in their beds at seventy. And,
as we grow accustomed to it, on my soul! George, we cease caring. People
who come back from Paris tell me that there's a sort of hedonistic
fatalism there--the restaurants never so full, money never so prodigally
squandered. And anyone who knows anything knows that French credit in
America is _gone_! So it isn't the calm, undismayed spirit of the
Spartans at Thermopylæ; it's hysteria, carelessness. I've little doubt
that with certain obvious differences you'd find the same thing in
Berlin, assuredly you'd find it in Vienna. And we're getting it as
badly."

It was due to the house in which I lived, but I suddenly realised that
for a twelvemonth my emotions and interests had strayed from
battlefields where thousands of men were daily laying down their lives
for conflicting ideals; they were engrossed in the contemplation of a
middle-aged bachelor, taking advantage of a blind man to carry off his
wife. And Mrs. Tom Dainton, one of the earliest widows in the war, had
married again. And Lady Maitland and her friends were wondering whether
the risk of sudden death would nerve young Pentyre to marry Lady Sally
Farwell.

"You're not very encouraging, Bertrand," I said.

"And yet, if you take a long view, you _can_ see light," he rejoined
unexpectedly. "The same scientific development which gives you
chloroform gives you also poison gas; and, until you can disarm the
world and make one nation of it under a single police, each war becomes
more horrible than the last. At the same time international divisions
and values may be becoming obsolete; the stronghold of Gibraltar may be
the target for long-range Spanish guns; we may all of us thankfully
throw down our weapons before we have to fight under changing
conditions. You remember when war broke out, George? You were going to
stay with Jim Loring, and I went to Paddington with you; we all shook
our heads gravely and said, 'Thank God! We're an island!' Well,
insularity would have been a source of greater weakness than strength,
if the perfection of submarine warfare had gone _pari passu_ with the
development of trench warfare; and we may want to cry 'quits' before the
submarine makes any further progress. Or take aerial transit. With any
luck, George, you'll live to see mail and passenger services through the
air all over the world. Germany can't get to the Far East without the
leave of Russia, she can hardly get to America without sending her
air-ships over someone else's territory. All these international
barriers have changed their values."

George looked at his watch and dragged himself to his feet.

"I think I shall turn in. A discussion of this kind is very purifying
for the soul, no doubt, but it doesn't get you any forrarder. Dear old
Raney could usually be counted on to produce some Mark Tapley
consolation at the end of the evening, but I doubt if even he's got any
superabundance at the present time."

Bertrand emptied his tumbler, and we moved slowly towards the door.

"Have you heard anything of him since he went back?" I asked.

"He's written once or twice on business. I send him a line two or three
times a week to say how Sonia's getting on, and I'm going down there for
the week-end pretty soon. You can't tell much from a dictated letter--or
from _him_, if it comes to that," he added with a sigh.

It must have been two or three days after this night that Lady Loring
came to me with a worried expression and the announcement that Sonia
would have to keep her bed until after her confinement; against this
sentence the doctor allowed no appeal. Thereafter I found myself
spending a considerable portion of the day in the sick-room. Sonia had
overcome her earlier antagonism and after her first unburdening of
spirit was prepared to discuss herself and her history with a frankness
that amazed me until George told me that it was one of her most
unchanging characteristics and one that was not solely stamped upon her
by a desire to talk about herself. At the end of a week I had received
a full and most unflattering account of her girlhood.

"I was frightfully attractive, of course, but I must have been odious,"
she began engagingly. "Every other woman hated me, and I used to take it
as a great compliment, but I don't think I should now. I want to be
liked, I always _did_; but I never took any trouble, I went out of my
way to exasperate men. I don't know why people stood me--people like
George, I mean, who didn't pretend to be in love with me. I must either
have been a first-class flirt, or I must have been a genius, or else I
must really have had qualities that I didn't recognise."

I had a full history of her engagement to Loring, over whom her facile
triumph had exasperated her, so that she picked quarrels day by day
until the engagement was broken off and she made, if not the match, at
least the most widely discussed scandal, of the year.

There was another man called Claypole or Crabtree (as she always alluded
to him as Tony I never entirely discovered his surname) to whom she had
been engaged before Loring came on the scene. I had his history, too,
sandwiched between accounts of the men whom she had not married for one
reason or another, and the rich Jews like Sir Adolphus Erskine, whom she
had fascinated and bled; throughout she talked like an artless child
describing her first ball. On some subjects she was inexorably reticent;
I never heard why she had fallen in love with O'Rane and married him,
and in all the hours that I sat with her she never alluded a second time
to the stages of her estrangement from her husband. An hour daily for a
fortnight told me little, perhaps, about Sonia, but it shed a searching
light on girls of the class to which she belonged.


2

As the days went by I found myself allowed to spend less and less time
with Sonia. She had hypnotised herself into believing, as a matter of
duty and necessity, that she was ill, tired and suffering at a time
when half the amount of persuasion would have made her feel that she had
never been more comfortable in her life. It was hardly cowardice, for
George had told me anecdotes of her endurance in the hunting-field which
shewed that she was capable of supporting pain; but the obsession made
her a difficult patient.

"Only three weeks more," I used to be told; "only a fortnight more."

Then she began to count in days, and I saw her face lengthen and her
eyes dilate, as though the Wild Ass's Skin were shrinking in her hand.
She was morbidly curious to find out from Lady Loring how much
unavoidable pain she would have to feel; the doctor was questioned again
and again until he warned her that she was preparing the gravest
consequences for her child and herself. And it was after he had gone
that she whispered a terrible prayer that the baby might be born dead.

When the conversation was reported to me, I felt that drastic steps
would have to be taken, if she was to be kept from going mad herself and
giving birth to an imbecile. I took George into my confidence and sent
him for his week-end at Melton with a string of rhetorical questions and
a bulletin which brought O'Rane the same night to London, where he
stayed until Sunday evening, while his neglected guest billeted himself
on the Headmaster and accepted the hospitality of the Common Room. I was
by myself, dozing over a book, when the library door was flung open, a
gigantic Saint Bernard ambled in and a drenched and breathless figure
demanded if anyone was there.

"What on earth brings _you_ to London?" I asked.

"Sonia. I gathered from George ... I say, something's got to be done,
you know."

He stood with his eyes open and set on me, his lips parted to shew a
gleam of white, and one hand mopping his coat, more, I think, for
distraction than in any hope of drying it.

"I don't quite know what you think you can do," I said dubiously.

"If she's awake----" he began eagerly.

"You'd frighten her out of her wits," I interrupted. "And you can ask
Lady Loring, if you don't believe me. What you _can_ do--to-morrow
morning,--is to let it be known that you've come up--to lunch with a man
or collect some books--and, if she'd care to see you, she can. But I
think you've rather acted on an impulse, you know."

"I couldn't stay down at Melton, if there was anything I could do by
coming up."

"I'm afraid that you'll find that there isn't."

His underlip curled obstinately.

"We'll see. I took a solemn vow that I'd see her through...."

I said nothing, remembering that he was Irish and a romantic; his
simple-minded talk of oaths and obligations belonged to another age and
another land.

In the morning I asked Lady Loring whether it would be prudent to let
O'Rane see his wife. I was referred to Sonia herself, who received the
news of her husband's presence without visible surprise and hesitated
for what seemed five minutes before answering. Then she picked up a
hand-glass from the table by her bedside, looked long at her reflection
and laid it down with a sigh; there was a second spell of indecision
before she told me she was not well enough to see anyone.

"I think she's gratified by your coming," I told O'Rane, "but she'd
rather not have any visitors at present. It's not hostility to you, but
a woman loses her looks to some extent at a time like this, and I think
she's sensitive about it."

"But she _knows_----" He interrupted himself suddenly, and his voice
became softly wistful. "D'you appreciate that I've never seen my wife
since she _was_ my wife!"

"I don't think _she_ always does," I answered. "But the trouble in her
mind won't be removed by your sitting and talking to her sweetly for
half an hour, when she doesn't want to see you."

O'Rane's normal composure was breaking down, but he recovered himself
with an effort.

"I might have been a rather more civil host to George, at this rate," he
murmured.

At dinner that night we talked of a subject which illness and other work
had driven into the background. The war had shattered many of my fine
boasts of what I would do, if I were a millionaire, and new outlets had
to be found for the Lancing fortune. I had already decided that Ripley
Court could be put to no better use than as a richly endowed haven of
rest for those whom the war had made incapable of ever helping
themselves again. There were men, I knew, concealed mercifully for
themselves and the world from inquisitive or pitying spectators, who had
marched into battle and returned from the operating-theatre blind and
without limbs, mere trunks surmounted by sightless heads, yet--I was
told--glad to be spared even such life as remained to them. They were to
be my first care, and, when the last had died, there would still be
sufficient incurable cripples without the adventitious aid of modern
warfare to keep my hospital full. There was opportunity, too, for
bringing comfort and resignation to the demented, the paralysed and the
blind. As I saw O'Rane's interest quickening, I told him that I wanted
him to be one of my trustees.

He hesitated until I feared that he was going to refuse.

"_One_ of them?" he asked in doubt.

"I shall appoint several, but they must be all young men; I want the
best of their lives."

"If I act," he answered slowly, "I should have to act alone. I'm in the
early thirties still----"

"You would find it more than one man's work."

"Ah, but I could give the whole of my life to it." I started to
interrupt, but he raised his hand. "And, furthermore, I should allow you
to impose no conditions; the money would have to come to me as it came
to you, and you would have to let me play ducks and drakes with it as I
liked----" He paused to laugh wistfully. "You've had admirable
opportunities of observing how satisfactorily I arrange my own affairs;
but I couldn't undertake the responsibility otherwise. You see, you
might try to impose conditions that I didn't like; and then my heart
wouldn't be in the work. Or your conditions might become obsolete with
the changing state of society, as has happened with every trust that has
been in existence for more than a hundred years. But, above all, you
know that, if you want to help your fellow-creatures, you must do it at
discretion and not by looking at a deed to see if you're allowed to. Do
you know the story of Bertrand's fifty-pound note?" "I don't think so."

O'Rane's eyes lit up with laughter.

"Get him to tell you the full saga; I can only give you a synopsis.
Years and years ago some man asked for a loan of five hundred pounds,
and Bertrand, to cut the interview short, said he'd present him with
fifty. The man said he didn't want it as a gift, wouldn't take it as a
gift.

"'Well, please yourself,' said Bertrand; 'you call it a loan, and I'll
call it a bad debt; but I'm very busy, and you won't get any more. Good
morning.'

"The man talked a good deal about impending ruin, hinted at suicide and
told Bertrand that he would be responsible for turning an honest woman
on the streets. Bertrand went on with his writing, and eventually the
fellow pocketed the note and got up.

"'I hope to pay this back within three months,' he said stiffly. 'It's
not what I expected, but I can't afford to refuse it.'

"'Don't pay it back to me,' said Bertrand, who was beginning to feel
rather ashamed of himself. 'Hand it on to someone else who's in a tight
corner, and, when _he's_ ready to pay it back, he can lend it to his
next friend in distress.' Then a little bit of the old Adam peeped out,
and he added, 'Remember it's a loan; you must tell the next man so and
you've no idea how many men and women we shall save from ruin and
suicide.'

"Well, Bertrand never expected to hear another word, but a year or two
later, he received a letter of thanks from a young barrister, whose wife
had had to undergo an operation; then from a doctor in Sunderland who
hadn't known how to pay his rent; then from a girl who'd lost her father
and wanted money to pay for learning shorthand and typing. The fifty
pounds have been in circulation for about eighteen years, and from time
to time Bertrand still gets a letter from some out-of-the-way corner of
the world.... Of course, I'm living on charity now, but, when I was
competing equally with my fellows, an odd fifty pounds might have come
in very handy. That's what I mean by helping people at discretion."

"There's a difference between fifty-pounds and twenty-five million," I
pointed out.

O'Rane smiled to himself and then shook his head.

"Not so much as you might think," he said.

"I wonder how you'd use it."

His face became slowly fixed and grim.

"I wouldn't let any boy go through what I've had to face," he murmured.
"It may be fortifying for the character, but that sort of thing can be
overdone. The Spartan youth who allowed a fox to gnaw his vitals ended
up, I have no doubt, with an immensely fortified character but also with
a grievously impaired set of vitals. You know, a boy without
parents----"

He broke off and began to whistle to himself; then remarked
unexpectedly:

"I wonder whether _this_ will be a boy.... But, boy or girl, it must be
an awful thing to lie waiting for the birth of a child that you hate in
advance, that's got to be hidden----"

He buried his face in his hands and sat without speaking.

"Is that what's happening?" I asked, for Sonia had never consulted me
even in her most expansive moments.

He nodded abruptly.

"She doesn't want anyone to know that she's ill or _why_ she's ill; no
one else does, and we trust all of you. As soon as the child's born,
it's going to be smuggled away.... It will be properly looked after, of
course, and all that sort of thing, but it will never be allowed to know
its own parents. All the arrangements have been made, and I gather that
the doctor has been--most sympathetic and helpful." He smiled with
scornful bitterness and sat for a minute without speaking. "I was
surprised to find a woman like Violet touching the suggestion with the
end of a pole; she was a bit surprised, too, I fancy, because she sort
of excused herself and hoped Sonia would relent later on, but it was
absolutely necessary to humour her in every way at present.... That kind
of thing always sticks in the throat of a man--like a woman who refuses
to have a family at all.... I don't know, I suppose I'm superstitious; I
should feel that, if I brought a child into the world like
that--furtively, shamefacedly, wrapping a blanket round it and carrying
it out of the back door in the dead of night.... Wouldn't you, too,
Stornaway? Wouldn't you feel that you were putting a curse on the poor
little brute? And I can't imagine a woman deliberately doing that to
another woman's child--let alone her own. Picture the child--later
on-growing up.... Even if it never knows the manner of its birth,
wouldn't you rather expect it to learn stealing in a Dickensian slum and
to end up on the scaffold? I suppose it's all very fanciful and
morbid.... But the other seems so infernally unnatural. I thought it
wasn't _done_. I thought a mother would no more treat her own baby like
that, whatever the provocation, than a man would hit a woman in the
breast."

At O'Rane's age I might have thought the same thing.

"Doesn't anybody else know?" I asked.

"George may have told the Daintons; _I_ didn't," he answered, smoothing
the wrinkles out of his forehead. "We shall all have to rack our brains
before the time comes, God knows. Violet says I must make a point of
being in the house in case anything happens. If Sonia--dies, I mean, it
would look funny my not being with her."

"And if other people _have_ to be told?"

O'Rane's nose came down on his upper lip in a withering sneer.

"I suppose it means one or two trusty and competent nurses, and the
child will be kept in another part of the house. And, later on, London
air won't suit it, and it will be sent with a governess to the sea,
educated abroad.... My God! _I_ was educated abroad!" He coughed
apologetically and relieved his feelings by pacing up and down in front
of the fire. "Where had we got to?" he asked absently. "Oh, yes! Well, a
boy like that--I assume for some reason it's going to be a boy--might
owe the whole of his career, his life, his happiness and power of doing
good entirely to a chance meeting with some man who chose to pay three
hundred a year on his account for so many years. But it's the personal
touch, the personal relationship that must be established!" He swung
round in his walk and faced me. "All my life I've wanted to be Prince
Florizel!" he cried. "I wanted to be able to lend a hand to distressed
young Americans who found unexpected dead bodies in their Saratoga
trunks, I wanted to find comfortable and remunerative positions at my
court for the conscience-stricken survivors of the Suicide Club. But
with the untrammelled disposal of your estate----"

"Wouldn't it pall, if you didn't have to make the money before you gave
it away?" I asked.

"I don't think my interest in human beings would ever pall," he
answered. "There's such a devil of a lot of them, and they're all
different. When I got into the House, I stood as a Tory, and George was
rather offended, because he said I was the most revolutionary nihilist
he'd ever met. I could never call myself a democrat, though, because
democrats deal in mobs, and I only see a mob as composed of individuals,
all different, all absorbingly interesting--with bodies to be kicked and
souls to be damned, if your preference lies that way. I can't deal with
people as _types_. I can't classify them; each one is much too real, too
personal. And, if you're like that, you end up as a nihilist, because
all government is based on generalisations, mostly inaccurate and
wholly inadequate. As we're finding out." He put his watch to his ear
and listened. "I must be making my way to the station," he said. "I'm
not taking an active party line at present, but I seem to find a growing
sense that the old governing classes haven't measured up, haven't made
good in their own job. We've had three specimens since the war
started.... I always feel that in universal nihilism I should come to my
own. Now I must fly! Forgive me for talking so much!"


3

George returned to London the following day in a better temper than, I
fear, would have been mine, if I had been invited to the country and
abandoned by my host within an hour of my arrival. Melton week-end
parties have long been famous, for Dr. Burgess has had through his hands
perhaps a fifth of the younger statesmen and barristers, authors,
clergymen and soldiers of the day. Any old Meltonian can claim a bed,
and it will be found for him in his old house, at the Raven or in
lodgings; he dines on Saturday night in Common Room as a matter of
course and lunches with Burgess next day as a matter of right. Strangers
from less fortunate foundations are jealously excluded, but I attended
one dinner as a Governor and found a Law Officer on my right, a silk
from the Commercial Court on my left and a twice-wounded Brigadier
opposite me. The food was tolerable, the wine good; the conversation
indiscreetly well-informed. George told me that, when he was in the
House, he could only find out what was going on by spending a week-end
at his old school.

"I had one bad moment on Sunday afternoon," he confessed, when I asked
for news of O'Rane. "We'd all been lunching with the old man, and he
asked me to stay behind. It was rather reminiscent of certain
regrettable meetings in my extreme youth.... I knew what he was going to
talk about and I knew it would be no good for me to beat about the bush.
The door had hardly closed before he put it to me what was the matter
with Raney. I had to tell him everything, you can't hide things from
Burgess. For that reason I wasn't sorry that Raney had bolted here; he'd
never forgive me, if he guessed I'd given him away."

"But it won't make any difference, will it?" I asked.

"Oh, Burgess has got too much of God's commonsense. But Raney can't
stand being pitied. Burgess will only allude to it, if he convinces
himself that it will do some good. I'm afraid I don't see how it can;
poor old Raney's just got to set his teeth once more and go through it
single-handed...."

A week later Bertrand, George and I were gossiping over a last cigar,
when Lady Loring entered with a grave face. The doctor had that moment
left after his evening visit to Sonia.

"I think it's time we sent for David," she said without preamble.

"You're certain?" I asked. "He's in the middle of term."

"If we're keeping to our plan," she answered unenthusiastically. "Any
moment now----"

Bertrand stumped across the library to a writing-table.

"I'll send him a wire," he said. "Time enough for appearances, if he
turns up in the course of to-morrow. How is she?"

Lady Loring shrugged her shoulders carelessly and then turned quickly
away.

"She's all _right_--physically," she answered. "But if you left a bottle
of prussic acid within reach.... That's what frightens me so much. Until
to-night she was so keen to go on living that she could face almost
anything, but to-night I believe she doesn't care about it any more. She
wants to slip away and end everything, get rid of all her
difficulties...."


4

O'Rane arrived at "The Sanctuary" next day half an hour after I had
finished luncheon. This time his wife consented to see him, but only
after some hesitation.

"_You_ mustn't go away!" she whispered to me. "If you--if you see I'm
getting tired, you know...."

O'Rane came into her room with a smile, kissed her hand and then felt
for a chair, where he sat in silence for perhaps three minutes until
Lady Loring entered to say that it was time for her patient to rest.

"I never asked how you were feeling," he said, as he got up to go.

"I'm all right--at present," Sonia answered. Then a shiver ran through
her, communicating itself to her fingers until I saw his hand tighten
over them.

"It's going to be all right, Sonia," O'Rane whispered.

She lowered her eyes and stared dully across the room.

"It _can't_ be all right."

"I'll make it all right."

The corners of her mouth began to droop miserably.

"Of course, if I die ..." she began with a catch in her breath.

O'Rane dropped on to one knee and drew her two hands into his own.

"It's much more fun living, sweetheart!" he whispered. "And you're going
to live, you're going to make whatever you like of your life. If you
want me, I shall always be at hand, as I am now; and, if you don't want
me, I shall keep away. I owe you so much, my darling; you must give me
the chance of paying you back a little bit. When we married, I didn't
give either of us a fair trial, I forgot the life you were accustomed
to, I forgot that my own life wasn't like everyone else's; I just went
ahead, doing everything that came natural to me, and it never occurred
to me that I was making you unhappy. Forgive me, Sonia!"

She dragged one hand away and covered her eyes.

"I don't know that _I've_ got much to forgive," she murmured, and I
could see her lips curving to a wistful smile.

"I shouldn't have asked you, it I didn't need it. Sonia, you're going to
be brave, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Promise?"

The lines of her throat tightened.

"You know what my promises are worth, David."

"If you promise, I know you'll keep it. And then I shall want another
promise--two more, in fact. I want you to promise not to worry, and you
must promise not to feel any pain. Will you do that, sweetheart? I've
come up all the way from Melton, you know."

She withdrew her hand, and I saw that her face had become suddenly pale
and that her eyes were tightly closed.

"I can't promise that, David."

His voice caressed her, as though he were talking to a child.

"I think you can, darling. Do you remember when you sprained your ankle,
skating at Crowley Court, and you started to cry with the pain and I
said I wouldn't carry you back to the house until you'd promised to stop
crying and not to let the ankle hurt any more? You promised quickly
enough then, and it's much more important now. If you'll promise that
now, I'll do anything you like."

She smiled wistfully a second time, then drew his head down to her own
and whispered something. I heard him say, "You won't. I swear you won't,
Sonia." Then he drew himself upright, waved his hand and walked to the
door.

I sat with him in the library, while he attacked a belated luncheon and
plied me with questions about his wife. Her whispered request, he told
me, was that she might, if possible, be kept from seeing the child when
it was born, and on this he hung a string of questions to find out what
steps we had taken to secure the best doctors and nurses, when the birth
was expected, whether anyone else knew.

"_We've_ told no one," I assured him, "since you asked us not to."

"I told Burgess," he said. There was a long silence. "I--told him
everything.... I mean, one _does_ with Burgess. I found it wasn't news
to him. George had told him--weeks ago.... One _does_ with Burgess," he
repeated, smiling.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He was rather helpful."

"George told me that he wouldn't trouble to talk to you about it unless
he saw his way to help you," I said.

O'Rane finished his meal and lay back in his chair.

"I went in and told him that I wanted a day or two's leave, if he could
possibly spare me; I told him Sonia was going to have a child.... He
waited for some time and then said, 'The truth, the whole truth and
nothing but the truth?' Said it as if he meant it, too; it was like
trying to get extra leave in the old days; as a rule he'd accept any
excuse, however bad, provided it was given in good faith; I once got an
extra half for the whole school because it was so hot that, as I told
him, we'd much _prefer not_ to be working.... Well, I told him the whole
truth--all about Sonia and myself, all about Grayle...." He paused as
though breathing hurt him, then smiled wearily.

"It may have been good for my humility of spirit, but I can't say it was
very edifying for Burgess.... I told him that Sonia's been dancing in
the shadow of a volcano, that we were always on the verge of an
appalling scandal and that it was more by luck than anything else that
it had been averted. I described to him how we'd smuggled her home and
what we were going to do to keep the child away from her.... Have you
ever told a long story and discovered at some point that it's falling
extraordinarily flat or that someone's shocked? Burgess never _said_
anything, and of course I couldn't see his face, but--I don't know
whether you understand me--the silence seemed to become more intense at
times. I felt that his eyes must be on me and I--not to put too fine a
point on it--I began to feel rather frightened.... If I could have
_seen_.... I knew from his voice when he first spoke that he was sitting
down; and I suddenly remembered a most awful row I'd had with him when I
was about sixteen. He sat there then with his back to the window, and I
stood in front of him arguing and arguing; it was a little matter of
discipline, and he'd decided to fire me out.... Well, I went through
just the same thing this morning. I--I felt I was owning up; and I'd
have given anything in the world to see his face.... You know how you
spin out the explanation ... and rather overdo it ... you're _too_
plausible and you feel the whole time that you're not getting it
across.... I went on and on ... and finally I stopped short; it wasn't
any use, he knew everything--even if George hadn't told him.... I became
stiff and dignified and said once more, 'If you can shift the work round
so that I can be away for a day or two----' Then I heard him scraping
for a light--and sighing--and throwing the matches away.... God! until
you're blind, you've no conception how many things you hear. _You_
wouldn't notice the sound of a wooden match falling in the grate, but
_I_ did; and, though I've given up smoking because I can't taste
tobacco, I felt a little smarting at the back of my nostrils as Burgess
got going with his pipe...."

If ever a man talked to gain time, it was O'Rane at that moment.

"What advice did he give you?" I asked him at length.

"He didn't give me any--_advice_. But, when I'd finished, he said he'd
pull the time-table about and that I could stay away as long as I liked.
I _knew_ he'd say that. Well, in the ordinary course I should have said
'Thank you' and cleared out, but I didn't find it easy to move. Burgess
sat there, sucking at his pipe; I stood there--and I felt a perfect
fool, because I was beginning to blush. And the old man said, 'Well,
David O'Rane?' and I said, 'Well, sir?' And then there was another
silence. And then he said, 'Thou hast no further need of me'--You know
the way he talks? I _did_ thank him then and was starting to the door,
when he called out, 'Thou art at peace in thine own mind?' That rather
stung me, and I told him that, all things considered, I didn't think I
was wholly to blame; and he answered rather enigmatically that, if I
wasn't careful, I _should_ be. I asked him what he meant."

O'Rane left his chair and took up a familiar position at the
fire-place, resting his arm on the high chimney-piece and leaning his
head on the back of his hand.

"Burgess is a curious man," he resumed dispassionately. "I don't think
he ever had any children of his own, but he's got--well, an
extraordinarily human imagination. He began talking about this poor
kiddie--who isn't born yet--and pointing the contrast between _his_ life
and the life of any other boy, who'd have a father and a mother fussing
round him, whenever he had a bit of wind in his poor little tummy, and
playing with him and watching him, as he began to crawl and talk, and
trying to make him understand that it wasn't the end of the world when
he was miserable trying to cut teeth.... The old man didn't spare me,"
said O'Rane with a quivering laugh. "I had about twenty years of the
boy's life compressed into twenty minutes; the way he'd go to school,
frightfully shy and with no one to see him through, no one to give him
half a sovereign at mid-term; and the way he'd get a remove or find
himself in the eleven--with nobody to brag about it to; and the way he'd
go on to a public school and work his way through the green-sickness
period of dirty stories and foul language--without anyone to tell him
that he was becoming rather a pitiable little object.... And the
portentous age, when he'd be head of his house, and the days when he'd
want to ask his father what Oxford used to be like in the prehistoric
days.... After twenty minutes or so I told Burgess that I didn't see it
was _my_ look-out."

"Well?" I said, as O'Rane hesitated.

"I think it was damned unfair," he burst out, but the resentment in his
tone was unconvincing. "Burgess was a friend of my father, he knows all
about me, I've told him every last thing about myself.... I don't
suppose even George knows, but the old man used to invite me to help
tidy up his library, if I wasn't taking Leave-Out, and of course I was
as happy as a clam; and we used to talk, and I told him things that kept
me awake half the night,--but he always seemed to have forgotten them
next day. Well, I suppose after my father died I _did_ have rather
a--crowded youth; and Burgess asked me if I wanted to send my son
through the same mill.

"He's _not_ my son," I said.

"Thy wife's son, laddie," he answered.

O'Rane turned wearily from the fire and began to pace up and down the
room.

"I _told_ him!" he exclaimed. "I said that, if it hadn't been for that,
Sonia and I could have forgotten everything and come together again.
_You_ remember? I was ready--ah, dear God in Heaven! I was ready! And
then I heard that this had come between us, that there was going to be a
permanent reminder, a permanent barrier, a permanent alien _something_
in our lives. That was the first time I saw you were right, the first
time I appreciated we could never forget and go on as if nothing had
happened. My love for Sonia hasn't changed. If--if anything happened to
the child.... But as long as it's there! I told Burgess that, though I
agreed with him in principle, I was very sorry, but I couldn't help it.
It was Grayle's business. He asked me if I thought Grayle was likely to
accept his responsibilities; I told him I saw no indication of it. He
said nothing to that, and I made another bolt for the door. He called me
back and asked what I proposed to do. I said I'd told him already.

"He didn't stop me, and I got back to my rooms in the Cloisters. I began
to pack a few things, but the whole time I was feeling that I hadn't
explained properly and that Burgess rather despised me. I got
extraordinarily excited and angry over it, until at last I left the
packing alone and went back to his house to justify myself. The man
shewed me at once into the library, and it was only when I got inside
that I realised that all this time Burgess ought to have been taking the
Sixth for Tacitus. Instead he was still in his chair, still sucking at
his pipe. I fired away, full of indignation, and went through the whole
weary business from the beginning, just as I'd done before. He never
interrupted me, never said a word till I'd finished. Then he told me
pretty bluntly that he was only indirectly interested in me and that
what he wanted to find out was why the child should be penalised, why I,
who knew something of what it would have to go through, persisted in
making it face the music for no fault of its own. I was pretty well
worked up, but I tried to be reasonable and asked him what he suggested
I should do. He never hesitated a moment this time! He told me it was my
duty to treat the child as if he were my own son, never to let him or
anyone else know what had happened before he was born, but to devote
myself to him as if he were--well, _not_ my own son, _not_ someone for
whom I was _naturally_ responsible, but someone who'd been entrusted to
my _care_. He said, if I didn't--with the experience I'd got to back
me.... Somehow, the way he put it, Stornaway...."

He brought his walk to a conclusion as abruptly as the sentence and
dropped heavily on to a sofa, as though glad that a necessary task was
finished, yet awaiting criticism from me and obviously prepared to argue
as vehemently against me on one side as he had argued against Burgess on
the other.

"In practice, what do you propose to do?" I asked.

"I've been trying to think the whole way up from Melton. I suppose we
shall have to behave as though the whole world knew Sonia was going to
have a baby, it will have to be our child. And I suppose we shall live
like other people who are kept from divorcing each other because of
their children. Nominally we shall share the same house, and I suppose
things can be arranged so as to spare Sonia.... But Burgess has
convinced me. We've no right to think of ourselves or wash our hands of
responsibility or try to score off other people at the expense of the
child. I've promised her that she shall never see it.... I don't know, I
suppose this is one of the things that men and women are temperamentally
incapable of seeing with the same eyes; but, who_ever_ the father was,
what_ever_ the history, I should have imagined that any woman would
fight for her child against all the powers of creation; it was like a
stab when Sonia first said she hoped the child would be born dead, it
was another stab when she begged me--_begged_ me to promise.... I
promised right enough; it was the only thing to do, but I can't let it
rest at that. If she's well enough to talk, I want to make everything
quite plain to her now; otherwise I must explain afterwards...."

As we finished dinner, Lady Loring came down to say that Sonia was
asking for her husband. I was not present, I am glad to say, at their
interview, but it did not last more than five minutes, and at its end
O'Rane looked in for a moment to say that he proposed to walk as far as
the House of Commons for a breath of fresh air. Neither by word nor tone
did he invite anyone to accompany him; and on his return he went
upstairs without coming into the library. I called for a bulletin on my
own account before retiring for the night, and Lady Loring warned me
that I must be prepared for anything at any moment. Sonia had worked
herself from hysteria into something hardly distinguishable from
delirium; forgetting that she had already seen her husband, she had sent
for him a second time and a second time implored him to spare her the
sight of her own child; Lady Loring, who had been on duty all day, was
not allowed to rest, and, as I passed the door, the lights were burning
and I caught the sound of voluble chatter.

For an hour I tried to sleep, but the intermittent hum of voices, the
creak of feet passing rapidly up and down the passage, still more the
indefinable suspense kept me awake. For another hour I tried to read,
but I was always interrupting myself to listen; and at two o'clock I
pulled a dressing-gown over my pyjamas and returned to the library. To
my surprise Bertrand was dozing over a book, while George sat writing
letters on his knee. Both looked up, blinking with dull fatigue, as I
came in.

"I wonder how long this racket's going on," Bertrand growled, as he
walked across to fetch himself a drink. "She'll kill herself at this
rate. And--what--_almighty_ fools--the three of us are--to be here at
all!"

"Has Raney come back yet?" George asked me. "I was told he'd gone for a
walk--like a wise man."

"He was sitting outside her door, as I came down," I answered.

Grumbling inarticulately, Bertrand went back to his book. George looked
at me long enough to see that I was too tired to talk, then began a
fresh letter. I prowled in front of the bookcases, trying to find
something that I had the mental energy to read. It was shortly after
four when O'Rane hurried silently into the room and telephoned for the
doctor.


5

Thirty hours--the fag-end of a broken night, a day and another
night--passed before O'Rane appeared. The painful silence of the house
was violated only by guardedly light steps and hushed voices. Bertrand
and George took their meals at the club; I stayed behind, neglecting my
work and subsisting on tinned tongue, stale bread and cold water, to run
errands, answer telephone calls and carry up trays of food to Lady
Loring. At first I believed that poor Sonia was trying to hypnotise
herself and intensify her own tortures, but in time a new gravity
settled on the faces of the doctor and nurse.

I had never before been in a house where a confinement was taking place;
I do not wish to repeat the experience. Whenever I carried up a meal,
Lady Loring or the trained nurse would say vaguely, "I'm afraid she's
having a bad time," but for the rest I was left to myself in the great
silent library with my senses strained to catch any sound from the
familiar white bedroom where I had spent so many days with Sonia, trying
to distract her thoughts. O'Rane, from the moment when he telephoned for
the doctor, had been with her. There was some ineffectual attempt to
banish him from the room, but Lady Loring afterwards let him stay and
admitted that his personality was keeping Sonia from the surrender which
she sometimes seemed ready to make.

When he came into the library at breakfast-time on the second day, his
clothes were shapeless and dusty, his face unshaven and grey with
fatigue.

"The doctor says it's a boy," he told me hoarsely. "Is there any water
in the room? I've had nothing to eat or drink since first I went up
there; and then I must get some air into my lungs."

He sighed and dropped limply on to a sofa.

"How's Sonia?" I asked him.

"They can't say yet. She's doped. They've given her as much as they
dare, as much as her heart will stand.... My God! I'm glad I'm not a
woman! I can understand their having _one_ child, because they don't
know what's in store for them, but their courage in having a second
...!"

I poured him out a cup of coffee and buttered him two slices of toast.

"I wouldn't try to talk overmuch," I told him.

"It's a bit of a relief to me," he answered with a smile. "All this
time----" He lifted his right hand above his head and began stiffly to
open and shut the fingers. "I was gripping her wrist," he explained; "I
only let go twice, and the first time it was bruised purple, as if she'd
shut it in a door.... And nobody _said_ anything.... Sonia kept getting
spasms of pain which made her moan or cry out, and her nerve gave way
from time to time ... and then I--I tried to hypnotise her, I found that
by repeating 'Sonia, Sonia, Sonia' very distinctly and very low, I could
capture her mind.... God! how it got on my nerves!"

The first cup of coffee was followed by a second, which he gulped in
scalding mouthfuls, asking at short intervals what the time was and how
long he had already stayed away.

"Violet and the nurse are pretty well beat out," he explained; "I want
to pack them off for a bit of a rest while I mount guard. And we've got
to shift the boy before Sonia comes round...."

"You're not moving him--yet?"

"Only to another room. I--I promised her, you see."

He bade me a hurried good-bye and disappeared upstairs until the middle
of the afternoon. George came in after luncheon, put half a dozen
breathless enquiries and returned hot-foot to his office. Bertrand had a
question in the House, but, as soon as he could get away, he came and
demanded a full report.

"You don't gather when the child's to be moved?" he said, when I had
done. "I---- This is an extraordinary business, Stornaway. I've lived a
devil of a long time and I've done some pretty odd things and mixed with
some pretty curious people and all that sort of thing, but I'm hanged if
I've ever done anything like this before. What are we all up to? I feel
I've been stampeded."

"Well, neither of us is doing anything very active," I pointed out,
looking at my cigar and book.

"We're _countenancing_ it. If you sat by and watched a drunken man
making pipe-lights out of five-pound notes.... _What_ have they decided
to do? I don't understand them; I can't keep pace with them."

In so far as I had been admitted to O'Rane's confidence, he had decided
to keep the child in London until it could be safely moved and then to
send it with its nurse to a cottage which he had mysteriously acquired
on the South coast. And there his plans for the time being had ended.

"He's apparently committing himself to three households," Bertrand
cried. "The first because his wife refuses to live with him, the second
because he wants to make his friends believe that they _are_ living
together, the third because he requires a home for his wife's child,
which in time will come to be regarded as his child...."

"_I_'ve got no influence over him," I said in protest against his tone
of injury.

Bertrand shook his head gloomily.

"When once he's made up his mind--it doesn't matter how fantastic a
thing may be...."

The door opened, and O'Rane came in to repeat his request of the morning
for water and any food that was available. He had found time to shave
and change his clothes, but I have never seen a man more utterly
exhausted.

"Is there any news?" Bertrand asked.

"She's doing--very fairly, I think," he answered with a drawl that was
almost a stammer. "The effect--drug, you know--wearing off. She woke
up--for a few moments. Now getting some natural sleep."

I put a stiff dash of brandy into the water and watched O'Rane's grey
cheeks colouring.

"Did she seem comfortable?" I enquired.

"Comfortable?" he repeated with a laugh. "The physical _relief_, you
know.... Whatever happens now, she's free from pain, she's bound to feel
better and better.... When I was wounded, there were times when I
thought I couldn't bear it; the nurses told me that I said quite
clearly, 'It's _no_ use hurting me any more; I _can't_ stand it.' Dear
souls! as if _they_ could help it! And one _did_ stand it.... But, when
the pain began to abate, when you didn't have to keep yourself braced up
against it, I went as limp as a rag. It was like the end of a long
fever.... After that, whether I was asleep or awake, I always knew that
the real hell was over. There might be little twinges in unexpected
places, but the pain was _over_, _over_. And the feeling of weakness was
so delicious! Like an endless repetition of the glorious moment when
you're just dropping off to sleep.... That's how Sonia is now."

The next report came after dinner, when the doctor had concluded his
evening visit and she had been put to sleep for the night.

"She's had a frightful time," he told us, "and there's always the
possibility of a relapse, but I know she's not going to relapse, I'm not
going to let her."

"And the child?"

"Oh, he's all right."

The next morning O'Rane joined me at breakfast after a night's unbroken
rest. Despite a mild protest from the nurse, he had insisted on staying
in Sonia's room and had slept in his clothes on the floor for twelve
hours on end.

"She's had a wonderful night," he told me, exultantly. "And the boy's
doing magnificently. They seem to think it'll be reasonably safe to move
him to-morrow. And then, if all's well with Sonia, I shall go back to
Melton. I shall only want to talk to her, if I stay any longer; and, as
it is, if a board creaks or anyone touches the bed.... That good angel
Violet has promised not to go until _every_thing's all right. Don't you
think she's been wonderful? Violet Loring, I mean. I'd got no sort of
call on her."

"I don't know that the baby upstairs has any great call on you," I
answered.

"We--ell, you can't open an account with a thing twenty-four hours old,"
he laughed. "I say, Stornaway, I had no idea that babies were so
_small_. Hullo, that's Violet's step! There's nothing wrong, is there?"

Lady Loring had come in to say that Sonia was asking for him. He hurried
upstairs, leaving his breakfast unfinished, and did not return for a
couple of hours. I asked him whether there was anything amiss, for there
was an unfamiliar frown on his face.

"No, but it was curious ..." he began hesitatingly. "You remember how
she made me promise.... Well, I went in and asked her how she was, and
she said she was feeling better.... And then she asked about the child
... wanted to know whether it was a boy or a girl ... wanted to know how
it was.... It ended by my carrying him in for her to see.... I was in
two minds whether to do it, because she was working herself up to a
pitch of great excitement, but I thought it would only make things
worse, if I refused. She wanted to see what he was like, you know,
whether there was even the remotest resemblance.... She gave a sob, when
I brought him in, and said, 'He's got my eyes.' I'm afraid the whole
thing excited her rather. She suddenly got the idea that she oughtn't to
have asked _me_ to bring him in. Poor mite! he's not responsible for his
own father, and I told her that if we started quarrelling over a thing
like that.... Another curious thing, Stornaway; I have always imagined
that I should hate the very existence of the child; when I was first
told what was the matter with Sonia, I felt that there was a sheet of
fire between us. I don't feel that now; I feel that Grayle has passed
utterly out of our lives. As for punishing that poor, helpless little
creature.... I suppose you hate babies, but I wish you'd have a look at
this one and tell me what he's like. I've always thought what fun it
would be to have a son and watch him growing up.... I should have
thought that Sonia, that _any_ woman, after all she's gone through....
Still, when you've been treated as Grayle treated her, when you've
waited in dread and horror all these weary months...." He broke off in
perplexity, which only lifted when he suddenly began to smile. "You
_will_ have a look at him, won't you? And tell me what he's like. He's
going to the country to-morrow."

After dinner that night I made my way to the bedroom which had been
temporarily converted into a nursery. It was dark and empty, and I
walked to the door of Sonia's room in search of Lady Loring. A low sound
of voices penetrated to the passage: I knocked and went in to find
O'Rane standing by the bed with a thickly swathed child in his arms,
while his wife lay with her hand in Lady Loring's, looking up at him.

"I hope you're feeling better," I said to Sonia.

"David says you haven't even seen him yet," she pouted, disregarding my
words. She stretched our her arms to the slumbering child. "Darling,
you're being rather left out of all this, aren't you? But if you _will_
go to sleep when the loveliest things are being said about you.... My
blessed, I've waked you!"

There was a half-perceptible movement under the long shawl. O'Rane's
arms began to rock gently.

"Take him back, David," Sonia begged. "And then just come in for one
moment to say good-night. I feel so feeble that I simply can't stand
more."

As he left the room, Lady Loring nodded to me, and I prepared to follow
her. Sonia was lying with closed eyes, but, as I moved, she raised
herself and beckoned with one hand.

"Mr. Stornaway! Just one moment before he comes back! They want to take
my baby away. I know I asked them to, but that was _before_.... You
won't let them, will you? He's mine, mine! David thinks I'm saying it
because I ought to, because everybody would expect me to, but I'm not!
On my honour I'm not! I'd go through it again rather than let them take
my baby away."

"He won't be taken away, if you want to keep him," I promised her.
"Good-night, my dear Sonia. Go straight off to sleep and don't worry
about anything. If you want your child, David won't try to steal him.
You're sure you want him?"

"David?"

"I meant the boy."

A smile dawned on her tired face.

"I want so much! I always have.... Oh, I know you despise me, and you're
quite right. I despise myself. But I _must_ be loved, I can't get on
without it. And I've been, oh! so lonely!"

She gave a little sob. I felt a hand on my arm and turned to find Lady
Loring shaking her head and pointing to the door.

"Tell me anything I can do to help you, Sonia," I said, "and I'll do it.
Now good-night. You've got to go to sleep, and I shan't let David even
say good-night to you."

I met O'Rane in the passage and carried him off to the library.

"Lady Loring wants to get her off to sleep," I explained. "You and the
child between you have rather excited her. If you will take my advice,
you'll go back to Melton by the first train to-morrow. The two of you
are wearing each other out. I'll do whatever's necessary here."

"But I can't leave her yet."

"You can and must. You've got your work to do. O'Rane, you may remember
that I've advised you a good many times to face facts and end this
business. In your greater wisdom you've always refused----"

"You never seemed to appreciate that I loved Sonia."

"Indeed I did. But I thought we agreed that there were some tests which
the greatest love in the world couldn't survive."

He took up his stand by the fireplace, smiling to himself and rocking
gently from heel to toe with his hands in his pockets.

"I thought so, too. But wouldn't it be a fair-weather love? I treated
Sonia badly, and she treated me worse. Until I married, I always thought
that marriage was an easy, straightforward business; you just fell in
love, and there was an end of it. If I spoiled her life because _I_
hadn't the imagination, the consideration.... I'm sorry, Stornaway, I
can't discuss it. One's pride is rather involved. I always _said_ that I
loved her more than a man had ever loved a woman before; if I can't
prove it.... But I'm boring you."

"I'm only tired. So are you, so's everyone. We'd better all go to bed.
Promise me one thing. If you go in to say good-night to--your wife,
don't stay more than a moment."


THE END





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