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Title: Lucinda
Author: Hope, Anthony
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lucinda" ***

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                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE:

—Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.



                                                       LUCINDA

                                                     ANTHONY HOPE



                                LUCINDA

                                  BY

                             ANTHONY HOPE

          AUTHOR OF “THE SECRET OF THE TOWER,” “THE PRISONER
                 OF ZENDA,” “RUPERT OF HENTZAU,” ETC.

                           THE RYERSON PRESS
                                TORONTO
                                 1920



                          COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY

                         ANTHONY HOPE HAWKINS

                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                            PAGE

      I. THE FACE IN THE TAXI           1

     II. THE SIGNAL                    13

    III. A HIGH EXPLOSIVE              26

     IV. THE FOURTH PARTY              38

      V. CATCH WHO CATCH CAN!          52

     VI. VENICE                        64

    VII. SELF-DEFENSE                  78

   VIII. THE NEEDLEWOMAN               91

     IX. LIKE TO LIKE                 103

      X. HER LADYSHIP                 116

     XI. DUNDRANNANIZATION            131

    XII. A SECRET VISIT               144

   XIII. AN INTRODUCTION              157

    XIV. FOR AULD LANG SYNE           171

     XV. THE SYSTEM WORKS             186

    XVI. PURPLE—AND FINE LINEN        199

   XVII. REBELLION                    211

  XVIII. THE WINNING TICKET           225

    XIX. VIEWS AND WHIMS              239

     XX. LIVING FUNNILY               252

    XXI. PARTIE CARRÉE                264

   XXII. SUITABLE SURROUNDINGS        276

  XXIII. THE BANQUET                  288

   XXIV. THE MASCOT                   299

    XXV. HOMAGE                       312

   XXVI. THE AIR ON THE COAST         325

  XXVII. IN FIVE YEARS                339



LUCINDA



CHAPTER I

THE FACE IN THE TAXI


HIS “Business Ambassador” was the title which my old chief, Ezekiel
Coldston, used to give me. I daresay that it served as well as any
other to describe with a pleasant mixture of dignity and playfulness,
the sort of glorified bag-man or drummer that I was. It was my job
to go into all quarters of the earth where the old man had scented a
concession or a contract—and what a nose he had for them!—and make it
appear to powerful persons that the Coldston firm would pay more for
the concession (more in the long run, at all events) or ask less for
the contract (less in the first instance, at all events) than any other
responsible firm, company, or corporation in the world. Sir Ezekiel (as
in due course he became) took me from a very low rung of the regular
diplomatic ladder into his service on the recommendation of my uncle,
Sir Paget Rillington, who was then at the top of that same ladder. My
employer was good enough to tell me more than once that I had justified
the recommendation.

“You’ve excellent manners, Julius,” he told me. “Indeed, quite
engaging. Plenty of tact! You work—fairly hard; your gift for
languages is of a great value, and, if you have no absolute genius for
business—well, I’m at the other end of the cable. I’ve no cause to be
dissatisfied.”

“As much as you could expect of the public school and varsity brand,
sir?” I suggested.

“More,” said Ezekiel decisively.

I liked the job. I was very well paid. I saw the world; I met all
sorts of people; and I was always royally treated, since, if I was
always trying to get on the right side of my business or political
friends, they were equally anxious to get on the right side of
me—which meant, in their sanguine imaginations, the right side of
Sir Ezekiel; a position which I believe to correspond rather to an
abstract mathematical conception than to anything actually realizable
in experience.

However, I do not want to talk about all that. I mention the few
foregoing circumstances only to account for the fact that I found
myself in town in the summer of 1914, back from a long and distant
excursion, temporary occupant of a furnished flat (I was a homeless
creature) in Buckingham Gate, enjoying the prospect of a few months’
holiday, and desirous of picking up the thread of my family and social
connections—perhaps with an eye to country house visits and a bit of
shooting or fishing by and by. First of all, though, after a short
spell of London, I was due at Cragsfoot, to see Sir Paget, tell him
about my last trip, and console him for the loss of Waldo’s society.

Not that anything tragic had happened to Waldo. On the contrary, he
was going to be married. I had heard of the engagement a month before
I sailed from Buenos Aires, and the news had sent my thoughts back to
an autumn stay at Cragsfoot two years before, with Sir Paget and old
Miss Fleming (we were great friends, she and I); the two boys, Waldo
and Arsenio, just down from Oxford; respectable Mrs. Knyvett—oh, most
indubitably respectable Mrs. Knyvett;—myself, older than the boys,
younger than the seniors, and so with an agreeable alternation of
atmosphere offered to me—and Lucinda! True that Nina Frost was a good
deal there too, coming over from that atrocious big villa along the
coast—Briarmount they called it—still, she was not of the house party;
there was always a last talk, or frolic, after Nina had gone home, and
after Mrs. Knyvett had gone to bed. Miss Fleming, “Aunt Bertha,” liked
talks and frolics; and Sir Paget was popularly believed not to go to
bed at all; he used to say that he had got out of the habit in Russia.
So it was a merry time—a merry, thoughtless——!

Why, no, not the least thoughtless. I had nearly fallen into a
_cliché_, a spurious commonplace. Youth may not count and calculate.
It thinks like the deuce—and is not ashamed to talk its thoughts right
out. You remember the Oxford talk, any of you who have been there,
not (with submission to critics) all about football and the Gaiety,
but through half the night about the Trinity, or the Nature of the
Absolute, or Community of Goods, or why in Tennyson (this is my date
rather than Waldo’s) Arthur had no children by Guinevere, or whether
the working classes ought to limit—well, and so on. The boys brought
us all that atmosphere, if not precisely those topics, and mighty
were the discussions,—with Sir Paget to whet the blades, if ever they
grew blunt, with one of his aphorisms, and Aunt Bertha to round up a
discussion with an anecdote.

And now Lucinda had accepted Waldo! They were to be married
now—directly. She had settled in practice the problem we had once
debated through a moonlight evening on the terrace that looked out
to sea. At what age should man and woman marry? He at thirty, she at
twenty-five, said one side—in the interest of individual happiness.
He at twenty-one, she at eighteen, said the other, in the interest
of social wellbeing. (Mrs. Knyvett had gone to bed.) Lucinda was now
twenty-one and Waldo twenty-six. It was a compromise—though, when I
come to think of it, she had taken no part in discussing the problem.
“I should do as I felt,” had been her one and only contribution;
and she also went to bed in the early stages of the wordy battle.
Incidentally I may observe that Lucinda’s exits were among the best
things that she did—yes, even in those early days, when they were all
instinct and no art. From Sir Paget downwards we men felt that, had
the problem been set for present solution, we should all have felt
poignantly interested in what Lucinda felt that she would do. No man
of sensibility—as they used to say before we learnt really colloquial
English—could have felt otherwise.

I will not run on with these recollections just now, but I was
chuckling over them on the morning of Waldo’s and Lucinda’s wedding
day—a very fine day in July, on which, after late and leisurely
breakfast, I looked across the road on the easy and scattered activity
of the barracks’ yard. That scene was soon to change—but the future
wore its veil. With a mind vacant of foreboding, I was planning only
how to spend the time till half-past two. I decided to dress myself, go
to the club, read the papers, lunch, and so on to St. George’s. For, of
course, St. George’s it was to be. Mrs. Knyvett had a temporary flat in
Mount Street; Sir Paget had no town house, but put up at Claridge’s; he
and Waldo—and Aunt Bertha—had been due to arrive there from Cragsfoot
yesterday. Perhaps it was a little curious that Waldo had not been in
town for the last week; but he had not, and I had seen none of the
Cragsfoot folk since I got home. I had left a card on Mrs. Knyvett,
but—well, I suppose that she and her daughter were much too busy to
take any notice. I am afraid that I was rather glad of it; apprehensive
visions of a _partie carrée_—the lovers mutually absorbed, and myself
left to engross Mrs. Knyvett—faded harmlessly into the might-have-beens.

I walked along the Mall, making for my club in St. James’s Street. At
the corner by Marlborough House I had to wait before crossing the road;
a succession of motors and taxis held me up. I was still thinking of
Lucinda; at least I told myself a moment later that I must have been
still thinking of Lucinda, because only in that way could I account,
on rational lines, for what happened to me. It was one o’clock—the
Palace clock had just struck. The wedding was at half-past two, and
the bride was, beyond reasonable doubt, now being decked out for it,
or, perchance, taking necessary sustenance. But not driving straight
away from the scene of operations, not looking out of the window of
that last taxi which had just whisked by me! Yet the face at the taxi
window—I could have sworn it was Lucinda’s. It wore her smile—and
not many faces did that. Stranger still, it dazzled with that vivid
flush which she herself—the real Lucinda—exhibited only on the rarest
occasions, the moments of high feeling. It had come on the evening when
Waldo and Arsenio Valdez quarreled at Cragsfoot.

The vision came and went, but left me strangely taken aback, in a way
ashamed of myself, feeling a fool. I shrugged my shoulders angrily as I
crossed Pall Mall. As I reached the pavement on the other tide, I took
out my cigarette case; I wanted to be normal and reasonable; I would
smoke.

“Take a light from mine, Julius,” said a smooth and dainty voice.

It may seem absurd—an affectation of language—to call a voice “dainty,”
but the epithet is really appropriate to Arsenio Valdez’s way of
talking, whether in Spanish, Italian, or English. As was natural, he
spoke them all with equal ease and mastery, but he used none of them
familiarly; each was treated as an art, not in the choice of words—that
would be tedious in every-day life—but in articulation. We others used
often to chaff him about it, but he always asserted that it was the
“note of a Castilian.”

There he stood, at the bottom corner of St. James’s Street, neat, cool,
and trim as usual—like myself, he was wearing a wedding garment—and
looking his least romantic and his most monkeyish: he could do wonders
in either direction.

“Hullo! what tree have you dropped from, Monkey?” I asked. But then I
went on, without waiting for an answer. “I say, that taxi must have
passed you too, didn’t it?”

“A lot of taxis have been passing. Which one?”

“The one with the girl in it—the girl like Lucinda. Didn’t you see her?”

“I never saw a girl like Lucinda—except Lucinda herself. Have you
lunched? No, I mean the question quite innocently, old chap. Because,
if you haven’t, we might together. Of course you’re bound for the
wedding as I am? At least, I can just manage, if the bride’s punctual.
I’ve got an appointment that I must keep at three-fifteen.”

“That gives you time enough. Come and have lunch with me at White’s.”
I put my arm in his and we walked up the street. I forgot my little
excitement over the girl in the cab.

Though he was a pure-blooded Spaniard, though he had been educated
at Beaumont and Christ Church, Valdez was more at home in Italy than
anywhere else. His parents had settled there, in the train of the
exiled Don Carlos, and the son still owned a small _palazzo_ at Venice
and derived the bulk of his means (or so I understood) from letting
the more eligible floors of it, keeping the attics for himself.
Here he consorted with wits, poets, and “Futurists,” writing a bit
himself—Italian was the language he employed for his verses—till he
wanted a change, when he would shoot off to the Riviera, or Spain, or
Paris, or London, as the mood took him. But he had not been to England
for nearly two years now; he gave me to understand that the years of
education had given him, for the time, a surfeit of my native land: not
a surprising thing, perhaps.

“So I lit out soon after our stay at Cragsfoot, and didn’t come back
again till a fortnight ago, when some business brought me over. And I’m
off again directly, in a day or two at longest.”

“Lucky you’ve hit the wedding. I suppose you haven’t seen anything of
my folks then—or of the Knyvetts?”

“I haven’t seen Waldo or Sir Paget, but I’ve been seeing something of
Mrs. Knyvett and Lucinda since I got here. And they were out in Venice
last autumn; and, as they took an apartment in my house, I saw a good
deal of them there.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they’d been to Venice. Nobody ever writes to tell me
anything when I’m away.”

“Poor old chap! Get a wife, and she’ll write to tell you she’s in debt.
I say, oughtn’t we to be moving? It won’t look well to be late, you
know.”

“Don’t be fidgety. We’ve got half an hour, and it’s not above ten
minutes’ walk.”

“There’ll be a squash, and I want a good place. Come on, Julius.” He
rose from the table rather abruptly; indeed, with an air of something
like impatience or irritation.

“Hang it! you might be going to be married yourself, you’re in such a
hurry,” I said, as I finished my glass of brandy.

As we walked, Valdez was silent. I looked at his profile; the delicate
fine lines were of a poet’s, or what a poet’s should be to our fancy.
Not so much as a touch of the monkey! That touch, indeed, when it did
come, came on the lips; and it came seldom. It was the devastating
acumen and the ruthless cruelty of boyhood that had winged the shaft
of his school nickname. Yet it had followed him to the varsity; it
followed him now; I myself often called him by it. “Monkey Valdez”!
Not pretty, you know. It did not annoy him in the least. He thought it
just insular; possibly that is all it was. But such persistence is some
evidence of a truthfulness in it.

“Have you been trying a fall with Dame Fortune lately?” I asked.

He turned his face to me, smiling. “I’m a reformed character. At least,
I was till a fortnight ago. I hadn’t touched a card or seen a table for
above a year. Seemed not to want to! A great change, eh? But I didn’t
miss it. Then when—when I decided to come over here, I thought I would
go round by the Riviera, and just get out at Monte Carlo, and have a
shot—between trains, you know. I wanted to see if my luck was in. So
I got off, had lunch, and walked into the rooms. I backed my number
everyway I could—_en plein_, _impair_, all the rest. I stood to win
about two hundred louis.”

“Lost, of course?”

“Not a bit of it. I won.”

“And then lost?”

“No. I pouched the lot and caught my train. I wasn’t going to spoil the
omen.” He was smiling now—very contentedly.

“What was the number?”

“Twenty-one.”

“This is the twenty-first of July,” I observed.

“Gamblers must be guided by something, some fancy, some omen,” he said.
“I had just heard that Waldo and Lucinda were to be married on the
twenty-first.”

The monkey did peep out for a moment then; but we were already in
George Street; the church was in sight, and my attention was diverted.
“Better for you if you’d lost,” I murmured carelessly.

“Aye, aye, dull prudence!” he said mockingly. “But—the sensation! I can
feel it now!”

We were on the other side of the road from the church, but almost
opposite to it, as he spoke, and it was only then that I noticed
anything peculiar. The first thing which I marked was an unusual
animation in the usual small crowd of the “general public” clustered on
either side of the steps: they were talking a lot to one another. Still
more peculiar was the fact that all the people in carriages and cars
seemed to have made a mistake; they drew up for a moment before the
entrance; a beadle, or some official of that semi-ecclesiastical order,
said something to them, and they moved on again—nobody got out! To
crown it, a royal brougham drove up—every Londoner can tell one yards
away, if it were only by the horses—and stopped. My uncle, Sir Paget
himself, came down the steps, took off his tall hat, and put his head
in at the carriage window for a moment; then he signed, and no doubt
spoke, to the footman, who had not even jumped down from the box or
taken off his hat. And the royal brougham drove on.

“Well, I’m damned!” said I.

Valdez jerked his head in a quick sideways nod. “Something wrong? Looks
like it!”

I crossed the road quickly, and he kept pace with me. My intention was
to join Sir Paget, but that beadle intercepted us.

“Wedding’s unavoidably postponed, gentlemen,” he said. “Sudden
indisposition of the bride.”

There it was! I turned to Valdez in dismay—with a sudden, almost
comical, sense of being let down, choused, made a fool of. “Well,
twenty-one’s not been a lucky number for poor Lucinda, at all events!”
I said—rather pointlessly; but his story had been running in my head.

He made no direct reply; a little shrug seemed at once to accuse and to
accept destiny. “Sir Paget’s beckoning to you,” he said. “Do you think
I might come too?”

“Why, of course, my dear fellow. We both want to know what’s wrong,
don’t we?”



CHAPTER II

THE SIGNAL


BY now it was past the half-hour; the arrivals dwindled to a few late
stragglers, who were promptly turned away by the beadle; the crowd of
onlookers dispersed with smiles, shrugs, and a whistle or two: only a
group of reporters stood on the lowest step, talking to one another
and glancing at Sir Paget, as though they would like to tackle him but
were doubtful of their reception. One did quietly detach himself from
the group and walked up to where my uncle stood on the top step. I saw
Sir Paget raise his hat, bow slightly, and speak one sentence. The man
bowed in return, and rejoined his fellows with a rueful smile; then all
of them made off together down the street.

My uncle was a little below middle height, but very upright and spare,
so that he looked taller than he was. He had large features—a big,
high-peaked nose, wide, thin-lipped mouth, bushy eyebrows, and very
keen blue eyes. He bore himself with marked dignity—even with some
stiffness towards the world at large, although among intimates he was
the most urbane and accessible of men. His long experience in affairs
had given him imperturbable composure; even at this moment he did not
look the least put out. His manner and speech were modeled on the old
school of public men—formal and elaborate when the occasion demanded,
but easy, offhand, and familiar in private: to hear him was sometimes
like listening to behind-the-scenes utterances of, say, Lord Melbourne
or the great Duke which have come down to us in memoirs of their period.

When we went up to him, he nodded to me and gave his hand to Valdez.
He had not seen him for two years, but he only said, “Ah, you here,
Arsenio?” and went on, “Well, boys, here’s a damned kettle of fish! The
girl’s cut and run, by Gad, she has!”

Valdez muttered “Good Lord!” or “Good Heavens!” or something of that
kind. I found nothing to say, but the face I had seen at the taxi
window flashed before my eyes again.

“Went out at ten this morning—for a walk, she said, before dressing.
And she never came back. Half an hour ago a boy-messenger left a note
for her mother. ‘I can’t do it, Mother. So I’ve gone.’—That was all.
Aunt Bertha had been called in to assist at the dressing-up, and she
sent word to me. Mrs. Knyvett collapsed, of course.”

“And—and Waldo? Is he here?” asked Valdez. “I’d like to see him and—and
say what I could.”

“I got him away by the back door—to avoid those press fellows: he
consented to go back to the hotel and wait for me there.”

“It’s a most extraordinary thing,” said Valdez, who wore an air of
embarrassment quite natural under the circumstances. He was—or had
been—an intimate of the family; but this was an extremely intimate
family affair. “I called in Mount Street three days ago,” he went on,
“and she seemed quite—well, normal, you know; very bright and happy,
and all that.”

Sir Paget did not speak. Valdez looked at his watch. “Well, you’ll want
to be by yourselves, and I’ve got an appointment.”

“Good-by, my boy. You must come and see us presently. You’re looking
very well, Arsenio. Good-by. Don’t you go, Julius, I want you.”

Arsenio walked down the steps very quickly—indeed, he nearly ran—and
got into a taxi which was standing by the curb. He turned and waved his
hand towards us as he got in. My uncle was frowning and pursing up his
thin, supple lips. He took my arm and we came down the steps together.

“There’s the devil to pay with Waldo,” he said, pressing his hand on my
sleeve. “It was all I could do to make him promise to wait till we’d
talked it over.”

“What does he want to do?”

“He’s got one of his rages. You know ‘em? They don’t come often, but
when they do—well, it’s damned squally weather! And he looks on her as
as good as his wife, you see.” He glanced up at me—I am a good deal the
taller—with a very unwonted look of distress and apprehension. “He’s
not master of himself. It would never do for him to go after them in
the state he’s in now.”

“After—_them?_”

“That’s his view; I incline to it myself, too.”

“She was alone in the taxi.” I blurted it out, more to myself than to
him, and quite without thinking.

I told him of my encounter; it had seemed a delusion, but need not seem
so now.

“Driving past Marlborough House into the Mall? Looks like Victoria,
doesn’t it? Any luggage on the cab?”

“I didn’t notice, sir.”

“Then you’re an infernal fool, Julius,” said Sir Paget peevishly.

I was not annoyed, though I felt sure that my uncle himself would have
thought no more about luggage than I had, if he had seen the face as I
had seen it. But I felt shy about describing the flush on a girl’s face
and the sparkle in her eyes; that was more Valdez’s line of country
than mine. So I said nothing, and we fell into a dreary silence which
lasted till we got to the hotel.

I went upstairs behind Sir Paget in some trepidation. I had, for
years back, heard of Waldo’s “white rages”; I had seen only one, and
I had not liked it. Waldo was not, to my thinking, a Rillington: we
are a dark, spare race. He was a Fleming—stoutly built, florid and
rather ruddy in the face. But the passion seemed to suck up his blood;
it turned him white. It was rather curious and uncanny, while it
lasted. The poor fellow used to be very much ashamed of himself when
it was over; but while it was on—well, he did not seem to be ashamed
of anything he did or said. He was dangerous—to himself and others.
Really, that night at Cragsfoot, I had thought that he was going to
knock Valdez’s head off, though the ostensible cause of quarrel was
nothing more serious—or perhaps I should say nothing less abstract—than
the Legitimist principle, of which Valdez, true to his paternal
tradition, elected to pose as the champion and brought on himself a
bitter personal attack, in which such words as hypocrites, parasites,
flunkeys, toadeaters, etc., etc., figured vividly. And all this before
the ladies, and in the presence of his father, whose absolute authority
over him he was at all normal moments eager to acknowledge.

“I’m going to tell him that you think you saw her this morning,” said
Sir Paget, pausing outside the door of the room. “He has a right to
know; and it’s not enough really to give him any clew that might
be—well, too easy!” My uncle gave me a very wry smile as he spoke.

Waldo was older now; perhaps he had greater self-control, perhaps the
magnitude of his disaster forbade any fretful exhibition of fury. It
was a white rage—indeed, he was pale as a ghost—but he was quiet;
the lightning struck inwards. He received his father’s assurance that
everything had been managed as smoothly as possible—with the minimum
of publicity—without any show of interest; he was beyond caring about
publicity or ridicule, I think. On the other hand, it may be that these
things held too high a place in Sir Paget’s mind; he almost suggested
that, if the thing could be successfully hushed up, it would be much
the same as if it had never happened: perhaps the diplomatic instinct
sets that way. Waldo’s concern stood rooted in the thing itself. This
is not to say that his pride was not hit, as well as his love; but it
was the blow that hurt him, not the noise that the blow might make.

Probably Sir Paget saw this for himself before many minutes had passed;
for he turned to me, saying, “You’d better tell him your story, for
what it’s worth, Julius.”

Waldo listened to me with a new look of alertness, but the story seemed
to come to less than he had expected. His interest flickered out again,
and he listened with an impatient frown to Sir Paget’s conjectures as
to the fugitive’s destination. But he put two or three questions to me.

“Did she recognize you? See you, I mean—bow, or nod, or anything?”

“Nothing at all; I don’t think she saw me. She passed me in a second,
of course.”

“It must have been Lucinda, of course. You couldn’t have been mistaken?”

“I thought I was at the time, because it seemed impossible. Of course,
now—as things stand—there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been
Lucinda, and no doubt it was.”

“How was she looking?”

I had to attempt that description, after all! “Very animated;
very—well, eager, you know. She was flushed; she looked—well, excited.”

“You’re dead sure that she was alone?”

“Oh, yes, I’m positive as to that.”

“Well, it doesn’t help us much,” observed Sir Paget. “Even if anything
could help us! For the present I think I shouldn’t mention it to any
one else—except, of course, Mrs. Knyvett and Aunt Bertha. No more talk
of any kind than we can help!”

“Besides you two, I’ve only mentioned it to Valdez; and, when I did
that, I didn’t believe that the girl was Lucinda.”

“Monkey Valdez! Did he come to the—to the church?” Waldo asked quickly.
“I didn’t know he was in London, or even in England.”

“He’s been in town about a fortnight, I gathered. He’d seen the
Knyvetts, he said, and I suppose they asked him to the wedding.”

“You met him there—and told him about this—this seeing Lucinda?”

“I didn’t meet him at the church. He lunched with me before and we
walked there together.”

“What did he say?”

“Oh, only some half-joking remark that you couldn’t take any other girl
for Lucinda. He didn’t seem to attach any importance to it.”

Waldo’s eyes were now set steadily on my face. “Did you tell him at
lunch, or as you walked to the church, or at the church?”

“As a matter of fact, before lunch. I mentioned the matter—that was
half in joke too—as soon as I met him in the street.”

Sir Paget was about to speak, but Waldo silenced him imperiously. “Half
a minute, Father. I want to know about this. Where did you meet—and
when?”

“As soon as the taxi—the one with the girl in it—had gone by. I had to
wait for it to go by. I crossed over to St. James’s Street and stopped
to light a cigarette. Just as I was getting out a match, he spoke to
me.”

“Where did he come from?”

“I don’t know; I didn’t see him till he spoke to me.”

“He might have been standing at the corner there—or near it?”

“Yes, for all I know—or just have reached there, or just crossed from
the other corner of St. James’s Street. I really don’t know. Why does
it matter, Waldo?”

“You’re dense, man, you’re dense!”

“Gently, Waldo, old boy!” Sir Paget interposed softly. He was standing
with his back to the fireplace, smoking cigarette after cigarette, but
quite quietly, not in a fluster. It was plain that he had begun to
follow the scent which Waldo was pursuing so keenly.

“I beg your pardon, Julius. But look here. If he was at either corner
of the street, or on the refuge in the middle—there is one, I think—he
may well have been there a moment before—standing there, waiting
perhaps. The taxi that passed you would have passed him. He would have
seen the girl just as you saw her.”

“By Jove, that’s true! But he’d have told me if he had.”

“He didn’t say he hadn’t?”

I searched my memory. “No, he didn’t say that. But if—well, if, as you
seem to suggest, he was there in order to see her, and did see her——”

“It was funny enough your happening to see her. It would be a lot
funnier coincidence if he just happened to be there, and just happened
to see her too! And just as funny if he was there and didn’t see her,
eh?”

“But how could he carry it off as he did?”

“My dear chap, the Monkey would carry off a load of bricks that hit him
on the head! There’s nothing in that.”

“What’s your theory, Waldo?” Sir Paget asked quietly.

Waldo sat silent for a full minute. He seemed by now to be over the
first fit of his rage; there was color in his cheeks again. But his
eyes were bright, intent, and hard. He seemed to be piecing together
the theory for which his father asked him—piecing it together so as to
give it to us in a complete form. Waldo was not quick-witted, but he
had a good brain. If he got hold of a problem, he would worry it to a
solution.

“I’ve written to her every day,” he began slowly. “And she’s answered,
quite affectionately—she’s never offensive; she’s given me no hint that
she meant to go back on me like this. The day before yesterday I wired
to her to know if I might come up; she wired: ‘For pity’s sake don’t. I
am too busy. Wait till the day.’”

“Nothing much in that,” said his father. “She’d put it that
way—playfully.”

“Nothing much if it stood alone,” Waldo agreed. “But suppose she was
struggling between two influences—mine and his.” For a moment his
voice faltered. “He’s always been against me—always—ever since that
time at Cragsfoot.” I heard a swallow in his throat, and he went on
again steadily. “Never mind that. Look at it as a case, a problem,
impersonally. A girl is due to marry a man; another is besieging her.
She can’t make up her mind—can’t make it up even on the very day
before the wedding; or, if you like, won’t admit to herself that she
has really resolved to break her promise, to be false to the man to
whom she is already——” Again there was a falter in his voice—“already
really a wife, so far as anything short of—short of the actual thing
itself—can make her——”

He came to a sudden stop; he was unable to finish; he had invited us to
a dispassionate consideration of the case as a case, as a problem; in
the end he was not equal to laying it before us dispassionately. “Oh,
you see, Father!” he groaned.

“Yes,” said Sir Paget. “I see the thing—on your hypothesis. She
couldn’t make up her mind—or wouldn’t admit that she had. So she told
the other man——”

“Valdez?”

“Yes, Julius. Arsenio Valdez. She told Arsenio to be at a certain spot
at a certain time—a time when, if she were going to keep her promise,
she would be getting ready for her wedding. ‘Be at the corner of St.
James’s Street at one o’clock.’ That would be it, wouldn’t it? If I
drive by in a taxi, alone, it means yes to you, no to him. If I don’t,
it means the opposite.’ That’s what you mean, Waldo?”

Waldo nodded assent; but I could not readily accept the idea.

“You mean, when I saw her she’d just seen him, and when I saw him, he’d
just seen her?”

“Wouldn’t that account for the animation and excitement you noticed in
her face—for the flush that struck you? She had just given the signal;
she’d just”—he smiled grimly—“crossed her Rubicon, Julius.”

“But why wasn’t he with her? Why didn’t he go with her? Why did he come
to the wedding? Why did he go through that farce?”

Sir Paget shrugged his shoulders. “Some idea of throwing us off the
scent and getting a clear start, probably.”

“Yes, it might have been that,” I admitted. “And it does account
for—for the way she looked. But the idea never crossed my mind. There
wasn’t a single thing in his manner to raise any suspicion of the sort.
If you’re right, it was a wonderful bit of acting.”

Waldo turned to me—he had been looking intently at his father while Sir
Paget expounded the case—with a sharp movement. “Did Monkey ask for me
when he came to the church?”

“Yes, I think he did. Yes, he did. He said he’d like to see you and—and
say something, you know.”

“I thought so! That would have been his moment! He wanted to see how
I took it, damn him! Coming to the church was his idea. He may have
persuaded her that it was a good ruse, a clever trick. But really he
wanted to see me—in the dirt. Monkey Valdez all over!”

I believe that I positively shivered at the bitterness of his anger
and hatred. They had been chums, pals, bosom friends. And I loved—I
had loved—them both. Sir Paget, too, had made almost a son of Arsenio
Valdez.

“And for that—he shall pay,” said Waldo, rising to his feet. “Doesn’t
he deserve to pay for that, Father?”

“What do you propose to do, Waldo?”

“Catch him and—give him his deserts.”

“He’ll have left the country before you can catch him.”

“I can follow him. And I shall. I can find him, never fear!”

“You must think of her,” I ventured to suggest.

“Afterwards. As much as you like—afterwards.”

“But by the time you find them, they’ll have—I mean, they’ll be——”

“Hold your tongue, for God’s sake, Julius!”

I turned to Sir Paget. “If he insists on going, let me go with him,
sir,” I said.

“Yes, that would be—wise,” he assented, but, as I thought, rather
absently.

Waldo gave a laugh. “All right, Julius. If you fancy the job, come
along and pick up the pieces! There’ll be one of us to bury, at all
events.” I suppose that I made some instinctive gesture of protest, for
he added: “She was mine—mine.”

Sir Paget looked from him to me, and back again from me to him.

“You must neither of you leave the country,” he said.



CHAPTER III

A HIGH EXPLOSIVE


I HAVE said so much about Waldo’s “rages” that I may have given quite
a wrong impression of him. The “rages” were abnormal, rare and (if one
may not use the word unnatural about a thing that certainly was in
his nature) at least paradoxical. The normal—the all but invariable
and the ultimately ruling—Waldo was a placid, good-tempered fellow;
not very energetic mentally, yet very far from a fool; a moderate
Conservative, a good sportsman, an ardent Territorial officer, and a
crack rifle-shot. He had an independent fortune from his mother, and
his “Occupation” would, I suppose, have to be entered on the Government
forms as “None” or “Gentleman”; all the same, he led a full, active,
and not altogether useless existence. Quite a type of his class,
in fact, except for those sporadic rages, which came, I think, in
the end from an extreme, an exaggerated, sense of justice. He would
do no wrong, but neither would he suffer any; it seemed to him an
outrage that any one should trench on his rights: among his rights
he included fair, honorable and courteous treatment—and a very high
standard of it. He asked what he gave. It seems odd that a delicacy of
sensitiveness should result, even now and then, in a mad-bull rage, but
it is not, when one thinks it over, unintelligible.

Sir Paget had spoken in his most authoritative tone; he had not
proffered advice; he issued an order. I had never known Waldo to
refuse, in the end, to obey an order from his father. Would he obey
this one? It did not look probable. His retort was hot.

“I at least must judge this matter for myself.”

“So you shall then, when you’ve heard my reasons. Sit down, Waldo.”

“I can listen to you very well as I am, thank you.” “As he was” meant
standing in the middle of the room, glowering at Sir Paget, who was
still smoking in front of the fireplace. I was halfway between them,
facing the door of the room. “And I can’t see what reasons there can be
that I haven’t already considered.”

“There can be, though,” Sir Paget retorted calmly. “And when I tell you
that I have to break my word in giving them to you, I’m sure that you
won’t treat them lightly.”

Frowning formidably, Waldo gave an impatient and scornful toss of his
head. He was very hostile, most unamenable to reason—or reasons.

At this moment in walked Miss Fleming—Aunt Bertha as we all called
her, though I at least had no right to do so. She was actually aunt
to Waldo’s mother, the girl much younger than himself whom Sir Paget
had married in his fortieth year, and who had lived for only ten
years after her marriage. When she fell sick, Aunt Bertha had come to
Cragsfoot to nurse her; she had been there ever since, mistress of Sir
Paget’s house, his _locum tenens_ while he was serving abroad, guide
of Waldo’s youth, now the closest friend in the world to father and
son alike—and, looking back, I am not sure that there was then any one
nearer to me either. I delighted in Aunt Bertha.

She was looking—as indeed she always did to me—like a preternaturally
aged and wise sparrow, with her tiny figure, her short yet aquiline
nose, her eyes sparkling and keen under the preposterous light-brown
“front” which she had the audacity to wear. I hastened to wheel a chair
forward for her, and she sank into it (it was an immense “saddlebag”
affair and nearly swallowed her) with a sigh of weariness.

“How I hate big hotels, and lifts, and modern sumptuousness in
general,” she observed.

None of us made any comment or reply. Her eyes twinkled quickly over
the group we made, resting longest on Waldo’s stubborn face. But she
spoke to me. “Put me up to date, Julius.”

That meant a long story. Well, perhaps it gave Waldo time to cool off a
little; halfway through he even sat down, though with an angry flop.

“Yes,” said Aunt Bertha at the end. “And you may all imagine the
morning I had! I got to Mount Street at half-past eleven. Lucinda
still out for a walk—still! At twelve, no Lucinda! At half-past,
anxiety—at one, consternation—and for Mrs. Knyvett, sherry and
biscuits. At about a quarter to two, despair. And then—the note! I
never went through such a morning! However, she’s in bed now—with a
hot-water bottle. Oh, I don’t blame her! Paget, you’re smoking too many
cigarettes!”

“Not, I think, for the occasion,” he replied suavely. “Was Mrs.
Knyvett—she was upset, of course—but was she utterly surprised?”

“What makes you ask that, Paget?”

“Well, people generally show some signs of what they’re going to do.
One may miss the signs at the time, but it’s usually possible to see
them in retrospect, to interpret them after the event.”

“You mean that you can, or I can, or the Knyvett woman can?” Aunt
Bertha asked rather sharply.

“Never mind me for the minute. Did it affect her—this occurrence—just
as you might expect?”

“Why, yes, I should say so, Paget. The poor soul was completely knocked
over, flabbergasted, shocked out of her senses. But—well now, upon my
word, Paget! She did put one thing rather queerly.”

“Ah!” said Sir Paget. Waldo looked up with an awakened, though still
sullen, animation. I was listening with a lively interest; somehow I
felt sure that these two wise children of the world—what things must
they not have seen between them?—would get at something.

“When her note came—that note, you know—what would you have said in her
place? No, I don’t mean that. You’d have said: ‘Well, I’m damned!’ But
what would you have expected her to say?”

“‘Great God!’ or perhaps ‘Good gracious!’” Sir Paget suggested
doubtfully.

“She’s gone—gone!” I ventured to submit.

“Just so—just what I should have said,” Aunt Bertha agreed. “Something
like that. What our friend Mrs. Knyvett did say to me was, ‘Miss
Fleming, she’s done it!’”

“What did you say?” Sir Paget as nearly snapped this out as a man of
his urbanity could snap.

“I don’t think I said anything. There seemed nothing to——”

“Then you knew what she meant?”

Aunt Bertha pouted her lips and looked, as it might be, apprehensively,
at Sir Paget.

“Yes, I suppose I must have,” she concluded—with an obvious air of
genuine surprise.

“We sometimes find that we have known—in a way—things that we never
realized that we knew,” said Sir Paget—“much what I said before.
But—well, you and Mrs. Knyvett both seem to have had somewhere in your
minds the idea—the speculation—that Lucinda might possibly do what
she has done. Can you tell us at all why? Because that sort of thing
doesn’t generally happen.”

“By God, no!” Waldo grunted out. “And I don’t see much good in all this
jaw about it.”

A slight, still pretty, flush showed itself on Aunt Bertha’s wrinkled
cheeks—hers seemed happy wrinkles, folds that smiles had turned, not
furrows plowed by sorrow—“I’ve never been married,” she said, “and I
was only once in love. He was killed in the Zulu war—when you were no
more than a boy, Paget. So perhaps I’m no judge. But—darling Waldo, can
you forgive me? She’s never of late looked like—like a girl waiting for
her lover. That’s all I’ve got to go upon, Paget, absolutely all.”

I saw Waldo’s hands clench; he sat where he was, but seemed to do it
with an effort.

“And Mrs. Knyvett?”

“Nothing to be got out of her just now. But, of course, if she really
had the idea, it must have been because of Arsenio Valdez!”

The name seemed a spur-prick to Waldo; he almost jumped to his feet.
“Oh, we sit here talking while——!” he mumbled. Then he raised his
voice, giving his words a clearer, a more decisive articulation. “I’ve
told you what I’m going to do. Julius can come with me or not, as he
likes.”

“No, Waldo, you’re not going to do it. I love—I have loved—Lucinda. I
held my arms open to her. I thought I was to have what I have never
had, what I have envied many men for having—a daughter. Well, now——”
his voice, which had broken into tenderness, grew firm and indeed harsh
again. “But now—what is she now?”

“Monkey Valdez’s woman!”

These words, from Waldo’s lips, were to me almost incredible. Not for
their cruelty—I knew that he could be cruel in his rage—but for their
coarse vulgarity. I did not understand how he could use them. A second
later he so far repented—so far recovered his manners—as to say, “I beg
your pardon for that, Aunt Bertha.”

“My poor boy!” was all the old lady said.

“Whatever she may be—even if she were really all that up to to-day you
thought—you mustn’t go after her now, Waldo—neither you nor Julius with
you.” He paused a moment, and then went on slowly. “In my deliberate
judgment, based on certain facts which have reached me, and reënforced
by my knowledge of certain persons in high positions, all Europe will
be at war in a week, and this country will be in it—in a war to the
death. You fellows will be wanted; we shall all be wanted. Is that the
moment to find you two traipsing over the Continent on the track of a
runaway couple, getting yourselves into prison, perhaps; anyhow quite
uncertain of being able to get home and do your duty as gentlemen? And
you, Waldo, are a soldier!”

Waldo sat down again; his eyes were set on his father’s face.

“You can’t suspect me of a trick—or a subterfuge. You know that I
believe what I’m telling you, and you know that I shouldn’t believe it
without weighty reasons?”

“Yes,” Waldo agreed in a low tone. His passion seemed to have left
him; but his face and voice were full of despair. “This is pretty well
a matter of life and death to me—to say nothing of honor.”

“Where does your honor really lie?” He threw away his cigarette, walked
across to his son, and laid a hand on his shoulder. But he spoke
first to me. “As I told you, I am breaking my word in mentioning this
knowledge of mine. It is desirable to confine that breach of confidence
to the narrowest possible limits. If I convince Waldo, will you,
Julius, accept his decision?”

“Of course, Sir Paget. Besides, why should I go without him? Indeed,
how could I—well, unless Mrs. Knyvett——”

“Mrs. Knyvett has nothing to do with our side of the matter. Waldo,
will you come out with me for an hour?”

Waldo rose slowly. “Yes. I should like to change first.” He still
wore his frock coat and still had a white flower in his buttonhole.
Receiving a nod of assent from Sir Paget, he left the room. Sir Paget
returned to the fireplace and lit a fresh cigarette.

“He will do what’s right,” he pronounced. “And I think we’d better
get him to Cragsfoot to-morrow. You come too, Julius. We’ll wait
developments there. I have done and said what I could in quarters to
which I have access. There’s nothing to do now but wait for the storm.”

He broke away from the subject with an abrupt turn to Aunt Bertha.
“It’s a damned queer affair. Have you any views?”

“The mother’s weak and foolish, and keeps some rather second-rate
company,” said the old lady. “Surroundings of that sort have their
effect even on a good girl. And she’s very charming—isn’t she?”

“You know her yourself,” Sir Paget observed with a smile.

“To men, I mean. In that particular way, Paget?”

“Well, Julius?”

“Oh, without a doubt of it. Just born to make trouble!”

“Well, she’s made it! We shall meet again at tea, Aunt Bertha? I’ll
pick up Waldo at his room along the passage. And I’d better get rid
of my wedding ornament too.” He took the rose out of the lapel of his
coat, flung it into the fireplace, and went out of the room, leaving me
with Aunt Bertha.

“On the face of it, she has just suddenly and very tardily changed her
mind, hadn’t the courage to face it and own up, and so has made a bolt
of it?” I suggested.

“From love—sudden love, apparently—of Arsenio Valdez, or just to avoid
Waldo? For there seems no real doubt that Arsenio’s taken her. He’s
only once been to the flat, but the girl’s been going out for walks
every day—all alone; a thing that I understand from her mother she very
seldom did before.”

“Oh, it’s the Monkey all right. But that only tells us the fact—it
doesn’t explain it.”

“Very often there aren’t any explanations in love affairs—no reasonable
ones, Julius. Waldo takes it very hard, I’m afraid.”

“She’s made an ass of him before all London. It can’t really be hushed
up, you know.”

“Well,” Aunt Bertha admitted candidly, “if such an affair happened in
any other family, I should certainly make it my business to find out
all I could about it.” She gave a little sigh. “It’s a shock to me.
I’ve seen a lot, and known a lot of people in my day. But when you grow
old, your world narrows. It grows so small that a small thing can smash
it. You Rillington men had become my world; and I had just opened it
wide enough to let in Lucinda. Now it seems that I might just as well
have let in a high explosive. In getting out again herself, she’s blown
the whole thing—the whole little thing—to bits.”

“Love’s a mad and fierce master,” I said—with a reminiscence of my
classics, I think. “He doesn’t care whom or what he breaks.”

“No! Poor Lucinda! I wish she’d a nice woman with her!”

I laughed at that. “The nice woman would feel singularly _de trop_, I
think.”

“She could make her tea, and tell her that in the circumstances she
could hardly be held responsible for what she did. Those are the two
ways of comforting women, Julius.”

“As it is, she’s probably gone to some beastly foreign place where
there isn’t any tea fit to drink, and Monkey Valdez is picturesquely,
but not tactfully, insisting that her wonderful way has caused all the
trouble!”

“Poor Lucinda!” sighed Aunt Bertha again.

And on that note—of commiseration, if not actually of excuse—our
conversation ended; rather contrary to what might have been expected,
perhaps, from two people so closely allied to the deserted and outraged
lover, but because somehow Aunt Bertha enticed me into her mood, and
she—who loved men and their company as much as any woman whom I have
known—never, I believe, thought of them _en masse_ in any other way
than as the enemy-sex. If and where they did not positively desire that
lovely women should stoop to folly, they were always consciously or
unconsciously, by the law of their masculine being, inciting them to
that lamentable course. Who then (as the nice woman would have asked
Lucinda as she handed her the cup of tea) were really responsible when
such things came about? This attitude of mind was much commoner with
Aunt Bertha’s contemporaries than it is to-day. Aunt Bertha herself,
however, always praised Injured Innocence with a spice of malice. There
was just a spice of it in her pity for Lucinda and in the remedies
proposed for her consolation.

My own feeling about the girl at this juncture was much what one may
have about a case of suicide. She had ended her life as we had known
her life in recent years; that seemed at once the object and the effect
of her action. What sort of a new life lay before her now was a matter
of conjecture, and we had slender _data_ on which to base it. What did
seem permissible—in charity to her and without disloyalty to Waldo—was
some sympathy for the struggle which she must have gone through before
her shattering resolve was reached.



CHAPTER IV

THE FOURTH PARTY


AS Sir Paget had suggested, we—we three Rillington men and Aunt
Bertha—spent the Twelve Days, the ever-famous Twelve Days before
the war, at Cragsfoot. On the public side of that period I need say
nothing—or only just one thing. If we differed at all from the public
at large in our feelings, it was in one point only. For us, under Sir
Paget’s lead, it was less a time of hope, fear, and suspense than
of mere waiting. We other three took his word for what was going to
happen; his certainty became ours—though, as I believe (it is a matter
of belief only, for he never told me what he told Waldo on that walk
of theirs on the afternoon of the wedding day—which was not the day of
a wedding), his certainty was based not so much on actual information
as on a sort of instinct which long and intimate familiarity with
international affairs had given him. But, whatever was his rock of
conviction, it never shook. Even Waldo did not question it. He accepted
it—with all its implications, public and private.

Yes, and private. There his acceptance was not only absolute; it was
final and—a thing which I found it difficult to understand—it was
absolutely silent. He never referred to his project of pursuit—and of
rescue, or revenge, or whatever else it had been going to be. He never
mentioned Lucinda’s name; we were at pains never to pronounce it in
his presence. It was extraordinary self-control on the part of a man
whom self-control could, on occasion, utterly forsake. So many people
are not proof against gossiping even about their own fallen idols,
though it would be generally admitted that silence is more gracious;
pedestal-makers should be sure that they build on a sound foundation.
However, Waldo’s silence was not due to delicacy or to a recognition
of his own mistake; that, at least, was not how I explained it. He
recognized the result of his own decision. The event that was to
raise for all the civilized world a wall of division between past and
future—whom has it not touched as human being and as citizen?—erected a
barrier between Lucinda and himself, which no deed could pass, which no
word need describe. Only memory could essay to wing over it a blind and
baffled flight.

In spite of the overwhelming preoccupation of that national crisis—Sir
Paget remained in close touch with well-informed people in town, and
his postbag gave rise to talk that lasted most of the morning—my
memory, too, was often busy with those bygone days at Cragsfoot, when
the runaways had been of the party. Tall, slim, and fair, a girl
on the verge of womanhood, ingenuous, open, and gay though she was,
the Lucinda of those days had something remote about her, something
aloof. The veil of virginity draped her; the shadow of it seemed to
fall over her eyes which looked at you, as it were, from out of the
depths of feelings and speculations to which you were a stranger and
she herself but newly initiated. The world faced her with its wonders,
but the greatest, the most alluring and seductive wonder was herself.
The texture of her skin, peculiarly rich and smooth—young Valdez once,
sitting on a patch of short close moss, had jokingly compared it to
Lucinda’s cheeks—somehow aided this impression of her; it looked so
fresh, so untouched, as though a breath might ruffle it. Fancy might
find something of the same quality in her voice and in her laughter, a
caressing softness of intonation, a mellow gentleness.

What were her origins? We were much in the dark as to that; even Aunt
Bertha, who knew everything of that sort about everybody, here knew
nothing. The boys, Waldo and Valdez, had met mother and daughter at a
Commem’ Ball; they came as guests of the wife of one of their dons—a
lady who enjoyed poor health and wintered in “the South.” There, “in
the South,” she had made friends with the Knyvetts and, when they
came to England, invited them to stay. Mrs. Knyvett appeared from her
conversation (which was copious) to be one of those widows who have
just sufficient means to cling to the outskirts of society at home
and abroad; she frequently told us that she could not afford to do the
things which she did do; that “a cottage in the country somewhere” was
all she wanted for herself, but that Lucinda must “have her chance,
mustn’t she?” The late Mr. Knyvett had been an architect; but I believe
that Lucinda was by far the greatest artistic achievement in which he
could claim any share.

So—quite naturally, since Waldo always invited any friends he chose—the
pair found themselves at Cragsfoot in the summer of 1912. And the play
began. A pleasant little comedy it promised to be, played before the
indulgent eyes of the seniors, among whom I, with only a faint twinge
of regret, was compelled to rank myself; to be in the thirties was to
be old at Cragsfoot that summer; and certain private circumstances made
one less reluctant to accept the status of an elder.

Valdez paid homage in the gay, the embroidered, the Continental
fashion; Waldo’s was the English style. Lucinda seemed pleased with
both, not much moved by either, more interested in her own power
to evoke these strange manifestations than in the meaning of the
manifestations themselves. Then suddenly the squall came—and, as
suddenly, passed; the quarrel, the “row,” between Waldo and Valdez;
over (of all things in the world) the Legitimist principle! The
last time I had seen Waldo in a rage—until the day that was to have
brought his wedding with Lucinda! It had been a rage too; and Valdez,
a fellow not lacking in spirit as I had judged him, took it with a
curious meekness; he protested indeed, and with some vigor, but with
a propitiatory air, with an obvious desire to appease his assailant.
We elders discussed this, and approved it. Waldo was the host, he the
guest; for Aunt Bertha’s and Sir Paget’s sake he strove to end the
quarrel, to end the unpleasantness of which he was the unfortunate, if
innocent, cause. He behaved very well indeed; that was the conclusion
we arrived at. And poor dear Waldo—oh, badly, badly! He quite
frightened poor Lucinda. Her eyes looked bright—with alarm; her cheeks
were unwontedly, brilliantly red—with excited alarm. The girl was all
of a quiver! It was inexcusable in Waldo; it was generous of Valdez
to accept his apologies—as we were given to understand that he had
when the two young men appeared, rather stiff to one another but good
friends, at the breakfast table the next morning.

How did this view look now—in the light of recent events? Was there
any reason to associate the old quarrel of 1912 with the catastrophe
which had now befallen Waldo? I had an impulse to put these questions
to Aunt Bertha, perhaps to Sir Paget too. But, on reflection, I kept my
thoughts to myself. Silence was the _mot d’ordre_; Waldo himself had
set the example.

It was on the Saturday—the day on which the question of Belgian
neutrality defined itself, according to my uncle’s information, as the
vital point—that, wearied by a long talk about it and oppressed by
Waldo’s melancholy silence, I set out for a walk by myself. Cragsfoot,
our family home, lies by the sea, on the north coast of Devon; a cleft
in the high cliffs just leaves room for the old gray stone house and
its modest demesne; a steep road leads up to the main highway that runs
along the top of the cliff from east to west. I walked up briskly, not
pausing till I reached the top, and turned to look at the sea. I stood
there, taking in the scene and snuffing in the breeze. A sudden wave
of impatient protest swept over my mind. Wars and rumors of wars—love
and its tragedies—troubles public and private! My holiday was being
completely spoilt. A very small and selfish point of view, no doubt,
but human, after all.

“Oh, damn the whole thing!” I exclaimed aloud.

It must have been aloud—though I was not conscious that it was—for
another audible voice spoke in response.

“That’s just what Father said this morning!”

“It’s just what everybody’s saying,” I groaned. “But—well, how are you
after all this time, Miss Frost?”

For it was Nina Frost who stood beside me and I felt oddly surprised
that, in my retrospect of that earlier summer at Cragsfoot, I had never
thought of her; because she had been a good deal with us in our sports
and excursions. But the plain fact is that there had been little about
her in those days that would catch a mature man’s attention or dwell in
his memory. She was a chit of a girl, a couple of years or so younger
than Lucinda, much more the school-girl, pretty enough but rather
insignificant, attaching herself to the other three rather by her own
perseverance than thanks to any urgent pressing on their part. Lucinda
had altogether outshone her in the eyes of us all; she had been “little
Nina Frost from Briarmount.”

But now—she was different. A first glance showed that. She was not only
taller, with more presence; she had acquired not merely an ease of
manner; it was a composure which was quite mature, and might almost be
called commanding.

“You’ve changed!” I found myself exclaiming.

“Girls do—between sixteen and eighteen—or nearly nineteen! Haven’t you
noticed it, Mr. Rillington?” She smiled. “Hasn’t Lucinda changed too?
I expect so! Oh, but you’ve been abroad, haven’t you? And since she
didn’t—I mean, since the wedding didn’t—Oh, well, anyhow, perhaps you
haven’t seen her?”

“No, I haven’t seen her.” I had not—officially. “Are you going towards
Briarmount? May I walk with you?”

“Yes, do. And perhaps I haven’t changed so much, after all. You see,
you never took much notice of me. Like the others, you were dazzled by
Lucinda. Are you at liberty to tell me anything, Mr. Rillington? If you
aren’t, I won’t ask.”

She implied that she was not much changed. But would any child of
sixteen put it like that? I thought it precocious for eighteen; for
it cornered me. I had to lie, or admit practically the whole thing. I
tried to fence.

“But didn’t you go to the wedding yourself?” I asked. “If you did——”

“No, I didn’t. Father wasn’t very well, and I had to stay down with
him.”

As we walked, I had been slyly studying her face: she had grown
handsome in a style that was bold and challenging, yet in no
way coarse; in fact, she was very handsome. As she gave me her
most respectable reason for not having attended—or attempted to
attend—Waldo’s wedding, she grew just a little red. Well, she was still
only eighteen; her education, though I remained of opinion that it had
progressed wonderfully, was not complete. She was still liable to grow
red when she told fibs. But why was she telling a fib?

She recovered her composure quickly and turned to me with a rather
sharp but not unpleasant little laugh. “As it turned out, I’m glad.
It must have been a very uncomfortable occasion.” She laughed
again—obviously at me. “Come, Mr. Rillington, be sensible. There are
servants at Cragsfoot. And there are servants at Briarmount. Do you
suppose that I haven’t heard all the gossip through my maid? Of course
I have! And can’t I put two and two together?”

I had never—we had never—thought of this obvious thing. We had thought
that we could play the ostrich with its head in the sand! Our faithful
retainers were too keen-sighted for that!

“Besides,” she pursued, “when smart society weddings have to be put
off, because the bride doesn’t turn up at the last moment, some
explanation is put in the papers—if there is an explanation. And
she gets better or worse! She doesn’t just vanish, does she, Mr.
Rillington?”

I made no reply; I had not one ready.

“Oh, it’s no business of mine. Only—I’m sorry for Waldo, and dear Miss
Fleming.” A gesture of her neatly gloved and shapely hands seemed to
dismiss the topic with a sigh. “Have you seen anything of Don Arsenio
lately?” she asked the next moment. “Is he in England?”

“Yes. He was at the wedding—well, at the church, I mean.”

She came to a stop, turning her face full round to me; her lips were
parted in surprise, her white teeth just showing; her eyes seemed full
of questions. If she had “scored off” me, at least I had startled her
that time. “Was he?” she murmured.

At the point to which our walk had now brought us, the cliffs take a
great bulge outwards, forming a bold rounded bluff. Here, seeming to
dominate, to domineer over, a submissive Bristol Channel, Mr. Jonathan
Frost (as he then was—that is, I think, the formula) had built his
country seat; and “Briarmount” he had called it.

“Good Heavens,” said I, “what’s happened to the place? It’s grown! It’s
grown as much as you have!”

“We’ve built on a bit—a few more bedrooms, and bathrooms. And garages,
you know. Oh, and a ballroom!”

“No more than that?”

“Not at present. Come in and have a look—and some tea. Or are you in
too deep mourning?”

I found myself not exactly liking the girl, but interested in her, in
her composure—and her impudence. I accepted her invitation.

Since he could very well afford it, no blame need rest on Mr. Frost
for building himself a large house and equipping it sumptuously. The
only thing was that, when he had got it, he did not seem to care a bit
about it. Probably he built it to please Nina—or to enshrine Nina;
no doubt he found in his daughter a partial and agreeable solution
of the difficulty of how to spend the money which he could not help
making. He himself was a man of the simplest ways and tastes—almost
of no tastes at all. He did not even drink tea; while we took ours,
he consumed a small bowlful of one of those stuffs which, I believe,
they call cereals—this is a large domed hall of glass—conservatory,
winter-garden, whatever it should be called—full of exotic plants
and opening on a haughty terrace with a view of the sea. He was
small, slight, shabby, simple, and rather nervous. Still I gazed on
him with some awe; he was portentously rich; Mother Earth labored,
and her children sweated, at his bidding; he waved wands, and
wildernesses became—no, not quite paradises perhaps, but at all events
garden-cities; he moved mountains and where the ocean had been he made
dry land. Surely it beseems us to look with some awe on a man like
that? I, at least, being more or less in the same line of business,
recognized in him a master.

He greeted me very kindly, though I think that it had cost him an
effort to “place” me, to remember who I was. He spoke warmly of the
kindness which my uncle and Miss Fleming had shown to his motherless
girl. “They’ve made you quite at home at Cragsfoot, haven’t they, Nina?
And your cousin Waldo—Mr. Waldo taught you billiards, didn’t he?”
(There was no billiard room at Cragsfoot; these lessons presumably took
place at Briarmount.) “And he made company for your rides, too! I hope
he’s very well, Mr. Rillington? Oh, but didn’t you tell me that he was
engaged to be married, my dear?”

One must allow for preoccupation with important affairs. Still, this
was Saturday; as recently as the preceding Tuesday week, Mr. Frost
would have attended Waldo’s wedding, but for his own indisposition. I
stole a glance at Nina; she was just a little red again. I was not far
from embarrassment myself—on Waldo’s account; I gave a weak laugh and
said: “I’m afraid it’s not quite certain that the event will come off.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he murmured apologetically. “It was the
pretty girl who came here with him once or twice—Miss—Miss—yes, Miss
Knyvett?”

“Yes, it was, Mr. Frost. But the—well, the arrangement is sort of—of
suspended.” With that distinctly lame explanation I rose to take my
leave.

I rather thought that Nina, being by now pretty plainly convicted of
fibbing, would stay where she was, and thus avoid being left alone
with me. However, she escorted me back through Briarmount’s spacious
hall—furnished as a sitting-room and very comfortable. She even came
out into the drive with me and, as she gave me her hand in farewell,
she said, with a little jerk of her head back towards the scene of my
talk with her father, “After that, I suppose you’re wondering what was
the real reason for my not coming to the wedding?”

“Perhaps I am. Because you seem to have kept up the old friendship
since I’ve been away.”

“Sometimes people don’t go to functions because they’re not invited.”

“What, you mean to say——”

“I should have been the skeleton at the feast!” She looked me in the
face, smiling, but in a rather set, forced fashion. Then, as she turned
away, she added with a laugh, “Only, as it turned out, there was no
feast, was there, Mr. Rillington?”

When I got back to Cragsfoot, I met Waldo in the garden, walking up and
down in a moody fashion and smoking his pipe. “Been for a walk?” he
asked.

“I started on one, but I met Nina Frost and she took me in to tea.”

He stood still, smoking and staring out to sea. “Did she say anything
about me?” he asked.

“Hardly about you yourself. She referred to—the affair. The servants
have been chattering, it seems. Well, they would, of course!”

He gave a nod of assent. Then he suddenly burst out in a vehement
exclamation: “She wasn’t there to see it, anyhow, thank God!” With that
he walked quickly away from me and was soon hidden in the shrubbery at
the end of the walk.

How did he know that she had not come to the church? He had not been
in the body of the church himself—only in the vestry. Many people had
actually gone in—early arrivals; Sir Paget had told me so. Many more
had been turned away from the doors. Waldo could not have known from
his own observation that Nina Frost was not there. Possibly somebody
had told him. More probably he had known beforehand that she would not
be there, because she had not been invited. But why should he thank God
that she was not at the church?

So there was the coil—unexplained, nay, further complicated by the
intrusion of a fourth party, Miss Nina Frost. Unexplained I had to
leave it. The next morning—Sunday though it was—Sir Paget carried me
off to town, by motor and rail, to interview some bigwig to whom he had
mentioned me and who commanded my attendance. I had not even a chance
of a private talk with Aunt Bertha, whose silence about Nina now struck
me as rather odd.

The war was upon us. It had many results for many people. One result
of it was that, instead of the start of hours for which they had
schemed, our runaway couple secured a start of years. That made a great
difference.



CHAPTER V

CATCH WHO CATCH CAN!


I DO not want to say more about the war or my doings during it than is
strictly necessary to my purpose. The great man to whom I have referred
took a note of my qualifications. Nothing came of this for a good many
months, during which I obtained a commission, went through my training,
and was for three months fighting in France. Then I was called back,
and assigned to non-combatant service (it was not always strictly that,
as a nasty scar on my forehead, the result of a midnight “scrap” in a
South American seaport where I happened to be on business, remains to
testify). My knowledge of various parts of the world and my command of
languages made me of value for the quasi-diplomatic, quasi-detective
job with which I was entrusted, and I continued to be employed on
it throughout the war. It entailed a great deal of traveling by sea
and land, and a lot of roughing it; it was interesting and sometimes
amusing; there was, of course, no glory in it. I was a mole, working
underground; there were a lot of us. For the best part of a year I was
out of Europe; I was often out of reach of letters, though now and
then I got one from Aunt Bertha, giving me such home news as there was,
and copying out extracts from what she described as “Waldo’s miserable
letters” from France—meaning thereby not unhappy—he wrote very
cheerfully—but few, short, and scrappy. Sir Paget, it appeared, had
found some sort of advisory job—a committee of some kind—in connection
with the Foreign Office.

It was when I came back to Europe, in the spring of 1916, and was
staying for a few days at a small town in the South of France—I
was at the time covering my tracks, pending the receipt of certain
instructions for which I was waiting, but there is no harm in saying
now that the town was Ste. Maxime—that I ran into Lucinda Knyvett. That
is almost literal. I came round a sharp corner of the street from one
direction, she from another. A collision was so narrowly avoided that I
exclaimed, “_Pardon!_” as I came to an abrupt stop and raised my hat.
She stopped short too; the next moment she flung out both her hands
to me, crying, “You, Julius!” Then she tried to draw her hands back,
murmuring, “Perhaps you won’t——!” But I had caught her hands in mine
and was pressing them. “Yes! And it’s you, Lucinda!”

It was about midday, and she readily accepted my suggestion that we
should lunch together. I took her to a pleasant little restaurant on
the sea-front. It was bright, warm, calm weather; we ate our meal out
of doors, in the sunshine. In reply to her inquiries—made without any
embarrassment,—I told her what Cragsfoot news I had. She, in return,
told me that Arsenio—he also was mentioned without embarrassment—had
gone to Italy when that country entered the war, and was at this moment
on the staff of some General of Division; he wrote very seldom, she
added, and, with that, fell into silence, as she sipped a glass of wine.

She had changed from a girl into a woman; yet I did not divine in
her anything like the development I had marked in Nina Frost. In
appearance, air, and manner she was the Lucinda whom I had known at
Cragsfoot; her eyes still remotely pondering, looking inwards as well
as outwards, the contour of her face unchanged, her skin with all its
soft beauty. But she was thinner, and looked rather tired.

“Arsenio told me that you saw me in the taxi that day,” she said
suddenly.

“He must have been very much amused, wasn’t he? He certainly made
a pretty fool of me! And put the cap on it by coming to the—to the
church, didn’t he?”

“I suppose, when once he’d met you, he was bound to go there, or you’d
have suspected.”

“He could have made some excuse to leave me, and not turned up again.”

She did not pursue her little effort to defend Valdez; she let it go
with a curious smile, half-amused, half-apologetic. I smiled back.
“Monkey Valdez, I think!” said I. She would not answer that, but her
smile persisted. “You were looking very happy and bonny,” I added.

“I was happy that day. I had at last done right.”

“The deuce you had!” That was to myself. To her I said, rather dryly,
“It certainly was at the last, Lucinda.”

“It was as soon as I knew—as soon as I really knew.”

The waiter brought coffee. She took a cigarette from me, and we both
began to smoke.

“And it’s true that I didn’t dare to face Waldo. I was physically
afraid. He’d have struck me.”

“Never!” I exclaimed, indignant at the aspersion on my kinsman.

“Oh, but yes!—I thought that he would fight Arsenio that night at
Cragsfoot—the night Arsenio first kissed me.” She let her cigarette
drop to the ground, and leant back in her chair. Her eyes were on mine,
but the shadow of the veil was thick. “It all began then—at least, I
realized the beginning of it. It all began then, and it never stopped
till that day when I ran away. Shall I tell you about it?”

“We were all very fond of you—all of us. I wish you would.”

She laid her hand on my arm for a moment. “I couldn’t have told
then—perhaps I can now. But, dear Julius, perhaps not quite plainly.
There’s shame in it. Some, I think, for all of us—most, I suppose, for
me.”

At this point a vision of Aunt Bertha’s “nice woman” flitted before
my mind’s eye; it was a moment for her ministrations—or ought to have
been, perhaps. Lucinda was rather ruminative than distressed.

“We were very happy that summer. I had never had anything quite like
it. Mother and I went to lunches and teas—and I’d just begun to go to a
few dances. But people didn’t ask us to stay in country houses. Three
days’ visit to Mrs. Wiseman at Oxford was an event—till Cragsfoot came!
I love that old house—and I shall never see it again!—Oh, well——! The
boys were great friends; all three of us were. If anything, Waldo and
I took sides against Arsenio, chaffing him about his little foreign
ways, and so on, you know. Waldo called him Monkey; I called him
‘Don’—sometimes ‘Don Arsenio.’ I called Waldo just ‘Waldo’—and I should
have called Arsenio just by his name, only that once, when we were
alone, he asked me to, rather sentimentally—something about how his
name would sound on my lips! So I wouldn’t—to tease him. I thought him
rather ridiculous. I’ve always thought him ridiculous at times. Well,
then, Nina Frost took to coming a good deal; Miss Fleming had pity on
her, as she told me—her mother wasn’t long dead, you know, and she was
all alone at Briarmount with a governess. Do you remember Fräulein
Borasch? No? I believe you hardly remember Nina? You hardly ever came
on excursions, and so on, with us. The boys told me all that sort of
thing bored ‘old Julius.’ Nina rather broke up our trio; we fell into
couples—you know how that happens? The path’s too narrow, or the boat’s
too small, or you take sides at tennis. And so on. For the first time
then the boys squabbled a little—for me. I enjoyed that—even though I
didn’t think victory over little Nina anything to boast about. Well,
then came that day.”

Lucinda leant forward towards me, resting her arms on the table between
us; she was more animated now; she spoke faster; a slight flush came on
her cheeks; I likened it to an afterglow.

“Nina had been there all the afternoon, but she went home after tea.
We’d been quite jolly, though. But after dinner Waldo whispered to me
to come out into the garden. I went—it was a beautiful evening—and
we walked up and down together for a few minutes. Waldo didn’t say
anything at all, but somehow I felt something new in him. I became a
little nervous—rather excited. We were at the end of the walk, just
where it goes into the shrubbery. He said, ‘Lucinda!’—and then stopped.
I turned sharp round—towards the house, suddenly somehow afraid to
go into the shrubbery with him; his voice had sounded curious. And
there—he must have come up as silently as a cat—was Arsenio, looking
so impishly triumphant! Waldo had turned with me; I heard him say
‘Damn!’ half under his breath. ‘Do I intrude?’ Arsenio asked. Waldo
didn’t answer. The moon was bright; I could see their faces. I felt
my cheeks hot; Waldo looked so fierce, Arsenio so mischievous. I felt
funnily triumphant. I laughed, cried, ‘Catch who catch can!’ turned,
and ran down the winding path through the shrubbery. I ran quite a long
way. You know how the path twists? I looked back once, and saw Arsenio
running after me, laughing: I didn’t see Waldo, but I could hear his
footsteps. I ran round another turn. By then Arsenio was quite close. I
was out of breath and stopped under a big tree. I put my back against
it, and faced Arsenio; I think I put out my hands to keep him off—in
fun, you know. But he came and took hold of my hands, and pulled me
to him and kissed me on my lips. ‘Caught!’ he said as he let me go.
Then I saw Waldo just a few yards off, watching us. I was trembling
all over. I ran away from them, back towards the house; but I didn’t
dare to go straight in; I felt that I shouldn’t be able to answer, if
anybody spoke to me. I sat down on the bench that stands close by the
door, but is hidden from it by the yew hedge. Presently I heard them
coming; I heard Waldo speaking angrily, but as they got nearer the
house, he stopped talking, so I didn’t hear anything that he said. But
Arsenio told me—later on—that he said that English gentlemen didn’t
do things like that, though dirty Spaniards might—and so on. I sat
where I was, and let them go in. But presently I felt that I must see
what was happening. So I went in, and found them quarreling: at least,
Waldo was abusing Arsenio—but you know about that; you were there.
I thought they’d fight—they would have if you and Sir Paget hadn’t
been there—but somehow, by now, I didn’t mind if they did. I wasn’t
frightened any more; I was excited. You know how it ended. I didn’t
then, because after a good deal of it Sir Paget sent me to bed—don’t
you remember? I went to bed, but I didn’t go to sleep for ever so long.
I felt that something great had happened to me. Men had tried to kiss
me a few times before; one or two had managed just to kiss my cheek in
a laughing kind of way. This was different to me. And there was Waldo
too! I was very young. I suddenly seemed to myself immensely important.
I wondered—oh, how I wondered—what they would do the next morning—and
what I should do. I imagined conversations—how I should be very stiff
and dignified—and Arsenio very penitent, but protesting his devotion.
But I couldn’t imagine how Waldo would behave. Anyhow, I felt that the
next morning would be the most awfully exciting moment in my life, that
anything might happen.”

Lucinda paused, looking at me with a smile that mocked the girl whose
feelings she had been describing. “Nothing did!”

After another pause she went on: “Later on, of course, I heard how
that was. I’ve heard it from both of them! Arsenio didn’t really care
for me at that time, though Waldo did. And Arsenio was very fond of
Waldo; he felt he’d behaved rather badly, and he didn’t bear malice
against Waldo for abusing him. Arsenio is malicious in a way; it’s
fun to him to make people look and feel silly; but he doesn’t harbor
malice. He’s not rancorous. He went to Waldo’s room early in the
morning—while Waldo was still in bed—and apologized. He said he must
have had a glass too much of champagne, that he hadn’t meant anything,
and that if he’d had the least notion how Waldo would feel about
it—and so on! In fact, he made light of the whole thing, so far as I
was concerned. Waldo listened to it all in silence, and at the end
just said, ‘All right, old chap. There’s an end of it.’ But he didn’t
really forgive Arsenio—and he didn’t forgive me, though it hadn’t been
my fault—had it? In the first-place, between us we’d made him give
himself away; he’s very proud, and he hates that. In the second, he’s
much better than you’d suppose at seeing into things; he has a sort of
instinct; and from that day, right on, he was instinctively afraid of
Arsenio; he felt that, if Arsenio chose, he could be dangerous—about
me. I know it, from the way he used to speak of him later on—when we
were engaged—always trying to probe me, to find out my feelings about
Arsenio, whether I was thinking about him, whether I ever heard from
him, and things like that. All the time he never had Arsenio out of
his mind. Well—he was right.

“But I knew nothing of all that at the time. To me they seemed just a
little sulky to one another, and to me, too. Otherwise they ignored
what had happened, made nothing of it, never referred to it in any
way. I was most frightfully hurt and—and let down. To me it had been a
great beginning—of something, though I didn’t know of what. I couldn’t
understand how Arsenio could treat it as nothing—that he shouldn’t
apologize and abase himself if he’d meant nothing serious, that he
shouldn’t speak to me again if he really cared for me. I felt utterly
bewildered. Only I had a strange feeling that somehow, in some way,
Arsenio had acquired a right over me by kissing my lips. Of that
feeling I never got rid.”

From a frown she broke into a smile again, as she went on. “It was a
miserable week—till we went. Both the boys avoided me whenever they
could. Both have told me why since, but I don’t believe that either of
them told me the truth. Arsenio said it was because he couldn’t trust
himself not to make love to me, and he had practically promised that
he wouldn’t. I think it was because he thought I would expect to be
made love to (I did!), and he didn’t want to; he wasn’t in love with
me then; besides he was afraid of Waldo. Waldo said it was because he
was ashamed of himself. I daresay he was ashamed, but it was much more
because he was in love with me, but was too proud to seem to compete
with Arsenio. Whatever the reasons, the result was—triumph for Nina!
She was invited over every day and all day. Both of them tried to keep
with her—in order to avoid me. I wasn’t exactly jealous, because I knew
that they really wanted to be with me—but for the complications. But I
was exasperated to see that she thought—as, of course, she must—that
she had cut me out. How her manner changed! Before this she had adored
me—as younger girls do older ones sometimes; ‘Darling Lucinda!’ and so
on! I’d noticed her trying to imitate me, and she used to ask where I
got such pretty frocks. Now she patronized me, told me how I must wish
I had a nice home (she knew I hadn’t) like Cragsfoot or Briarmount,
and said what a pity it was my mother couldn’t give me more chances of
riding, so that I could improve! She did ride much better than I—which
made it worse.”

Here I looked at Lucinda, asking leave to laugh. She gave it in her own
low-murmuring laughter at herself. “So it ended. We went away, and I
was very glad when we did. I went away without either Arsenio or Waldo
having said to me a single word that mattered.”

“I must have been very dull to have noticed nothing—except just the
quarrel; well, the quarrel itself, and how you looked while it was
going on—till you were sent to bed.”

“How did I look?”

“Just as you did when I saw you in the taxi at the corner by
Marlborough House.”

“I’m very glad I didn’t see you! You’d have brought back what I’d
managed to put out of my mind. As though I could put it out of my life!”

Suddenly and abruptly she pushed her chair back from the table. “Aren’t
we staying here a frightfully long time? That waiter’s staring at us.”

“But surely I haven’t heard all the story yet?”

“All the story? No. Only the prologue. And the prologue’s a comedy,
isn’t it? A children’s comedy! The rest isn’t quite like that. Pay the
bill and let’s go. For a walk, if you like—and have time.”

“I ought just to call at my hotel—the _Méditerranée_—and see if there’s
anything for me—any telegrams. If there aren’t, I should like to sit by
the sea, and smoke, and hear the next chapter.”

At the moment Lucinda merely nodded. But as we walked away, she put her
arm in mine and said, “The next chapter is called ‘Venice,’ and it’s
rather a difficult one for me to tell.”

“I hope I’m not a person who has to have all the t’s crossed and all
the i’s dotted. Arsenio has—or had—a ‘palazzo’ at Venice?”

“Yes. We stayed there.”



CHAPTER VI

VENICE


THE instructions for which I was waiting did not reach me for three
days: I found reason to suspect, later on, that bribery had been at
work; they had almost certainly been delayed, copied, and communicated
to enemy quarters. The bulk of these enforcedly idle hours I spent with
Lucinda—at the restaurant, on the sea-front, once or twice at my hotel,
but never in the little house where she had a room: I often escorted
her to the door, but she never asked me in. But we grew intimate; she
told, I think, all, or almost all, the story, though often still with
the air of examining herself, or of rendering an account to herself,
rather than of being anxious to tell me: sometimes she would seem even
to forget my presence. At other points, however, she would appeal
directly to me, even urgently, as though she hung on my verdict. These
changes gave variety and life to her story; one saw her living again
through all her moods and experiences: on the other hand, it cannot be
denied that they lengthened the narrative.

In the spring of 1913—the spring after their visit to Cragsfoot—her
mother and Lucinda went to stay on the top floor but one in Arsenio
Valdez’s palazzo at Venice, Valdez himself inhabiting the attics
immediately above them. Poverty, the satirist remarked long ago, has
no harsher incident than that of making people ridiculous; it may have
worse moral effects. Mrs. Knyvett had not so much accepted Valdez’s
invitation as intrigued and cadged for it; and they stayed rent free,
though even then Valdez was by no means a well-to-do man. And Mrs.
Knyvett could not receive favors in the grand manner. She took, but
she took cringingly; she over-acknowledged, constantly by manner and
even by word, reminding the donor and herself of the gift, reminding
her daughter also. She did not, it is true, know about the kiss in the
garden at Cragsfoot; Lucinda kept that to herself; her view was that in
her mother’s hands it would have been another lever. “Arsenio lodged us
free as it was; if mother had known that, she’d have made him board us
too!” Even as it was, he seemed to have entertained them a good deal
(as was only natural) while he played _cicerone_, showing them the
sights and pleasures of the place.

It was by no means Mrs. Knyvett’s intention or desire that her daughter
should marry Arsenio. Her ambition flew higher. Cragsfoot was to her
still the most eligible prospect or project which had so far presented
itself; she kept in touch with it by letters to Aunt Bertha; in them
she angled for another invitation there, just as she had cadged for
Arsenio’s invitation to the palazzo. How many invitations does a
charming daughter “make” in the arithmetic of genteel poverty? Arsenio
was quite aware of her attitude towards him, but it pleased his
monkeyish humor to pretend to believe that she favored a suit which
he had himself no intention of pressing. Arsenio could not afford to
marry a poor girl, and probably did not want to marry at all. His
taste was for a bachelor life, and his affairs were in a precarious
state. He could hardly be said to live by gambling; he existed in
spite of it—in a seesaw between prosperity and penury; as such men do,
he splashed his _lire_ about when he had them; when he was “cleaned
out,” he would disappear from the ken of the Knyvetts for a day or
two, engaged in “milking” sundry old and aristocratic friends of his
father, who still resided at Venice in a stately and gloomy seclusion,
and could be persuaded to open their not very fat purses to help a
gentleman of Spain who upheld the Legitimist principle, as we know—from
past events—that Arsenio did! No, he certainly did not intend at the
beginning of their visit to mate poverty to poverty.

But—there was Lucinda! Lucinda under blue skies by day and soft
moonlight by night. There was that secret memory between them, the
meeting of their lips; for him an incentive to gallantry, almost an
obligation, according to his code; for her, more subtly, a tie, a
union that she could not lightly nor wholly disown. He did not speak
of it directly, but he would circle round it in talk, and smile in an
impish exchange of the unspoken memory; he would laugh at Waldo, while
with feigned sincerity he praised his sterling qualities. “Oh, his
reliability, his English steadiness—dear, good, old Waldo! You’d trust
him—even in a gondola, Lucinda!”

The gondola! Let it stand for the whole of Venice’s romantic
paraphernalia; an old theme, a picture painted a thousand times. No
need to expatiate on it here. To him it was all very familiar—the
nearest thing he had to a home; to her, of course, it was a revelation.
They were both susceptible to impressions, to beauty. He retained his
sensibility, she developed hers. She saw new things through his eyes;
he saw old ones newly reflected in the light of hers. His feelings
regained freshness, while hers grew to maturity—a warm ripeness in
which the man and the place were fused together in one glowing whole.
“Oh, I lived then!” she cried, clasping her hands together and beating
them upon her knee.

Yet it must still have been with her own aloofness, delicacy,
difficulty of approach; the fires gleamed through the veil, but the
veil was round them. He complained, it appeared, of her coldness, of
the distance at which she kept him, at relapses into formality after
hours of unreserved merriment. Mrs. Knyvett chid her; was he not the
friend, the host, the benefactor? Within prudent bounds he should be
handsomely encouraged—and rewarded. “Mother told me that well-bred
girls knew how to make themselves respected without being prudish.”
Maternal philosophy of an affectionately utilitarian order—one eye on
present amenities, the other on grander prospects in the future!

But was there no fear also in that maternal breast? Did the situation
and the actors raise no apprehension? To some people—to how many? Some
have maintained to all!—morality is not a master, but a good and ever
vigilant servant. It preserves the things that are of real value, the
marketable stuff. And it dignifies its watch and ward with such high
names, such sacred and binding traditions, that—well, really, what
between the august sanctions on the one hand and the enormous material
advantages on the other, can it be dreamt of that any reasonable girl
will forget herself? So one may suppose that Mrs. Knyvett reasoned. For
what, after all, is the “leading article” in a girl’s stock-in-trade?
Who, properly instructed, would sell that under market price, and so
stand bankrupt?

So much may be said in apology for Mrs. Knyvett’s blindness to her
daughter’s peril; for in peril she was. Then an apology is needed for
Arsenio? It would show a lack of humor to tender it; it is the last
thing which those who have known and liked Monkey Valdez would think
of doing. He was a “good Catholic” by tradition, and a gentleman by
breeding; but he was an honest man only by fits and starts—when honesty
appealed to his histrionic sense, when it afforded him the chance of
a _beau geste_, when he felt himself under the eyes of the men with
whom he had been brought up, who expect honesty even in dealings with
women—at all events, with girls of their own caste; who draw a broad
distinction between an intrigue and a seduction; who are, in fact (not
to labor the subject), born and trained adepts in the niceties, some of
them curious, of the code of honor, which is certainly not a religious
rule or an ethical system, but may be considered to embody the laws of
sex warfare, to be a Hague Convention between the sexes.

Yet there is no need to picture the poor Monkey as the deliberate
villain of the stage. Your true villain must be deliberate and must
rejoice in his villainy, or all the salt is out of him. Arsenio was
certainly not deliberate, and in no way realized himself as a villain.
The event—the course of affairs afterwards—proves that. He probably let
his boat drift pleasantly, delightfully, down the river, till the swirl
of rapids caught it; it is likely that he was himself surprised; the
under-nature stormed the hesitating consciousness.

She gave me no particulars; I asked for none. She shrank from them, as
I did. It was after a delightful evening alone together, on the water,
that it came. Mrs. Knyvett had gone to bed; they were alone, full of
the attraction of each other—and of “it all.” So Lucinda summed up the
notoriously amatory influences of the Adriatic’s Queen. She appealed
to me—woman now, to a man of middle age—to understand how it happened.
As she told me—well, she hardly told me, she let me see—she laid her
hand in mine, her eyes sought mine, straight, in question—yet hardly
to me—rather to some tribunal which she blindly sought, to which she
made a puzzled but not despairing, not altogether too tragic, appeal:
“At Cragsfoot he had kissed my lips, you know; and I wasn’t angry. That
meant I liked him, didn’t it? That meant——? That meant—the same?”

That seemed to me to record—as she, saying it, still seemed to retain—a
wonderful freedom from the flesh. She judged things by the spirit.
A terribly dangerous criterion; anybody can distort it; anybody may
snigger at it—though I think that it offers more resistance to an
honest laugh. There is a sort of pathos about it. Meant the same!
Poor dear! The gulf between the two things! Immeasurable! Let speak
religion (though there perhaps the voices have varied), morality,
prudence, the rest of them! And virgin modesty? Shall we lay its fall
most essentially in the less or the greater—in the parley or in the
surrender? That’s what she seemed to ask. But what answer could a plain
man of the world give her?

She had a few—a very few days of happiness, of forgetfulness of
everything except their love. Then the clouds gathered. She waited
for a word from him that did not come—not the first time that he
had kept her thus waiting—yet how different! Arsenio grew fretful,
disconsolate, and sometimes sullen. One of his disappearances occurred;
he was raising the wind among his long-suffering aristocrats; he was
scraping together every coin he could and throwing them all on the
gaming table. If fortune smiled, he would do the right thing, and do
it handsomely; if she frowned—and there could be no doubt that she
was frowning now—what lay before him, before them? A scamped and mean
_ménage à trois_, existence eked out with the aid of Mrs. Knyvett’s
scanty resources, and soured by her laments! No money for gayety, for
play, to cut a figure with! He shrank from the prospect. He could not
trust his love with it; probably he did not trust hers either. He began
to draw away from her; she would not reproach or beseech. “I had taken
the chances; I had gambled too,” she said.

Unless something had happened which put Arsenio under an even more
imperative obligation—one which, as I would fain believe, he must
have honored—it seems probable that the affair would in any case have
ended as it did; but the actual manner of its ending was shaped by an
external incident.

The two were sitting together one morning in the Knyvett _salon_,
Lucinda mending her gloves, Arsenio doing nothing and saying nothing,
melancholy and fagged after a bout of gambling the night before. Mrs.
Knyvett came in, with an air of triumph, holding a letter in her hand.
She was still ignorant of the situation; still sure that her daughter
was making herself respected—though surely less apprehensive of her
prudishness? And, while they had been pursuing their devices, she had
had hers also to pursue. Success had crowned her efforts. The letter
was from “dearest Miss Fleming”; it invited mother and daughter to pay
another visit to herself and Sir Paget as soon as they returned to
England; that is, in about six weeks; for they had a stay with friends
in Paris arranged in the immediate future—a thing that had already
begun to trouble Lucinda.

“It’s delightful!” said Mrs. Knyvett. “Won’t it help us splendidly
through the summer! Any chance of your being there too, Don Arsenio?
That would make it perfect!”

The good lady did not stay for an answer. She had her hat on, and was
going out to do her marketing. She laid the letter down on the table
between them, and bustled out, her face still radiant with the joy of
successful maneuver.

So Cragsfoot, completely forgotten of recent days, made its reëntry on
the scene.

For a few moments they sat silent still, with the letter between
them. Then Lucinda said, “What are we to do, Arsenio?” She raised her
eyes from her sewing and looked across at him. He did not return her
glance; he was scowling. The invitation to Cragsfoot (he did not know
about the French visit, which Mrs. Knyvett could readily have put off
if she had preferred to stay on at Venice) brought him up short; it
presented him with an issue. It forced Lucinda’s hand also. No mere
excuse, no mere plea of disinclination, would prevent Mrs. Knyvett from
going to Cragsfoot and taking her daughter with her. To stay there was
not only a saving and a luxury, in her eyes it was also prestige—and a
great possibility!

“Damn Cragsfoot!” she heard him mutter. And then he laid his head
between his hands on the table and began positively to sob. How much
for unsuccessful gambling, how much for too successful love, Heaven
knows! But Monkey Valdez sobbed.

She put down her work, went round to the back of his chair, and put her
arms about his neck. “I know, I know, Arsenio. Don’t be so miserable,
dear. I understand. And—and there’s no harm done. You only loved me too
much—and if you can’t do what—what I know you want to do——”

He raised his head and said (in what she called “a dead voice”), “I’m
what he called me, that’s the truth. He called me a dirty Spaniard; he
said no English gentleman would do what I did. The night I kissed you
at Cragsfoot! Waldo!”

“He said that to you? He told you that? Waldo? Oh, I knew he was very
angry; but you’ve never told me that he said that.”

“Then,” said Lucinda, as she told her story to me, “I did something,
or said something, that seemed to make him suddenly angry. What he
repeated—what Waldo had said—somehow struck me with a queer sense of
puzzle. It seemed to put him and Waldo back into the same sort of
conflict—or, at least, contrast—that I had seen them in at Cragsfoot.
I didn’t, of course, accept the ‘dirty Spaniard’ part; Waldo was just
angry when he said that. But the words did bring Waldo back to my
mind—over against Arsenio, so to speak. I don’t know whether you’ve
ever noticed that I sometimes fall into what they call a brown study? I
get thinking things over, and rather forget that I’m talking to people.
I wasn’t angry with Arsenio; I was feeling sorry for him; I loved him
and wanted to comfort him. But I had to think over what he had told
me—not only (perhaps not so much) as it bore on Arsenio, but as it bore
on myself—on what I had done and felt, and—and allowed, you know. Well,
Arsenio suddenly called out, quite angrily, ‘You needn’t pull your arms
away like that!’ I had done it, but I hadn’t been conscious of doing
it; I didn’t think about it even then. I was thinking of him—and Waldo.
And I know that I was smiling, as the old Cragsfoot days came back to
me. I wasn’t thinking in the least about where my arms were! ‘Of course
you and Waldo are curiously different,’ I said.

“He jumped to his feet as if I had struck him, and broke out in a
torrent of accusation against me. A few minutes before he had himself
said that Waldo had told the truth about him. Now he declared that
it was I who had said it. I hadn’t said anything of the sort—at all
events, meant anything of the sort. I suppose I was sore in my heart,
but I should never have said a word. But he would have it that I had
meant it. He talked very fast, he never stopped. And—I must tell
you the truth, Julius—it all seemed rather ridiculous to me, rather
childish. I believe that I listened to most of it smiling—oh, not a
merry smile, but a smile all the same. I was waiting for him to work
himself out, to run down; it was no good trying to interrupt. And all
the time the contrast was in my mind—between him and Waldo, between
Waldo’s anger and—this! I felt as I suppose a woman feels towards her
naughty child; I wanted to scold and to kiss him both at once. I even
thought of that wicked nickname that Waldo has for him! At last—after
a great deal of it—he dashed one hand through his hair, thumped the
table with the other, and flung out at me, ‘Then go to him! Go to your
English gentleman! Leave me in the gutter, where I belong!’ And he
rushed out of the room. I heard his steps pattering up the stone stairs
to his own floor.”

“You must have been terribly distressed,” I said—or something formal of
that kind.

“No. I didn’t believe that anything had really happened. I waited half
an hour to let him cool down. But Mother might be back every minute;
there was still that question about Cragsfoot! I had to have some
answer! I went up to his apartment and knocked. I got no answer. I went
down to Amedeo the _portière_, and he told me that Arsenio had gone
out ten minutes before—I hadn’t heard his footsteps coming down again,
he must have stolen down softly; he was carrying a bag, had a gondola
called, and went off in the direction of the station, saying that he
would be back in a few days. That was the end of—Venice!”

She came to a stop, gently strumming her fingers on the arm of her
chair. On an impulse I leant forward and asked her a question: “Are you
Madame Valdez now, Lucinda?”

“Donna Lucinda Valdez, at your service, sir! Since the day after you
saw me in the taxi.”

“Then he must have explained—Venice?”

“Never. From the first day that we met again, we have never mentioned
Venice.” She touched my arm for a moment. “I rather like that. It seems
to me rather a tactful apology, Julius. He began courting me all afresh
when he came to England. At least he took it up from where it had
stopped at Cragsfoot.”

“It may be tactful; it’s also rather convenient,” I commented gruffly.
“It avoids explanations.”

A gleam of amusement lit up her eyes. “Poor Arsenio! He was in a
difficulty—in a corner. And he’d been losing, his nerves were terribly
wrong. There was the question of—me! And the question of Cragsfoot!
And then Waldo came into it—oh, I’m sure of that. Those two men—it’s
very odd. They seem fated to—to cross one another—to affect one another
sometimes. I wonder whether——!” She broke off, knitting her brow. “He
sounded most genuine in that outbreak of his when he mentioned Waldo.
I think he was somehow realizing what Waldo would think and say, if he
knew about Venice. Perhaps so, perhaps not! As for the rest of it——”

“You think he wasn’t quite as angry as he pretended to be?”

She seemed to reflect for a moment. “I didn’t say his anger was unreal,
did I? I said it was childish. When a child runs heedlessly into
something and hurts himself, he kicks the thing and tells his mother
that it’s horrid. I was the thing, you see. Arsenio’s half a child.”
Again she paused. “He’s also an actor. And he contrived, on the whole,
a pretty effective exit!”

“That you ever let him come back again is the wonder!” I cried.

“No. It’s what happened before he came back that puzzles me,” she said.



CHAPTER VII

SELF-DEFENSE


LUCINDA told me nothing about how “the end of Venice” struck or
affected Mrs. Knyvett. Some bewilderment of that good lady may be
conjectured; whether she wisely asked no questions or, asking them,
received the sort of replies which the proverb indicates as the fate
of questioners, I did not know. Nor, indeed, did I care—any more than
I cared what had become of Mrs. Knyvett at that moment. (In fact, as I
learned afterwards, she had quartered herself—it was her one talent!—on
an old and wealthy spinster, and was living with her at Torquay.) My
interest was where Lucinda’s was—centered in Lucinda herself.

Her narrative jumped straight from Venice to Cragsfoot. She did not say
anything of her feelings in the interval; she went on to what “puzzled”
her—to the relations that came about between her and Waldo Rillington.
To those, from the beginning and all through, Valdez and what he had
been to her formed a background, and more than that, they were a factor
and a contributory, just as Nina Frost was. But it was in that way she
treated them. Waldo was now the leading figure; round him centered the
main theme, the thing to be explained.

“We arrived in the afternoon before tea. Only Aunt Bertha (I noticed
that she still used the name which she had learnt to use during her
engagement to Waldo) was in; Sir Paget was in town, Waldo was out
riding. She was wonderfully nice to me. ‘My dear, you’re in great
looks!’ she said. I like those rather old-fashioned phrases of hers.
‘You were a very pretty girl last summer, now you’re a beautiful young
woman. And you’re so grown up. Let’s see—you’re only two years older
than Nina Frost. But she’s a school-girl—quite raw—compared to you.
She said this as if she were pleased. I didn’t understand then why she
should be, but I came to, later. You see, Aunt Bertha never liked Nina,
and positively hated Briarmount and all its works. We might be shabby,
but to her we were gentle folks—and the Briarmount people weren’t; and
she thought Nina bold and inclined to be impudent—in which she was
right. Don’t laugh, Julius; if you differ, you can state your views
afterwards; you mustn’t interrupt.

“Mother was purring over all this—rather taking credit for it, you
know, and I was feeling, as you may suppose, rather guilty—a feeling of
false pretenses!—and we had settled down to tea, when I heard laughing
and talking in the hall. The door opened, and Nina appeared, ushered in
by Waldo. They had been riding; she had a good color and was looking
prettier, I thought, but her figure was still lumpy and rather awkward.
She hesitated by the door for just a moment, giving me a surprised
look. ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you that Mrs. Knyvett and Lucinda were due
to-day,’ said Waldo with a laugh. ‘I only knew it myself yesterday
morning.’

“‘I ran no risk of disappointing him,’ Aunt Bertha explained. ‘I didn’t
tell him when you were coming till I was quite sure of the date.’

“I thought Waldo gave her a rather amused glance as he passed her,
greeted Mother, and then came to me. He sat down by me, after we
had shaken hands. Nina took her tea off to the sofa; he didn’t seem
to treat her with much ceremony—perhaps to him too she was still a
school-girl; I was grown up—and, of course, a new arrival. We got
talking and, as far as I’m concerned, I forgot her, till I heard her
saying, ‘I must go home. You’ll ride with me, won’t you, Waldo?’ For
just a moment he didn’t answer or turn away from me. ‘You said you
would, when you persuaded me to come in to tea,’ she added.

“‘Perhaps he’s tired. We’ll send a groom with you,’ said Aunt Bertha.

“‘Oh, no, I’ll come, Nina. I said I would.’ He was quite good-natured
about it, but I must admit that his voice sounded a little reluctant.
He got up and stretched himself lazily. ‘All right, I’m coming, Nina.’
She turned on her heel and marched out, not waiting for him to open the
door. He followed, with a little shrug. When they were gone I saw Aunt
Bertha smiling to herself.

“I’ve told you that in detail because it—what shall I say?—sets the
scene. I can only tell you generally how things developed. At first I
was very happy, and so, I suppose, very gay and cheerful. I seemed,
in the end, to have had a great escape and to have got into a safe
harbor. My feeling of guiltiness wore off under their kindness. I could
see that Waldo liked and admired me—and I’ve never been indifferent
to admiration or unaffected by it. Aunt Bertha petted me, and Sir
Paget made much of me too, when he came back. Mother, of course, was
all smiles—and enthusiastic about the food! Then, after two or three
days, Waldo told me that he had an appointment to ride with Nina,
and asked me to come too. I laughed and said I wouldn’t spoil their
_tête-à-tête_. He looked put out, but didn’t press me. The same thing
happened again, and he insisted on my coming; otherwise he wouldn’t
go himself. So we three began to ride, or to walk, together. And Nina
Frost began to fight me!

“She had every right and every excuse. That girl, even then, young as
she was, had not only made a hero of Waldo—that would have been a thing
that one often sees—but she adored him in a jealous, fierce way that
I—well, it’s not mine; I hardly understand it. But I could see it in
her; she seemed to take little pains to hide it from me, though she did
try to hide it from Aunt Bertha. And Waldo—I don’t know to this day
how much reason he had given her for hoping, but it was evident that
they had seen a great deal of one another since my first visit, and
that her homage wasn’t disagreeable to him. You must remember that I
probably don’t do justice to her attractions! Well, she made me angry.
She assumed from the first that I meant to catch Waldo; I was a female
fortune-hunter! She rubbed in our poverty in her old way. And she threw
out hints about Arsenio—quite at random, but I’m not sure I always
managed to look unembarrassed. Waldo would frown at her then, and try
to shut her up; but I caught him looking oddly at me once or twice. I
had my secret to keep; I took the obvious way of doing it; I began to
flirt with Waldo myself. That was my line of defense, Julius. I’ve not
spared my morals in what I’ve told you, and I’m not pretending to you
that I behaved particularly nicely at Cragsfoot. I had no business to
flirt with Waldo, you’ll say, not even in self-defense? So be it. But
since I make these concessions—_en revanche_ I won’t spare my modesty
either; I had more success than I desired, or at all events deserved.
Waldo took fire!”

She had distinctly recollected me for a moment; she had pronounced my
name! Now she gave me one of her smiles—never too numerous. “I don’t
know how much you trust me, Julius, but I really am trying to tell the
truth.”

“A difficult and thankless task, Lucinda?”

“Not thankless—somehow—to you.” She gave me, this time, a friendly
little nod, and went back to her story. We had dined together on this
evening; I smoked my cigar and listened; everybody else had finished,
and departed; properly speaking, the _salle-à-manger_ was shut. I had
tipped the waiter to leave us one light. It shone behind her face,
throwing it into relief; the rest of the room was in dimness. I had
no difficulty at all in understanding that her “line of defense” had
proved successful—only too sure and only too successful.

“When I said just now that I didn’t desire success—at any rate beyond
what was necessary to my self-defense—I spoke too broadly. I feared
too much success; if Waldo came to love me, to ask me to marry him, I
should have to deal with a situation the thought of which frightened
me. But what a lot of things there were to make me desire that success!
Some obvious and, if you like, vulgar—the name, the money, the comfort,
the end of cadging and scamping. A little higher comes the appeal that
dear old Cragsfoot made to me—I should love to live at Cragsfoot.
Then I was very fond of all you Rillingtons; it would be in its way
wonderful to belong to the family, to be one of you. And Sir Paget and
Aunt Bertha wanted me—by this time I was quite sure of that. Especially
Aunt Bertha—though at first, perhaps, mainly because I wasn’t Nina
Frost! Indeed, I came to believe that my being at Cragsfoot at all
just then was a plot of Aunt Bertha’s; she had scented the Nina danger
and looked round for a weapon against it! All those things influenced
me—I suppose, too, poor Mother’s obvious delight at the idea. But
the chief things I’ve left to the last. One I can tell you quite
simply—Nina Frost! Is that vulgar too? I daresay, but I think it’s
human. She had declared herself my enemy. Who likes to see his enemy
triumph? And she would think that I was beaten on my merits! If Waldo
asked me, and I refused him, could I tell her that? Would she believe
me if I did? Besides, my real triumph would be in taking and keeping,
not in refusing. If I refused, she would step in—or so I thought. The
other thing—the last thing—was, of course, what I felt about Waldo
himself, and the way in which I should stand towards him. It was funny.
I had had no sense of taking a chance at Venice—though I did take a
chance—gambled and, as it had turned out, lost heavily; but there was
nothing but just plain being in love in the case at Venice. Don’t
smile—love of that kind is really very simple. But with Waldo—and in
the circumstances—matters were very different. I liked him very much;
he was such a change from Arsenio, about whom I was still, of course,
very sore—sore, not angry. He was very jolly at that time; if he’d
behaved rather badly to Nina, it troubled him, I think, almost as
little as it troubled me—which was not at all! But, first and foremost,
Waldo was an adventure. Great as my charms were—we’ve agreed about
that, haven’t we, Julius?—I knew that they would avail me nothing if
Waldo knew the truth. Because I had—gone wrong! That would have been a
shock; it would have meant a storm. But—well, who knows? Perhaps——! But
Arsenio! With Arsenio! They had been great friends, those two; but in
the end—deep down, there was antagonism, aversion. The one despised,
the other felt himself despised. Oh, but I know—look what I’ve been to
them both! And now they were rivals! Through me! All through Venice
Arsenio had never forgotten Waldo—nor what Waldo called him, as I’ve
told you. All through Cragsfoot Waldo never forgot Arsenio. It was
not only Nina who dragged Arsenio in—though she did. Waldo used to
bring in his name—and watch me. He said to me once, in a light way,
‘I suppose you and our friend Monkey had a picturesque flirtation at
Venice—gondolas and concerts on the Grand Canal, and all the rest of
it?’ I laughed and said, ‘Of course we had! But I don’t think I found
Venice any more intoxicating than—well, than Cragsfoot, Waldo.’ That
lifted the cloud from his face. He took it to himself—as I meant him
to; a bit of self-defensive tactics! That was by no means the only time
that he tried to draw me about Arsenio. But he never put a single
question—not one—to Mother. That was against his code, you know.

“There it all was: the charm of Cragsfoot, the desire to please,
comfort, soreness with Arsenio, anger at Nina, liking for Waldo—and the
adventure! I seemed, in the end, to act on an impulse; I suppose that
it was really the outcome of all these things. But it seemed impulse,
and Nina was the direct—I mean, the immediate—cause of it. How I
remember that day!

“She came to lunch at Cragsfoot, and was fairly agreeable—for her.
After lunch we three were alone in the smoking room, and she proposed
that Waldo should walk back to Briarmount with her and play billiards.
It was inclining to rain, not attractive for a long walk. Waldo asked
me to come too. The weather didn’t tempt me; I said no. By now I was
not, of course, in the least afraid of leaving him alone with Nina.
However, he went on pressing me, and at last I consented. She kept
quiet during the pressing, but I saw the hard look in her eyes that
always meant temper. We started off, all in our mackintoshes, for the
rain was coming down smartly now. Silence for the first half mile or
so; Nina’s nose was in the air, Waldo was sullen; I was amused; but I
wasn’t going to make talk for them if they chose to be sulky. Suddenly
she began on Arsenio again. She wished Don Arsenio was here! What jolly
times we had when Don Arsenio was here! And so on. Neither of us said
anything. Then she said directly to me, across Waldo, who was walking
between us, ‘Don’t you know where he is? Don’t you ever hear from him?
He was a great admirer of yours.’ I answered carelessly that I hadn’t
heard since he left Venice; but I felt my color rising. Waldo listened
silently, but I felt him getting annoyed—I always could. And I was
getting afraid. If we’d been alone, I could easily have got away from
the topic and smoothed him down. But she was there. ‘Don’t you miss him
too, Waldo? You and he and Lucinda used to have such fun together!’ I
could see that Waldo was just holding himself in. ‘The Monkey’s all
right,’ he said, ‘but I can live without him, you know. And I imagine
you can too, Lucinda?’ There was a look on his face that I didn’t like.
I saw that, Nina or no Nina, I must do something. ‘Perfectly!’ I said
with a laugh. I put my arm through his and gave him a little squeeze on
his wrist. I think we’re quite all right as we are, Waldo!’

“We were just at the top of the hill—where you turn along the cliff
towards Briarmount. Waldo pressed my arm between his arm and his side,
so that I couldn’t draw it away. He stopped, and stood facing Nina like
that, making me face her too, with my arm in his like that. ‘Now you
understand our views, and you can drop the subject,’ he said in a low
voice; it trembled a little. I felt very excited; I didn’t know how
she would take it, what she would say; his voice was brusque, angry,
contemptuous. But I wasn’t the least prepared for what did happen. She
stood opposite to us for a minute, smiling sarcastically, or trying
to smile; then her mouth began to work, and her lips turned down,
and—she began to cry! Quite loudly—like a passionate child. What I’d
been through is supposed to be the greatest humiliation a woman can
go through—being taken and left. But this that she was going through
seemed to me infinitely worse. I whispered, ‘Nina!’ and tried to draw
my arm away from Waldo; I felt that I must go to her. He wouldn’t let
me; he held my arm in a vise, and himself just stood looking at her,
pale as pale, absolutely quiet! She tried to speak, but couldn’t get
any words out, because of her sobbing. She gave it up, and began to
undo her mackintosh, to get her handkerchief. She found it, and wiped
her eyes; but she was sobbing still. I clung to Waldo now, for support;
my legs were shaking under me; I didn’t sob, but I felt tears on my
cheeks. At last she threw out her arm towards us, in a threatening sort
of gesture, sobbed out, ‘You’ll be sorry for this!’ turned away, and
hurried off along the cliff towards Briarmount. Her figure swayed as
she walked. It was very pitiful.

“But Waldo watched her without any sign of pity—watched her till she
was quite a long way off. Then he turned to me, put his hands under my
arms and drew me close to him; he covered my face with kisses—my face
wet with both rain and tears. ‘You love me, you love me, Lucinda?’
he whispered. I didn’t speak; I let him kiss me. I think I did love
him; at any rate, I was completely overmastered. Now I began to sob
myself, just repeating ‘Waldo! Waldo!’ through my sobs—nothing else—and
clinging to him.”

Lucinda came to a stop and then turned her eyes to mine—they had been
looking into the dimness of the _salle-à-manger_—“So—it happened,” she
said.

She had brought her scene before my eyes vividly enough—the three
wet, drab, mackintoshed figures there on the cliff in the rain; the
sudden explosion of misery, spite, and love; the fight between the two
girls; the disaster to one, to the other a victory that had brought no
abiding peace. Yet, as she talked, there had been also in my mind’s
eye another, a competing, picture. At the same spot—quite accidentally
the same, or did she haunt it?—a tall, stately young woman—her figure
quite ‘finished’ now, no longer lumpy—a young woman composed, ironical,
verging indeed on the impudent—yet just vulnerable, prone to flush,
tempted to fib, when the wedding of Waldo and Lucinda was the topic.
I saw now why she had not been invited to that ceremony. Her presence
would have been awkward for all parties. The skeleton at the feast
indeed—if the feast had ever happened! But set against her, the sobbing
girl, with her pitiful passion, her melodramatic “You’ll be sorry for
this”—thrown out in the random of fury and spite, but perhaps not
without some subtle instinct, some feminine intuition of the truth.

“I saw Nina Frost once when I was last in England,” I said after a
long pause. “If you ever meet her again, you’ll find her a good deal
changed. She’s quite a woman of the world now.”

“She’s the last person in the whole world that I wish to meet!”

“I understand that. It couldn’t be pleasant for either of you. Well,
probably you never will.”

“Yes, we shall. It isn’t all finished between me and Nina yet. I had my
victory; I threw it away. I saw her in her awful humiliation; how will
she see me next, I wonder!”

“Isn’t that sort of idea very—well, fanciful, Lucinda?”

She made no reply; the veil had fallen over her eyes; she gave a little
shiver.

“It’s cold here,” I said. “Let’s go where it’s warm and light—to the
restaurant—and finish the evening.” I smiled as I added, “And the story
too, please.”

“I can bring it right up to date. I had a letter from Arsenio to-day.”

I was conscious of a slight shock of surprise. I had been thinking of
Arsenio as a historical figure—an episode in her past. He was, however,
also an existing fact; but what sort of a fact? About that I was still
ignorant.



CHAPTER VIII

THE NEEDLEWOMAN


ON the way home I made Waldo promise not to tell about our engagement
till I agreed. He did promise, but I think he must have given a pretty
strong hint at home. There was such a wonderful absence of awkward
references or questions. My mother never spoke of Arsenio; Aunt
Bertha refrained from comment when it became known that Mr. Frost and
his daughter had suddenly gone on a holiday, yachting—at the very
beginning of what would have been Nina’s first season! And Sir Paget,
besides petting me more than ever, began to talk to me as if I had a
proprietorial interest in Cragsfoot. Waldo himself was very gentle and
patient with me; he felt that he had ‘rushed’ me, I think, and was
anxious not to frighten me. I believe that the possibility of something
like what did in the end happen was always at the back of his mind; he
never felt secure. There was always Arsenio; and I was—unaccountable!
So he soothed and smoothed me, and let me put off the announcement of
the engagement for nearly six months. We weren’t at Cragsfoot all that
time, but coming and going between there and London. Mother took the
Mount Street flat then; my opinion was—and is—that Sir Paget or Waldo
paid for it. But, whether in town or country, Waldo and I were meeting
all the time.

“I didn’t announce the engagement because I didn’t want to burn my
boats; and then I did agree to announce it because I did want to burn
my boats! That was the kind of person I was then—at all events, the
kind of condition I was in. I had got over my fears almost entirely.
Nina had thrown up the sponge; Arsenio wouldn’t betray me; Waldo dreamt
of nothing worse than the picturesque flirtation in a gondola (though
he didn’t like even that!). Nobody could prove, or even plausibly
suggest, anything; unless my own nerve gave way, I was quite safe. So I
thought then, anyhow. And I had almost got over my sense of guiltiness
too. It came over me now and then; but it didn’t any longer seem very
real; perhaps I had just exhausted my feelings about it. It wasn’t what
I had done which troubled me all through those long months, both before
the announcement and after it; it was what I was doing and what I was
going to do. I liked Waldo enormously, and more and more as I knew him
better. In spite of his tempers, he’s a great gentleman. But he never
kissed me, he never took me in his arms, without my thinking of Arsenio.

“I had the oddest sense that this thing wasn’t final, that something
would occur to end it. I didn’t expect to finish it myself, but I
expected that something would. The feeling made me terribly restless;
and it often made me cold and wayward with Waldo: then I had to be
very affectionate to make him happy again. I liked making him happy,
and I could do it. But I always seemed to be playing a part. I suppose
I loved Arsenio. Love Arsenio after what had happened! That seemed
monstrous. I wouldn’t open my eyes to it. I wouldn’t have gone to
him if I could. And yet I couldn’t go happily to Waldo. I felt I was
Arsenio’s—I wouldn’t own it, but I couldn’t help it. Julius, I believe
that I’m a very primitive woman.”

“You’ve been sounding rather complicated up to now; I don’t mean—well,
unnatural.”

“You’ve had love affairs, of course. I know you’ve had one big one. I
even know her name; Aunt Bertha told me.”

“She shouldn’t have done that.”

“I was one of the family then, you see. She is—dead?”

“Yes, some few years ago—two years before we met at Cragsfoot.”

“That’s how you come not to have married?”

“I don’t know; many men don’t marry. Well—probably. But it’s your story
we’re after, not mine.”

“Yes, but your having had an affair like that may help you—may help
me to make you understand. What is it that sometimes seems to tie two
people together in spite of themselves? Arsenio’s coming back to me
was just chance—chance on chance. He was in this very place where we
are now; in very low water, living in the little house I’m living in
now, and employed as clerk to a wine merchant. He had given up all
thoughts of me, of coming back to England. He couldn’t do it; he hadn’t
the money. The English papers hardly ever came his way. One day a man
came in, for a bottle of whisky—an Englishman; he had a copy of the
_Times_ with him, and tore off a sheet of it to wrap the bottle in, and
threw the rest on the floor. When he was gone, Arsenio picked it up and
read it. And he saw the announcement of the date of my wedding—July the
twenty-first.”

“He told me, that day in London, that he had already decided to come to
England when he saw that.”

“He couldn’t tell you all the truth that day. This is what happened.
Seeing that notice, a queer fancy took him; he would see whether that
number—my number he called it—would bring him luck. He scraped together
some money, went over to Monte Carlo, and won, won, won! His luck went
to his head; everything seemed possible. He came straight to England—to
see if the luck held, he said. You can guess the rest.”

“Pretty well. You must have had a time of it, though!”

“I think my mind really made itself up the moment I saw Arsenio. The
rest was—tactics! I mustn’t see Waldo; I invented excuses. Waldo
mustn’t see Arsenio—that at all costs! He always suspected Arsenio,
and Arsenio might give it away—you know his malicious little airs of
triumph when he scores! You picture me as miserable? No! I was fearful,
terrified. But I was irrepressibly excited—and at last happy. My doubt
was done and ended.”

“You were not ashamed?” I ventured.

“Yes, I was ashamed too—because of Aunt Bertha and Sir Paget. Because
of them, much more than because of Waldo. They loved me; they had taken
me to be, as it were, their daughter. Between Waldo and Arsenio it had
always been a fight—yes, from that first day at Cragsfoot. I was the
prize! But in a way I was also just a spectator. I mean—in the end I
couldn’t help which won; something quite out of my power to control had
to decide that. And that something never had any doubt. How could I go
against everything that was real in me?”

“I think you are rather primitive,” I said. “It seems to you a fight
between the males. You await the issue. Well—and what’s happened? I
hope things are—flourishing now?”

She looked at me with one of her slow-dawning smiles; evidently, for
some reason, she was amused at me, or at the question which I had put.

“I’ve spent the greater part of the waking hours of three days with
you, Julius. I’ve walked, lunched, and dined with you. I’ve talked to
you interminably. You must have looked at me sometimes, haven’t you?”

“I’ve looked at you, to tell the truth, a great deal.”

“And you’ve noticed nothing peculiar?”

“I shouldn’t use the word ‘peculiar’ to describe what I’ve noticed.”

“Not, for instance, that I’ve always worn the same frock?” She was
leaning her elbows on the table now, her chin resting between her
hands. “And what that means to a charming woman—oh, we agreed on
that!—invited out by a fine figure of a man——! And yet you ask if
things are flourishing!”

“By Jove, I believe you have! It’s a very pretty frock, Lucinda. No,
but really it is!”

“It’s an old friend—and my only one. So let’s speak no evil of it.” Yet
she did speak evil of the poor frock; she whispered, “Oh, how I hate
it, hate it, this old frock!” She gave a little laugh. “If it came my
way, I wonder whether I could resist splendor! Guilty splendor!”

“Didn’t poor old Waldo present himself to you—oddly, I must say—rather
in that light? And you resisted!”

“I’ve changed. You’re talking to a different woman—different from
the girl I’ve been boring you about. The girl I’ve been boring you
about wouldn’t—couldn’t—marry Waldo with Arsenio there; I—the I that
am—could and, I think, would.”

“Because of your old friend here?” I touched lightly the sleeve of her
gown.

“For what it has meant, and does mean—oh, and for itself too! I’m no
heroine. Primitive women love finery too.”

Her face was untouched by time, or struggle, or disillusion. Her
eyes were as they always had been, clear, calm, introspective. Only
her figure was more womanly, though still slim; she had not Nina’s
statuesque quality. But the soul within was changed, it seemed. This
train of thought brought me to an abrupt question: “No child, Lucinda?”

“There was to have been. I fell ill, and——It was one of the times when
our luck was out. Arsenio made nothing for months. We soon spent what
Number 21 brought us.”

“You don’t mean to say that you were—in want? At that time!”

“Yes. Well, I can’t learn all lessons, but I can learn some. I’ve a
trade of my own now.”

I confess that I yielded for a moment to a horrible suspicion—an idea
that seemed to make my blood stop. I did not touch her arm this time; I
clasped it roughly. I did not speak.

“Oh, no,” she said with a little laugh. “But thank you, dear old
Julius. I see that you’d have cared, that you’d have cared very much.
Because I shall have a bruise there—and for your sake I’ll kiss it.
I’ve neglected my work for your sake—or my pleasure—these last three
days. But I work for Madame—well, shall we say Madame Chose?—because
I don’t want you to go and criticize my handiwork in the window. I
embroider _lingerie_, Julius—chemises and pants. There’s a demand
for such things—yes, even now, on this coast. I was always a good
needlewoman. I used to mend all my things. Do you remember that on one
occasion I was mending my gloves?”

“But Arsenio?”

“Arsenio pursues Dame Fortune. Sometimes he catches her for a moment,
and she pays ransom. She buys herself off—she will not be permanently
his. She’s very elusive. A light-o’-love! Like me? No, but I’m not.”
She leant forward to me, with a sudden amused gurgle of laughter. “But,
you know, he’s as brave as a lion. He was dying to fight from the
beginning. Only he didn’t know whom to fight for, poor boy! He wanted
to fight for Germany because she’s monarchical, and against her because
she’s heavy and stupid and rigid and cruel—and mainly Protestant!—and
against France because she’s republican and atheistical—oh, no
less!—but for her because she’s chivalrous, and dashing, and—well, the
_panache_, you know! He was in a very difficult position, poor dear
Arsenio, till Italy came in; and even then he had his doubts, because
Austria’s clerical! However, Italy it is!”

“Didn’t England appeal to him?”

“For England, monsieur, Don Arsenio has now an illimitable scorn.”

“The devil he has!” said I softly.

She laughed again at that, and something of her gayety still
illuminated her face as she gave me a warning. “I’ve told you nearly
all my secrets—all I’m going to tell! If any of them get to that
deplorable England, to that damp, dripping and doleful Devonshire
(the epithets are Arsenio’s!) I’ll cut you dead. And if they get
to—Briarmount—I’ll kill you!”

“I’ll say that you live in a palace, with seven attendant princes, and
seventy-seven handmaids!”

“Yes!” she agreed gleefully. “Who’s that woman looking for?”

The woman in question was a stout person in a sort of official uniform.
Her eyes traveled over the few guests at the little restaurant; in
her hand she held a blue envelope. “She’s looking for me. She’s been
sent on from my hotel, depend upon it,” I said, with a queer sense of
annoyance. I, who had been fuming because my instructions did not come!

I was right. The woman gave me the envelope and took my receipt. I
made a rapid examination of my package. “I must be off early to-morrow
morning,” I said to Lucinda.

She did say, “I’m sorry,” but without any sign of emotion. And the
next moment she added, “Because you’ll just miss Arsenio. He arrives
to-morrow evening—to pay me a visit.”

“I think I’m rather glad to miss Arsenio,” I remarked frankly. “Oh, not
because he ran away with you, and made fools of us all that day, but
because of what you’ve been telling me just now.”

“If you liked him before, you’d like him still. He hasn’t changed a
bit, he’s just as he always was—very attractive in his good and gay
moods, very naughty and perverse in his bad ones. Yes, just the same.
And that’s what makes it so unfair in me to—to feel as I do about him
now. That’s one of the difficult things about love, isn’t it? And
marriage. The other person may go on being just what he was—what you
knew he was; but you may change yourself, and so not like him any
more—at least, not be content; because there’s a lot about Arsenio
that I still like.” Her eyes now wore their most self-examining,
introspective look.

She pushed her chair back from the table. “It’s late, and you’ve got to
start early. And I must be early and long at work, to make up for lost
time—if it’s not rude to call it that.”

I raised my glass. “Then—to our next meeting!”

“When will that be, I wonder!”

“Heaven knows! I roam up and down the earth, like the Enemy of Mankind.
But, after all, in these days to be on the earth and not under it, is
something. And you, Lucinda?”

“I suppose I shall stay here—with Madame—Chose. War or no war, ladies
must have _lingerie_, mustn’t they?”

“It seems a—well, a drab sort of life!”

“Well—yes,” said Lucinda. “But one of us must earn some money, you see.
Even if I were that sort of person—and I don’t think I am—I couldn’t
afford to do anything useful or heroic. The pay for that isn’t high
enough.”

I walked to her house with her, according to our custom—now of three
days’ standing. As we went, I was summoning up courage for a venture.
When we reached the door I said, “May I let you know from time to
time—whenever it’s possible—where I am? So that, if you were in—if real
occasion arose, you could write to me and——?”

“Yes, I shall like to hear from you. But I probably shan’t
answer—unless I’ve something different to tell you—different from
Madame Chose—and better.”

“But if it were—worse?”

“I couldn’t take money from you, if that’s what you mean. Oh, it’s not
your fault, it’s nothing in you yourself. But you’re a Rillington.”

“Isn’t that, again, rather fanciful?”

“You seem to call all my deepest instincts fanciful!” she protested,
smiling. “But that one’s very deep. Goodness, I could almost as soon
conceive of myself accepting Nina Frost’s cast-off frocks!”

We smiled together over that monstrous freak of the imagination. And
so, still smiling, we parted—she to go back to Madame Chose and her
_lingerie_, I to my wanderings and nosing about. I did from time to
time send her an address that would probably find me; but, as her words
had foreshadowed, I got no answers. So it was still Madame Chose—or
worse? I had to suppose that; and I was sorrowful. She had been much
to blame, but somewhat to be pitied; the root feeling under which
she had in the end acted—fidelity to the man to whom she had first
belonged—might be primitive, as she herself suggested; it did not seem
to me ignoble. At all events, she had not in the end been worldly; she
had not sold herself. No, not yet.

For a while I thought a good deal about her; she had made a vivid
impression on me in those three days; her face haunted my eyes
sometimes. But—well, we were all very busy; there was a lot to think
about—plenty of food both for thought and for emotion, immediate
interests too strong for memories and speculations to fight against.
The echo of her voice was drowned by the clamor of war. The vision of
her face faded.



CHAPTER IX

LIKE TO LIKE


IT was in May, 1916, that Waldo got a severe wound in the right
shoulder, which put him out of action for the rest of the war and sent
him, after two or three months in a hospital, back to Cragsfoot. He
had done very well, indeed distinguished himself rather notably; had
fortune been kinder, he might have expected to rise to high rank. The
letters which I received—I was far away, and was not at the time able
to get leave, even had I felt justified in asking for it—reflected
the mingled disappointment, anxiety, and relief, which the end of his
military career, the severity of his wound, and his return home—alive,
at all events!—naturally produced at Cragsfoot.

Sir Paget wrote seldom and briefly, but with a quiet humor and an
incisive touch. Aunt Bertha’s letters—especially now that she had only
me to write to, and no longer spent the larger part of her epistolary
energy on Waldo—were frequent, full, vivid, and chatty. But she was
also very discursive; she would sandwich in the Kaiser between the
cook and the cabbages, Waldo’s wound between Bethmann-Hollweg and Mr.
Winston Churchill. It was, however, possible to gather from her, aided
by Sir Paget, a pretty complete picture of what was going on both at
Cragsfoot and at Briarmount.

For at Briarmount too anxiety reigned, and the times were critical. As
might be expected of him, Mr. Jonathan Frost had wrought marvels during
the war. The whole of his vast establishments had been placed at the
disposal of the Ministry of Munitions; he had effected wonders of rapid
adaptation and transformation, wonders of organization and output; he
“speeded up” a dozen Boards and infused his own restless energy into
somnolent offices. But two years of these exertions, on the top of a
life of gigantic labor, proved too much even for him. He won a peerage,
but he gave his life. In the September of that same year he came back
to Briarmount, the victim of a stroke, a dying man. His mind was still
clear and active, but he had considerable difficulty in speaking, and
was unable to move without assistance. His daughter, who had sedulously
nursed him through his labors, was now nursing him through the last
stage of his earthly course.

But there was also a newcomer at Briarmount, a frequent visitor there
during the last months of its master’s life, one in whom both Aunt
Bertha and Sir Paget took considerable interest. This was Captain
Godfrey Frost. Lord Dundrannan (he took his title from a place he had
in Scotland) was old-fashioned enough not to approve of confiding to
women the exclusive command of great interests; they lacked the broad
view and the balance of mind, however penetrating their intuitions
might on occasion be! And too much power was not good for them; he
even seemed to have hinted to Sir Paget that they were quite masterful
enough already! That he meant to leave his daughter handsomely, indeed
splendidly, endowed, was certain; but he was minded to provide himself
with an heir male in the person of this young man. It would have been
natural, perhaps, to suspect him of planning a match between the
cousins, but this did not seem to be in his head—perhaps because such
personal matters as marriages held a small place in his mind; perhaps
because he suspected that his daughter’s ideas on that subject were
already settled; perhaps because his nephew was somewhat too young
and—from a social point of view—unformed to be a good mate for his
accomplished daughter.

Captain Frost was, in fact, inexperienced and backward, shy and rather
silent, in society; but unquestionably he had a full share of the
family business ability—so much so that, when Lord Dundrannan “cracked
up,” he was brought back from the front (against his protests, it is
only fair to add), and put in charge, actual if not always nominal,
of a great part of the important activities on which his uncle had
been engaged. His disposition appeared to be simple, amiable, and
unassuming. He was pleasantly deferential to Sir Paget, rather afraid
of Aunt Bertha’s acute eyes, cordial and attentive to Waldo. Towards
Nina he was content to accept the position of pupil and _protégé_; he
let her put him through his social paces; he regarded her with evident
respect and admiration, and thought her worthy to be her father’s
daughter—more than that he could not do! There was no trace of any
sentiment beyond this, or different in kind from it. There was, in
fact, to be detected in Aunt Bertha’s letters an underlying note of
satisfaction; it might be described in the words, “He’s quite nice, but
there’s nothing to fear!”

But if such a note as that were really to be heard in Aunt Bertha’s
letters, it could mean only one thing; and it marked a great change in
her attitude towards Nina. It meant that she was looking forward with
contentment, apparently with actual pleasure, to a match between Nina
and Waldo. Other signs pointed in the same direction—her mention of
Nina’s frequent calls at Cragsfoot, of her kindness to Waldo, of her
devotion to her father, of her praiseworthy calm and level-headedness
during this trying time. The change had perhaps started from a
reaction against Lucinda; after the first impulse of sympathy with
the distracted fugitive (a very real one at the time) had died down,
Lucinda’s waywardness, her “unaccountability,” presented themselves
in a less excusable light. But the main cause lay, no doubt, in Waldo
himself. Aunt Bertha was—passing impulses apart—for Waldo and on his
side. Any shifting of her views and feelings in a matter like this
would be certain to reflect a similar alteration in his attitude.

In November a letter from Sir Paget told me of Lord Dundrannan’s death,
at which, by chance, he was himself present; evidently moved by the
scene, he recounted it with more detail than he was wont to indulge in.
Hearing that his neighbor was worse, he went to inquire; as he stood at
the door, Nina drove up in her car—she had been out for an airing—and
took him into the library where her father was, sitting in a chair by
the fire. It was very rarely that he would consent to keep his bed, and
he had insisted on getting up that day. “Godfrey Frost was there” (my
uncle wrote) “and Dr. Napier, standing and whispering together in the
window. By the sick man sat an old white-haired Wesleyan minister, whom
he had sent for all the way from Bradford, where he himself was born:
he had ‘sat under’ this old gentleman as a boy, and a few days before
had expressed a great longing to see him. The minister was reading the
Bible to him now. It looked as though he had foreseen that the end
was coming. He had had a sort of valedictory talk with Nina and young
Frost a week before—about the money and the businesses, what they were
to do, what rules they were to be guided by, and so on. That done,
he appeared to dismiss worldly affairs, this world itself, from his
thoughts, and ‘took up’ the next. I am not mocking; yet I can hardly
help smiling. He seemed to have ‘taken it up’ in the same way that he
would have inquired into a new, important and interesting speculation;
and he got his expert—the old minister from Bradford—to advise him. He
was not afraid, or agitated, or remorseful; his feelings seemed, so
far as his impaired speech enabled him to describe them to his family,
those of a curious and earnest interest in his prospects of survival—he
eagerly desired to survive—and in what awaited him if he did survive.
The fact that he had neglected religion for a great many years back
did not trouble him; nor did ‘How hardly shall a rich man——’ He seemed
confident that, if immortality were a fact, some place and some work
would be found for Jonathan Frost. Whether it was a fact was what he
wanted to know; he hated the idea of nothingness, of inactivity, of
stopping!

“The old minister shut his book when I came in. Nina led me up to her
father. He recognized me and smiled. I said a few words, but I doubt
if he listened. He pointed towards the book on the minister’s knee—he
could move his left hand—and tried to say something: I think that he
was trying to pursue the subject that engrossed him, perhaps to get my
opinion on it. But the next moment he gave a smothered sort of cry—not
loud at all—and moved his hand towards his heart. Napier darted across
the room to him; Nina put her arm round his neck and kissed him. He
gave a sigh, and his head fell back on her arm. He was gone—all in a
minute—gone to get the answer to his question. Then there was a ringing
of bells, of course, and they came in and took him way. Nina put her
hands in mine for a second before she followed them out of the room:
‘My dear father!’ she said. Then she put her arm in young Frost’s,
and he led her out of the room, very gently, in a very gentleman-like
way, I must say. I was left alone with the old minister. ‘The end of
a remarkable life!’ I said, or something of that sort. ‘I’m glad it
came so easily at the end.’ He bowed his white head. ‘He did great
things for his country,’ he answered. ‘God’s ways are not our ways, Sir
Paget.’ I said good-by, and left him with his book.”

A month after Lord Dundrannan’s death I got Christmas leave, came to
England, and went down to Cragsfoot on the Friday before Christmas Day;
it fell on a Monday that year. It was jolly to be there again, and to
find old Waldo out of danger and getting on really famously.

But how he was changed! I will not go into the physical changes—they
proved, thank God, in the main temporary, though it was a long
time before he got back nearly all his old vigor—but I can’t help
speculating on how much they, and the suffering they brought, had to
do with the change in the nature of the man. Perhaps nothing; it is, I
suppose, rather an obscure subject, a medical question; but I cannot
help thinking that they worked together with his other experiences.
At least, they must have made him in a way older in body, just as
the other experiences made him older in mind. I never realized till
then—though I ought to have—how very little I had really been through,
in what had seemed two tolerably exciting and exhausting years,
compared to him who had “stuck it through” all the time at the front. I
said something of this sort to him as we gossiped together, and it set
him talking.

“Well, old chap,” he said, laughing, “I don’t know how you found
it—you were, of course, a grown man, a man of the world, before it all
began—but I just had to change. It’s no credit to me—I had to! I was a
cub, a puppy—I had to become a trained animal. As it was, that infernal
temper of mine nearly cost me my commission in the first three months.
It would have, by Jove, if Tom Winter—my Company Commander—hadn’t been
the best fellow in the world; he was killed six months later, poor
chap, but he’d got a muzzle on me before that. You will find me a bit
better there; I haven’t had a real old break-out ever since.”

“Oh, I daresay you will, when you get fit!” said I consolingly.

“Thank you,” he laughed again. “But I don’t want to, you know. They
were a bit upsetting to everybody concerned.” He smiled as though in
a gentle amusement at his old self. “Only father could manage me—and
he couldn’t always. Lord, I was impossible! I might have committed a
murder one fine day!”

I recollected a certain fine day on which murder, or something very
like it, was certainly his purpose. Oh, with a good deal of excuse, no
doubt!

Perhaps his thoughts had moved in the same direction; seeing me again
might well have that effect on him.

“I don’t want to exaggerate things. I daresay I’ve a bit of the devil
left in me. And I don’t know whether men in general have been affected
much by the business. Some have, some haven’t, I expect. Perhaps I’m a
special case. The war came at what was for me a very critical moment.
For me personally it was a lucky thing, in spite of this old shoulder;
and it was lucky that my father was so clear about its coming. I was
saved from myself, by Jove, I was!”

The “self” of whom he spoke came back to my memory as strangely
different and apart from the languid, tranquil man who was talking to
me on the long invalid’s chair. He reclined there, smiling thoughtfully.

“I bear no malice against the girl,” he went on. “It was my mistake.
She went to her own in the end; it was inevitable that she should; and
better before marriage—even just before!—than after. Like to like—she
and Monkey Valdez!”

Though I had my own views as to that, I held my tongue. If once I let
out that I had seen Lucinda, one question—if not from Waldo, at any
rate from Aunt Bertha—would lead to another, and I should be in danger
of betraying the needlewoman’s secret. I had made up my mind to lie if
need be, but if I kept silence, it was a hundred to one that it would
not occur to any one at Cragsfoot to ask whether I had seen Lucinda.
Why should I have seen her? It never did occur to any of the three of
them; I was asked no questions.

“The best thing to be hoped is that we never run up against one another
again. I might still be tempted to give the Monkey a thrashing! Oh,
I forgot—I don’t suppose I shall ever be able to give anybody a
thrashing! Sad thought, Julius! Well, there it is—let’s forget ‘em!” A
gesture of his sound arm waved Lucinda and her Monkey into oblivion.

So be it. I changed the subject. “Very sad about poor old Frost.
Dundrannan, I mean.”

“Yes, poor old boy! For a week or two it was about even betting between
him and me—which of us would win out, I mean. Well, I have; and he’s
gone. We didn’t half do him justice in the old days. Really a grand
man, don’t you think?”

I agreed. Lord Dundrannan—Jonathan Frost—had always filled me with the
sort of admiration that a non-stop express inspires; and Sir Paget’s
letter had added a pathetic touch to the recollection of him—made him
more of a human being, brought him into relation with Something that he
did not create; that, in fact, I suppose, created him. Really quite a
new aspect of Lord Dundrannan!

“She’s come through it splendidly,” said Waldo.

“What, Miss Nina?”

Waldo laughed. “Look here, old chap, you don’t seem to be up to date.
Been in Paraguay or Patagonia, or somewhere, have you? She’s not ‘Miss
Nina’—she’s my Lady Dundrannan.”

“Nobody told me that there was a special remainder to her!”

“Well, he’d done wonders. He was old and ill. No son! They could hardly
refuse it him, could they? The peerage would have been an empty gift
without it.”

“Lady Dundrannan! Lady Dundrannan!”

“You’ve got it right now, Julius. Of Dundrannan in the county of Perth,
and of Briarmount in the county of Devon—to give it its full dignity.”

“I expect she’s pleased with it?”

“We’re all human. I think she is. Besides, she was very fond and proud
of her father, and likes to have her share in carrying on his fame.”

“And she has wherewithal to gild the title!”

“Gilt and to spare! But only about a third of what he had. A third to
her, a third to public objects, a third to Godfrey Frost. That’s about
it—roughly. But business control to Godfrey, I understand.”

“Does she like that?” I asked.

He laughed again—just a little reluctantly, I thought. “Not
altogether, perhaps. But she accepts it gracefully, and takes it out of
the young man by ordering him about! He’s a surprisingly decent young
chap; she’ll lick him into shape in no time.”

“From what Aunt Bertha said, you and she have made great friends?”

“Yes, we have now.” He paused a moment. “She was a bit difficult at
first. You see, there were things in the past——Oh, well, never mind
that—it’s all over.”

There were things in the past; there were: that group of three on the
top of the cliffs; the girl sobbing wildly, furiously, shamefully; the
man holding the other girl’s arm in his as in a vise of iron. Meeting
Nina again may well have been a bit difficult at first! It was also a
bit difficult to adjust one’s vision to Baroness Dundrannan and Madame
Chose’s needlewoman, to re-focus them. How would they feel about one
another now? Lucinda had found some pity for the sobbing girl; would
Lady Dundrannan find the like for the needlewoman?

Or would Waldo himself? In spite of the new gentleness that there was
in his manner, taken as a whole, there had been an acidity, a certain
sharpness of contempt, in his reference to Lucinda. “That girl”—“like
to like”—“she and Monkey Valdez.” It was natural, perhaps, but—the
question would not be suppressed—was it quite the tone of that “great
gentleman” whom Lucinda herself still held in her memory?

I was content to drop the subject. “Your father’s looking splendid,” I
remarked, “but Aunt Bertha seems to me rather fagged.”

“Aunt Bertha’s been fretting a dashed sight too much over me—that’s the
fact.” He smiled as he went on. “Well, I’m out of it for good and all,
they tell me—if I need telling—and I suppose I ought to be sorry for
it. But really I’m so deuced tired, that——! Well, I just want to lie
here and be looked after.”

“Oh, you’ll get that!” I assured him confidently. There was Aunt Bertha
to do it; Aunt Bertha, at all events. Possibly there was somebody else
who would do it even more efficiently.



CHAPTER X

HER LADYSHIP


“YES,” said my uncle, as he warmed himself before the library fire, “a
young man of very considerable ability, I think. One might trust old
Jonathan Frost to make no mistake about that. He might be led by family
feeling—but not led astray! Hard-headed, and ambitious—for himself, I
mean, apart from his business, the boy is. He’s different from the old
man in that; the old man thought of nothing but his undertakings, he
was just the most important part of their machinery. This boy’s got his
eye on politics, he tells me. I’ve no doubt he’ll get on in them. Then,
with a suitable wife——”

“Lady Arabella—or something of that sort?”

“Precisely. You catch my train of thought, Julius.” Sir Paget smiled
his shrewdly reflective smile, as he continued:

“We may regard the Frost family, then, as made—in both its branches.
Because my lady, with her possessions and her looks, is undoubtedly
made already—indeed, ready-made.

We must move with the times—or at any rate after them. You’ve done it;
you’re a commercial man yourself, and doing very well at it, aren’t
you?”

“I hope to—after the war. I believe Sir Ezekiel means to keep me at
home and put me in charge in London—if London’s still standing, I mean,
of course. But I don’t feel it in my bones to rival the kin of Jonathan
Frost.”

“Yes—a remarkable family. What do you make of the girl herself?”

“You’ve seen a lot more of her than I have. What do you?”

“Brain above the average, but nothing wonderful. Will very strong—she’s
as tenacious as a limpet.”

“I should think so. But she’s got her feelings too, hasn’t she?”

“That’s the point on which I have some doubt. Well, study her for
yourself. I think she’s worth it.” He was frowning a little as he
spoke, as though his doubt troubled him, although he could give no very
good reason for it. “However, she has lots of good qualities—lots,” he
ended. He gave the impression of a man trying to reconcile himself to
something, and finding his task difficult. He praised the Frost family
in handsomely general terms, with hardly a reservation; yet with just
the hint of one. It was as though Nina—and her cousin too, for that
matter—just failed to give him complete satisfaction, just lacked
something that his nature or his taste needed. I did not think that it
was anything very serious—not anything that could be called moral, a
matter of lack of virtue or presence of vice. It was rather a dourness,
too much solidity, too little gayety, humor, responsiveness. The Frosts
were perhaps not “out of working harness” enough. Did his mind insist
on drawing a contrast? He had loved the girl of whom we did not speak.

Aunt Bertha’s attitude was different, as her letters had suggested. Her
acute and eminently practical mind wasted no time in pining for ideals,
or in indulging delicate dissatisfactions. It preferred to concentrate
on the pleasant aspects of the attainable. One can’t expect everything
in this world! And it may even be doubted whether the softer charms,
the insidious fascinations, are desirable attributes in women (men, of
course, never possess them, so that the question doesn’t arise there);
don’t they bring more trouble than good to their possessors, or anyhow
to other people? (To her dear Waldo?)

Perhaps they do. At any rate, it was by hints of this order that Aunt
Bertha, having seen reason herself, sought to overcome the lingering
sentimentalities, and perhaps memories, of Sir Paget.

“The kindness of the girl!” said Aunt Bertha. “All through her own
trouble—and you know how she loved her father!—she never forgot us and
our anxiety. She used to manage to see me almost every day; came with
grapes—you know the Briarmount grapes?—or something, for Waldo, and
cheered me up with a little talk. She may not gush, she may not splash
about, but Nina has a heart of gold, Julius.”

“Then she’s gold all through, inside and out,” I said, rather
flippantly.

“Men are often fools,” Aunt Bertha remarked—and I hope that the
observation may be considered irrelevant. “They undervalue the real
things that matter in a woman.”

“What’s the application of that? I’m sure that Waldo likes Lady
Dundrannan very much.”

“Of course he does. And whatever my remark meant, it didn’t mean that
Waldo is a fool. Waldo has grown a great deal wiser than he was. And
for that very reason you’re turning up your nose at him, Julius!”

There her acumen came in. She defined in a single homely sentence
the mental attitude against which I was struggling. It was true. I
collapsed before Aunt Bertha’s attack.

“I’ll do my best to fall in love with her myself,” I promised.

“It won’t make any difference what you try,” was the best I got out of
her in return for my concession.

All the same, her emotional _volte-face_ continued to surprise me. She
might, perhaps, well forget that she had loved and pitied Lucinda.
Was it—well, decent—so entirely to forget that she had once heartily
disliked Nina, and to call me a fool on the score that my feelings
were the same as hers had been not much more than two years before?
Besides, I did not dislike Nina. I merely failed (as Sir Paget failed)
to find in her certain characteristics which in my judgment lend charm
and grace to a woman. I tried to explain this to Aunt Bertha; she
sniffed and went on knitting.

The young man, Captain Frost, anyhow, I did like; I took to him at
once, and he, I think, to me. He was spending a brief Christmas holiday
at Briarmount, with a certain Mrs. Haynes, a friend of Nina’s, for
company or _chaperon_ to the cousins. He was a tall, straight fellow,
with a bright blue eye and fair curly hair. There was an engaging
candor about him; he was candid about things as to which men are often
not candid with one another—about his stupendous good luck and how he
meant to take advantage of it; his ambitions and how he could best go
about to realize them; his extremely resolute purpose to let nothing
interfere with his realizing them. He was even candid about his affairs
of the heart; and this was supreme candor, because it lay in confessing
to me—an elder man to whom he would wish to appear mature at least,
if not _rusé_—that he had never had any; a thing, as every man of the
world knows (God forgive them!) much harder for any young man to own to
than it would be to plead guilty to—or to boast of—half a dozen.

“But why haven’t you?” I couldn’t help asking. He was himself
attractive, and he was not, I fancied, insusceptible to beauty; for
example, he admired his cousin—at the respectful distance which her
Ladyship set between them.

“Well, up to now I couldn’t have afforded to marry,” was his reply,
given in all seriousness, as though it were perfectly explanatory,
perfectly adequate. But it was so highly revealing that comment on it
is needless.

“Well, now you can,” I said—I am afraid a little tartly.

“Yes; but it’s a matter needing careful consideration, isn’t it? An
awful thing if a man makes a mistake!” His eyes, bright and blue, fixed
themselves on mine in a glance which I felt to be “meaning.” “Your
cousin, for instance, Major Rillington, was very nearly let in, wasn’t
he?”

“Oh, you know about that, do you? Was it Lady Dundrannan who told you?”

He laughed. “Oh, no! It was Miss Fleming. And she didn’t tell me
anything about who it was—only just that he’d had a lucky escape from
a girl quite unworthy of him. She said I must remember the affair—it
was all over London just before the war. But as I was in the works at
Dundee at the time, and never read anything in the papers except racing
and football, I somehow missed it; and when I asked Nina about it, she
shut me up—told me not to talk scandal.”

“But I thought that she was fitting you for polite society!”

“That’s good—jolly good, Captain Rillington!” he was kind enough to
say. “I shall tell Nina that; it’ll amuse her.”

He seemed disposed to take me for a Mentor—to think that I might
supplement the social education which his cousin proposed to give him;
that I might do the male, the club side, while she looked after the
drawing-room department—or deportment. On the other hand, he instructed
me rather freely on business, until he happened to gather—from Sir
Paget—that in the piping times of peace I held a fairly good position
in Ezekiel Coldston & Co., Ltd.; after which he treated me, if not
with a greater, yet with a more comprehensive, respect. “That’s a big
concern,” he remarked thoughtfully. “Of course you and we don’t come
into competition at all—quite separate fields, aren’t they?”

“Oh, quite,” said I, tacitly thanking heaven for the fact.

As I have said, an engaging young man, and interesting. I wondered
what he and life would make of one another, when they became better
acquainted. Meanwhile our intimacy increased apace.

Human nature is, and apparently always has been, prone to poke fun
at newly acquired greatness; I suppose that it hangs on the person
stiffly, like a frock coat fresh from the tailor’s. If Lady Dundrannan
wore her dignity and power rather consciously, she also wore them well.
She made an imposing figure in her mourning; but her stateliness was
pleasantly and variously tempered to suit the company in which she
found herself. For Aunt Bertha and Sir Paget there was an infusion of
the daughterly; for Captain Godfrey of the elder-sisterly. I myself
still found in her that piquant directness of approach which, in an
earlier moment of temerity, I have ventured to call her impudence;
it seasoned and animated her grandeur. She was, behind her dignity,
mockingly confidential; she shared a half-hidden joke with me. She was
naturally impelled to share it, if there were anybody with whom she
could; it was to her the spice of the situation. Not the situation
itself, of course; that was to her entirely serious and all important;
she was attached to Waldo with all her limpet tenacity, with all her
solidity of purpose, with all the tenderness, moreover, of which her
heart was capable; finally, with an intensity of straight downright
passion, of which I know by hearsay, but should hardly have divined
from her own demeanor. But the joke, though not the situation itself,
was a lively element in it. She could not share it with Waldo, or Aunt
Bertha, or Sir Paget; nor would she share it with young Godfrey Frost,
since it hardly became the status of an elder sister. But she could and
did share it with me. The joke, of course, was Lucinda.

It would have been a still better joke, had she known all that I
knew about Madame Valdez, or Donna Lucinda Valdez, or Madame Chose’s
needlewoman; she might not have been so ready to share it with me, had
she known that I knew about the girl on the cliffs, passionately,
shamefully sobbing in wounded love, pride, and spite. As matters stood
to her knowledge, the joke was good enough, and yet fit to share. For
here was she—the uninvited skeleton at the abortive feast—triumphant,
in possession of the field, awaiting in secure serenity the fruition of
her hopes. And so placed, moreover, that the attainment of her object
involved no stooping; a queen bowing acquiescence from her throne is
not said to stoop. Yes, here she was; here she was, with a vengeance;
and—where was Lucinda?

Well, that was just what she wanted to know. Not in any uneasiness or
apprehension, but in good, straight, honest, human, feminine curiosity
and malice. Moreover, that was what, before we had been much together,
she came to have a suspicion, an inkling, that I could tell her—if I
would. This was no marvel of feminine intuition. It was my fault, or
my mischief. It was my side of the joke, without which the joke would
have been to me rather a grim one. I could not help playing with her
curiosity, inciting and balking her malice.

She used to come to see Waldo almost every day, sitting with him an
hour or more. Being a young woman of active habits, she generally came
on foot, and, since he could not escort her home, that duty fell to
my lot; we had several walks back from Cragsfoot to Briarmount, just
as twilight began to fall on those winter evenings, her clear-cut,
handsome features still showing up boldly above her rich dark furs.
She really looked very much My Lady!

But it is one walk that stands out conspicuous in memory. It was the
afternoon on which Waldo had asked her to be his wife—though I did not
know it.

Up to now, when I had occasion to pronounce her name, I had called her
Lady Dundrannan, and she had not protested, although she continued to
use my Christian name, as she always had since Waldo, Arsenio, and
Lucinda set the example. But on this day, when her title happened to
fall from my lips, she turned to me with an amused smile:

“Don’t you think you might call me Nina? You used to. And, really,
mayn’t I almost be considered one of the family now?”

“I don’t care about calling you Nina just because I used to, or just
because you’re almost one of the family, Lady Dundrannan——”

“There you go again!” she protested.

“Well, I rather admire the name. It sounds wild, feudal, Caledonian.
But I’ll call you Nina if you like me well enough.”

“I’ve always liked you quite well, though I don’t think you used to
like me much.”

“Let bygones be bygones, Nina!”

“Well, they are, aren’t they?” she said, with quite undisguised
meaning—and undisguised triumph too. I was stupid not to suspect the
cause. “But I believe you’re sorry for it!”

“I was sorry for it, of course, at the time it happened. We were all
of us—well, much more than sorry. Stunned! Aghast!”

“You do use big words over that girl,” remarked Lady Dundrannan.

“You’re letting yourself go this evening! Hitherto you’ve been more
subtle in trying to get at what I think—or thought—of Lucinda.” Mark my
own subtlety here! I substituted “thought” for “think”; and what she
had been trying to get at was not what I thought of Lucinda, but what
I knew about her—if anything. But I meant to lead her on; I gave her a
smile with the words.

“If you felt all that about it, I should have thought you’d have tried
to get some explanation out of her—or him. Something to comfort the
family! You yourself might have acted as a go-between.”

“But they vanished.”

“Oh, people don’t vanish so completely as all that!”

“There’s the war, you know. We’ve all been busy. No time for useless
curiosity.” I did not advance these pleas in a very convincing tone.

She looked at me suspiciously. “You’ve never heard a word from either
of them?”

I took it that she meant to ask if I had received any letters. “Never,”
said I—upon the assumption, truthfully.

“Where do you suppose Arsenio Valdez is?”

“I don’t know where he is. Fighting for Italy, I suppose. He was
bound to end by doing that, though, of course, he’s by way of being a
tremendous Clerical. In with the Black Nobility at Venice, you see.”

“Nobility, indeed! A scamp like that!”

Now she had no particular reason for enmity against Valdez; rather the
contrary. But Waldo had, and she reflected Waldo, just as I thought
that Waldo’s flavor of bitterness towards Lucinda reflected her quality
of mind, the sharp edge of her temper.

“How do you account for what she did?” she asked me, with a touch of
irritation and restlessness.

“‘Account for it!’ Love is unaccountable, isn’t it?” I remembered that
Lucinda had used the words about herself.

“Doesn’t her mother ever hear from her?”

“I don’t know. I’m not in touch with that excellent woman. She has,
I fancy, vanished from the ken of Cragsfoot as completely as her
daughter.”

“I expect they’ve just gone under, that pair—Lucinda and Arsenio.
Because they were just a pair, weren’t they?”

I seemed to hear an echo of Waldo’s “like to like.” Or more probably
Waldo’s “like to like” was an echo of what I now heard.

“Oh, I don’t see why they should have. We may very likely knock up
against them some day,” I remarked with a laugh.

It was still light enough for me to see a flash in her eyes as she
turned quickly on me. “If you think I’m——” she exclaimed impetuously;
but she pulled herself up, and ended with a scornful little laugh.

But of course she had not pulled herself up in time; I knew that she
had been going to say “afraid,” and she knew that I knew it. Lucinda
had avowed a feeling that it was not all over between herself and Nina
yet. Something of a similar feeling seemed to find a place in Lady
Dundrannan’s mind; she contemplated the possibility of another round in
the fight—and she was not afraid of it. Or was she? Just a little—in
her heart? I did not think that she need be, seeing the sort of man
that Waldo was, knowing (as I now knew) Lucinda’s mind; knowing too,
alas, Lucinda’s fate. But it was curious to find the same foreboding—if
one could call it that—in both women.

“I really don’t see why you should think any more about Lucinda,” I
said.

“I don’t think I need,” she agreed, with a smile that was happy, proud,
and confident.

I looked her in the face, and laughed. She stopped, and held out her
hand to me. As I took it she went on. “Yes, Waldo is telling the old
people down there, and I’ll tell you here. We’re engaged, Julius; Waldo
asked me this afternoon, and I said yes.”

“I hope you will believe that I congratulate you and him very
sincerely, and, if I may, gladly welcome you into the family.”

“Without any _arrière-pensée_?” Her challenge was gay and good-humored.

“Absolutely! Why do you suspect anything else?”

“Well then, because you are—or were—fond of Lucinda.”

“Oh, you’ve got it out at last! But, even supposing so—and I’ve no
reason for denying it—I’m not put to a choice between you, am I? Now at
all events!”

“No,” she admitted, but with a plain touch of reluctance; she laughed
at it herself, perhaps at her failure to conceal it. “Anyhow, you’ll
try to like me, won’t you, Cousin Julius?”

“I do like you, my dear—and not a bit less because you don’t like
Lucinda. So there!”

By now we were at the gates of Briarmount. I pointed to the house.

“You’ve got somebody else to tell your news to, in there. And you’d
better tell him directly. I hope he’s not been cherishing vain hopes
himself, poor boy!”

“Godfrey?” She laughed again. “Oh, nonsense! He’s just my little
brother.”

“You’ve got two men to manage now. Your hands will be full, Nina.”

“Oh, I think I shall be equal to the task!”

“And, when you want, you can still unburden your mind to me about
Lucinda.”

“I think I’ve done that! I shall take your advice and think no more
about her. Good-night, Julius. I—I’m very happy!”

I watched her walk briskly up the Briarmount drive in the dusk.
Certainly a fine figure of a girl; and one who improved on
acquaintance. I liked her very much that afternoon. But she certainly
did not like Lucinda! Put as mildly as possible, it came to that.



CHAPTER XI

DUNDRANNANIZATION


THE family history during the rest of the war—up to the Armistice, that
is—will go into a brief summary. Waldo was discharged from the army, as
permanently unfit for service, early in 1917. His wedding took place in
February of that year. It was solemnized not at St. George’s, Hanover
Square, but in the country, from the bride’s seat of Briarmount. I was
not present, as I went abroad again almost directly after my Christmas
visit to Cragsfoot, the salient features of which have already been
indicated. All good fortune waited on the happy pair (here I rely
on Aunt Bertha’s information, not having had the means of personal
observation), and Nina became the mother of a fine baby in December.
The child was a girl; a little bit of a disappointment, perhaps; the
special remainder did not, of course, go beyond the present Baroness
herself, and a prospective Lord Dundrannan was naturally desired.
However, there was no need to pull a long face over that; plenty of
time yet, as Aunt Bertha consolingly observed.

Finally, Captain Godfrey Frost—who must, I suppose, now be considered
a member of the Rillington-cum-Dundrannan family and was certainly
treated as one—made such a to-do in the influential quarters to
which he had access, that at last he was restored to active service,
sent to the Near East, and made the Palestine campaign with great
credit. The moment that its decisive hour was over, however, he was
haled back again. It may be remembered that there was a Ministry of
Reconstruction, and it appeared (from Aunt Bertha again) that no
Reconstruction worth mentioning could be undertaken, or at all events
make substantial progress, without the help of Captain Frost. If that
view be correct, it may help to explain some puzzles; because Captain
Frost got malaria on his way home, and had to knock off all work,
public and private, for two or three months—just at the time that was
critical for Reconstruction, no doubt.

That is really all there is to say, though it may be worth while to let
a letter to me from Sir Paget throw a little sidelight on the progress
of affairs:

“Our married couple seem in complete tune with one another. Congreve
says somewhere—in _The Double Dealer_, if I remember rightly—‘Though
marriage makes man and wife one flesh, it leaves them still two fools.’
Agreed; but he might have added (if he hadn’t known his business too
well to spoil an epigram by qualifications) that it doesn’t leave
them quite the same two fools. I have generally observed (I would say
always, except that a diplomatist of seventy has learnt never to say
always) that when Mr. Black marries Miss White, either she darkens or
he pales. The stronger infuse its color into the weaker—or, if you like
to vary the metaphor, there is a partial absorption of the weaker by
the stronger. Excuse this prosing; there is really nothing to do in
the country, you know! And perhaps you will guess how I came by this
train of reflection. In fact, I think that Waldo—about the happiest
fellow in the world, and how good that he should be, after all he has
gone through!—is experiencing a partial process of Dundrannanization.
There’s a word for you! I made it this morning, and it pleased me! I
should like to have suggested it to old Jonathan Frost himself. Don’t
think it too formidable for what it represents. Not, of course, that
the process will ever be complete with Waldo; there will remain a
stratum of Christian weakness which it will not reach. But it may go
far with him; the Frost (forgive me, Julius!) may be inches deep over
his nature! And I am quite convinced that I have acquired a daughter,
but not quite sure that I haven’t lost a son. No, not lost; half lost,
perhaps. Briarmount overpowers Cragsfoot: I suppose it was bound to be
so; of course it was; Aunt Bertha says so. She is an admirable herald
of the coming day. He loves me no less, thank God; but the control of
him has passed into other hands. He is, quite dignifiedly, henpecked;
his admiration for her stops only short of idolatry. I don’t know that
it ought to stop much sooner, for she is a notable girl. I’m very fond
of her; if I ever saw her burst into tears, or have hysterics, or do
anything really weak and silly, I believe I should love her even more.”

Quite so. It was what might have been expected. And Sir Paget’s
assessment of his daughter-in-law was precisely in accord with all that
he had had the opportunity of observing in that young woman. That she
could burst into tears, could have something very like hysterics, could
behave in a way that might be termed weak and silly, was a piece of
knowledge confined, as I believed, to three persons besides herself.
She thought it was confined to two. She had married one of them; did he
think of it, did he remember? As for the other—it has been seen how she
felt about the other. I was glad that she did not know about the third;
if I could help it, she never should. I did not believe that she would
forgive my knowledge any more than she forgave Lucinda’s. I don’t blame
her; such knowledge about oneself is not easy to pardon.

There was a postscript to Sir Paget’s letter. “By the way, Mrs. Knyvett
is dead—a month ago, at Torquay. Aunt Bertha saw it in the _Times_.
An insignificant woman; but by virtue of the late Knyvett, or by some
freak of nature, she endowed the world with a beautiful creature.
Hallo, high treason, Julius! But somehow I think that you won’t hang
me for it. I hope that poor child is not paying too dearly for her
folly.”

I remember that, when I had read the postscript, I exclaimed, “Thank
God!” Not of course, because Mrs. Knyvett had died a month before at
Torquay; the event was not such as to wring exclamations from one. It
was the last few words that evoked mine. Lucinda had a friend more in
the world than she knew. If I ever met her again, I would tell her.
She had loved Sir Paget. If his heart still yearned ever so little
after her, if her face ever came before his eyes, it would, I thought,
be something to her. The words brought her face back before my eyes,
whence time and preoccupation had banished it. Did the face ever—at
rare moments—appear to Waldo? Probably not. He would be too much
Dundrannanized!

The process for which Sir Paget’s reluctant amusement found a nickname
was a natural one in the circumstances of the case. If the Dundrannan
personality was potent, so was the Dundrannan property. Cragsfoot was
a small affair compared even to Briarmount alone; Waldo was not yet
master even of Cragsfoot, for Sir Paget was not the man to take off
his clothes before bedtime. Besides Briarmount, there was Dundrannan
Castle, with its deer and its fishing; there was the Villa San Carlo at
Mentone; never mind what else there was, even after “public objects”
and Captain Frost had, between them, shorn off so large a part of the
Frost concerns and millions. Moreover, another process set in, and
was highly developed by the time I returned to England in the autumn
of 1918, when my last foreign excursion on Government service ended.
Family solidarity, and an identity of business interests in many
matters, brought Nina, and, by consequence, Waldo, into close and ever
closer association with Godfrey Frost. The young man was not swallowed;
he had too strong a brain and will of his own for that; but he was
attached. The three of them came to form a triumvirate for dealing with
the Frost concerns, settling the policy of the Frost family, defining
the Frost attitude towards the world outside. And everybody else was
outside of that inner circle, even though we of Cragsfoot might be only
just outside. So as Waldo, on his marriage, had shifted his bodily
presence from Cragsfoot to Briarmount, his mind and his predominant
interests also centered there; and presently to his were added, in
great measure, Godfrey Frost’s. Nina presided over this union of hearts
and forces with a sure tact; she did not seek to play the despot, but
she was the bond and the inspiration.

Naturally, then, if the three saw eye to eye in all these great
matters, they also saw eye to eye, and felt heart to heart, on such
a merely sentimental subject as the view to take of Lucinda—of whom,
of course, Godfrey derived any idea that he had mainly from Nina.
Probably the idea thus derived was that she was emphatically a person
of whom the less said the better! Only—the curious fact crops up
again—she was not one of whom Nina was capable of saying absolutely
nothing, of giving no hints. Her husband excepted, anybody really near
to her was sure to hear something of Lucinda. Besides, there was the
information, sketchy indeed, but significant, which he had received
from Aunt Bertha, and perhaps that had made him question his cousin;
then either her answers or even her reluctance to answer would have
been enlightening to a man of his intelligence.

He got home some time in October, and at his request I went to see
him in London, while he was convalescent from that malaria which so
seriously impeded Reconstruction. From him I heard the family plans.
They were all three going shortly to Nina’s villa at Mentone for the
winter. For the really rich it seemed that “the difficulties of the
times” presented no difficulty at all; a big motor car was to take the
party across France to their destination.

“You see, we’re largely interested in works near Marseilles, and I’m
going out to have a look at them; Waldo’s got doctor’s orders, Nina
goes to nurse him—and the kid can’t be left, of course. All quite
simple. Why don’t you come too?”

“Perhaps I will—if I’m asked and can get a holiday. It sounds rather
jolly.”

“Top-hole! Besides, the war’s going to end. Nina’ll ask you all right;
and, as for a holiday, you can’t do much at your game till the tonnage
is released, can you?”

He seemed about right there; on such questions he had a habit of being
right. At the back of my mind, however, I was just faintly reluctant
about embracing the project, a little afraid of too thick a Dundrannan
atmosphere.

“Well, I must go to Cragsfoot first. After that perhaps—if I am
invited.”

“Jolly old place, Cragsfoot!” he observed. “I don’t wonder you like to
go there—even apart from your people. It’s unlucky that Nina’s taken
against it, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t know she had.”

“Oh, yes. You’ll see that—when the time comes—I hope it’s a long way
off, of course—she won’t live there.”

“Waldo’ll want to live there, I think.”

“No, he won’t. He’d want to now, if it fell in. But by the time it
does, he’ll have had his mind altered.” He laughed good-humoredly.

I rather resented that, having a sentimental feeling for Cragsfoot.
But it would probably turn out true, if Nina devoted her energies to
bringing it about.

“Regular old ‘country gentleman’ style of place—which Briarmount isn’t.
Sort of place I should like myself. I suppose you’d take it on, if
Waldo didn’t mean to live there?”

“You look so far ahead,” I protested. “The idea’s quite new, I haven’t
considered it. I’ve always regarded it as a matter of course that Waldo
would succeed his father there—as the Rillingtons have succeeded, son
to father, for a good many years.”

“Yes, I know, and I appreciate that feeling. Don’t think I don’t. Still
that sort of thing can’t last forever, can it? Something breaks the
line at last.”

“I suppose so,” I admitted, rather sulkily. If Waldo did not live at
Cragsfoot, if I did not “take it on,” I could not help perceiving that
Godfrey had fixed his eye—that far-seeing Frost eye—on our ancestral
residence. This was a further development of the Dundrannan alliance,
and not one to my taste. Instinctively I stiffened against it. I felt
angry with Waldo, and irritated with Godfrey Frost—and with Nina too.
True, the idea of Cragsfoot’s falling to me—without any harm having
come to Waldo—was not unpleasant. But everything was in Waldo’s power,
subject to Sir Paget’s life interest; I remembered Sir Paget’s telling
me that there had been no resettlement of the property on Waldo’s
marriage. Could Waldo be trusted not to see with the Frost eye and not
to further the Frost ambitions?

“It seems queer,” Godfrey went on, smiling still as he lit his
cigarette, “but I believe that Nina’s dislike of the place has
something to do with that other girl—Waldo’s old flame, you know. She
once said something about painful associations—of course, Waldo wasn’t
in the room—and I don’t see what else she could refer to, do you? She’s
a bit sensitive about that old affair, isn’t she? Funny thing—nothing’s
too big for a really clever woman, but, by Jove, nothing’s too small
either!”

“Like our old friend the elephant and the pin that we were told about
in childhood?”

“Exactly. Nina will hatch a big plan one minute, and the next she’ll be
measuring the length of the feather on the scullery-maid’s hat.”

“Well, but—I mean—love affairs aren’t always small things, are they?”

“N—no, perhaps not. But when it’s all over like that!”

“Yes, it is rather funny,” I thought it best to admit.

Certainly it would be funny—a queer turn of events—if things worked out
as I suspected my young friend Godfrey of planning; if Nina persuaded
Waldo that he did not want to live at Cragsfoot, and Waldo transferred
his old home to his new cousin. And if Nina’s reason were that
Cragsfoot had “painful associations” for her! Because then, ultimately,
if one went right back to the beginning, it would be not Nina, but that
other girl, Waldo’s old flame, who would eject the Rillington family
from its ancestral estate! It was impossible not to stand somewhat
aghast (big words about that girl again!) at such a trick of fate.

“The fact is, I suppose,” he went on, “that she’s been fond of Waldo
longer than she can afford to admit. Then the memory might rankle! And
Nina’s not over-fond of opposition at any time. I’ve found that out.
Oh, we’re the greatest pals, as you know, but there’s no disguising
that!” He laughed indulgently. “Yes, that’s Nina. I often think that I
must choose a wife with a meek and quiet spirit, Julius.”

“The Apostle says that it is woman’s ornament.”

“Nina certainly thinks that it’s other women’s. Oh, must you go?
Awfully kind of you to have come. And, I say, think about Villa San
Carlo! I believe it’s a jolly place, and Nina’s having it fitted up
something gorgeous, she tells me.”

“Isn’t it rather difficult to get the work done just now?” I asked.

“Oh, no, not particularly. You see, we’ve an interest in——”

“Damn it all!” I cried, “have you Frosts interests in everything?”

Godfrey’s good humor was imperturbable. He nodded at me, smiling. “I
suppose it must strike people like that sometimes. We do bob up rather,
don’t we? Sorry I mentioned it, old fellow. Only you see—it does
account for Nina’s being able to get the furniture for Villa San Carlo,
and consequently for her being in a position to entertain you and me
there in the way to which we are accustomed—in my case, recently!”

“Your apology is accepted, Godfrey—if I go there! And I don’t
seriously object to you Frosts straddling the earth if you want to.
Only I think you might leave us Cragsfoot.”

“I wouldn’t get in your way for a minute, my dear chap—really I
wouldn’t. We might live there together, perhaps. That’s an idea!” he
laughed.

“With the wife of a meek and quiet spirit to look after us!”

“Yes. But I’ve got to find her first.”

“Sir Paget is very well, thank you. There’s no hurry.”

“But there’s never any harm in looking about.”

He came with me to the door, and bade me a merry farewell. “You’ll get
your invitation in a few days. Mind you come. Perhaps we’ll find her
on the Riviera! It’s full of ladies of all sorts of spirits, isn’t it?
Mind you come, Julius.”

My little fit of irritation over what he represented was not proof
against his own cordiality and good temper. I parted from him in a very
friendly mood. And, sure enough, in a few days I did get my invitation
to the Villa San Carlo at Mentone.

“If you’ve any difficulty about the journey,” wrote Nina, “let us know,
because we can pull a wire or two, I expect.”

“Pull a wire or two!” I believe they control the cords that hold the
firmament of heaven in its place above the earth!

Besides—so another current of my thoughts ran—if wires had to be
pulled, could not Ezekiel Coldston & Co., Ltd., pull them for
themselves? Did the Frosts engross the earth? I had no intention of
letting Nina Dundrannan graciously provide me with “facilities”; that
is the term which we used to employ in H. M.’s Government service.



CHAPTER XII

A SECRET VISIT


I STAYED longer at Cragsfoot than I had intended. The old folk there
seemed rather lonely and moody; and, if the truth must be told, not
quite so fully in harmony with one another as of yore. Aunt Bertha was
ailing, showing at last signs of age and feebleness; Sir Paget was
suffering from a reaction after his war-time anxieties and activities.
A latent opposition of feeling between them occasionally cropped out
on the surface. In Sir Paget it showed itself in humorously expressed
fears that I too—“the only one of my family left”—should be “swallowed”
if I went to Mentone; but Aunt Bertha met the humor peevishly: “What
nonsense you talk, Paget!” or “Really, one would think that you regret
Waldo’s marriage! At all events, things might have been worse.”
Words like these last skirted forbidden places, and we steered the
conversation away. But the opposition was real; when they were alone
together, it was probably more open, and therefore worse. I lingered
on, with the idea that my presence in the house softened and eased it.

Moreover, I must own to a feeling in myself which seemed ridiculous
and yet was obstinate—a reluctance to go to Villa San Carlo. What was
the meaning, or the sense, of that? Was I afraid of being “swallowed”
there, of being drawn into the Dundrannan orbit and thereafter circling
helplessly round the Dundrannan sun? No, it was not quite that. I
took leave to trust to an individuality, an independence, in myself,
though apparently Sir Paget had his doubts about it. It was rather
that going to the Villa seemed a definite and open ranging of myself
on Nina’s side. But on her side in what, my reason asked. There was
no conflict; it was all over; the battle had been fought and won—if
indeed there could be said to have been any battle at all, where one
side had declined victory and left the prize at the mercy of the other.
But here again, however irrationally, the feeling persisted, and,
when challenged to show its justification, called to witness the two
combatants themselves. In the end it was their words, their tones,
hints of some vague foreboding in themselves, which had infected my
mind.

What in the end overcame my reluctance and took me to Mentone? Not
the attraction of the Villa, nor the lure of a holiday and sunshine.
It was, unexpectedly and paradoxically—a letter from Arsenio Valdez!
Addressed to my club, it was forwarded to me at Cragsfoot. After a
silence of more than four years, he resumed his acquaintance with me
in this missive; resumed it without the least embarrassment and with a
claim to the cherished privilege of old friendship,—that of borrowing
money, of course.

He had, it appeared, joined the Italian Army rather late in the
day. Whether he took the step of his free will—having solved his
difficulties as to the proper side to champion in the war—or on
compulsion, he did not say, and I have never discovered; I was ignorant
of Italian legislation, and even of his legal nationality. Perhaps
he made no great figure as a soldier, brave as Lucinda had declared
him to be; at any rate, before very long he was put on transport work
connected with the Italian troops serving on the Western front, with
his quarters at Genoa. Even from this form of military service the
Armistice appeared now to have freed him. He was for the present “out
of a job,” he said, and he gave me an address in Nice, to which I was
to reply, enclosing the fifty pounds with which he suggested that I
should accommodate him. “Number 21 hasn’t been quite so good a friend
to me lately; hence temporary straits,” he wrote. I could imagine the
monkeyish look on his face. And that reference to “Number 21” was as
near as he approached to any mention of his wife.

I arranged for him to get the money through my bank, and wrote to him
saying that possibly I should be in the South of France shortly and
that, if so, I would look him up. More precise details of my plans I
did not give; it was no business of his with whom I proposed to stay.
A week later I set out for Mentone—with, I suppose, treason in my
heart; for, during my sojourn at Villa San Carlo, I meant to enter into
communication with the enemy, if I could; and I did not intend to ask
Lady Dundrannan’s permission.

It was just before Christmas that I reached Mentone—without Frost
facilities—and joined the Big Three; that nickname developed a little
later (and was accepted by her ladyship with complaisant smiles); I
use it now for convenience. They were established, of course, in the
height of luxury; there seemed no difficulty about getting anything;
the furniture had all come; they had two cars—one to enable Godfrey to
visit those works near Marseilles, another to promote the convalescence
of Waldo. I gathered that another could be procured for me, if I
liked—on what particular false pretense I did not inquire. I said
that, what with trams, trains, and legs, I could manage my own private
excursions; it was only when I accompanied them that dignity was
essential. Nina never objected to sly digs at her grandeur; they were
homage, though indirect.

Besides Godfrey and myself, the only guest in the house was Lady Eunice
Unthank, a small, fair girl of about nineteen or twenty, younger sister
of a friend whom Nina had made at her “finishing” school in Paris,
and who had subsequently made what is called a brilliant marriage,
so brilliant that it reflected added luster on Lady Eunice’s own
aristocracy. The latter was a pleasant, simple, unassuming little
person, very fond of the baby (as babies go, it was quite a nice one),
obedient and adoring to Nina, frankly delighted with the luxury in
which she found herself. I understood that her own family was large and
not rich. However, Godfrey was rich enough for two. Yes, that was the
idea which at once suggested itself. Mr. Godfrey (he had dropped his
“Captain” by now) and Lady Eunice Frost! The one thing Godfrey needed.
And a gentle, amenable Lady Eunice too, quite satisfying the Apostle!
That perhaps was what Lady Dundrannan also desired, that her rule might
not be undermined; the far-seeing eye embraced the future. Anybody
vulgar enough might have said that Lady Eunice was at Villa San Carlo
“on appro.” What Lady Dundrannan said was that it was a charity to give
the child a good time; she did not get much fun at home. But I think
that it was organized charity—on business principles.

What the sultan who had the handkerchief to throw thought about this
possible recipient of it, it was too soon to say. He was attentive and
friendly, but as yet showed no signs of sentiment, and made no efforts
after _solitude à deux_. We were all very jolly together, and enjoyed
ourselves famously; for the first ten days or so I quite forgot that
Arsenio’s letter had had anything to do with bringing me to Mentone!
In fact, I had never before encountered Nina in such an entirely
benign and gracious mood; her happiness in her husband and baby seemed
to spread its rays over all of us. In such a temper she was very
attractive; but it also signified that she was well content. In fact,
there was, just now, an air of triumph about her good humor and her
benevolence; it seemed especially pronounced in some smiles which she
gave me as it were, aside, all to myself. What was there about me to
excite her triumph? It could hardly be because I came to stay with her;
were we not now cousins, and privileged—or doomed—to one another’s
society all our lives?

“Well, this is a fine time, after all our labors,” I said to Waldo one
morning as we smoked our pipes after early breakfast. “You look tons
better already!”

He smoked on for a moment before he spoke. “I’m a very happy man now,”
he said, and smiled at me. “I know you laugh a bit, old chap, at the
way Nina runs us all. I don’t mind that. By Jove, look how well she
does it! She’s a wonderful girl!”

“She is,” I agreed.

“After all, unless a man takes the position that all men are cleverer
than any woman——”

“Which is absurd! Yes, Waldo?”

“He may admit that a particular woman is cleverer than himself.”

“That seems logical.”

“Of course, it’s not only her cleverness. I’m much fonder of her than
I used to—than I was even when I married her. Anything that there
was—well, the least bit too decisive about her—has worn off. She’s
mellowed.”

“So have you,” I told him with a laugh.

“My real life seems now to begin with my marriage,” he said soberly. It
could scarcely be doubted that he meant to convey to me that a certain
episode in the past had lost all its importance for him. Was that the
explanation of his wife’s air of triumph? No doubt a sufficient one
in itself, and perhaps enough to account for her liking to share her
triumph with me. I had, after all, known her in days when she was not
triumphant. However that might be, Waldo’s statement took my mind
back to things that had happened before his “real life” began—and
incidentally to Arsenio Valdez. I decided to bring off my secret
expedition, and on the next day—there being nothing in particular on
foot at the Villa—I slipped away directly after _déjeuner_, and caught
a train to Nice.

It traveled slowly, but it got me there by two o’clock, and I made
my way towards the address which Arsenio had given me. I need hardly
add that this was a furtive and secret proceeding on my part. I
relied on not being questioned about him, just as I had relied—and
successfully—on not being questioned about Lucinda at Cragsfoot.

I had a little difficulty in finding my way. The house was in a back
street, reached by several turns, and not everybody I asked knew where
it was. But I found it; it was a _pâtisserie_ of a humble order.
Apparently the shop entrance was the only one, so I went in by that,
and asked if Monsieur Valdez lodged there. A pleasant, voluble woman
was serving at the counter, and she told me that such was the case.
Monsieur Valdez had a room on the second floor and was at home. He had
not been out that day; he had not been out for _déjeuner_ yet, late as
it was. But there, Monsieur had employment which kept him up at nights;
he often slept far into the day; it was indeed highly possible that I
might find him still in bed.

Was it? And she had spoken of “a room.” I thought it judicious to
obtain one more bit of information before I mounted to the room on the
second floor.

“And—er—he’s sure to be alone, is he?”

She shook her head at me, her bright black eyes twinkling in an
affectation of rebuke.

“Monsieur need not disturb himself. Monsieur Valdez is not married, and
for the rest—in my house! _Mais non, Monsieur!_”

“A thousand pardons, Madame,” said I, as I prepared to mount the
stairs, which rose from the back of the shop.

“My husband is most scrupulous about my dignity,” she cried to me in a
tone of great pride, as I ascended the first steps.

So that explained that; and I went upstairs.

There were only two rooms on the second floor—one to the front, the
other to the back of the house. The door of the former was open; it
was a bedroom with an obviously “double” appearance. I turned to the
latter and tried the door. It opened. I walked in and closed the door
softly behind me.

It was a small room, plainly but tidily furnished, and well lighted
by a big window above the bed in which Arsenio lay. He was sleeping
quietly. I stood by the door, watching him, for quite a long while.
He was not greatly changed by the years and whatever experiences he
had passed through; his face was hardened rather than coarsened, its
lines not obliterated by any grossness of the flesh, but more sharply
chiseled. A fallen spirit perhaps, but with the spiritual in him
still. His devilry, his malice, would still have the redeeming savor
of perception and humor; he might yet be responsive to a picturesque
appeal, capable of a _beau geste_, even perhaps, on occasion, of a true
vision of himself; but still also undoubtedly prone to those tricks
which had earned for him in days of old his nickname of Monkey Valdez.

It was time to rouse him. I advanced towards the bed, took hold of
a chair that stood by it, sat down, and forced a cough. He awoke
directly, saw me, apparently without surprise, and sat up in bed.

“Ah, it’s you, Julius! You’ve turned up, as you said you might. But
you’ve not come for your fifty pounds, I hope? My surroundings hardly
suggest any success there, do they? What time is it? I’ve—shall we say
lost?—my watch. Never mind. And I’m not going to ask you for another
loan—oh, well, only a fiver perhaps—because I’m expecting a remittance
any hour.” He looked up at the window. “Ah, I perceive that the day is
advanced. I’ll get up. Don’t suppose that I can’t get up! I’ve got two
good suits—one for the day, and one for the night; it’s a bad workman
who pawns his tools! You smoke while I dress, and we’ll have a talk.”

He jumped lightly out of bed and proceeded to make his toilet,
questioning me briskly the while about the state of affairs in England
and what had happened to me since our last meeting; he did not refer to
any of our common acquaintances. I observed with some surprise that,
when the time for it came, the neatly folded suit which he took out of
his chest of drawers was evening dress. It was only a little past three
in the afternoon. He cast a mocking glance at me.

“In enforced intervals,” he explained, “I pursue an avocation that
demands the garb of ceremony from five o’clock in the day onwards
till—well, till it’s day again sometimes.”

“Intervals between what?”

“Between seasons of plenty.” He was now in trousers and vest. He looked
at his chin in the glass. “Oh, but I must shave! Excuse me a moment.”

He ran out of the room, and was back in a minute or two with a jug of
steaming water. As he stropped his razor, he went on, as though there
had been no interruption: “But on the whole I have much to be thankful
for. Brains will tell even—or indeed especially—in a stupid world. Now
tell me what you’re doing on this pleasant coast. Oh, I know you came
to see me—partly. I’m grateful. But—for example—you’re not staying with
me. Where are you staying?”

“At Mentone. With some old friends of ours.”

“Ah, and who may they be?” he asked, as he scraped his chin.

“Lady Dundrannan—as she now is—and her husband.”

He stopped shaving for a moment and turned round to me, one side of his
face scraped clean, the other still covered with lathered soap. “Oh,
are they here? At Mentone?”

“They’ve got a villa there—Villa San Carlo. We live in great state.”

“I won’t ask you to forsake them then, and share my quarters. I take
an interest in that household; in fact, I feel partly responsible for
it. I hope it’s a success?” He grinned at me, as he sponged and then
toweled his face.

“A very brilliant success,” I assured him with a laugh.

“That arrangement was always my idea of what ought to happen—adjoining
estates, the old blood mingling with the new. So very suitable! That
process has been the salvation of the British aristocracy, hasn’t it?
So I—er—felt less scruple in interfering with a less ideal arrangement.”

Here was a chance for him to refer to his wife. He did not avail
himself of it. I did not wish to be the one to introduce that subject;
if I showed curiosity, he might turn mischievous and put me off with a
gibe or a lie.

He had finished his dressing by putting on a dinner jacket. He sat
down on the bed—I still occupied the only chair in the room—and lit a
cigarette.

“Did you mention at Villa—Villa what did you say it was?”

“San Carlo.”

“Yes, of course! Did you mention at Villa San Carlo that you were
coming to see me?”

“No, I didn’t. It’s about the last thing I should think of mentioning
there,” I said.

“Quite right. Better not!” he said with an approving nod and, I
fancied, an air of relief. “An awkward topic! And a meeting would be
more awkward still. I must avoid Mentone, I think—at all events, the
fashionable quarter of it!”

At this moment the woman whom I had talked to in the shop knocked
at the door, opened it, and ushered in another woman—the bearer of
a registered letter. “Aha!” cried Arsenio joyfully, as he took it,
hastily signed the receipt, and tore the envelope open. Then he called
his landlady back just as she was closing the door: “Pray, Madame,
have the kindness to send word to my—er—office that indisposition will
prevent my attendance this evening.”

“Ah, Monsieur, for shame!” said she, with the same indulgent
affectation of reproof as that which she had bestowed on me.

“Gentlemen of means don’t go to offices,” he said, waving his envelope.
With a smile and a shrug Madame left us.

“Now, Julius, if you’re returning to Villa—Villa—?—yes, San Carlo!—this
afternoon, I’ll do myself the pleasure of accompanying you as far as
Monte Carlo. That will enable me to see more of you, my friend, and—who
knows but that Number 21 may be kind to me to-night?”

“Monte Carlo is very near Mentone,” I remarked.

“True, true! But delicacy of feeling, however desirable and
praiseworthy, must not interfere with the serious business of life. We
must take our chance, Julius. If any unlucky meeting should occur, I
authorize and indeed implore you to cut me dead! They will cut me, I
shall cut them, I shall cut you, you will cut me! We shall all cut, and
all be cut! And no harm will be done, no blood shed. _Voilà_, Julius!
See how, as they say in French, at the very worst the thing will
arrange itself!”



CHAPTER XIII

AN INTRODUCTION


ARSENIO VALDEZ was in the highest of spirits that evening—the effect of
the registered letter, no doubt! His fun and gayety brought back, or
even bettered, the boy that he had been at Cragsfoot; and he assumed a
greater, a more easy, intimacy with me: we had been boy to man then; we
were both men now. He was very friendly; whatever his feelings might
be about encountering my kindred, evidently he found nothing awkward
in meeting me. As we walked up from the station at Monte Carlo, he
put his arm in mine and said, “You must dine with me to-night. Yes,
yes, it’s no good shaking your head.” He smiled as he added, “You may
just as well dine with me as with Lady Dundrannan. But if you feel any
scruples, you may consider the dinner as taken out of your fifty, you
know!”

It was a polite way of telling me that I had seen the last of my fifty.

“I didn’t send that money altogether for you alone,” I ventured to
observe.

He looked at me. “You remind me, Julius! Let me do it before we dine,
or I might forget. Half of this little windfall that I have had goes to
Lucinda. Half of it! Ah! there’s a post office. Wait for me, I won’t be
a minute.” And he darted into the place. When he rejoined me, he wore
an air of great self-satisfaction. “Now I shall enjoy my evening,” he
said; “and all the more when I think of what I should otherwise have
been doing.”

“And what’s that?” I asked; the question did not seem impertinent in
view of his own introduction of the subject.

“Do you ever frequent what are pharisaically known as ‘hells’? For my
part, I should sooner call them ‘heavens.’ If you do, you’ll remember
a little bureau, or sometimes just a table, under the care of a civil
official, by whose kind help you change notes that you had not meant to
change, and cash checks that you had never expected to have to write?
My suave and distinguished manners, together with my mastery of several
languages, enable me to perform my functions in an ideal way—so much
so that even an occasional indisposition, such as overtook me this
evening, is sure to be benevolently overlooked. Yes, I’m a cashier in a
gambling den, Julius.”

“Well, I’m hanged!” said I, as we entered the _Café de Paris_.

We sat down, and Arsenio ordered the best dinner that was to be
had. This done, he proceeded: “You see, I’m a man who prizes his
independence. In that I resemble Lucinda; it’s one of our points
of union. She insists on pursuing her own occupation, and accepts
an occasional present from me—such as I’ve just had the pleasure of
sending her—only under protest. When I’m in funds, I insist. So with
me. I also like to have my own occupation; it gives me the sense of
independence that I like.”

“But occasionally you have recourse to——?”

His eyes sparkled at me over his glass of wine. “My dear Julius, an
occasional deviation from one’s ruling principle—what is it? To err is
human, to forgive divine. And since you’ve forgiven me that fifty, I
shall be positively hurt if you don’t make an excellent dinner!”

“It’s difficult to over value the privilege of being your guest,” I
observed rather grimly.

He laughed, and went on with his merry chatter. I tried to take stock
of him, as I listened and threw in a remark here and there. Was he
trying to deceive himself with his talk of independence, or was he
merely trying to deceive me? Or was it that he did not really care a
straw about deceiving either of us? He might like to puzzle me; that
would be in his monkey vein. Evidently he had given none of my fifty
pounds to Lucinda. Had he really sent her anything when he went into
the post office this evening? And, if anything, what proportion of his
“windfall”? As much as half? Did Lucinda take money from him—under
protest? Or did she never get the chance? And did she give him money?
If his object were to puzzle me—he did it! But I believed what he told
me about his occupation; there was the evidence of his dress suit, and
of Madame’s playful rebuke. Besides, it was in character with him. When
he lacked the wherewithal to play himself, he would be where others
played. At least he got the atmosphere. Perhaps, too, his suave manners
and linguistic services were worth the price of a stake to him now and
then.

“Yes,” he went on, with a laugh, after describing one or two odd shifts
to which he had been put, “the war may have paid my dear adopted
country all right—_sacro egoismo_, you know, Julius!—but it played
the devil with me. Zeppelins and ‘planes over Venice! All the tenants
bolted from my _palazzo_, and forgot to leave the rent behind them. Up
to now they’ve not come back. Hence this temporary fall in my fortunes.
But it’ll all come right.”

“It won’t, if you go on gambling with any money that you happen to get
hold of.”

He became serious; at least, I think so. At all events, he looked
serious.

“Julius, I have no more doubt about it than I have about the fact
that I sit here, on this chair, in this restaurant. Some day—some day
soon—I shall bring off a great _coup_, a really great _coup_. That will
reëstablish me. And then I shall have done with it.” The odd creature’s
face took on a rapt, an almost inspired look. “And that _coup_ will be
made, not at _trente-et-quarante_, not at baccarat, but at good old
roulette, and by backing Number 21. It happened once before—you know
when. Well, it’ll happen again, my friend, and happen even bigger. Then
I shall resume my proper position; I shall be able to give Lucinda her
proper position. Our happy days will come again.” His voice, always a
melodious one, fell to a soft, caressing note: “We haven’t lost our
love for one another. It’s only that things have been difficult. But
the change will come!” His voice rose and grew eager again. “It nearly
came with your fifty. It was coming. I actually saw it coming. But a
fellow with a damned ugly squint came and backed my play, the devil
take him! Oh, you may smile, but I know a _jettatore_ when I see one!
Of course every blessed penny went!”

“Yes, here he was sincere. It was perhaps his one sincerity, his only
faith. Or could the love he spoke of—his love for his wife—also be
taken as sincere? Possibly, but there I felt small patience with him.
As to his faith in his gambler’s star, that was in its way pathetic.
Besides, are not we all of us prone to be somehow infected by a faith
like that, however ridiculous our reason tells us that it is?

“That’s a rum idea of yours about Number 21,” I said (I apologize for
saying it thoughtfully!); “you somehow associate it with——?”

“There’s really no need of your diplomacy,” he mocked me. “What I
didn’t tell you about it, Lucinda did. Number 21 won me Lucinda.” He
paused, gave a pull to his cigarette—we had by now begun smoking—and
added, “Won me Lucinda back, I mean. But you know, I think, all about
us.”

“And you know, it seems, about my meeting with her—it must be nearly
three years ago. I mean—at Ste. Maxime?”

“She told me about it. She had been so delighted to see you. You
made great friends, you and she? Well, she always liked you. I think
you liked her. In fact”—he smoked, he sipped his coffee, then his
cognac—“in fact, I’ve always wondered why you chose to consider
yourself out of the running that summer at Cragsfoot long ago. You
chose to play the fogy, and leave Waldo and me to do battle.”

“She was a child, and I——”

“As for a child—well, I found her more than that. So did Waldo. As
for your venerable years—a girl is apt to take a man’s age at his
own reckoning. Short of a Methuselah, that is. Well, if you ever had
a chance—I think you had—you’ve lost it. You’ll never get her now,
Julius!”

“How much more damned nonsense are you going to talk to-night, you—you
Monkey?”

“Yes, yes, I’m still Monkey Valdez, aren’t I? The Monkey that stole the
fruit! But I got it, and I shall keep it. After what she’s done for me,
could I ever distrust her?” His voice sounded as it had when he spoke
of Number 21.

“I certainly think that you’ve tried her pretty high already,” I
remarked dryly.

“And you’re very angry with me about it?”

“What would be the good? Only I wish the devil you’d pull yourself
together now.”

“Remember Number 21!” And now his voice sounded as it had when he spoke
of Lucinda!

“Where is she now, Arsenio? Still at Ste. Maxime?”

“I couldn’t possibly tell you where she is without her permission.”

“Oh, stuff! If you think that she and I are such friends—I hope we
are—surely——?”

“I don’t think that she would care to receive visits from a member of
Lady Dundrannan’s house party.”

“Good Lord, I forgot that!”

“And I certainly wouldn’t take the responsibility of concealing that
fact about you—with the chance of her discovering it afterwards. As
for you, wouldn’t you get into hot water with both ladies, if your
duplicity happened to be discovered? As regards one another, aren’t
they a trifle sensitive?” He leaned back in his chair, with an air of
amusement at the situation which he had suggested. “Even your little
visit to me you thought it judicious to make on the quiet,” he reminded
me with a chuckle.

I sat silent; if the truth must be told, I was rather abashed. On
reflection—and on a reflection prompted by Monkey Valdez!—what I had
been proposing to do seemed not quite the square thing. Anyhow, a
doubtful case; it is a good working rule not to do things that you
would not like to be found out in.

“Then I suppose I oughtn’t to have come to see you either?”

“Oh, I don’t matter so much. Nina has no animosity against me.” His
eyes twinkled. “Still, don’t mention it, there’s a good fellow. You
see, she’d question you, and I am rather down on my luck. Lucinda and I
both are. I daresay you’ll understand that we shouldn’t care for that
to get round through Nina to Waldo?”

That feeling seemed natural and intelligible enough. The contrast
between splendor and—well—something like squalor—in view of the past
they would hardly wish Lady Dundrannan and her husband to be in a
position to draw it.

“Oh, well, what’s done’s done; but you and I had perhaps better not
meet any more just for the present.”

“I’ve roused your scruples?” he laughed. “I, the moralist! Just as you
like, old fellow. I’m glad you happened to hit on a lucky night—hope
you’ve enjoyed the dinner?”

“Immensely, thanks. But I’d better be getting back now, I think.”

“Well, it’s about time I got to business.” He jerked his thumb in the
direction of the Casino. “Let me pay, and we’ll be off.”

In another five minutes we should have parted company, and my
indiscretion in visiting Arsenio Valdez from Villa San Carlo would have
had no consequences. But things were not fated to end that way. While
my host was paying the bill—he put down very openly, perhaps with some
slight flourish, a note for five hundred francs—I felt a hand laid on
my shoulder. I looked up, and saw Godfrey Frost.

“Ah!” said he, with a laugh, “you’re not the only truant! I got a
little bored myself, and thought I’d run over here and have a flutter.
We’ll go back together, shall we? May I sit down at your table? I’m
late, but they say they can give me something cold.”

Arsenio’s eyes were upon me; with his infernal quickness the fellow
must have detected an embarrassment on my face; his own puckered into a
malicious smile. He settled back into the chair which he had been about
to vacate—and waited.

What could I do? With fate and Monkey Valdez both against me? He
divined that for some reason I did not want to introduce him. Therefore
I must be made to! Godfrey also waited—quite innocently, of course,
just expecting the proper, the obvious thing. I had to do it; but, with
a faint hope that they might not identify one another, I said merely,
“Sit down, of course. Mr. Frost—my friend, Mr. Valdez.”

The Monkey twisted his face; I believe that he was really vexed. (Had
not Lucinda said that he had taken against all things English?) “I’m
not _Mr._ Valdez, Julius. I’m Monsieur Valdez, if you like, or, more
properly, Don Arsenio Valdez.”

“Delighted to meet you, Don Arsenio,” said young Frost, composedly
taking his seat. “I think I’ve heard of you from my cousin, Lady
Dundrannan.”

“An old acquaintanceship,” said the Monkey. “One of the many that,
alas, the war interrupted! I hope that your cousin is well?”

“First class, thank you,” answered Godfrey. “Ah, here’s my cold
chicken!”

With the arrival of the stranger Arsenio had assumed his best manner,
his most distinguished air; he could do the high style very well when
he chose, and if his dress suit was a trifle shabby, there was always
the war to account for a trifle like that. He was evidently bent on
making a favorable impression. The talk turned on the tables, where
Godfrey had been trying his luck with some success. But Arsenio was no
longer the crazy gambler with a strange hallucination about Number 21;
he was a clear-sighted, cool-minded gentleman who, knowing that the
odds against him must tell in the end, still from time to time risked a
few louis for his pleasure.

“After all, it’s one of the best forms of relaxation I know. Just
enough excitement and not too much.”

“I never play for more than I can afford to lose,” said Godfrey. “But I
must confess that I get pretty excited all the same.”

“It can’t make much difference to you what you lose,” I growled. This
meeting, for which I felt responsible, somehow put me out of temper.
What was the Monkey up to? He was so anxious to make a good impression!

“It would be affectation to pretend not to know that you can afford to
treat the freaks of fortune with composure,” he said to Godfrey with a
smile.

Godfrey looked pleased. He was still fresh to his position and his
money; he enjoyed the prestige; he liked to have the Frost greatness
admired, just as his cousin Nina did.

“When I played more than I do now,” Arsenio pursued, “I used to play
a system. I don’t really believe in any of them, but I should like to
show it to you. It might interest you—though I’ve come now to prefer a
long shot—a bold gamble—win or lose—and there’s an end of it! Still my
old system might——”

I got up. I had had enough of this—whatever Arsenio’s game might be.
“It’s time we were getting back,” I said to Godfrey. “Have you your car
here?”

“Yes, and we’ll go. But look here, Don Arsenio, I should like to hear
about your system. If you’re free, lunch with me here to-morrow, and
afterwards we’ll drop in and try it—in a small way, just for fun, you
know.”

“To-morrow? Yes, I shall be delighted. About half-past twelve? Shall I
see you, too, Julius?”

“No; systems bore me to death,” I said gruffly. “Besides, those
Forrester people are coming to lunch at the Villa to-morrow, Godfrey.”

“All the more reason for being out!” laughed Godfrey. “We’ll meet,
then, Don Arsenio, whether this old chap comes or not. That’s agreed?”

Arsenio assented. We left him outside the _café_, waving his hand to us
as the car started. At the last moment he darted one of his mischievous
glances at me. At least, he was thoroughly enjoying the situation; at
most—well, at most he might be up to almost anything. He had told us
that he did not, after all, feel like playing that night, since we had
to leave him; he would go straight home, he said. That probably meant
that he was saving up his money for something!

Godfrey was silent on the way home, and did not refer to Arsenio till
we found ourselves in the smoking room at the Villa: we had it to
ourselves; the others had gone to bed.

“I was interested to meet that fellow,” he then remarked. “Where did
you run into him?”

I told him of my visit. “For the sake of old times I just wanted to see
how he was getting on,” I added apologetically. “But I doubt whether I
did right, and I don’t mean to see any more of him at present.”

“Why do you doubt whether you did right?”

“Well, I’m Nina’s guest just now; frankly, I don’t think she’d like
it.”

“There’s no reason to tell, is there?”

“As a matter of fact, I didn’t mean to tell her. But you turned up!”

He laughed. “Oh, I won’t tell her either. We’ll keep it dark, old
fellow.”

“But you’ve arranged to meet him at lunch again to-morrow.”

“Nina will be lunching here—with the Forresters, so that will be all
right, though it’s a doubtful point whether affording us bed and board
gives Nina a right of control over the company we keep outside the
house.”

“I just had a feeling——”

“Yes. Well, perhaps you’re right.” He was standing before the fire,
smoking a cigar; he seemed to ponder the little question of morals, or
etiquette, for a moment. Then he smiled. “So that’s the dashing lover
who cut out poor Waldo and ran away with the famous Lucinda, is it? But
where’s the lady, Julius?”

“I haven’t any idea. She wasn’t at the place where I found him to-day.
Why do you want to know where she is?”

I suppose that my tone was irritable. He raised his brows, smiling
still. “Don’t you think that a little curiosity is natural? She is,
after all, an important figure in the family history. And she is, so
far as I’m aware, the only woman who’s ever got the better of Nina. I
should like to see her.” He paused a moment, his lips set in the firm
and resolute smile with which I was familiar on Lady Dundrannan’s
lips—the Frost smile. “Yes, I should certainly like to see her. And
I’m not really much interested in roulette systems. That for your
information, Julius!”



CHAPTER XIV

FOR AULD LANG SYNE


I AWOKE the next morning with my head full of Lucinda; the thought of
her haunted me. My desire to see her, to know how she fared, had been
constant since I came to Mentone; it had really prompted my visit to
Arsenio Valdez; it had made me restless under the gilded hospitality of
Villa San Carlo—a contrast was always thrusting itself under my eyes.
But it was brought to a sharper point by the events of the day before,
by the mode of living in which I had found Valdez, by his concealment
of her and reticence about her. I felt now simply unable to go on
faring sumptuously at Villa San Carlo every day, while she was in all
likelihood suffering hardship or even want.

There was another strain of feeling, which developed now, or came
to the surface. As I drank my morning coffee and smoked a cigar, my
memory traveled back through my acquaintance with her—back through my
intercourse with her at Ste. Maxime, with all its revelation of her
doings, feelings, and personality; back through all that to the first
days at Cragsfoot which seemed now so long ago, on the other side of
the barrier which her flight had raised and the war had made complete.
It was Arsenio who had set me on the line of thought. I recalled my
mood in those days, the state of mind in which I had been, and saw how
justly his quick wits had then divined it and had yesterday described
it. I had chosen to play the fogy, to consider myself out of the
running. It was quite true. He had paid me the compliment of saying
that he did not know why I should have done this. He did not know. I
do not think that I knew myself at the time. We see our feelings most
clearly when they possess us no longer. The woman who had been more
than any one else in the world to me was still alive in my heart in
those days, and still mistress of my thoughts, though she walked the
earth no longer and her voice was forever silent. It was still seeming
to me, as it does to a man in such a case, that my story was told and
finished, that I was done. Beside the fresh young folk at Cragsfoot, I
might well feel myself a fogy. What could Lucinda seem to me then but a
charming child playing with her fellows?

If Arsenio’s words set me thus smiling—even if half in melancholy over
a vanished image that rose again from the past, and flitted transiently
across a stage that she had once filled—smiling at the memory of how
old—how “finished” for affairs of the heart—I had once seemed to
myself, there was a danger that they might make me forget how old I
was, in sad fact, at the present moment.

Towards this mistake another thing contributed. Combativeness is
usually a characteristic of youth; Godfrey Frost had stirred it up
in me. In spite of the plea of “family history” which he had put
forward (with a distinct flavor of irony in his tone), my feelings
acknowledged no warrant for his claim to a just curiosity and interest
about Lucinda, and resented the intimation, conveyed by that firm and
resolute Frost smile, that he intended to take a hand in her affairs,
on the pretext of studying a roulette system under her husband’s
tuition. Such an attitude, such an intention, seemed somehow insulting
to her; if the Rillingtons had a right to treat her with less respect
than that which is due to any lady—even if Nina based a right to do
so on what had happened in the past—Godfrey had none. If she chose to
remain hidden, what business was it of his to drag her into the light?
There seemed something at least ungallant, unchivalrous in it. I ought
to have remembered that he had only the general principles of chivalry
to guide him, whereas I had the knowledge of what Lucinda was, of her
reserve and delicate aloofness. In the end his curiosity might find
itself abashed, rebuked, transformed. I did not think of that, and for
the time anger clouded my liking for him.

Coincidently there came over me a weariness, an impatience, of
Villa San Carlo. It was partly that Lady Dundrannan created—quite
unintentionally, of course—the atmosphere of a Court about her; there
was always the question of what would please Her Majesty! This was
amusing at first, but ended by growing tedious. But, deeper than this,
there was the old conflict, the old competition. Some unknown and dingy
lodging, somewhere on the Riviera coast, was matching its lure against
all the attractions of magnificent Villa San Carlo. That was the end of
it with me—and with Godfrey Frost!

I sought out Nina before lunch in her boudoir, a charming little room
opening on the garden, with Louis Quinze furniture on the floor and old
French Masters on the walls; really extremely elegant.

Her ladyship sat at her writing table (a “museum piece,” no doubt),
sorting her letters. She was not looking her most amiable, I regretted
to observe, but, as soon as I came in, she spoke to me.

“Isn’t this too bad? Godfrey’s had to go over to the works. Some
trouble’s arisen; he doesn’t even tell me what! He went off at ten
o’clock, before I was downstairs, merely leaving a note to say he’d
gone, and might not be back for two or three days. He took his man and
a portmanteau with him in the car, Emile tells me. And to-morrow is
Eunice’s birthday, and he’d delighted the child by promising to take
us for a long drive and give us lunch somewhere. It’s so seldom that
he puts himself out to give her pleasure, that I was—that it seems a
shame.”

“A disappointment, certainly, Nina.”

“It knocks the whole thing on the head. The day would be too long for
Waldo, and what would she care about going with you and me? Oh, I beg
your pardon, but——”

“Of course! Two’s company; four can move in companies; but three’s
hopeless!”

“I’m really vexed.” She looked it. “I wonder if he’s really gone on
business!”

“You could telephone the works and find out if he’s there,” I suggested
rather maliciously. To tell the truth, I did not think that he would
be—not much there, at all events.

“My dear Julius, I’m not quite an idiot in dealing with young men whom
I want to—whose friendship I like and value. Do you suppose he’d like
me telephoning after him as if I was his anxious mother?”

A wise woman! But just at the moment she was irritated, so that she had
nearly put the relations which she wished to maintain between herself
and Godfrey too bluntly. However, her amendment was excellent.

“Well, there it is! I must explain it to poor Eunice as well as I
can. After all, you might take her to Monte and let her have a little
gamble. I’ll give her a present. That’ll be better than nothing.”

“Thank you, Nina! But—well, the fact is——”

“Oh, do you want to go off on your own, too?” she asked rather sharply.
“Well, I suppose it is dull here. Waldo and I are too conjugal, and
Eunice—well, she’s a dear, but——”

“It’s not a bit dull here. It never could be where you are” (I meant
that), “and anyhow old Waldo would be enough for me. And I’m not out
for sprees, if that’s what you mean. But—may I smoke?”

“Of course! Don’t be silly!”

I began to smoke. She rose and came to the fireplace, where she stood
with her arm resting on the mantelpiece, looking down at me, for I had
sat down on one of her priceless chairs; it seemed rather a liberty,
but I did it—a liberty with the chair, I mean, not with its owner.

She was looking very vexed; she hated her schemes to go awry. She had
been kind to me; I liked her; and she was one of us now—the wife of
a Rillington, though she bore another name. More than ever it seemed
that I ought to play fair with her—for those reasons; also because it
appeared likely that she was not meeting with fair play elsewhere—at
all events, not with open dealing.

“I’m your guest,” I began, with some difficulty, “and your—well, and
all the rest of it. And I want——”

“To do something that you think I mightn’t like a guest and friend of
mine to do?”

“That’s it.” I gratefully accepted her quick assistance. It was quick
indeed, for the next instant she added: “That means that you want to go
and see Lucinda Valdez? It’s the only thing you can mean. What else is
there which you could think would matter to me?”

“Yes, I do. I want to find out where she is, what she’s doing, and
whether she’s in distress. I hope you won’t think that wrong, or
unnatural, or—or disloyal to Waldo or to you?”

I looked up at her as I spoke. To my surprise her air of vexation, her
thwarted air, gave place to that sly, subtle look of triumph which I
had marked on her face before. She seemed to consider for a moment
before she answered me.

“Go, of course, if you like. I have no possible claim to control your
actions. I shan’t consider that you’re doing anything unfriendly to
Waldo, much less to me—though I do think it would be better not to
mention it to Waldo. But if all you want is to know where Lucinda is,
and whether she’s in distress, I’m in a position to save you trouble by
informing you on both those points.”

“The deuce you are!” I exclaimed. She had really surprised me this
time. She saw it; her lips curved in a smile of satisfaction.

“She’s living with her husband at Nice, and, whatever may have been the
case before, she isn’t at present in distress, because for the last
two months or so—since soon after we came out—I have had the privilege
of supplying her wants.”

I nearly fell out of the priceless chair. I did stare at her in
sheer astonishment. Then the memory flashed into my mind—Arsenio’s
remittance, his dinner at the _Café de Paris_, his remark that I might
just as well dine with him as with Lady Dundrannan. It did come to much
the same thing, apparently!

“I did it for Auld Lang Syne,” said Nina gently, softly. Oh, so
triumphantly!

Now I understood her sly, exultant glances at me in the preceding
days. She had always suspected me of being on the enemy’s side, one of
Lucinda’s faction (it was small enough). What would I have to think
of Lucinda now? Nina had been conceiving of herself as the generous
benefactress of a helpless and distressed Lucinda. A grateful Lucinda,
eating from her hand all but literally! That was her revenge on the
girl who had cut her out with Waldo, on the girl who had seen her
sobbing on the cliff. It was not a bad one.

“One would not like to think of her being in want, and so exposed to
temptation,” Nina remarked reflectively. “Because, of course, she is
pretty; she was, anyhow.”

I smiled at that—though I fancy that she meant to make me angry.

“You must excuse me, Nina, but I don’t believe it.”

“Oh, all right!” She walked across to her desk, unlocked a drawer,
took out a letter, and brought it back with her. She gave it to me.
“Read that, then, Julius.”

It was from Arsenio. I read it hastily, for it disgusted me. It sent
to Madame la Baronne (he wrote in French) the grateful thanks of his
wife and himself for her most generous kindness, once again renewed.
In a short time he hoped to be independent; might he for one week more
trespass on her munificence? It was not for himself; it was simply to
enable his wife to make a decent appearance, until an improvement in
her health, now, alas, _very_ indifferent, made it possible for her to
seek some suitable employment——So far I read, and handed the letter
back to Nina; she would not take it.

“Keep it,” she said. “I’ve several more; he says the same thing every
week—oh, that about the ‘decent appearance’ is new; it’s been rent and
food before. Otherwise it’s the same as usual.”

I looked at the date of the letter; it had been written three days
before.

“When did you last send him money?”

“The day before yesterday, if you want to know.”

Yes, I had dined on it. And Arsenio had sent half of it to Lucinda; so
he had told me, at least. And the rest he was keeping, in order to show
Godfrey Frost the working of his system.

“I was with him when he got it.”

“You were with him? When? Where?” she asked quickly.

I told of my afternoon with Monkey Valdez; surely he had now doubly,
trebly earned the name! She listened with every sign of satisfaction
and amusement.

“You didn’t see his wife? She was out at her work, I suppose?”

“He’s living in a single room. There was no sign of her, and
the—er—furniture did not suggest——”

“Really, Julius, I’m not interested in their domestic arrangements,”
said Lady Dundrannan. “And you left him at Monte Carlo?”

I assented; but I kept Godfrey’s secret. It was not my affair to meddle
in that; the more so inasmuch as his meeting with Arsenio had not been
his fault at all, but my own. To give him away would be unpardonable in
me. Nor did I tell her that Arsenio had at least professed to send half
the money to Lucinda; I was not convinced that he had really done it;
and—well, I thought that she was triumphant enough already.

I folded Arsenio’s letter and put it in my pocket, with no clear idea
of what I meant to do with it, but with just a feeling that it might
give me a useful hold on a slippery customer. Then I looked up at
Nina again; she had the gift of repose, of standing or sitting still,
without fidgets. She stood quite still now; but her exultant smile had
vanished; her face was troubled and fretful again.

“Of course I’ve told you this in confidence,” she said, without looking
at me. “I’ve not bothered Waldo with it, and I shan’t until he’s
stronger, at all events.”

“I quite understand. But I’m not in the least convinced.”

Then she turned quickly towards me. “The letter speaks for itself—or do
you think I’ve forged it?”

“The letter speaks for itself, and it convicts Arsenio Valdez. But
there’s nothing to show that Lucinda knows where the money comes from.
He probably tells her that he earns it, or wins it, and then lies to
you about it.”

“Why should he lie to me about it?”

“He thinks that you’d be more likely to send it for her than for him, I
suppose. At any rate, I’m convinced that she would rather starve than
knowingly take money from you.”

“Why?”

I retorted her own phrase on her. “Because of Auld Lang Syne, Nina.”

“You don’t know much about that,” she remarked sharply.

“Yes, a good deal. Some you’ve told me yourself. Some Lucinda has told
me. I met her down here—not at Mentone, but on the Riviera,—about three
years ago.”

“What was she doing then?”

“I can tell you nothing of that. She did not wish you or the people at
Cragsfoot to know.”

“I daresay not!” Then she went on, quietly but with a cold and
scornful impatience. “What do all you men find in the woman? You,
Julius, won’t believe the plainest evidence where she’s concerned.
Waldo won’t hear her name mentioned; he does recognize the truth about
her by now, of course—what she really was—but still he looks as if I
were desecrating a grave if I make the most distant reference to the
time when he was engaged to her—and really one can’t help occasionally
referring to old days! And now even Godfrey seems eaten up with
curiosity about her; he’s been trying to pump me about her. I suppose
he thinks I don’t see through him, but I do, of course.”

“She’s an interesting woman, Nina. Don’t you think so yourself?”

“How can she be interesting to Godfrey, anyhow? He’s never seen her.
Yet I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if at this moment he’s hunting the
Riviera for her!”

How sharp she was, how sharp her resentful jealousy made her!

“It’s as if you were all in a conspiracy to prevent me from getting
that woman out of my head! Well—you don’t make any answer!”

“About what?”

“About what Godfrey’s doing.”

“I know nothing about what he’s doing. There’s what he said in the note
he left for you.”

She gave an impatient shrug. “Oh, the note he left for me! Why didn’t
he tell me face to face? I suppose he could have waited half an hour!”

It was plain that Godfrey’s departure—sudden and certainly
unceremonious compared with the deference which he had been (indeed,
which all of our party were) in the habit of showing towards her—had
upset her seriously. She showed me more of her inner mind, of a secret
uneasiness which possessed her. It had been lulled to rest by that
picture of a helpless and grateful Lucinda; I had shaken her faith in
that, or at least my obstinate skepticism had made her faith angry
rather than serene, eager to convince the skeptic and thereby to
confirm itself anew.

After a long pause she spoke again in a much more composed fashion, and
even smiling.

“Well, Julius, go and see; go and find her, and find out the truth
about it. That’ll be the best thing. And you can come back and tell
me. In view of Arsenio Valdez’s letter I’m entitled to know their real
circumstances, anyhow. Into her secrets I don’t want to pry, but I’ve
sent them money on the strength of his letters.”

“What I expect is to be able to tell you not to send any more.”

“Yes, I know you expect that. But you’ll find yourself wrong about it.”

“That’s the ‘issue to be tried,’” I said with a laugh, as I rose from
my chair. I was glad to be able to obey the impulse within me without
quarreling with Nina. I hoped to be able to carry the whole thing
through—wherever it might lead—without that.

“You’re off directly?” she asked.

“Oh, not this minute. After lunch will be time enough, I think.”

“It wasn’t time enough for Godfrey,” she reminded me quickly. But the
next moment she flushed a little, as though ashamed. “Oh, never mind
that! Let’s stick to business. What you’re going to find out for me is
whether Arsenio Valdez—yes, Arsenio—is a proper object for charitable
assistance, whether he makes a proper use of what I send him, and
whether I ought to send more.”

“That, so far as you’re concerned, is it precisely.”

On which polite basis of transparent humbug Nina and I parted for the
moment. We were to meet again at lunch. But Waldo would be there; so no
more of our forbidden subject.

Alas! here was to be the end of the subject altogether for some little
while. At lunch a very crestfallen man, though he tried to wear an
unconcerned air, informed Lady Dundrannan that Sir Ezekiel Coldston
had wired him a peremptory summons to attend an important business
conference in Paris; so there was an end of the Riviera too for the
time being. The order must be obeyed at once. Waldo came into the
room just as I achieved this explanation; somehow it sounded like a
confession of defeat.

“Oh, well, the Riviera will wait till you come back,” said Her
Ladyship, with an unmistakable gleam of satisfaction in her eye.

She had tactfully agreed to the search for Lucinda, but she had not
liked it. It was at any rate postponed now.



CHAPTER XV

THE SYSTEM WORKS


I WAS in Paris for full four weeks, representing Sir Ezekiel (who was
laid up with asthma) on the International Commercial Conference on the
Regulation and Augmentation of the World’s Tonnage, a matter in which
our company was, of course, deeply interested. It was the best chance
I had yet secured of distinguishing myself in the business world. The
work, besides being important and heavy, was also interesting. The
waking intervals between our sessions and conferences were occupied
by luncheons, banquets, and _conversaziones_; if we dealt faithfully
with one another at the business meetings, we professed unlimited
confidence in one another on the social occasions. In fact, if we had
really believed all we said of one another after lunch or after dinner,
each of us would have implored his neighbor to take all the goods, or
tonnage, or money that he possessed and dispose of it as his unrivaled
wisdom and unparalleled generosity might dictate. We did not, however,
make any such suggestions in business hours; the fact that we did quite
the opposite prolonged the negotiations.

All of which brings me to the ungallant confession that the two ladies,
who had occupied so much of an idle man’s thoughts at Mentone, occupied
considerably less of a busy man’s at Paris. They were not forgotten,
but they receded into the background of my thoughts, emerging to the
forefront only in rare moments of leisure; even then my mental attitude
was one of greater detachment. I had a cold fit about the situation,
and some ungracious reflections for both of them. Absence and
preoccupation blunted my imagination, even when they did not entirely
divert my thoughts. My mind was localized; it did not travel far or for
long outside my daily business.

It was when our deliberations had almost reached a conclusion, as the
official report put it—when our agreement had gone to the secretaries
to be drafted in proper form—that I got a telegram from Godfrey Frost,
telling me that he would be in Paris the next day and asking me to dine
with him. Putting off some minor engagement which I had, I accepted his
invitation.

It was not till after dinner, when we were alone in his sitting room
at the hotel, that he opened to me what he had to say. He did it in a
methodical, deliberate way. “I’ve something to say to you. Sit down
there, and light a cigar, Julius.”

I obeyed him. Evidently I was in for a story—of what sort I did not
know. But his mouth wore its resolute look, not the smile with which he
had chaffed me after our meeting with Arsenio Valdez at Monte Carlo.

“The system worked,” he began abruptly.

“You won?” I asked, astonished.

“I don’t want you to interrupt for a little while, if you don’t mind.
Of course, I didn’t win; I never supposed I should. But the system
worked. I found Madame Valdez. Be quiet! After two nights of the
system, I politely—more or less politely—intimated that I was sick of
it; also that I didn’t see my way to finance any further the peculiarly
idiotic game which he played on his own account, in the intervals of
superintending the system. The man’s mad to think that he’s got a
dog’s chance, playing like that! He’d stayed with me in Monte those
two days. I said that I was afraid his wife would never forgive me if
I kept him from her any longer. He said that, having for the moment
lost _la veine_, he was not in a position to return my hospitality;
otherwise he and his wife would have been delighted to see me at Nice.
Well, with the usual polite circumlocutions, he conveyed to me that
there was a pleasant, quiet little hotel in Nice where he generally
stayed—when he was in funds, he meant, I suppose—and that, although
Madame Valdez was not staying there at present, she might be prevailed
upon to join him there, and certainly we should make a pleasant party.
‘I am _le bienvenu_ at a very cozy little place in Nice, if we want an
hour’s distraction in the evening. My wife goes to bed early. She’s
a woman with her own profession, and it takes her out early in the
morning.’ So that seemed all right, only—you can guess! I smoothed over
the difficulty. At that little hotel, at dinner on the next Sunday, I,
Valdez’s welcome guest, had the privilege of being presented to Madame
Valdez—or, as he called her, Donna Lucinda.”

“Yes, the system worked, Godfrey,” I observed.

He did not rebuke my interruption, but he took no heed of it. His own
story held him in its grip, whatever effect it might be having on his
auditor.

“She came just as if she were an invited guest, and rather a shy one
at that; a timid handshake for Valdez, a distant, shy bow for me. He
greeted her as he might have a girl he was courting, but who would
generally have nothing to do with him—who had condescended just this
once, you know. Only she said to him—rather bashfully—‘Do you like the
frock I bought, Arsenio?’ It was a pretty little frock—a brightish
blue. Quite inexpensive material, I should say, but very nicely put
together; and it suited her eyes and hair. What eyes and hair she has,
by Jove, Julius!”

He had told me not to interrupt; I didn’t.

“Why didn’t you tell me what she was like?” he asked suddenly and
rather fiercely.

“It was what you told me you meant to find out for yourself, Godfrey.”

“Well, we sat there and had dinner. She seemed to enjoy herself
very much; made a good dinner, you know, and seemed to accept his
compliments—Valdez’s, I mean—with a good deal of pleasure; he was
flowery. I didn’t say much. I was damned dull, in fact. But she glanced
at me out of the corner of her eye now and then. Look here, Julius, I’m
an ass at telling about things!”

“I’ve known better _raconteurs_; but get on with it, if you want to.”

“Want to? I must. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to Paris just to tell
you about it. And now I can’t.”

“She isn’t exactly easy to describe, to—to give the impression of. But
remember—I know her.”

He had been walking up and down; he jerked himself into a chair, and
relit his cigar—it had gone out. “I don’t much remember what we talked
about at first—oh, except that she said, ‘I don’t like your gambling,
and I should hate to be dependent on your winnings, Arsenio.’—My God,
his winnings! He leant across the table towards her—he seemed to forget
me altogether for the minute—and said, ‘I never make you even a present
out of them except when I back Number 21.’ She blushed at that, like
a girl just out of the schoolroom. Rather funny! Some secret between
them, I suppose. The beggar was always backing twenty-one; though he
very seldom brings it off. What’s his superstition? Did he meet her
when she was twenty-one, or marry her when she was, or was it the date
when they got married, or what?”

“It’s the date—the day of the month—when she and Waldo didn’t get
married,” I explained.

“By Jove! Then they’re—they’re lovers still!” The inference which
Godfrey thus drew seemed to affect him considerably. He sat silent for
a minute or two, apparently reflecting on it and frowning sullenly.
Then he went on. “Then Valdez said, with one of his grins, ‘Mr. Frost
can give you news of some old friends, Lucinda.’ She wasn’t a bit
embarrassed at that, but she didn’t seem interested either. She was
just decently polite about it—hoped they were all well, was sorry to
hear of Waldo’s wound, wished she had happened to meet you and asked
if you were coming back—I’d mentioned that you’d gone to Paris on this
job of yours. In fact, she didn’t shirk the subject of the family, but
she treated it as something that didn’t matter to her; she looked as if
she was thinking of something else all the time. She often gives you
that kind of impression. Valdez had never referred again to her joining
us at the hotel—staying there with us, I mean; and he said nothing
about it at this meeting. I could only suppose that she had refused.
And now, when she got up to go, he didn’t propose that we, or even he
himself, should escort her. I made some suggestion of the kind, but she
just said, ‘Oh, no, thank you, I’d rather go by myself.’ And off she
went—about half-past nine. We finished the evening playing baccarat—at
least I did—at the little hell to which he had already taken me. He
seemed very much at home there; all the people of the place knew him,
laughed and joked with him; but he didn’t often play there; he doesn’t
much care about baccarat. He used to sit talking with the proprietor,
a fat old Jew, in the corner, or chatting with the fellow who changed
your money for you, with whom he seemed on particularly friendly terms.
All that part of it was a bore, but she always went away early, and one
had to finish the evenings somewhere.”

“Oh, then she came again, did she?” I asked.

“She came to dinner the next three nights; once again to dine with
Arsenio; he’d got some funds from somewhere and actually insisted on
paying for those two dinners—I was footing the general hotel bill, of
course; twice as my guest. She was always much the same; cool, quiet,
reserved, but quite pleasant and amused. Presently I got the idea that
she was amused at me. I caught her looking at me sometimes with a smile
and a sort of ruminative look in her eyes; once, when I smiled back,
she gave a little laugh. The fact is, I suppose, she saw I admired her
a good deal. Well, that brought us to the Thursday. I had to go over to
the works that day, and I spent the night with our manager. I didn’t
get back till Friday evening, and then I found that Valdez, getting
bored, I suppose, and having some money in his pocket, had gone off to
Monte Carlo. Rather cool, but I expect he couldn’t help it. He left
word that he’d be back next day. I spent an infernally dull evening by
myself at that dreary little hole of a hotel. I almost had the car out
again and went back to Villa San Carlo, It would have saved a lot of
trouble if I had!

“I’m not going to tell you what I felt; I’m not good at it. I’ll tell
you what I did, and you can draw your own conclusions. I was quit of
Valdez for a bit; I spent all the next day on my feet, prowling about
the town, looking for her; because, after all, she must be somewhere in
the place. And I knew that she had a job. So I reckoned the likeliest
chance to happen on her in the streets was during the _déjeuner_ hour.
So I didn’t lunch, but prowled round all that hour. My next best chance
would be the going home hour; you see that?”

“The business mind applied to gallantry is wonderful,” I replied. “Now
a mere poet would have lain on the sofa and dreamt of Donna Lucinda!”

“But I had to put in the time in between—always with the off-chance, of
course. I got pretty tired, and, when I found myself up at Cimiez about
four o’clock, I felt like a cup of tea, so I turned into the first
hotel I came to. One of those big affairs, with palm gardens and what
not; the ‘Imperial Palace’ it called itself, I think. I pushed through
one of those revolving doors and came into a lounge place—you know the
sort of thing?

“I sat down at a table about halfway down the lounge and ordered tea.
Then I lit a cigarette and looked about me. Round about the door there
were a lot of showcases, fitted on to the wall, with jewelry, silver
plate, and so on, displayed in them. There was another large one, full
of embroidered linen and lace things; it was open, and at it, sampling
the goods and chattering away like one o’clock, were Mrs. Forrester
and Eunice Unthank—no, not Nina too, thank Heaven! Because the neat
girl who was selling, or trying to sell, the stuff, was Madame Valdez!
I picked up a copy of the day before yesterday’s _Temps_ from the
next table, held it before my face, and peered at them over it. She
wasn’t in her blue frock now; she wore plain black, with a bit of white
round the neck; short skirt and black silk stockings. They brought my
tea; I drank it with one hand and held the _Temps_ up with the other;
naturally I didn’t want Mrs. Forrester and Eunice to see me!

“They were the deuce of a time—Lord, I could buy or sell half Europe
in the time a woman takes over a pocket-handkerchief!—but I didn’t
mind that; I had my plan. At last they went; she did up their parcel
and went with them to the door, with lots of ‘Thank you’ and ‘Good-by’
(they spoke English) on both sides. It was past five; I waited still,
and meanwhile finished and paid for my tea. I saw her making entries
in a ledger; then she went through the case, checking her stock, I
suppose; then, just as a clock struck five-thirty, she shut the case
with a little bang and turned the key; then she disappeared into a
cupboard or something, and came back in her hat and jacket. By that
time I was by the door, with my hat and stick in my hand. We met just
by her case—which, by the way, had on it in large gilt letters, _Maison
de la Belle Étoile_, Nice.

“‘Good-evening,’ I said. ‘May I have the pleasure of walking home with
you, Madame Valdez?’

“She didn’t seem surprised. ‘I’m Mademoiselle Lucie here,’ she said,
smiling. ‘Oh, yes, if you like. Take me down to the Promenade—by the
sea. I’m half stifled.’

“We said hardly anything on the way down—at any rate, nothing of any
importance; and it was dusk; I could see her face only dimly. When we
got to the Promenade, and the wind from the sea caught us in the face,
she sighed, ‘Ah!’ and suddenly took my arm. ‘Was it a fluke, or did you
come to look for me? Did Arsenio tell you?’

“‘No, he didn’t. I’ve hunted the town all day for you. And I’ve found
you at last. Arsenio’s gone to Monte Carlo.’

“‘I know he has. Why did you want to find me? You needn’t worry about
me. I’m all right. I’ve got a very good situation now. I find it’s
easier work to sell things than to make them, Mr. Frost. And the
_patrons_ are pleased with me. They say I have an ingratiating way that
produces business! I wonder whether I was ingratiating with that woman
and girl just now! They spent three hundred francs!’

“Do you know the sudden change that comes in her voice when she means
to be extra friendly? I can’t begin to describe it—something like the
jolliest kitten in the world purring! No, that’s absurd——Oh, well!
What she said was, ‘I like you and I like your dinners. But aren’t you
rather silly to do it?’ Yes, she was very friendly, but just a bit
contemptuous too. ‘Because you’re a great young man, aren’t you? And
I’m a _midinette_! Besides, you know about me, I expect. And so you’ll
know that Arsenio and I are married. Ask your cousin, Mr. Frost.’

“All I said was, ‘I’m glad you like me.’ She laughed. ‘And you like me?
Why?’

“Then I made a most damned fool of myself, Julius. I don’t really know
how I came to do it, except that the thing’s true, of course. I’ve
laughed at the thing myself ever since I laughed at anything—in revues,
and _Punch_, and everywhere. I said,—yes, by Jove, I did!—I said,
‘You’re so different from other women, Donna Lucinda!’

“What an ass! Of course you can’t help laughing too, Julius! But,
after all, I’m glad I did make such an ass of myself, because she just
burst into an honest guffaw—and so did I, a minute later. We became a
thousand times better friends just in that minute.”

Godfrey paused in his narrative and gazed at me. I am afraid that a
smile still lingered on my face. “You didn’t do yourself justice; you
tell the story very well,” I said.

“Of course I wasn’t quite such an ass as I sounded,” said he. “What I
really meant, but couldn’t exactly have said, was——”

“I know exactly what it was, Godfrey. But I think it was much cleverer
of you to know you meant it than it is of me to know that you meant
it. You meant that Donna Lucinda Valdez has a personality markedly
different from that possessed by Lady Dundrannan?”

“I don’t suppose that I did know that I meant it—at that moment.”

“But you know that you mean it now?”

“That—and more,” he said.

“Your idea of seeing whether Arsenio’s system worked seems to have led
you a little further than you contemplated,” I observed. He had chaffed
me that evening, after my dinner at Arsenio’s—or Nina’s—expense; he had
aired his shrewdness. I seemed entitled to give him a dig.

“Are you surprised?” he asked, after a pause, suddenly, taking not the
least heed of my gibe.

There were a hundred flippant answers that I might have given him. But
I gave him none of them. His young, strong face wore a dour look—the
look of a man up against something big, determined to tackle it, not
yet seeing how. The animation which had filled him, as he warmed to
his story, had for the moment worked itself out. He looked dull,
heavy, tired.

“No, I’m not surprised,” I said. “But what’s the use? You know her
story.”

“What do you mean by that?” he demanded, rather peremptorily.

“She threw up everything in the world for Arsenio Valdez; she still
blushes like a school-girl when Arsenio backs Number 21. They’re
lovers still, as you yourself said a little while ago. Well, then——!
Besides—there’s Nina. Are you going to—desert?”

“Nina?” He repeated the name half-absently; perhaps the larger share
of his attention was occupied by the other part of my remarks. “Yes,
Nina, of course!” But, as he dwelt on the thought of Lady Dundrannan
(suddenly, as it seemed, recalled to his mind), his look of depression
disappeared. He smiled in amusement—with an element of wonder in it;
and he spoke as if he were surprising me with a wonderful discovery.

“I say, Julius, Lucinda positively laughs at Nina, you know!”



CHAPTER XVI

PURPLE—AND FINE LINEN


THAT Lucinda had once got the better of Nina had been the thing about
her which most stirred Godfrey’s curiosity; that Lucinda now laughed
at Nina evidently aroused in him an almost incredulous wonder. Perhaps
it was calculated to surprise any one; to a Frost it must have seemed
portentous; for Frosts, father, daughter, and nephew, judged by what
you did and, consequently, had, not by what you were. Judged by
their standards, Lucinda’s laughter was ridiculous, but in Godfrey’s
fascinated eyes also sublime: such a sublime audacity as only a
supremely attractive woman dare and can carry. The needlewoman, the
_midinette_, the showcase girl, laughing at Lady Dundrannan! But there
it was. I think that it shook to its foundations something that was
very deeply set in Godfrey Frost.

“Well, I suppose Lucinda knew that you were seeing her on the sly,” I
suggested.

He flushed a little. “I don’t particularly like that way of putting it.
I’m not responsible to Nina for my actions.”

I shrugged my shoulders. He lit another cigarette, and suddenly resumed
his story.

“Well, this is what happened. Arsenio didn’t come back; I suppose he
won a bit, or kept his head above water somehow. I stayed in Nice,
seeing a lot of Lucinda, for about another week. I used to go up to
that hotel for lunch or tea, and put in the time somehow till she
knocked off work. Then we had our walk; once or twice she dined with
me, but she was rather difficult about that. She always kept just the
same as she was at the beginning, except that, as I say, she liked to
hear about Nina, and seemed a lot amused at what I told her—Nina’s sort
of managing ways, and—and dignity, and so on. By the way, she asked
about you too sometimes; what you’d been doing since she last heard
from you, and so on. Apparently you used to write to her?”

“Just occasionally—when I was on my travels. I hope she spoke kindly of
me?”

“Oh, yes, that was all right,” he assured me carelessly. “Well, then
came her weekly afternoon off; it was on a Friday she had it; she got
off at half-past twelve. I had managed to persuade her to lunch with
me, and I went up to the hotel to fetch her. I was a bit early, and I
walked up and down just outside the hotel gardens, waiting for her.
Nobody was further from my thoughts at that moment than Nina, but just
at a quarter past twelve—I’d looked at my watch the moment before—I
saw a big car come up the road. I recognized it directly. It was
Nina’s.”

“Rather odd! How did she find out that——?”

“This is what must have happened, so far as I’ve been able to piece
it together. Those two women—Mrs. Forrester, you know, and Eunice
Unthank—went back to Villa San Carlo with their three hundred francs’
worth of stuff, and told Nina about Mademoiselle Lucie; described
her, I suppose, as something out of the common; they naturally would,
finding a girl of her appearance, obviously English, and a lady,
doing that job. Nina’s as sharp as a needle, and it’s quite possible
that the description by itself was enough to put her on the scent;
though, for my own part, I’ve always had my doubts whether she didn’t
know more about the Valdez’s than she chose to admit; something in
her manner when I brought the conversation round to them—and I did
sometimes—always gave me that impression. Anyhow, there she was, and
Eunice Unthank with her.”

“That must have been a week—or nearly—since she’d heard about
Mademoiselle Lucie from the two women. Had you heard anything from her
in the interval?”

“Yes, I’d had two letters from her, addressed to our works and
forwarded on—I had to leave an address at the works—saying they missed
me at the Villa and asking when I expected to be back; but I hadn’t
answered them. I didn’t exactly know what to say, you see, so I said
nothing. As a matter of fact, I felt bored at the idea of going back;
but I couldn’t have said that, could I?”

“Certainly not. And so—at last—she had to come?”

“What do you mean by ‘at last’? And why had she to come?”

There was in my mind a vivid imagining of what that week had been
to Lady Dundrannan; a week of irresolution and indecision, of pride
struggling against her old jealousy, her old memory of defeat and
shame. To seem to take any interest in the woman was beneath her; yet
her interest in the woman was intense. And if an encounter could seem
quite accidental——? Why shouldn’t it? Just the two women’s report—no
hasty appearance after it—quite a natural thing to motor over to Cimiez
for lunch! And, given that the encounter was quite accidental, it
admitted no interest; it would satisfy curiosity; she had the power of
turning it into a triumph. And Godfrey—her _protégé_, her property—had
been missing a week and had left two letters unanswered. My own talk
with her—just before I came away—returned to my mind.

“I suppose that Lady Eunice—or Mrs. Forrester—kept on worrying her. Was
that it?” My attempt to explain away the form of my question was not
very convincing. Godfrey disposed of it unceremoniously.

“If you were really such a damned fool as you’re trying to appear, I
shouldn’t be here talking to you,” he remarked. “There was more in it
than that of course.”

“Well, tell me what happened. We can discuss it afterwards,” I
suggested.

“Just what happened? All right—and soon told. Nina saw me walking up
and down, smoking. She smiled what they call brightly; so did Lady
Eunice. One or other of them pulled the string, I suppose; the car
stopped; the chauffeur lay back in his seat in the resigned sort of
way those chaps have when they’re stopped for some silly reason or
other—most reasons do seem to appear silly to them, don’t they? Really
superior chauffeurs, I mean, such as Nina’s bound to have. I took off
my hat and went up to the car. ‘Why, it’s Mr. Frost!’ said Eunice, just
as surprised as you’d have expected her to be.”

“I certainly acquit Lady Eunice of malice aforethought,” said I.

“‘And who’d have thought of meeting him here?’ said Nina. You know that
smile of hers?”

“Have I found thee, O my enemy?”

“Exactly. I must say that you do know a thing or two about Nina.
‘I thought you were in Nice all the time!’ she went on—oh, quite
pleasantly. ‘We’ll take him in to lunch and make him give an account of
himself, won’t we, Eunice? He’s deserted us disgracefully!’ You never
saw anybody more amiable. And Lady Eunice was awfully cordial too—‘Oh,
yes, you must lunch with us, Mr. Frost, and tell us what you’ve been
doing. We’ve been very dull, haven’t we, Lady Dundrannan?’ The thing
seemed going so well”—here Godfrey gave one of the reflective smiles
which witnessed to the humor that lay in him, though it was deeply
hidden under other and more serviceable qualities—“that the chauffeur,
after a yawn, got down from his seat and opened the door of the car for
me to get in. And I was just going to get in—hypnotized or something,
I suppose—when down the drive from the hotel came Donna Lucinda.
She came along with that free swinging walk of hers, as independent
and unconcerned as you please, in her neat, plain, black frock, and
carrying one of those big, round, shiny black boxes that you see the
_midinettes_ with. Only her stockings looked a shade smarter than
most of them run to. Of course she didn’t know the car by sight as I
did—some people think that yellow too showy, but I like it myself,
provided you’ve got a good car to show it off on—and I suppose I was
hidden, or half hidden by it. At any rate, she came sailing down the
hotel drive all serene. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking
more splendid in all my life!”

“You’d known her for just about a week.”

“Well, then, damn it, in all the week that I had known her. I do wish
you wouldn’t interrupt me, Julius!”

“I don’t interrupt you half as much as you interrupt yourself. I want
to know what happened. What’s the good of gassing about the chauffeur
and the color of the car?”

“Well, to me that’s all part of the picture—I suppose I can’t make it
for you. The big yellow car—a three thousand wouldn’t nearly cover
it nowadays, you know—and Jefferson, a tall, slim chap, dark; been a
company sergeant-major—oh, damned genteel!—Lady Eunice quite out of the
situation—as she would be—but—what do you call it?—a little patrician
all over—and Nina—at her most stately! Over against all that—and it was
rather overpowering; I can tell you I felt it—the _midinette_ with her
box walking down the drive. That girl—she didn’t look more than a girl,
I swear, though I suppose she’s five-and-twenty——”

“And who were you going to lunch with?” I interrupted again. I could
not help it. I think that I laughed, shortly and rather harshly. A
ridiculous little _impasse_ it seemed for him. He had told his story
clumsily, but somehow he had brought the scene before my eyes. Memory
helped me, I imagine; it put more into the figure swinging down the
drive, more into her stately ladyship seated in that challenging,
possibly too showy, yellow car. “Which of them did you lunch with?” I
laughed on the question, but I was rather excited.

He had stopped smoking; he sat in a rather odd attitude—upright, with
his legs so close together that they left only just room for him to
thrust his hands, held together as if he were saying his prayers,
between them just above the knees.

“After all—was it a matter of so much importance? A lunch!” I mocked.

He didn’t pay attention to that, and he did not change his position.
“Then Nina saw her. Things are funny. She’d come on purpose to see
her, of course. Still, when she did, her mouth suddenly went stiff—you
know what I mean? She didn’t move, though; it was just her mouth. And
I stood there like a fool—actually with one foot on the ground and one
on the step of the car, I believe; and Jefferson stifling another yawn
beside me!

“Donna Lucinda came through the gate of the drive and up to where the
car was standing; it was sideways on to the gate; Lady Eunice sat on
the side near the gate, I was on the other side, with Nina between
us. Lucinda seemed to see Eunice first, and to recognize her; she
made a very slight formal little bow—as she would to a customer. The
next second her eyes fell on Nina and on me. She stopped short, just
by the car. Her cheeks flushed a little, and she gave a little low
exclamation—‘Oh!’ or ‘Ah!’—I hardly heard it. Then, ‘It’s Nina!’ That
was hardly louder. I just heard it. Eunice, of course, must have and
Nina; I doubt whether Jefferson could. Then she gave a queer little
laugh—what you’d call a chuckle coming from an ordinary person—as
if she were laughing to herself, inwardly amused, but not expecting
anybody else to share her amusement. She didn’t look a bit put out or
awkward. But the next moment she smiled directly at me—across the other
two—and shook her head—sympathizing with me in my predicament, I think.

“Nina made her a stately bow. She was very dignified, but a little
flushed too. She looked somehow disturbed and puzzled. It seemed as if
she really were shocked and upset to see Lucinda like that. The next
moment she leant right across Eunice, throwing out her hand towards the
bandbox that Lucinda was carrying.

“‘Surely there’s no need for you to do that?’ she said, speaking very
low. ‘And—I hope you’re better?’

“Lucinda spoke up quite loud. ‘I like it, thank you. There’s every need
for me to earn my living; and I’ve never been better in my life, thank
you.’

“Nina turned her head round to the chauffeur. ‘I’ll call you,
Jefferson.’ He touched his hat and strolled off along the road, taking
out a cigarette case. Nina turned back to Lucinda, leaning again
across Lady Eunice, who was sitting back in her seat, looking rather
frightened; I don’t know whether she knew who Lucinda was; I don’t
think so; but it must have been pretty evident to her that there was
thunder in the air.

“‘How long have you been doing this? Does your husband know you’re
doing it?’

“Her questions sounded sharp and peremptory; Lucinda might well have
resented them.

“‘Of course he knows; he’s known it for three months. It’s just that
I like to be independent.’ She gave a little bow with that, as if she
meant to end the conversation, but before she could walk on—if that
was what she meant to do—Nina flung herself back on the cushions,
exclaiming in a low voice, but passionately, ‘How dare he tell me lies
like that!’

“‘What do you mean——?’ Lucinda began. But Nina would not wait for her.
‘Call Jefferson,’ she told me. ‘Are you coming with us, Godfrey?’

“I called Jefferson, and then answered her question. ‘Thanks awfully,
but I’m afraid I can’t. I’m engaged to lunch.’ And I shut the door of
the car which Jefferson had left still open.

“She looked from me to Lucinda, and back again to me. It _was_ a look
that I got, I can tell you! But if you’re going to stand up to Nina,
you must do it thoroughly. I looked her full in the eye; of course
she saw that I meant I was going to lunch with Lucinda. ‘Drive on—to
the hotel, Jefferson,’ she said in that dry voice of hers that means
she’s furiously angry. Off the car went, in at the gates—and I was left
standing on the road opposite Donna Lucinda.”

Godfrey got up from his seat and walked across to the fireplace;
he appeared to have exhausted his matches, for he searched for a
box there, and found one at last, hidden under a newspaper on the
mantelpiece.

“So, in the end, you lunched with Lucinda, after all?” I asked.

“No,” he answered, “I didn’t lunch with Lucinda, as it happened. When I
took a step up to her, she seemed absolutely lost in her own thoughts,
hardly aware of my being there, at least realizing that I was there
with a sort of effort; her eyes didn’t look as if they saw me at all.
‘You must let me off to-day, Mr. Frost,’ she said in a hurried murmur.
‘I—I’ve got something to do—something I must think about.’ Her cheeks
were still rather red; otherwise she was calm enough, but obviously
entirely preoccupied. It would have been silly to press her; I mean, it
would have been an intrusion. ‘All right, of course,’ I said. ‘But when
are we to meet again, Donna Lucinda?’

“‘I don’t know. In a few days, I hope. Not till I send you word to the
hotel.’

“‘Try to make it Sunday.’ I smiled as I added, ‘Then I shall see you in
the blue frock; that’s the one I like best.’

“‘The blue frock!’ she repeated after me. Then she suddenly raised
her free arm—she’d been holding that infernal bandbox all the time,
you know—clenched her fist and gave it a little shake in the air. ‘If
he’s really done that, I’ll have no more to do with him in this world
again!’ she said. And off she went down the road, without another word
to me or a glance back. I believe she’d forgotten my very existence.”

“Did she turn up on Sunday—in the blue frock?”

“I’ve never set eyes on her since—nor on Arsenio either. They both
appear to have vanished into space—together or separately, Heaven only
knows! I hunted for Valdez in all the likely places. I tried for her
at the hotel at Cimiez, at her shop, at her lodgings. I’ve drawn blank
everywhere. I got thoroughly sick and out of heart. So I thought I’d
run up here and see what you thought about it.”

“I don’t know why I should make any mystery about it,” said I.
“Anything that puzzles you will be quite plain in the light of that
letter.”

I took the letter from Arsenio Valdez, which Nina had given me, out
of my pocket, and flung it down on the table. “Read it—and you’ll
understand why she repeated after you ‘The blue frock!’ That was what
gave her the clew to Nina’s meaning!”



CHAPTER XVII

REBELLION


THERE was the situation; for Godfrey was quick enough to see what had
happened as soon as he had read Arsenio’s letter; he finished it,
which was more than I had done, and so found more lies than I had. We
discussed the situation far into the night, Godfrey still doing most of
the talking. He had come to Paris to see me about it, to ask my advice
or to put some question to me; but he had not really got the problem
clear in his mind. On subsidiary points—or, perhaps, one should rather
say, on what seemed such to him—his view was characteristic, and to
me amusing. He thought that most of Nina’s anger was due to the fact
that she had been “done” by Arsenio, that he had got her money for
Lucinda and for himself on false pretenses; whereas Nina was really
furious with Lucinda herself for not having consciously accepted her
charity, and made comparatively little of friend Arsenio’s roguery.
He was much more full of admiration of Lucinda for not minding being
discovered carrying a bandbox—and for laughing at her encounter with
Lady Dundrannan while she was doing it—than of appreciation of her
indignation over the blue frock; he thought she made a great deal too
much of that. “Since she didn’t know, what does it come to?” he asked.
And he wasted no reprobation on Arsenio. He had known Arsenio for a
rogue before—a rogue after his money, and willing to use his wife as
a bait to catch it; that he now knew that Arsenio was more completely
a rogue all round—towards Nina as well as towards him—was merely a
bit of confirmatory evidence; he saw nothing in the fact that Arsenio
had, after all, given Lucinda the blue frock, though he would have
been quite safe—as safe, anyhow—if he had given her nothing. His whole
analysis, so far as it appeared in disjointed observations, of the
other parties to the affair, ran on lines of obvious shrewdness, and
was baffled only where they appeared—as in Lucinda’s case—to diverge
from the lines thus indicated. Lucinda was a puzzle. Why had she hidden
herself from him? She could “have it out” with Valdez, if she wanted
to, without doing that!

But he was not immensely perturbed at her temporary disappearance; he
could find her, if he wanted to. “It’s only a matter of trouble and
money, like anything else.” And if she were furious with Valdez, no
harm in that! Rather the reverse! Thus he gradually approached his
own position, and the questions which he was putting to himself, and
had found so difficult that he had been impelled to come and talk
them over. These really might be reduced to one, and a very old one,
though also often a very big one; it may be variously conceived and
described as that between prudence and passion, that between morality
and love, that between will and emotion, between the head and the
heart. For purposes of the present case it could be personified as
being between Nina and Lucinda. As a gentleman, if as nothing more, he
had been obliged to own up to his engagement to lunch with Lucinda and
to stand by it. But that act settled nothing ultimately. The welcome
of a returning Prodigal would await him at Villa San Carlo, though
the feast might perhaps be rather too highly peppered with a lofty
forgiveness; he was conscious of that feature in the case, but minded
it less than I should have; Nina’s pupil was accustomed to her rebukes,
and rather hardened against her chastisement. But if arms were open to
him elsewhere—soft and seducing arms—what then? Was he to desert Nina?

Her and what she stood for? And really, in this situation, she stood
for everything that had, up to now, governed his life. She stood (she
would not have felt at all inadequate to the demand on her qualities)
for prosperity, progress, propriety, and—as a climax—for piety itself.
Godfrey had been religiously brought up (the figure of the white-haired
Wesleyan Minister at Briarmount rose before my eyes) and was not
ashamed to own that the principles thus inculcated had influenced his
doings and were still a living force in him. I respected him for the
avowal; it is not one that men are very ready to make where a woman is
in question; it had been implicit in his reason for knowing nothing of
women, given to me a long time ago—that he had not been able to afford
to marry.

Piety was the highest impersonation which Nina was called upon to
undertake. Was it the most powerful, the most compelling? There were so
many others, whose images somehow blended into one great and imposing
Figure—Regularity, with her cornucopia of worldly advantages, not
necessarily lost (Godfrey was quite awake to that) by a secret dallying
with her opposite, but thereby rendered insincere—that counted with
him—uneasy, and perpetually precarious. He was a long-headed young
man; he foresaw every chance against his passion—even the chance that,
having first burnt up all he had or hoped for, it would itself become
extinct. Then it was not true passion? I don’t know. It was strong
enough. Lucinda impersonated too; impersonated things that are very
powerful.

He spoke of her seldom and evasively. In the debate which he carried
on with himself—only occasionally asking for an opinion from
me—he generally indicated her under the description of “the other
thing”—other (it was to be understood) from all that Nina represented.
Taken like that, the description, if colorless, was at least
comprehensive. And it did get Lucinda—bluntly, yet not altogether
wrongly. He saw her as an ideal—the exact opposite of the ideal to
which he had hitherto aspired, the ideal of regularity, wealth,
eminence, reputation, power, thirty per cent., and so on (including,
let us not forget, piety). So seen, she astonished him in herself,
and astonished him more by the lure that she had for him. Only he
distrusted the lure profoundly. In the end he could not understand it
in himself. I do not blame him; I myself was considerably puzzled at
finding it in him. To say that a man is in love is a summary, not an
explanation. Jonathan Frost—old Lord Dundrannan—had been a romantic
in his way; Nina too in hers, when she had sobbed in passion on the
cliffs—or even now, when she cherished disturbing emotions about things
and people whom she might, without loss of comfort or profit, have
serenely disregarded. There was a thread of the romantic meandering
through the more challenging patterns of the family fabric.

Half a dozen times I was on the point of flying into a rage with
him—when he talked easily of “buying Valdez,” when he assumed Lucinda’s
assent to that not very pretty transaction, when he hinted at the
luxury which would reward that assent, and so on. But the genuineness
of his conflict, of his scruples on the one hand, of his passion
on the other, made anger seem cruel, while the bluntness of his
perception seemed to make it ridiculous. Perhaps on this latter point
I exaggerated a little—asking from him an insight into the situation to
which I was helped by a more intimate knowledge of the past and of the
persons; but at all events he was, as I conceived, radically wrong in
his estimate of the possibilities. At last I was impelled to tell him
so.

It was very late; in disregard of his “Don’t go yet, I haven’t
finished,” I had actually put on my coat, and taken my hat and stick in
my hand. I stood like that, opposite to where he sat, and expounded my
views to him. I imagine that to a cool spectator I should have looked
rather absurd, for by now I too was somehow wrought up and excited;
he had got me back into my pre-Paris state of mind, the one in which
I had been when I intimated to Nina that I must hunt the Riviera for
Lucinda and find out the truth about her at all costs. The Conference
on Tonnage was routed, driven pell-mell out of my thoughts.

“You can’t buy Valdez,” I told him, “not in the sense that you mean.
He’ll sell himself, body and soul, for money—to you, or me, or Nina, or
all of us, or anybody else. But he won’t sell Lucinda. He sells himself
for money, but it’s because of her that he must have the money—to
dazzle her, to cut a figure in her eyes, to get her back to him. He
used her to tempt you with, to make you shell out—just as he did, in
another way, with Nina. But he knew he was safe; he knew he’d never
have to deliver what he was pretending to sell. She’s not only the one
woman to him, she’s the one idea in his head, the one stake he always
plays for. He’d sell his soul for her, but he wouldn’t sell her in
return for all you have. You sit here, balancing her against this and
that—now against God, now against Mammon! He doesn’t set either of them
for a moment in the scales against her.”

If what I said sharpened his perception, it blunted his scruples. The
idea of Valdez’s passion was a spur to his own.

“Then it’s man against man,” he said in a sullen, dogged voice. “If I
find I can’t buy her, I’ll take her.”

“You can try. If she lets you, she’s a changed woman. That’s all I can
say. I need hardly add that I shall not offer you my assistance. Why,
hang it, man, if she’s to be got, why shouldn’t I have a shot at her
myself?”

He gave a short gruff laugh. “I don’t quite associate the idea
with you, but of course you’d be within your rights, as far as I’m
concerned.”

I laughed too. “There’s fair warning to you, then! And no bad blood,
I hope? Also, perhaps, enough debate on what is, after all, rather
a delicate subject—a lady’s honor—as some scrupulous people might
remind us. By way of apology to the proprieties, I’ll just add that
in my private opinion we should neither of us have the least chance
of success. She may not be Valdez’s any more—as to that I express
no opinion, though I have one—but I don’t believe she’ll be any one
else’s.”

“What makes you say that?” he grumbled out surlily.

“She herself makes me say it; she herself and what I know about her.
And, considering your condition, it seems common kindness to tell you
my view, for what it’s worth. Now, my friend, thanks for your dinner,
and—good-night!”

“Are you staying here—in Paris—much longer?”

“I shall be for a week—possibly a fortnight—I expect.”

“Then good-by as well as good-night; I shall go back to-morrow.”

“To Villa San Carlo?”

“No, I don’t know where I shall go. It depends.”

“To where you can test the value of my view, perhaps?” He had now
risen, and I walked across to him, holding out my hand. He took it,
with another gruff laugh.

“This sort of thing plays hell with a man; but there’s no need for us
to quarrel, Julius?”

“Not at present, at all events. And it looks as if you had a big enough
quarrel on your hands already.”

“Nina? Yes.” It was on that name, and not on the other, that at last we
parted. And I suppose that he did “go back” the next day; for I saw him
no more during the rest of my stay in Paris.

But a week later—our “labors” being “protracted” to that extent and
longer—I had an encounter that gave me indirect news of him, as well as
direct news of other members of the Rillington-cum-Dundrannan family.
To my surprise, I met my cousin Waldo in the Rue de la Paix. Nina and
he—and Eunice—were on their way home. In the first place, Sir Paget
had written that Aunt Bertha was seedy and moping, and wondering when
they would be back. In the second, Nina had got restless and tired of
Mentone, while he himself was so much better that there was no longer
any reason to stay there on his account.

“In fact, we got a bit bored with ourselves,” Waldo confessed as he
took my arm and we walked along together, “after we lost you two
fellows. Dull for the ladies. Oh, I know you couldn’t help yourself,
old fellow; this job here was too big to miss. But we lost Godfrey
too.” His voice fell to a confidential pitch, and he smiled slyly as
he pressed my arm. “Well, you know, dear Nina is given to making her
plans, bless her! And she’s none too pleased when they don’t come
off, is she? I rather fancy that she had a little plan on at the
Villa—Eunice Unthank, you know—and a nice girl she is—and that Godfrey
didn’t feel like coming up to the scratch. So he tactfully had business
at the works that kept him away from the Villa. Do you see what I mean?”

“Well, I suppose he was better away if he didn’t mean to play up. If
he’d stayed, it might have put ideas in the girl’s head that——”

“Exactly, old chap. Though we were awfully sorry he went, still that
was the view Nina took about it. I think she was right.”

Facts had supplied a sufficient explanation of my disappearance from
Villa San Carlo; here plainly was the official version of Godfrey’s.
In order to cover a great defeat, Lady Dundrannan, with her usual
admirable tactics, acknowledged a minor one. It was a quite sufficient
explanation to offer to unsuspecting Waldo; and it was certainly true,
so far as it went; the Eunice-Godfrey project had miscarried.

“I liked the girl and I’m sorry,” said Waldo. “But there’s lots of
time, and of course, the world being what it is, he can always make a
good marriage.” He laughed gently. “But I suppose women always like to
manage a man’s future for him, if they can, don’t they?”

His ignorance of the great defeat was evidently entire; his wife
had looked after that. But it was interesting to observe that—as a
concomitant, perhaps, of his returning physical vigor—his mind gave
hints of a new independence. He had not ceased to love and admire his
wife—there was no reason why he ever should—but his smile at her foible
was something new—since his marriage, I mean. The limit thus indicated
to his Dundrannanization was welcome to me, a Rillington. What the
smile pointed to was, the next moment, confirmed by the sigh with
which he added, pursuing what was to him apparently the same train of
thought, “Nina’s against our living at Cragsfoot when I succeed.”

“Well, if you will marry thumping heiresses, with half a dozen palaces
of their own——”

“Yes, I know, old man. Still—well, I can’t expect her to share my
feeling about it, can I?” He smiled again, this time rather ruefully.
“In fact, she’s pressing me to settle the matter now.”

“What do you mean? Sir Paget’s still alive! Is she asking for a
promise, or what?”

“She wants me to sell my remainder—subject to my father’s
life-interest. Nina likes things definitely settled, you see. She
doesn’t like Cragsfoot.” To my considerable surprise, he accompanied
these last words with a very definite wink. A smile, a sigh, a
wink—yes, Waldo was recovering some independence of thought, if not of
action. But in this affair it was his action that mattered, not his
thoughts. Still, the fact remained that his wink was an unmistakable
reference to the past—to Lucinda.

“Sir Paget wouldn’t like it, would he?” I suggested.

“No, I’m afraid not—not the idea of it, at first. But a man is told
to cleave to his wife. After all, if I have a son to inherit it, he
wouldn’t be Rillington of Cragsfoot, he’d be Dundrannan.”

“Of course he would. I’d forgotten. But does it make much difference?”

“And amongst all the rest of it, Cragsfoot wouldn’t be much more than
an appendage. I love Nina, Julius, but I wish sometimes that she wasn’t
quite so damned rich! Don’t think for an instant that she ever rams it
down my throat. She never would.”

“My dear chap, I know her. I’m sure she’d be incapable of——”

“But there the fact is. And it creates—well, a certain situation. I
say, I’m not keeping you? My ladies are shopping, and I’ve an hour off,
but if you——”

“I’ve time to hear anything you want to say. And you’re not tired?”

“Strong as a horse now. I enjoy walking. Look here, old chap. Of
course, there are lots of these ‘new rich,’ as the papers call them,
who’d pay a long price for Cragsfoot, but——”

“Thinking of anybody in particular?” I put in.

“Never mind!” He laughed—almost one of his old hearty laughs. “Well,
yes. Have you ever had any reason——? I mean, it’s funny you should ask
that.”

“Something a certain friend of ours once let fall set me thinking.”

“Well, if that idea took shape, if Nina wanted it——”

Perhaps in the end she wouldn’t! I was thinking that possibly the
course of events might cause Lady Dundrannan not to wish to see her
cousin—and his establishment—at Cragsfoot.

“If she did—and he did,” Waldo went on, “well, I should be in a tight
corner. Because, of course, he could outbid practically everybody, if
he chose—and what reason for objecting could I give?”

“You seem to have something in your mind. You’re looking—for you—quite
crafty! Out with it!”

“Well, supposing I’d promised that, if I sold, I’d give you first
offer?”

Waldo had delivered himself of his idea—and it seemed nothing less
than a proposal to put a spoke in the wheel of his wife’s plans as he
conceived them! Decidedly rebellion was abroad—open and covert! It
worked mightily in Godfrey; it was working even in Waldo.

“I don’t like your selling,” I said. “You’re the chief—I’m a cadet. But
if you’re forced—I beg your pardon, Waldo! If you decide”—he pressed my
arm again, smiling at my correction, but saying nothing—“to go, there’s
nothing I should like so much as to settle down there myself. But I
can’t outbid——”

“A man doesn’t ask his own kinsman more than a fair price, when the
deal’s part of a family arrangement,” said Waldo. “May I speak to my
father, and write you a proposal about it? And we’ll let the matter
stand where it does till we know what he thinks and till you’ve had an
opportunity of considering.”

“All right,” said I, and we walked on a little way in silence. Then I
felt again the slight pressure on my arm. “Well, here’s where we’re
staying. I promised to meet them at tea. Will you come in?”

I shook my head, murmuring something about business. He did not press
the point. “We’re off again early to-morrow, and dining with some
friends of Eunice’s to-night. See you again soon at Cragsfoot—we’re
going to Briarmount. Good-by!”

But that was not quite his last word. He gave my arm a final squeeze;
and he smiled again and again a little ruefully. “I rather think that,
in his heart, the old pater would prefer what I’ve suggested even to
our—to any other arrangement, Julius.”

It was quite as much as it was diplomatic to say about his father’s
feelings on that point. Like the one which had been discussed by
Godfrey and myself, it might be considered delicate.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE WINNING TICKET


THEN came the astonishing turn of fortune’s wheel—that is almost fact,
scarcely metaphor—which seemed to transform the whole situation. It
came to my knowledge on the very day on which those protracted labors
of ours reached a conclusion at last.

We had had a long and tedious final session—for this time there was
not only business to wind up, but compliments to be exchanged too—and
I came out of it at half-past six in the evening so exhausted that I
turned into the nearest _café_ at which I was known, and procured a
whisky-and-soda. With it the waiter brought me a copy of _Le Soir_,
and, as I sipped my “refresher” and smoked a cigar, I glanced through
it, hoping (to be candid) to find some complimentary notice of the
achievements of my Conference. I did not find that—perhaps it was too
soon to expect it—but I did find something which interested me a great
deal more. Among the miscellaneous items of “intelligence” I read the
following:

 “The first prize in yesterday’s draw of the Reparation Lottery Loan
 has been won by M. Arsenio Valdez of Nice. The amount of the prize is
 three million francs. The number of the winning ticket was two hundred
 and twelve thousand, one hundred and twenty-one. We understand that
 the fortunate winner purchased it for a trifling sum from a chance
 acquaintance at Monte Carlo.”

I re-read the winning number; indeed, I took my pencil out of my pocket
and wrote it down—in figures—on the margin of the newspaper. I believe
that I said softly, “Well, I’m damned!” The astonishing creature had
brought it off at last, and brought it off to some tune. Three million
francs! Pretty good—for anybody except the Frosts of this world, of
course!

Aye, Arsenio would buy that ticket from a chance acquaintance (probably
one of the same kidney as himself) if he had the coin, or could
beg, borrow, or steal it! Number 212, 121! There it was three times
over—21—21—21. He would have seemed to himself absolutely mad if he
had let that ticket escape him, when chance threw it in his way. It
was, indeed, as though Fortune said, “I have teased you long enough,
O faithful votary, but I give myself to you at last!” And she had—she
actually had. Arsenio’s long quest was accomplished.

What would he do with it, I pondered, as I puffed and sipped. I saw him
resplendent again as he had been on that never forgotten Twenty-first,
and smiling in monkeyish triumph over all of us who had mocked him
for a fool. I even saw him paying back Nina and Godfrey Frost,
though possibly this was a detail which might be omitted, as being a
distasteful reminder of his days of poverty. I saw him dazzling Lucinda
with something picturesquely extravagant, a pearl necklace or a carpet
of banknotes—what you will in that line. I heard him saying to her,
“Number twenty-one! Always twenty-one. _Your_ number, Lucinda!” And I
saw her flushing like a girl just out of the schoolroom, as Godfrey had
seen her flush at Nice.

Ah, Godfrey Frost! This event was—to put the thing vulgarly—one in
the eye for him, wasn’t it? He had lost his pull; his lever failed
him. He could no longer pose, either to himself or to anybody else, as
the chivalrous reliever of distress, the indignant friend to starving
beauty. And Nina’s gracious, though sadly unappreciated, bounty to a
fallen rival—that went by the board too.

These things were to the good; but at the back of my mind there lurked
a discontent, even a revolt. Godfrey had proposed to buy Valdez; to buy
Lucinda from Valdez, he had meant. Now Arsenio himself would buy her
with his winning ticket, coating the transaction with such veneer of
romance as might still lie in magic Twenty-one, thrice repeated. One
could trust him to make the most of that, skillfully to eke it out to
cover the surface as completely as possible. Would it be enough? His
hope lay in what that flush represented, the memories it meant, that
feeling in her which she herself, long ago, had declared to be hers
because she was a primitive woman.

I did not, I fear, pay much attention to the speeches—though I made
one of them—at the farewell dinner of our Conference that night; and
next day, my first free day, was still filled with the thought of
Arsenio and his three million francs; my mind, vacant now of pressing
preoccupations, fell a prey to recollections, fancies, images. A
restlessness took possession of me; I could not stay in Paris. I was
entitled to a holiday; where should I pass it? I did not want to go
to Cragsfoot; I had had enough of the Riviera. (There was possibly a
common element, ungallant towards a certain lady and therefore not
explicitly confessed to myself, in my reluctance to turn my steps in
either of those directions.) Where should I go? Something within me
answered—Venice!

Why not? Always a pleasant place for a holiday in times of peace; and
one read that “peace conditions” were returning; the pictures, and
so on, were returning too, or being dug up, or taken out of their
sandbags. And the place was reported to be quite gay. Decidedly my
holiday should be passed at Venice.

Quite so! And a sporting gamble on my knowledge of Arsenio, of his
picturesque instinct, his eye for a situation! As a minor attraction,
there were the needy aristocrats, his father’s old set, whom he
had been wont to “touch” in days of adversity; it would be fine to
flaunt his money in their eyes; they would not sniff, Frost-like, at
three million francs. Here I felt even confident that he would speak
gracefully of repayment, though with care not to wound Castilian pride
by pressing the suggestion unduly. But the great thing would be the
association, the memory, the two floors at the top of the _palazzo_.
Surely she would go there with him if she would go anywhere? Surely
there, if anywhere, she would come back to him? That, beyond all
others, was the place to offer the pearl necklace, to spread the carpet
of bank notes. If the two were to be found anywhere in the world
together, it would be at Venice, at the _palazzo_.

So to Venice I went—on an errand never defined to myself, urged by
an impulse, a curiosity, a longing, to which many things in the past
united to give force, which the present position sharpened. “I must
know; I must see for myself.” That feeling, which had made me unable to
rest at Villa San Carlo, now drove me to Venice. Putting money in my
pocket and giving my Paris bankers the name of my hotel, I set out, on
a road the end of which I could not see, but which I was determined to
tread, if I could, and to explore.

In spite of my “facilities”—I had them again, and certainly this time
Lady Dundrannan, if she knew my errand, would not have offered to
secure them—my journey was slow, and interrupted at one point by a
railway strike. When I arrived at my hotel on the Grand Canal—Arsenio’s
_palazzo_ was just round the corner by water, to be reached by land
through a short but tortuous network of alleys with a little high
stone bridge to finish up the approach to its back door—a telegram had
been waiting forty-eight hours for me, forwarded from Cragsfoot by way
of Paris. In it Waldo told me of Aunt Bertha’s death; influenza had
swooped down on the weakened old body, and after three days’ illness
made an end. It was hopeless to think of getting back in time for the
funeral; I could have done it from Paris; I could not from Venice. I
despatched the proper reply, and went out to the Piazza. My mind was
for the moment switched off from what I had come about; but I thought
more about Sir Paget than about poor old Aunt Bertha herself. He would
be very lonely. Would Briarmount allay his loneliness?

It was about eleven o’clock on a bright sunny morning. They were
clearing away the protective structures that had been erected round the
buildings—St. Mark’s, the Ducal Palace, the new Campanile. I sat in a
chair outside Florian’s and watched. There on that fine morning the war
seemed somehow just a bad dream—or, rather, a play that had been played
and was finished; a tragedy on which the curtain had fallen. See,
they were clearing away the properties, and turning to real ordinary
life again. So, for a space, it seemed to a man seduced by beauty into
forgetfulness.

They came and went, men, women and children, all on their business and
their recreations; there were soldiers too in abundance, some draggled,
dirty, almost in rags, some tidy, trim and new, but all with a subtle
air of something finished, a job done, comparative liberty at least
secured; even the prisoners—several gangs of them were marched by—had
that same air of release about them. Hawkers plied their wares—women
mostly, a few old men and young boys; baskets were thrust under my
nose; I motioned them away impatiently. I had traveled all night, and
uncomfortably, with little sleep. Here was peace; I wanted peace; I was
drowsy.

Thus, half as though in a dream, half as if it were an answer to what
my mood demanded,—beauty back into the world, that was it—she came
across the Piazza towards the place where I sat. Others sat there
too—a row of them on my left hand; I had taken a chair rather apart,
at the end of the row. She wore the little black frock—the one she had
worn at Ste. Maxime, the one Godfrey had seen her in at Cimiez, or the
fellow of it. On her left arm hung an open basket; it was full of fine
needlework. I saw her take out the pieces, unfold them, wave them in
the air. She found customers; distant echoes of chaff and chaffering
reached my ears. From chair to chair she passed, coming nearer to me
always.

I had upon me at this moment no surprise at seeing her, no wonder why
she, wife of the now opulent Don Arsenio Valdez, was hawking fine
needlework on the Piazza. The speculation as to the state of affairs,
with which my mind had been so insatiably busy, did not now occupy it.
I was just boyishly wrapped up in the anticipation of the joke that
was going to happen—that must happen unless—horrible thought!—she sold
out all her stock before she got to me. But no! She smiled and joked,
but she stood out for her price. The basket would hold out—surely
it would!—As she came near, I turned my head away—absorbed in the
contemplation of St. Mark’s—just of St. Mark’s!

I felt her by me before she spoke. Then I heard, “Julius!” and a little
gurgle of laughter. I turned my head with an answering laugh; her eyes
were looking down at my face with their old misty wonder.

“You here! I can’t sit down by you here. I’ll walk across the
Piazzetta, along to the quay. Follow me in a minute. Don’t lose sight
of me!”

“I don’t propose to do that,” I whispered back, as she swung away from
me. I paid my account, and followed her some fifty yards behind. I did
not overtake her till we were at the Danieli Hotel. “Where shall we go
to talk?” I asked.

“Once or twice I’ve done good business on the Lido. There’s a boat
just going to start. Shall we go on board, Julius?”

I agreed eagerly and followed her on to the little boat. She set me
down in the bows, went off with her basket, and presently came back
without it. “I’ve left it with the captain,” she explained; “he knows
me already, and will take care of it for me. No more work to-day,
since you’ve come! And you must give me lunch, as you used to at Ste.
Maxime. Somewhere very humble, because I’m in my working clothes.” She
indicated the black frock, and the black shawl which she wore over her
fair hair, after the fashion of the Venetian girls; I was myself in
an uncommonly shabby suit of pre-war tweeds; we matched well enough
so far as gentility was concerned. I studied her face. It had grown
older, rather sharper in outline, though not lined or worn. And it
still preserved its serenity; she still seemed to look out on this
troublesome world, with all its experiences and vicissitudes, from
somewhere else, from an inner sanctum in which she dwelt and from which
no one could wholly draw her forth.

“How long have you been here?” I asked her, as the little steamboat
sped on its short passage across to the Lido.

“Oh, about a fortnight or three weeks. I like it, and I got work at
once. I’d rather sew than sell, but they sew so well here! And they
tell me I sell so well. So selling it mainly is!”

“Then you came before the—the result of the lottery?”

“Oh, you’ve heard about the lottery, have you? From Arsenio, or——?”

“No. I just saw it in the papers.”

The mention of the lottery seemed to afford her fresh amusement, but
she said nothing more about it at the moment. “You see, I wanted to
come away from the Riviera—never mind why!”

“I believe I know why!”

“How can you? If you’ve not heard from Arsenio!”

“I’ve been in Paris—and there I saw Godfrey Frost.”

“Oh!” The exclamation was long drawn out; it seemed to recognize that
my having seen Godfrey Frost might explain a good deal of knowledge on
my part. But she went on with her explanation. “Since the air raids
have stopped, Arsenio has managed to let one floor of the _palazzo_—the
_piano nóbile_; and I suggested to him that I might come and live
on the top floor. I’d saved enough money for the journey, and I pay
Arsenio rent. I’m entirely independent.”

“As you were at Ste. Maxime—and at Nice—or Cimiez?”

“I believe you do know all about it!”

“Shall I mention a certain blue frock?”

She flushed—for her, quite brightly—and slowly nodded her head. Then
she sat silent till we reached the Lido, and had disembarked. Now she
seemed unwilling to talk more of her affairs; she preferred to question
me on mine. I told her of Aunt Bertha’s death.

“Ah, she liked me once. Poor Sir Paget!” was her only comment. “I think
he likes you still,” I suggested. She shook her head doubtfully, and
insisted on hearing about what I had been doing in Paris.

It was not till after we had lunched and were sitting drinking our
coffee—just as in old days at Ste. Maxime—that I brought her back to
her own affairs—to the present position.

“And you’re alone here—on the top floor of the _palazzo_?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered, smiling. “Alone—alone on the top floor. I came
here alone; we had had a quarrel over—over what we’ll call the blue
frock. Arsenio promised not to follow me here unless I gave him
leave—which I told him I never should do. ‘Oh, yes, you will some day,’
he said; but he gave me the promise. Oh, well, a promise from him!
What is it? Of course he’s broken it. He arrived here the day before
yesterday. He’s now at the _palazzo_—on the floor below mine. It’s just
like Arsenio, isn’t it?”

She spoke of him with a sharper bitterness than she had ever shown at
Ste. Maxime, though the old amusement at him was not entirely obscured
by it. Her tone made me—in spite of everything—feel rather sorry for
him. The dream of his life—was it to come only half true? Was the half
that had come true to have no power to bring the other half with it?
However little one might wish him success, or he deserve it, one pang
of pity for him was inevitable.

“Well, perhaps he had some excuse,” I suggested. “He was
naturally—well, elated. That wonderful piece of luck, you know!”

“Oh, that!” she murmured contemptuously—really as if winning three
million francs, on a million to one chance or something like it,
was nothing at all to make a fuss about! And that to a man who had
spent years of his life, and certainly sacrificed any decency and
self-respect that he possessed, in an apparently insane effort to do it.

Her profile was turned to me now; she was looking over the sands
towards the Adriatic. I watched her face as I went. “And he won on his
favorite number! On twenty-one, three times repeated! That must have
seemed to him——” There was no sign of emotion on her face. “Well, he
called it your number, didn’t he?”

She knew what I meant, and she turned to me. But now she did not flush
like a girl just out of the schoolroom. There was no change of color,
no softening of her face such as the flush must have brought with it.

“You’re speaking of a dead thing,” she told me in a low calm voice.
“Of a thing that is at last quite dead.”

“It died hard, Lucinda.”

“Yes, it lived through a great deal; it lived long enough—obstinately
enough—to do sore wrong to—to other people,—better people than either
Arsenio or me; long enough to make me do bad things—and suffer them.
But now it’s dead. He’s killed it at last.”

At the moment I found nothing to say. Of course I was glad—no use in
denying that. Yet it was grievous in its way. The thing was dead—the
thing that so long, through so much, had bound her to Arsenio Valdez.
The thing which had begun with the kiss in the garden at Cragsfoot,
years ago, was finished.

“He put me to utter shame; he made me eat dirt,” she whispered with
a sudden note of passion in her voice. She laid her arm on mine, and
rose from her chair. “It spoils my meeting with you to think of it.
Come back; I can do some work before it’s dark, and you can go and
see him—he’ll be at the _palazzo_. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be
friends with him still.”

“I don’t quite know about that,” I observed cautiously.

“I’m willing enough to be friendly with him, for that matter. But
that’s—that’s not enough. Come along, we shall just about catch a boat,
I think.”

We began to walk along to the quay where we were to embark.

“So he says he’s going to kill himself!” Lucinda added with a scornful
laugh.



CHAPTER XIX

VIEWS AND WHIMS


SUCH, then, was Lucinda’s state of mind with regard to the matter.
Her encounter with Nina at Cimiez had opened her eyes; after that, no
evasions or lies from Arsenio could avail to blind her. The keys of
the fort had been sold behind her back. The one thing that she had
preserved and cherished out of the wreck of her fortunes, out of the
sordid tragedy of her relations with her husband, had been filched from
her; her proud and fastidious independence had been bartered; Arsenio
had sold it; Nina Dundrannan had bought it. It was in effect that
wearing of Nina’s cast-off frocks which, long ago at Ste. Maxime, she
had pictured, with a smile, as an inconceivable emblem of humiliation.
Arsenio had brought her to it, tricked her into it by his “presents”
out of his “winnings.”

A point of sentiment? Precisely—and entirely; of a sentiment rooted
deep in the nature of the two women, and deep in the history of their
lives, in the rivalry and clash that there had been between them and
between their destinies. The affair of the blue frock (to sum up the
offense under that nickname—there had probably been other “presents”)
might be regarded as merely the climax of the indignities which Arsenio
had brought upon her—the proverbial last straw. To her it was different
in kind from all the rest. In her _midinette’s_ frock, in her Venetian
shawl, she could make or sell her needlework contentedly; if on that
score Nina felt exultation and dealt out scorn, Nina was wrong; nay,
Nina was vulgar, and therefore a proper object for the laughter which
had amazed and impressed Godfrey Frost. But she had been made Nina’s
dependent, the object of her triumphant contemptuous bounty. That was
iron entering her soul, a sharp point piercing to the very heart of
it. This deadly stroke at her pride was fatal also to the last of her
tenderness for Arsenio. The old tie between them—once so strong, so
imperious, surviving so much—was finally broken. She was willing to be
friendly—if friendliness can co-exist with undisguised resentment, with
a sense of outrage bitter as death itself. But, in truth, how could it?

That same afternoon I made my way to the _palazzo_, rather a gloomy,
ruinous-looking old building, on a narrow side canal, facing across it
on to the heavy blank bulk of a convent. This, then, was the scene of
“Venice,” of the old romance. To this they had come back—not indeed
quite in the manner that I had imagined their return in my musings
at Paris, but still, I could not doubt, on his part at least with
something of the idea and the impulse which my fancy had attributed to
him. How was he now finding—and facing—the situation as it stood?

I climbed up the stone staircase—past the _piano nóbile_, now let, as
I had learnt, past another apartment _al secondo_—to the third floor.
There I knocked. The door was opened by a small wizened man, dressed in
seedy black. He looked like a waiter or a valet, run to seed. I asked
for Valdez. Yes, Monsieur was in, and would no doubt see Monsieur.
He himself was Monsieur Valdez’s servant—might he take my hat and
stick? He talked while he did it; he had come with Monsieur from the
Riviera—from Nice; he had been—er—in the same business establishment
with Monsieur at Nice before—before Monsieur’s great _coup_. In
fact—here he smiled proudly and detained me in the passage, laying
one grimy finger on my arm—Monsieur considered him a mascot; it was
from him that Monsieur had purchased ticket 212,121. Imagine that! “A
pity you didn’t keep it!” said I. He just shrugged his shoulders, a
weary smile acquiescing in that bit of bad luck. “However, Monsieur
is very good to me,” he ended as he—at last—opened an inner door.
Apparently Monsieur’s wonderful luck gave him a sort of divinity in a
fellow-gambler’s eyes.

I found myself in a long narrow room, with three windows facing on the
canal and the convent. The furniture was sparse, and looked old and
rickety, but it had the remains of elegance; only a small rug or two
mitigated the severity of the stone floor; one could see by dirty marks
where pictures had once hung on the walls, but they hung there no more;
altogether a depressing apartment.

Arsenio Valdez was sitting at a big bureau between two of the windows,
with his back towards the door. He turned round a dreary-looking face
as he heard my entrance. But the moment he saw who I was, he sprang
up and greeted me warmly, with evident pleasure. He even held my hand
while I accounted for my presence as best I could. I had a holiday, I
thought that perhaps the change in his fortunes would bring him back to
Venice, and I couldn’t resist the chance of congratulating him. I tried
to make a joke of the whole business, and ended by squeezing his hand
and felicitating him anew on his magnificent luck. “It took my breath
away when I read it in the papers,” I said.

“Oh, but I knew, I knew!” he declared, as he led me to where a couple
of armchairs were placed by a small table in the third window, and
made me sit down. “It was a question of time, only of time. If I could
keep afloat, it was bound to come! That was what nobody would believe.
People are so queer! And when Louis, that poor little chap who showed
you in, offered me the ticket—he worked at that little den in Nice—when
he offered me that ticket—well, it was growing dark, and I had to spell
out the figures one by one—two one, two one, two one! You see! There
it was. I was as certain as if I had the prize in my pocket. Hard luck
on him? No—he’d never have won with it—though the little fool may think
he would. That number would never have won except for me. It was my
number—and again my number—and once again!”

He poured this out in a torrent of excited triumph, every bit of
him from top to toe full of movement and animation. It was a great
vindication of himself, of his faith, that he was putting before the
skeptic’s eyes. He stood justified by it in all that he had done and
suffered, in all that he had asked others to do and to endure. He was
more than justified. It was a glorification of him, Arsenio Valdez,
who had never doubted or faltered, who had pursued Fortune for years,
unwearied, undaunted. He had caught her by the mantle at last. _Voilà!_
He ended with a last tumultuous waving of both his hands.

“Well, you’re entitled to your crow, old chap,” I said, “even if it
doesn’t alter the fact that you were a damned fool.”

“Ah, you never had any poetry, romance, imagination in you!” he
retorted, now with his old mocking smile. “You haven’t got it, you
Rillingtons—neither you, nor yet Waldo. That was why I——” He stopped,
looking monkeyish.

“Why Twenty-one became your lucky number? Exactly; I remember the day
very well myself. By the way, I ought to tell you that I’ve already
seen Lucinda.”

He listened to a brief account of our meeting and excursion in silence,
seeming to watch my face keenly. “You and she have always been very
good friends,” he remarked thoughtfully at the end. He seemed to be
considering—perhaps whether to take me into his confidence, to consult
me. I did not, of course, feel entitled—or inclined!—to tell him of the
confidences that Lucinda had reposed in me.

“Meanwhile,” I observed, “beyond acquiring a manservant——”

“Louis? Oh, well, I should have been a fool not to keep him about me,
shouldn’t I?”

“Yes! Didn’t Roman Generals at their triumphs carry a slave along,
whose business it was to remind them that they were mortal? If you look
at the unfortunate Louis from that point of view——”

“That fellow will bring me luck again,” he asserted positively and
seriously.

“Rot! What I was going to say was that you don’t seem to have launched
out much on the strength of your three millions.” I cast a glance round
the faded room.

He jerked his head towards the big bureau at which I had found him
seated. “The money’s all in there. I haven’t touched a penny of it. I
shan’t—just yet.” Again he was watching me; he was, I think, wondering
how much Lucinda had said to me. “I’ve got a tenant for the first
floor, and get along on the rent of that. And Lucinda——” He gave what
may be called an experimental smile, a silent “feeler”——“Well, she
persists in her whim, as you’ve seen. Whatever may be said of it down
at Nice, it’s purely a whim now, isn’t it?”

“Whims are powerful things with women,” I remarked. And platitudes are
often useful conversational refuges.

He sat frowning for a minute, with the weary baffled air that his face
had worn before he caught sight of me. “Perhaps you don’t care for such
a short let, but, if it suits you, I’ll take the second floor for a
month certain,” I continued.

In an instant his face lit up. “You, Julius! Why, that’s splendid!
You’ll have to rough it a bit; but Louis will look after you. He’s
really very good. Will you actually do it?”

“Of course I will—and glad to get it.”

“Well now, that is good!”

I knew that he was friendly towards me, but this seemed an excess of
pleasure. Besides, his face, lately so weary and dreary, had assumed
now the monkey smile which I knew so well—the smile it wore when he
was “doing” somebody, getting the better of somebody by one of his
tricks. But whom could he be doing now? Me? Lucinda? We two seemed the
only possible victims. That we were victims—that we fitted into his
plan—appeared clear, later on. But it was a mistake to suppose that we
only were concerned. His next words enlightened me as to that.

“I should be most delighted to have you for a neighbor, under my
roof, in any case. I’m sure you know that. Oh, yes, I’m grateful to
you. You might have cut me! I know it. But you’ve taken a broad view.
You’ve allowed for the heart—though not for the imagination, for the
certainties that lie beyond probability. Besides all that—which I feel
deeply—by taking that floor you relieve me of a little difficulty.”

“I’m glad to hear it. How’s that?”

“Since I came here, I have naturally paid some visits among my old
friends. You smile! Oh, yes, I’m human enough to like congratulations.
Some of them are people of rank, as you know—you used to chaff me
about my grandees! Their names appear in the papers—those society
paragraphs—the Paris editions of American papers—Oh, my Lord! My name
appeared—an item—‘Don Arsenio Valdez has returned to Palazzo Valdez!”
He rose, went to the big bureau, and came back with a telegram.
“Received to-day,” he added, as he put it into my hands.

I read it, looked across at him, and laughed. It was what I had
expected; the only surprise was that Godfrey had taken rather long to
track them. Scruples still obstinate, perhaps!

“So he wants to take an apartment in your _palazzo_, does he?”

“I’ve been under some obligations to him; it would be difficult to
refuse. We’re good friends, but—I didn’t want him here. It wouldn’t
be—convenient.” Now he was looking furtive and rather embarrassed, as
if he were uncertain how much truth and how much lie he had better
administer to me.

“I saw him in Paris,” I remarked, “the other day, and from what he said
it seemed that he’d made very good friends both with you and with your
wife.”

He smiled; having no such shame as ordinary mortals have, he accepted
exposure easily. He relapsed into the truth quite gracefully. “I don’t
know how the devil Lucinda feels about him,” he confessed. “I wish he
wouldn’t come at all, but I can’t help that. At all events he needn’t
be in the house with us now!”

“Have you any reason to suppose she doesn’t like him?” I asked.

His restlessness returned, and with it his dreary look. He got up and
began to wander about the long room, fingering furniture and ornaments,
then drifting back to me at the window, and the next moment away again.
Suddenly, from the other end of the room, he came out with, “What have
they told between them? Godfrey at Paris, and Lucinda here to-day?”

“Well, pretty nearly everything, I fancy. If you mean the money and
Nina Dundrannan, and so forth. He described that meeting at Cimiez,
for example.”

“Yes, they’ve told you everything—everything that matters. Well, what
do you think?”

“If we’re to be friends, I’d sooner not offer an opinion.”

He flashed out at me. “There’s your code—your damned code! Didn’t
I learn it in England? Didn’t I have it literally drubbed into
me—thrashed into me—at school? And you keep it even when you love a
woman!”

“H’m! Not always in that case, I’m afraid, Arsenio.”

“If you ever do love a woman,” he went on contemptuously. “For my part,
I don’t believe any of you know how!” He came to a stand before me.
“Why didn’t Waldo come after me and shoot me through the head?”

“There was the greatest difficulty in stopping him, I honestly assure
you. But the war came, you know, and it was his duty——”

“His duty! Oh, my Lord, his duty!” He positively groaned at the point
of view. “I give you my word, if he had come after me, I would have
never returned his fire. I would have bared my breast—so!” A rapid
motion of his hands made as though to tear the clothes from his chest;
it was a very dramatic gesture. “But when he didn’t come—pooh!”

“He was fighting for his country,” I suggested mildly.

“And even you might have taken up the quarrel with great propriety,” he
said gravely.

“I apologize for not having shot you. Try not to be such an ass,
Arsenio.”

“You and he can sit down under such an affront as I put on you and your
family, and shelter yourselves under duty. Duty! But up go your noses
and down go your lips when I, adoring the adorable, milk a couple of
vulgar millionaires of a few pounds to make her happy, splendid, rich
as she ought to be. Yes, yes, about that you—offer no opinion! And
these people—my dupes, eh?”

“The word’s rather theatrical—as you’re being, Arsenio. But let it
pass.”

“Oh, yes, theatrical! I know! If a man doesn’t love just like, and
no more than, a bull, in England, he’s theatrical. Well, what about
my dupes? The woman with her moneybags, meanly revengeful—Ah, you
give her up to me! You haven’t a word to say, friend Julius! And the
young man? Let us forgive the good God for creating the young man! He
would buy my wife! Ah, would he? And buy her cheap! All I’ve had of
him would perhaps buy her a fur coat! For the rest, he relied on his
fascinations. Cheaper than cash! I would have cashed a million pounds
and flung them at her feet!”

“But that’s just as vulgar,” I protested, rather weakly. I was a little
carried away by Arsenio’s eloquence; it was at least a point of view
which I had not sufficiently considered.

“Not from him! It would be giving what he loves best!” He laughed in a
bitter triumph, then suddenly flung himself down into his chair again.
“I had ten louis left—five of hers, five of his. With hers I bought the
ticket; on his I starved till the draw came. Am I not revenged on the
woman who would humiliate my wife, on the man who would buy the honor
of Donna Lucinda Valdez?”

“It’s about the oddest kind of revenge I ever heard of,” was all I
found to say. “You’ll complete it, I suppose, by dazzling Godfrey, when
he arrives, with the spectacle of Luanda’s virtuous splendor? Or is he
to find her still selling needlework on the Piazza?”

He leant across the little table and laid his hand on my arm. I
imagined that it must be the table at which Lucinda had once sat,
mending her gloves—most skillfully no doubt, for had she not proved
herself a fine needlewoman?

“You too are against me?” he asked in a low voice. “Bitterly against
me, Julius?”

“Once you took her—yes, here. Then you forsook her. Then you took her
again. And you’ve dragged her in the dirt.”

“But now I can——!”

“That to her would be dirt too,” I said. “I suppose she won’t touch
that money? That’s why she’s still peddling her wares on the Piazza?”

He made a despairing gesture of assent with his hands—despairing,
uncomprehending. Then he raised his head and said proudly, “But if she
doesn’t yet understand, I shall make her!” Then, with a sudden change
of manner, he added, “And you’ll move into the floor below to-morrow?
That’s capital! You might ask us both to dinner—give a housewarming!
Louis will look after your marketing and cooking.”

“With the greatest of pleasure,” I agreed, but with some surprise. It
would have seemed more natural in him to invite me on the first night.

He saw my surprise; what didn’t he see when he exercised his wits?

“It must be that way; because she never comes into my apartment,” he
said, but now quietly, cheerfully, as if he were mentioning another of
those whims which are so powerful with women.



CHAPTER XX

LIVING FUNNILY


THE “housewarming” so adroitly suggested by Arsenio duly took place;
it was followed by other meetings of the same kind. Louis had
evidently received his instructions; every evening at half-past seven
he laid dinner for three in my _salon_; and this without any apology
or explanation. When his table was spread, he would say, “I will
inform Madame and Monsieur that dinner is served.” Presently Madame
and Monsieur would arrive—separately; Madame first (I think Arsenio
listened until he heard her step passing his landing), Monsieur
completing the party. I played host—rather ostentatiously; there had to
be no mistake as to who was the host; and every morning I gave Louis
money for the marketing.

Except for this evening meeting, we three saw little of one another.
Arsenio was either out or shut up in his own apartment all day; Lucinda
went punctually to her work in the morning and did not return till
six o’clock; I did the sights, went sailing sometimes, or just mooned
about; I met Lucinda now and then, but beyond a nod and a smile she
took no notice of me; there were no more excursions to the Lido.
Perhaps the claims of business did not permit them to her; perhaps she
thought them unnecessary, in view of our opportunities for conversation
in the evening.

For we had many. Arsenio’s views on the position in which he found
himself had appeared pretty clearly from what he had said. By an
incomprehensible perversity—of fate, of woman, of English temperament
and morals—his grand _coup_ had proved a failure; he would not accept
that failure as final, but neither for the moment could he alter it.
He always seemed to himself on the brink of success; every day he was
tantalized by a fresh rebuff. She was friendly, but icily cold and,
beyond doubt, subtly, within herself, ridiculing him. The result was
that, in the old phrase, he could live neither with her nor without
her. The daily meeting which he had engineered, with my aid (and at
my expense), was a daily disappointment; his temper could endure only
a certain amount of her society in the mood in which she presented
herself to him. After that, his patience gave; he probably felt that
his self-control would. So always, soon after our meal was finished, he
would go off on some pretext or another; sometimes we heard him above
in his own apartment, walking about restlessly; sometimes we heard him
go downstairs past my landing—out somewhere. He seldom came back before
ten o’clock; and his return was always the signal for Lucinda to
retire to her own quarters at the top of the house.

During his absence she and I sat together, talking or in silence,
I smoking, she sewing; if the evening was fine and warm, we sat in
the armchairs by the little table in the window; if the weather was
chilly—and in that dingy stone-floored room it was apt to seem chillier
than it was—Louis made us a little fire of chips and logs, and we sat
close by it. The old fleeting intimacy of Ste. Maxime renewed itself
between us. After five or six evenings spent in this fashion, it almost
seemed as though Arsenio were a visitor who came and went, while she
and I belonged to the establishment.

“The atmosphere’s quite domestic,” I said to her with a smile. It was
cold that night; we were close by the fire; her fingers were busy with
her work under the light of the one lamp which showed up her face in
clear outline—just as it had been defined against the gloom of the dark
_salle-à-manger_ at Ste. Maxime.

“Well, you see, you’re a restful sort of person to be with,” she
answered, smiling, but not looking up, and going on with her sewing.

We had not talked much more about her affairs, or Arsenio’s. She seemed
to think that enough had been said as to those, on the Lido; her
conversation had been mostly on general matters, though she also took
pleasure in describing to me the incidents and humors of her business
hours, both here at Venice and in the past at Ste. Maxime and Nice.
To-night I felt impelled to get a little nearer to her secret thoughts
again.

“Wasn’t Waldo restful—barring an occasional storm?”

“Yes; but then—as I’ve told you—at that time I wasn’t. Never for an
hour really. Now I am. I should be quite content to go on just as we
are forever.” She looked up and gave me a smile. “I include you in
‘we’, Julius. You give me a sense of safety.”

“You can’t sell needlework on the Piazza all your life,” I expostulated.

“Really I could quite happily, if only I were let alone—otherwise. But
I shan’t be, of course. Arsenio will get tired of his present tactics
soon—the ones he’s followed since you came. We shall either go back to
storms and heroics again, or he’ll discover something else. Just now
he’s trying the patient, the pathetic! But he won’t stick to that long.
It’s not in his nature.”

How calmly now she analyzed and dissected him! With amusement
still mingled with her scorn, but—it must be repeated—with the old
proportions terribly reversed. It cannot be denied that there was
something cruel in the relentless vision of him which she had now
achieved.

“He’ll try something spectacular next, I expect,” she pursued,
delicately biting off a thread.

“You don’t mean—what you referred to on the Lido?” I asked, raising my
brows and passing my hand across my jugular vein.

“Oh, no! That would be something real. His will be a performance of
some sort. It’s ten days since he poured all his bank notes on the
table before me, and swore he’d burn them and kill himself if I didn’t
pick them up. Of course he hasn’t done either! He’s locked them up
again, and he’s trying to get you to persuade me to see reason—in the
way he sees it!”

“But I’ve told him that—I’ve told what I think of him—or as good as!”

“Well, as soon as he’s convinced this plan won’t work, he’ll try
another. You’ll see!” She smiled again. “I shouldn’t wonder if the
arrival of Godfrey Frost were to produce some manifestation, some
change in his campaign.”

It was almost the first—I am not sure that it was not absolutely the
first—time that she had referred to Godfrey. Though I felt considerable
curiosity about her feelings with regard to that young man, I had
forborne to question her. Whatever he might be in himself, he was
friend, partner, kinsman to Nina Dundrannan. The subject might not be
agreeable.

“What’s that young man coming here for?” I asked.

Something in my tone evidently amused her. She laid her work down
beside her, drew her chair nearer the fire, and stretched out her legs
towards the blaze. She was thoughtful as well as amused, questioning
herself as well as talking to me; it was quite in her old fashion.

“I liked him; he amused me—and it amused me. He’s Nina, isn’t he?
Nina writ large and clumsily? What she is delicately, he is coarsely.
Oh, well, that’s rather a hard word, perhaps. I mean, obviously,
insistently. Where she carries an atmosphere, he works an air pump.
Still I liked him; he was kind to me; he gave me treats—as you did. And
it was fun poaching on Nina’s preserves. After all, she didn’t have it
all her own way when we met at Cimiez!”

“She’s not having it now, I should imagine—since he’s coming to Venice.”

“I like treats, and I like being admired, and I liked the poaching,”
Lucinda pursued. “He gave me all that. And he really was generously
indignant at my having to earn an honest living—no, having to earn a
poor living, I mean.”

“He gave Arsenio money too, didn’t he?” Of course I knew the answer,
but I had my reason for putting the question.

“Yes; I didn’t know it, but I suspected it—or Arsenio wouldn’t have
been so accommodating to him. But he really wanted to help me, to make
things easier for me. That wasn’t her motive!”

Remembering what I did of Lady Dundrannan’s attitude and demeanor
during my stay at Villa San Carlo, I did not feel equal to arguing that
it was.

“So—altogether—I let him flirt with me a good deal. I don’t think you
know much about flirtation, do you, Julius? Oh, I don’t mean love!
Well, it’s a series of advances and retreats, you see.” (She entered
on this exposition with a feigned and hollow gravity.) “When the man
advances, the woman retreats. But if the man retreats, the woman
advances. And so it goes on. Do you at all see, Julius?”

“I’m disposed to believe that you’re giving me a practical
demonstration—of the advance!”

She laughed gaily. “Pure theory—for the moment, at all events! But he
didn’t always advance at the proper moment. Never you dare to tell Nina
that! But he didn’t. I’m not a vain woman, am I, or I shouldn’t tell
even you! Something always seemed to bring him up short. Fear of Nina,
do you think? Or was he too big a man? Or had he scruples?”

“A bit of all three, perhaps.” I had had the benefit of another version
of this story—at Paris.

“Anyhow he never did, or suggested, anything very desperate. And so—I’m
rather wondering what’s bringing him to Venice. Because now we’re
rich—we have at least a competence. We’re respectable. Monsieur Valdez
can afford to be honest; Madame Valdez can afford to keep straight.
Desperation might have had its chance at Nice. Oh, yes, it might
easily! It hasn’t surely got half such a good chance now? I mean, it
couldn’t seem to have—to Godfrey Frost.”

“I’m not quite sure about that. He saw the famous meeting at Cimiez.
He’s told me about it—I told you I’d seen him since, didn’t I? I fancy
he understands your feelings better than you think. He has a good brain
and—plenty of curiosity.”

“Then if he does understand—and still comes to Venice——?” She looked
at me with her brows raised and a smile on her lips. “Looks serious,
doesn’t it?” she ended. She broke into low laughter. “It would be such
glorious fun to become Mrs. Godfrey Frost!”

“You’ve got a husband still, remember!”

“That’s nothing—now. Or do you set up Arsenio as morality?”

“Oh, no! If Arsenio’s morality, why, damn morality!” I said.

“And there’s just the piquant touch of uncertainty as to whether I
could do it—whether I could become even so much as an unofficial Mrs.
Godfrey—whom Nina didn’t know, but whom she’d think about! Still—he is
coming to Venice. It’s rather tempting, isn’t it, Julius?”

“Does a revenge on Arsenio come into it at all?”

Her smile disappeared, her face suddenly grew sad. “Oh, no, I’m having
that already. I don’t want to have—not as revenge—but I can’t help it.
It is so with me—no credit to me, either.”

“All the same, Arsenio isn’t pleased at our friend coming to Venice.
He was very glad when I took this apartment—mainly because then Godfrey
couldn’t.”

“If you hadn’t come, and he had—I wonder!”

“Do you care for him in the very least?” I asked, perhaps rather hotly.

“No,” she answered with cool carelessness. “But is that the question?”
She dropped out of her chair on to her knees before the fire, holding
out her hands to warm them. Her face, pale under the lamp, was ruddy
in the blaze of the logs. “You’re a silly old idealist, Julius. You
idealize even me—me, who did, in this very place, what shouldn’t be
done—me who ran away from a good marriage and a better man—me who have
knocked about anyhow for years—knowing I was always on sale—I’m on sale
every afternoon on the Piazza—if only I chose to make the bargain. But
you choose to see me as I was once.” She laughed gently. “Well, I think
you’ve saved my life—or my reason—twice—here and at Ste. Maxime—so I
suppose I must put up with you!”

“You’ll never go to a man unless you love him,” I said obstinately.

Suddenly she flung her hands high above her head. “Oh, what does one
keep in this wicked world, what does one keep?”

Her hands sank down on to her knees—as though their reluctant fall
pictured the downward drag of the world on the spirit. In that posture
she crouched many minutes without moving; and I, not stirring either,
watched her.

“I had my one virtue,” she said at last. “My primitive virtue. I was
faithful to my man—even when I tried not to be, still I was. Now I’ve
lost even that. It wouldn’t cost me an hour’s sleep to deceive or
desert Arsenio. I should, in fact, rather enjoy it, just for its own
sake.”

“I daresay. But you’re not for sale—in marriage or out of it. And, as
you said, isn’t your revenge complete?”

“That’s the worst of revenge; is it ever, in the end, really complete?”
She turned round on me suddenly and laid a hand on my knee. “Yes—that’s
what has been in my mind. But it’s only just this minute that I’ve seen
it. I daresay you’ve seen it, though, haven’t you? I’m becoming cruel;
I’m beginning to enjoy tormenting him. I’ve read somewhere that people
who have to punish do sometimes get like that, even when it’s a just
punishment. But it’s rather an awful idea.”

Her face was full of a horrified surprise. “I do get things out so,
in talking to you,” she added in a hurried murmur. “Oh, not words;
thoughts, I mean. You let me go on talking, and I straighten myself
out before my own eyes. You know? Till now, I’ve never seen what I was
coming down to. Poor old Arsenio! After all, he’s not a snake or a
toad, is he?” She laughed tremulously. “Though why should one be cruel
even to toads and snakes? One just leaves them alone. That’s what I
must do with Arsenio.”

“An illogical conclusion—since he isn’t snake or toad,” I said, as
lightly as I could.

“Oh, you know! That’s it! Yes, I’ve been saying that I was very just,
and fine, and all that! And I’ve really been enjoying it! Julius dear,
has my honest work been all just viciousness—cattiness, you know?”

“God bless you, no! Why do you round on yourself like this? You’ve come
through the whole thing splendidly. Oh, you’re human! There’s Nina, and
all that, of course. But it’s nonsense to twist the whole thing like
that.”

“Yes, it is,” she decided—this time quickly, even abruptly. “It hasn’t
been that—not most of it anyhow. But it’s in danger of being it now. It
almost is it, isn’t it?”

“Sometimes, at dinner, I’ve thought you a little cruel.”

“Yes—I have been.” She rose to her feet almost with a jump. “If I have
to go—to rescue myself from that—will you help me, Julius? Because I’ve
no money to go far—to take myself out of his reach.”

As—on this question—we stood opposite to one another, she just
murmuring “Yes, that’s it,” I nonplussed at her question, at the whole
turn her talk had taken—we heard the tramp of steps on the stone
staircase. She flung me a glance; more than one person was coming up.
“It’s just like Arsenio not to have told us!” she whispered with a
smile.

“You mean——?” I whispered back.

“He’s been to meet him at the station, of course! Julius, how shall I
behave?”

We heard the door of the apartment opened. The next moment Arsenio
opened the door of the room, and ushered in Godfrey Frost, in a big fur
coat, fresh from the train evidently.

“Here he is!” Arsenio cried, almost triumphantly.

Godfrey stood on the threshold, obviously taken aback. It was clear
that Arsenio had not told him that he was to meet the pair of us.

Arsenio wore his most characteristic grin. I could not help smiling at
it. Lucinda laughed openly. Godfrey, caught unawares as he was, carried
the position off bravely.

“Delightful to see you both! But where am I? Whose charming room is
this?”

“It’s the devil and all to know that! We live so funnily,” said Monkey
Valdez.



CHAPTER XXI

PARTIE CARRÉE


WHEN I awoke the next morning, it was with the memory of one of the
queerest hours that I had ever spent in my life. After I had drunk
my coffee, I lay late in bed, reviewing it, smiling over Arsenio’s
malicious gayety, over Godfrey’s surly puzzlement, over myself
struggling between amusement and disgust, over Lucinda’s delicate
aloofness and assumed unconsciousness of anything peculiar in the
situation.

For the devil and all—to use his own phrase—took possession of Monkey
Valdez. Lucinda was not the only one to whom the infliction of pain
and punishment might become a joy. Arsenio had been powerless to
prevent Godfrey from coming to Venice; he meant to make him pay for
having come; to make him pay, I suppose, for having sought to take
advantage of Arsenio’s need, for having dared to think that he could
buy Lucinda—from a husband who all but told him that he was willing to
sell her! Great crimes in the eyes of Arsenio, now no more in need, now
grown rich, yet with his riches turned to useless dross, because of
him, and of them, Lucinda would have nothing.

He could not pose as the happy husband. That would not be plausible;
Lucinda would not second it, and Godfrey knew too much. But by every
means within the range of his wonderful and impish ingenuity, by
insinuation and innuendo, by glances, smiles, and gestures, he pointed
Godfrey to the inference that I was the favored man, the aspiring,
perhaps already the successful, lover. In that Godfrey was to find the
explanation of the “funny” way in which we lived—an apartment for each
of us, husband and wife meeting only at my board, her cool defensive
demeanor towards him, my friendly toleration of his presence, which I
must dislike, but also must endure because it was a cover and a screen.
None of this, of course, in words, but all acted—admirably acted, so
that it was equally impossible for Godfrey not to accept it, and for
either Lucinda or myself to repudiate it. Had we tried, he would have
made us appear ridiculous; there was not a definite word on which we
could fasten, not a peg on which to hang the denial.

Lucinda did not want to deny, to judge by her demeanor; but neither
did she do anything or show any signs that could be construed into an
admission. She behaved just as a woman of the world would behave in
such a situation—with a husband so unreasonable, so ill-bred as to let
his jealousy appear in the presence of an outsider! To see nothing of
what he meant, not to consider it possible that he could mean it—that
would be the woman of the world’s cue; it was perfectly taken up in
Lucinda’s cool and remote self-possession, the aloofness of her eyes as
she listened to Arsenio, her easy cordiality towards both myself and
Godfrey, her absolute ignoring of the “funniness” of our way of living.
No, she did not want to deny, any more than she meant actively to aid,
the impression. It was Arsenio’s game—let him play it. If to behave
naturally tended to strengthen it, that was not her fault. Meanwhile
she enjoyed the comedy; not a single direct glance at me told that—only
an occasional faint smile at Arsenio’s adroitest touches.

She might be pardoned for enjoying the comedy; it was good. Perhaps for
not sharing the distaste that mingled with my own appreciation—for not
feeling the disgust that I felt at this cheapening of her. In her eyes
Arsenio had already cheapened her to the uttermost; he could do nothing
more in that direction. He could still give her pleasure—of a kind; by
suffering cruelty himself, as it seemed, or by being cleverly cruel to
others. He could no longer give her pain; he had exhausted his power to
do that.

He knew what he could do and what he could not. If she was a character
in his comedy, she was his audience too. He played to her for all he
was worth; he saw the occasional smile and understood it as well as I
did. His eyes sought for any faint indications of her applause.

And the victim? As I said, he carried off the meeting well at first;
the Frost composure stood him in good stead; he was not readily to be
shaken out of it. But at last, under Arsenio’s swift succession of
pricks, he grew sullen and restive. His puzzled ill-humor vented itself
on me, not on his dexterous tormentor.

“When did you make up your mind to come here? You said nothing about
anything of the sort in Paris!”

The half-smothered resentment in his tone accused me of treachery—of
having stolen a march on him. Arsenio smiled impishly as he
listened—himself at last silent for a minute.

“The news of our friends’ good fortune encouraged me to join them,” I
said. It was true—roughly; and I was very far from acknowledging any
treachery.

This was the first reference that any one had made to the grand
_coup_—to the winning ticket—a reticence which had, no doubt, increased
Godfrey’s puzzle. He could not put questions himself, but I had
seen him eyeing Lucinda’s black frock; Arsenio too was uncommonly
shabby; and, as the latter had incidentally mentioned, I was paying
rent: “I can’t afford not to charge it,” he had added with a rueful
air, ostentatiously skirting the topic. Now he took it up, quite
artificially. “Ah, that bit of luck! Oh, all to the good! It settles
our future—doesn’t it, Lucinda?” (Here came one of her rare faint
smiles.) “But we’re simple folk with simple tastes. We haven’t
substantially altered our mode of living. Lucinda has her work—she
likes it. I stick on in the old ancestral garrets.” (“Ancestral” was
stretching things a bit—his father had bought the _palazzo_, and
re-christened it.) “But we shall find a use for that windfall yet.
Still, now you’ve come, we really must launch out a bit. Julius is one
of the family—almost; but you’re an honored guest. Mustn’t we launch
out a little, Lucinda?”

“Do as you like. It’s your money,” she answered. “At least, what you
don’t owe of it is.”

Then, at that, for a sudden short moment, the real man broke through.
“Then none of it’s mine, because I owe it all to you,” he said. The
words might have been a continuation of his mockery; they would have
borne that construction. But they were not; his voice shook a little;
his mind was back on Number Twenty-one and what that meant—or had
meant—to him. But he recovered his chosen tone in an instant. “And
behold her generosity! She gives it back to me—she won’t touch a penny
of it!”

At that a sudden gleam of intelligence shot into Godfrey’s eyes.
He fixed them inquiringly on Lucinda. She was in great looks that
evening—in her plain, close-fitting, black frock, with never an
ornament save a single scarlet flower in her fair hair; he might well
look at her; but it was not her beauty that drew his gaze at that
moment. He was questioning more than admiring. She gave him back his
look steadily, smiling a little, ready to let him make what he could of
her husband’s exclamation.

“Let me give one dinner party out of it,” implored Arsenio. “Just we
four—a perfect _partie carrée_. If I do, will you come to it, Lucinda?”

She gave him an amused little nod; he had touched her humor. “Yes, if
you give Mr. Frost a dinner, I’ll come,” she said. “What day?”

“Why, the first on which we can eat a dinner! And that’s to-morrow!
Upstairs—in my apartment?”

“No—here—if Julius will let us,” she said mildly, but very firmly. “You
accept, Mr. Frost? And we’ll all dress up and be smart,—to honor Mr.
Frost, and Arsenio’s banquet.”

So the arrangement was made, and it promised, to my thinking, as I lay
in bed, another queer evening. Somebody, surely, would break the thin
ice on which Arsenio was cutting his capers! What if we all began to
speak our true thoughts about one another? But the evening that I was
recalling held still something more in it—the most vivid of all its
impressions, although the whole of it was vivid enough in my memory.

Godfrey rose to take his leave. “Till to-morrow, then!” he said, as he
took Lucinda’s hand, bowing slightly over it; he pressed it, I think,
for her fingers stiffened and she frowned—Arsenio standing by, smiling.

“See him down the stairs, Arsenio,” she ordered. “The light’s very
dim, and two or three of the steps are broken.”

The two went out! I heard Arsenio’s voice chattering away in the
distance as they went down the high steep stairs. Lucinda stood where
she was for a minute, and then came across to the chair on which I had
sat down, after saying good-night to Godfrey. She dropped on her knees
beside it, laying her arms across my knees, and looking up at me with
eyes full of tears.

“I do pity him,” she murmured, “I do! And I’d be kind to him. I don’t
want him to go on being as bitter and unhappy as he is—oh, you saw! One
can’t help being amused, but every time he hit Godfrey, he hit himself
too—and harder. But what’s the use? Nothing’s any use except the thing
that I can’t do!”

I laid my hand on hers—they lay side by side on my knee. “It’s rather a
case of ‘God help us all!’ I think.”

“You too?”

“Yes—when you’re unhappy.”

I felt her hands rise under my hand, and I released them. She took mine
between hers and raised it to her lips. Then a silence fell between us,
until I became conscious that Arsenio was standing on the threshold,
holding the knob of the opened door. He had stolen back with the
quietness of a cat; we had neither of us heard a sound of him.

Lucinda saw him, and slowly rose to her feet; she was without a trace
of embarrassment. She walked across to the door; he held it wide open
for her to pass—she always went upstairs alone—But to-night—against the
custom of their nightly parting during the last week—she stopped and
took his hand. Her back was towards me now; I could not see her eyes,
but there must have been an invitation in them, for he slowly advanced
his head towards hers. She did not need to stoop—she was as tall as he
was. She kissed him on the forehead.

“If you will be content with peace, peace let it be,” she said.

He made no motion to return the kiss—the invitation could not have
carried so far as that; he stood quite still while she passed out and
while her footsteps sounded on the stairs.

There came the noise of a door opening and shutting, up above us, on
the top floor. He shut the door that he had been still holding, and
came slowly up to the hearthrug, by which I sat.

I lit a cigarette. All the while that it took me to smoke it he stood
there in silence, with his hands in the pockets of his jacket. His
impishness had dropped from him, exorcised, as it seemed, by Lucinda’s
kiss. His face was calm and quiet.

“Well, that’s finished!” he said at last, more to himself than to me.
I did not speak; he looked down at me and addressed me more directly.
“You saw her? You saw what she meant by that? It was—good-by!”

“I’m afraid I think so too, old friend—especially in view of what she’d
just been saying to me. She’s greatly distressed about it, but——” At
that moment I myself was greatly distressed for him, indeed for both
of them; but the next he spoilt my feeling (so to say) as far as he
was concerned, and made Lucinda’s distress look overdone, or even
gratuitous. He drew himself up pompously and spread his arms out on
either side of him, holding his hands palms uppermost, rather as if he
were expounding an argument to a public meeting.

“Very well! I accept. Whatever her future feelings may be, I take her
at her word, and accept—once and for all! It is not consonant with my
dignity, my self-respect——” I sighed. He gave me a short, sharp look,
but then went on in just the same fashion—“to prolong this situation,
to persecute, to trouble. I will relieve her of my presence, of the
thought of me. She is still young—almost a girl. She will find another
life to live. She will find love again—though not the love I gave her.
And if ever she thinks of Arsenio Valdez, let it be with charity and
forgiveness!”

It seemed rather cruel to recognize the fact,—but a fact it obstinately
and obviously was—that Lucinda’s future thinking of him formed part of
the program; relieving her of the thought of him was a mere flourish;
whatever he proposed to do with himself, he did not propose to do that.

“Time softens bitter memories, the mind dwells on what is sweet in the
past. So may it be with her, when I am gone, Julius!”

“Where do you propose to go?’” I asked irritably. His pomposity and
sentimentality seemed to me transpontine. The man could not be sincere
for five minutes; he was cutting a figure again.

“Ah! that, my friend, need not be put in words. There is one course
always open to a gentleman who has staked his all and lost.”

It occurred to me that Arsenio had very often staked his all and lost,
and that his course had been to borrow some more from other people. But
what was the good of saying that to him when he was on his high horse—a
very prancing steed? In a different mood, though, he would have laughed
at the reminder himself.

Of course I knew what he meant me to understand. But, frankly, I did
not at the time believe a word of it; and now, as I lay thinking it
over, I believed in it even less, if possible. I took it for another
flourish, and smiled to myself at it, as Lucinda had laughed at the
threat when she mentioned it to me on the Lido.

“Sleep on it, old fellow,” I advised him. “You’ll feel better about it,
perhaps, in the morning. If you so decide to give her a separation or a
divorce, it can all be arranged in a friendly way. She wants to be as
kind and friendly as she can to you.”

“As I say, I trust that her memory of me will be that,” he said in his
most solemn sepulchral voice. “And you, my friend, you too——”

“Oh, damn it all, let my memories of you alone, Arsenio! I assure you
that talking this sort of stuff won’t improve them.” I got up from my
chair. “Go to bed now—think it over to-morrow. At any rate, you’ve got
your dinner to-morrow evening; you can’t do anything till after that.”

“Yes,” he agreed thoughtfully. “Yes, I’ve got my dinner to-morrow.”
He seemed to meditate on the prospect with a gloomy satisfaction. I
meditated on the same prospect now with considerable apprehension.
He had finally left me the night before still in his tragic vein,
still on his high horse. But who in the world could tell in what mood
this evening would find him? On whom might he not turn? What outrage
on the social decencies might he not commit? Last night we had been
presented with an extensive selection from his _répertoire_, ranging
from schoolboy naughtiness to the _beau geste_—the insufferable _beau
geste_—of a romantically contemplated suicide. What might we not be
treated to to-night? And I did not feel at all sure how much Lucinda
could stand—or how much Godfrey Frost would.

With a knock at the door, Louis came in, in his usual sleek and
deferential fashion. He laid a little bundle of letters on the table
by the bed, and inquired whether Monsieur would take _déjeuner_ at
home to-day—or would he perhaps prefer to go out? It was obvious,
from the way the question was put, which Louis himself preferred. And
the next moment he murmured the humble suggestion that there were the
preparations, for dinner to-night, of course.

“Are there? Special preparations, do you mean, Louis?”

“Monsieur Valdez is, I understand, with your permission, Monsieur,
intending to provide a few decorations for the _salon_. He tells me
that he entertains to-night in honor of the arrival of his friend
Monsieur Frost.” (Froost, he called it).

“Oh, all right! I’ll certainly lunch out, if it makes things easier for
you, Louis.”

When he was gone, I opened my letters. Among them was one from Waldo,
and another from Sir Paget, both of some length, touching the family
arrangement which Waldo had suggested with regard to Cragsfoot. I
decided to put them in my pocket and read them later—while I had my
lunch. I had lain already overlong in bed, my thoughts busy with the
events of the _partie carrée_ of last night.



CHAPTER XXII

SUITABLE SURROUNDINGS


WALDO’S was a business letter; any feelings that might be influencing
the proposed transaction, any sentiment that might be involved—whether
of Nina’s, of his own, of his father’s, or of mine—he appeared to
consider as having been adequately indicated in our talk at Paris, and
accorded them only one passing reference. He assumed that I should be
bearing all that—he had a habit of describing the emotions as “all
that,” I remembered—in mind; what remained was to ask me whether I were
favorably disposed to the arrangement, the value of his remainder—which
must, alas, before many years were out, become an estate in
possession—to be fixed by a firm of land agents selected by himself and
me—“from which price I should suggest deducting twenty-five per cent.
in consideration of what I believe the lawyers call ‘natural love and
affection’; in other words, because I’d much sooner sell to you than
to a stranger—in fact, than to _anybody else_.” The underlining of the
last two words clearly asked me to substitute for them a proper name
with which we were both well acquainted. He added that he thought the
land agents’ valuation would be somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty
thousand pounds, timber included—and so, with kindest remembrances
from Nina, who was splendidly fit, _considering_ (another underlining
gave me news of possible importance for the future of the Dundrannan
barony), he remained my affectionate cousin.

Though I suspect that son and father, at the bottom of their hearts,
felt much the same about the matter, Sir Paget’s letter was expressed
in a different vein. Leaving the business to Waldo, he dealt with the
personal aspect:

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that I hadn’t always hoped
and expected that the heir of my body and the child of my dear wife
should succeed me here. That’s nature; but _Dis aliter visum_. The
All-Highest herself decides otherwise.” (I saw in my mind the humorous,
rather tired, smile with which he wrote that.) “But I should be an
ungrateful churl indeed if I repined at the prospect of being succeeded
at Cragsfoot by you, who bear the old name (and, I am told, are to get
a handle to it!)—you who are and have been always son of my heart, if
not of my body—a loyal, true son too, if you will let me say it. So, if
it is to be, I receive it with happiness, and the more you come to your
future dominions while I—_brevis dominus_—am still here to welcome you,
the better I shall be pleased. But, prithee, Julius, remember that you
provide, in your own person, only for the next generation. When your
turn comes for the doleful cypresses, what is to happen? You must look
to it, my boy!”

After a touching reference to his old and now lost companion, Aunt
Bertha, and to his own loneliness, he went on more lightly: “But Waldo
comes over every day from Briarmount when they are ‘in residence,’ and
the aforesaid All-Highest herself pays me a state visit once or twice
a week. The Queen-Regent expects an Heir-Apparent. Oh, confidently! I
think she can’t quite make out how fate, or nature, or the other Deity
dared to thwart her, last time! I confess I am hypnotized—I too have
no doubt of the event! So, as to that, all is calm and confidence—the
third peer of the line is on his way! But is there anything wrong
in her outlying dominions? Villa San Carlo, though it sounds like
a charming winter palace, doesn’t seem to have been an unqualified
success. ‘Rather tiresome down there!’ she said. I asked politely after
the cousin. Very well, when she had seen him last, but she really
didn’t know what he was doing; it seemed to her that he was taking
a very long holiday from business—‘Our works down there are of only
secondary importance.’ I remarked that you had written saying how much
you were enjoying yourself at Villa San Carlo, and how you regretted
being detained in Paris. ‘Oh, he meant to leave us anyhow, I think!’
I fancied somehow that both of you gentleman had incurred the royal
displeasure. What have you been up to? Rebellion, _lèse-majesté_,
treason? You are bold men if you defy my Lady Dundrannan! Well, she’s
probably right in thinking that Cragsfoot is too small for her, and not
worth adding to her dominions!”

Though the purchase would need some contriving, the price that Waldo’s
letter indicated was not an insuperable difficulty, thanks to the value
which Sir Ezekiel was now kind enough to put on my services; I could
pay it, and keep up the place on a footing of frugal decency when the
time came. For the rest, the prospect was attractive. Cragsfoot had
always been an integral part of my life; my orphaned childhood had been
spent there. If it passed to a stranger, I should feel as it were dug
up by the roots. If I did not fall in with the arrangement, pass to a
stranger it would; I felt sure of that; the All-Highest had issued her
command. “So be it!” I said to myself—half in pleasure, still half in
resentment at the Dundrannan fiat, which broke the direct line of the
Rillingtons of Cragsfoot. I also made up my mind to obey Sir Paget’s
implied invitation as soon as——

As soon as what? The summons from Cragsfoot—the call back to
home and home life (my appointment to our London office was now
ratified)—brought me up against that question. I could answer it only
by saying—as soon as Lucinda’s affair had somehow settled itself.
She could not be left where she was; as a permanency, the present
situation was intolerable. She must yield or she must go; Valdez would
never let her alone, short of her adopting one of those alternatives;
he would keep on at his pestering and posturing. She had no money; her
mother had lived on an annuity, or an allowance, or something of that
kind, which expired with the good lady herself. Clearly, however, she
was able to support herself. She must not sell flowers on the Piazza
all her life; I thought that she would consent to borrow enough money
from me to set herself up in a modest way in business, and I determined
to make that proposal to her on the morrow—as soon as we had got
through the ordeal of this evening’s dinner. I fervently hoped that we
might get through it without a flare-up between Arsenio and his honored
guest Godfrey Frost. Out of favor at Briarmount was he, that young man?
I could easily have told Sir Paget the reason for that!

The only one of the prospective party whom I encountered in the course
of the afternoon—though I admit that I haunted the Piazza in the hope
of seeing Lucinda—was the host himself. I met him in company with
a tall, lean visaged, eminently respectable person, wearing a tall
hat and a black frock coat. Arsenio stopped me, and introduced me to
his companion. He said that Signor Alessandro Panizzi and I ought to
know one another; I didn’t see why, and merely supposed that he was
exhibiting his respectable friend, who was, it appeared, one of the
leading lawyers in Venice and, indeed, an ex-Syndic of the city. Signor
Panizzi, on his part, treated Arsenio with the greatest deference;
he referred to him, in the course of our brief conversation, as “our
noble friend,” and was apparently hugely gratified by the familiar, if
somewhat lordly, bearing which Arsenio adopted towards him. But, after
all, Arsenio was now rich—notoriously so, thanks to the way in which
wealth had come to him; one could understand that he might be regarded
as a highly-to-be-valued citizen of Venice. Perhaps he was going to run
for Mayor himself—one more brilliant device to dazzle Lucinda!

There it was—in thinking of him one always expected, one always came
back to, the bizarre, the incongruous and ridiculous. It was the
overpowering instinct for the dramatic, the theatrical, in him, without
any taste to guide or to limit it. That was what made it impossible to
take him, or his emotions and attitudes, seriously; Waldo’s “all that”
seemed just the applicable description. I walked away wondering just
what particular line his bamboozlement of Signor Alessandro Panizzi
might be taking. Moreover, that he could find leisure in his thoughts
to posture to somebody else—besides Lucinda and myself—was reassuring.
It made his hints of the night before seem even more unreal and
fantastic.

That same last word was the only one appropriate to describe what I
found happening to my unfortunate _salon_, when I got back early in
the evening. Half a dozen men, under the superintendence of Louis and
the fat old _portière_ who lived in a sort of cupboard on the ground
floor, opening off the hall, were engaged in transforming it into what
they obviously considered to be a scene of splendor. The old _portière_
was rubbing his plump hands in delight; at last Don Arsenio was
launching out, spending his money handsomely, doing justice to Palazzo
Valdez; the rich English nobleman (this was Godfrey Frost—probably
after Arsenio’s own description) would undoubtedly be much impressed.
Very possibly—but possibly not quite as old Amedeo expected! The
table groaned—or at all events I groaned for it—under silver plate
and silver candlesticks. The latter were also stuck galore in sconces
on the walls. Table and walls were festooned with chains of white
flowers; the like bedecked the one handsome thing that really belonged
to the room—the antique chandelier in the middle of the ceiling; I
had never put lights in it, but they were there now. And the banquet
was to be on a scale commensurate with these trappings. “Prodigious!
Considering the times, absolutely prodigious!” Amedeo assured me; he,
for his part, could not conceive how Don Arsenio and Signor Louis had
contrived to obtain the materials for such a feast. Signor Louis smiled
mysteriously; tricks of the trade were insinuated.

It seemed to me that Arsenio had gone stark mad. What were we in for
this evening?

Just as this thought once again seized on my mind, I saw something that
gave me a little start. The butt of a revolver or pistol protruded from
the side-pocket of Louis’s jacket, and the pocket bulged with the rest
of the weapon.

“What in the world are you carrying that thing about for?” I exclaimed.

“Monsieur Valdez told me to clean it,” he answered quietly. “He gave it
to me for that purpose—out of his bureau.”

“He didn’t tell you to carry it about with you while you did your work,
did he?”

“No, he didn’t,” said Arsenio’s voice just behind me. The door stood
open for the workers, and he had come in, in his usual quiet fashion.
I turned round, to find him grinning at me. “Give it here, Louis,” he
ordered, and slipped the thing into his own pocket. “The room looks
fine now, doesn’t it?” he asked.

“What do you want with your revolver to-day?” I asked.

He looked at me with malicious glee. “Aha, Julius, I did frighten you
last night then, after all! You pretended to be very scornful, but
I did make an impression! Or else why do you question me about my
revolver?”

“I didn’t believe a word of that nonsense you hinted at last night,” I
protested. “But what do you want with your revolver?”

“My dear fellow, I don’t want to boast of my wealth, but there’s a
considerable sum of money in my bureau—very considerable. No harm in
being on the safe side, is there?”

That seemed reasonable: his manner too changed suddenly from derision
to a plausible common sense. “Possessing a revolver—as most of us who
served do—doesn’t mean that one intends to use it—on oneself or on
anybody else, does it?”

I felt at a loss. When he wanted me to believe, I didn’t. When he
wanted me not to believe, I did—or, at all events, half did. With
Arsenio the plausible sensible explanation was always suspect; to be
merely sensible was so contrary to his nature.

The busy men had apparently finished their ridiculous work. Louis came
in and looked round with a satisfied air.

“Splendid, Louis!” said Arsenio. “Here, take this thing and put it on
the bureau in my room.” As Louis obediently took the revolver and left
us alone together, Arsenio added to me: “Don’t spoil your dinner—a good
one, I hope, for these hungry days—by taking seriously anything I said
last night. Perhaps in the end I did mean—No, I didn’t really. I was
wrought up. My friend, wasn’t it natural?”

Well, it was natural, of course. On a man prone to what Lucinda had
called “heroics” the hour in which she had given him that kiss—the kiss
of farewell, as we had both interpreted it to be—would naturally induce
them. I should have been disposed to accept his disclaimer of any
desperate intentions, except for the fact that somehow he still seemed
to be watching me, watching what effect his words had on me, and rather
curiously anxious to efface the impression which the sudden appearance
of the revolver had made upon me.

“Last night—yes!” He dropped into a chair. “Her action affected me
strangely. It is long since she kissed me. And then to kiss me like
that! Can you wonder that I gave way?” He smiled up at me. “One
doesn’t easily part from Lucinda. Why, you told me that Waldo—our old
Waldo—went nearly mad with rage when I took her from him.” His brows
went up and he smiled. “It needed a European War to save me, you said!
Well, if my excitements are not as tremendous as Waldo’s, I must admit
that they are more frequent. But to-day I’ve come to my senses. Pray
believe me, my dear Julius—and don’t let any absurd notion spoil your
dinner.”

He was very anxious to convince me. My mind obstinately urged the
question: Was he afraid that I might watch him, that I might interfere
with his plan? I tried to shake off the notion—not quite successfully.
I had a feeling that “heroics” might be like strong drink; a man could
indulge in a lot of them, and yet be master of them—and of himself.
But there might come a point where they would gain the mastery, and he
would be a slave. In which case——

“You think this dinner of mine a mad affair?” I found Arsenio saying.
“Well, think so, in your stolid English fashion!” He shrugged his
shoulders scornfully. “You don’t see what it means? Oh, of course you
don’t! I suppose you love Lucinda as well—I said, Julius, that you
loved Lucinda as well—and the one merit of the English language is,
that ‘love’ is a tolerably distinctive word when applied to a woman—in
that damned black frock as if she were dressed as her beauty deserves?
Well, I don’t; I know—we know, we Southerners—how the setting enhances
the jewel. By my cunning incitements—you heard, but you had no ears—she
will dress herself to-night; you’ll see!” He waved his hands to embrace
the room. “And I have given her suitable surroundings!”

“I suppose it’s about time that we bedecked ourselves,” I suggested,
rather wearily.

“Yes—but one moment!” He leant forward in his chair. “What’s to become
of her, Julius?”

I answered him rather fiercely, brutally perhaps. “I think you’ve lost
the right to concern yourself with that.”

“I have, I know. Hence the occasion of this evening. But you, Julius?”

“I shall always be at her service, if she needs help. As you know,
she’s very independent.”

He nodded his head. Then he smiled his monkey smile. “And there’s
Godfrey Frost, of course. Entirely in a position to assist her! A sound
head! A good business man! Wants his price, but——!”

“Oh, damn you, go and dress for your infernal dinner!”

The devil was in him. He got up with a grin. “I doubt whether you’ll
be very good company! Oh, let’s see, where’s that revolver? Oh, I gave
it back to Louis, so I did! Our esteemed friend ought to be here in
half an hour. Do you happen to know that he and Lucinda have been to
the Lido together this afternoon? No, you don’t? Oh, yes! My friend
Alessandro and I saw them embarking. Doesn’t that fact add a further
interest to this evening? But look at the room—the table! Shall we not
outshine the Frost millions to-night—you and I, Julius?”

“It isn’t my affair, thank God!”

“Oh, that’s as it may turn out! _Au revoir_, then, in half an hour!”

He succeeded in leaving me in about as bewildered a state of mind as
I have ever been in in all my life; I, who have often had to decide
whether a politician was an honest man or not!——



CHAPTER XXIII

THE BANQUET


SINCE I was not to play host that evening, I decided to let Arsenio
be first on the gaudy scene which he had prepared. He should receive
the other guests; he should take undivided responsibility for the
decorations. I waited until I heard him come down and speak to Louis,
and even until I heard—as I very well could, in my little bedroom
adjoining the _salon_—Louis announcing first “Monsieur Froost,” and
then—no, it was fat old Amedeo who effected the second announcement,
arrogating to himself the rights of an old family servant—that of the
most excellent and noble Signora Donna Lucinda Valdez. Thereupon I
entered, Amedeo favoring me with no laudatory epithets, but leaving me
to content myself with Louis’ brief “Monsieur Reelinton.”

Lucinda was in splendor; she was—as I, at least, had never before
seen her—a grown woman in a grown woman’s evening finery. Through
all her wanderings she must have dragged this gown about, a relic of
her pre-war status—for all I knew, part of the _trousseau_ of the
prospective Mrs. Waldo Rillington! But it did not look seriously out
of fashion. (If I remember right, women dressed on substantially the
same lines just before the war as they did in the first months after
it.) It was a white gown, simple but artistic, of sumptuous material.
She wore no ornaments—it was not difficult to conjecture the reason for
that—only her favorite scarlet flower in her fair hair; yet the effect
of her was one of magnificence—of a restrained, tantalizing richness,
both of body and of raiment.

Whether she had arrayed herself thus in kindness or in cruelty, or in
some odd mixture of the two, indulging Arsenio’s freak with one hand,
while the other buffeted him with a vision of what he had lost, I know
not; but a glance at her face showed that her tenderer mood was now
past. Arsenio’s decorations had done for it! She was looking about her
with brows delicately raised, with amusement triumphant on her lips and
in her eyes. If Arsenio’s frippery had been meant to appeal to anything
except her humor, it had failed disastrously. It had driven her back to
her scorn, back to her conception of him as a trickster, a mountebank,
a creature whose promises meant nothing, whose threats meant less; an
amusing ape—and there an end of him!

But perhaps the plate and the festoons might impress the third guest,
who completed Arsenio’s party. Godfrey Frost did not, at first sight,
seem so much as to notice them, to know that they were there. His eyes
were all for Lucinda. Small wonder, indeed! but they did not seek or
follow her in frank and honest admiration, nor yet in the chivalrous
though sorrowful longing of unsuccessful love. There was avidity in
them, but also anger and grudge; rancor struggling with desire. He was
not looking amiable, the third guest. He set me wondering what had
passed on the Lido that afternoon.

Arsenio sat down with the air of a man who had done a good day’s work
and felt justified in enjoying his dinner and his company. He set
Lucinda to his right at the little square table, Godfrey to his left,
myself opposite. He gave a glance round the three of us.

“Ah, you’re amused,” he said to Lucinda, with his quick reading of
faces. “Well, you know my ways by now!” His voice sounded good-humored,
free from chagrin or disappointment. “And, after all, it’s my first
and last celebration of the bit of luck that Number Twenty-one at last
brought me.”

“The first and last bit of luck too, I expect,” she said; but she too
was gay and easy.

“Yes, I shall back it no more; its work is done. Not bad champagne,
is it, considering? Louis got it somehow. I told you he’d bring luck,
Julius! Louis, fill Mr. Frost’s glass!” He sipped at his own, and then
went on. “The charm of a long shot, of facing long odds—that’s what
I’ve always liked. That’s the thing for us gamblers! And who isn’t a
gambler—willingly or _malgré lui_? He who lives gambles; so does he who
dies—except, of course, for the saving rites of the Church.”

“You were a little late with that reservation, Arsenio,” I remarked.

“You heretics are hardly worthy of it at all,” he retorted, smiling.
“But, to gamble well, you must gamble whole-heartedly. No balancing of
chances, no cutting the loss, no trying to have it both ways. Don’t you
agree with me, Frost?”

“I don’t believe that Mr. Frost agrees with you in the least,” Lucinda
put in. “He thinks it’s quite possible to have it both ways. Don’t you,
Mr. Frost? To win without losing is your idea!”

He gave her a long look, a reluctant sour smile. She was bantering
him—over something known to them, only to be conjectured by Arsenio and
me; something that had passed on the Lido? She had for him a touch of
the detached scornful amusement which Arsenio’s decorations had roused
in her, but with a sharper tang in it—more bite to less laughter.

“I’m not a gambler, though I’m not afraid of a business risk,” he
answered.

She laughed lightly. “A business risk would never have brought the
splendor of to-night!” She smiled round at the ridiculously festooned
walls.

We were quickly disposing of an excellent, well-served dinner;
Louis was quick and quiet, fat Amedeo more sensible than he looked,
undoubtedly a good cook was in the background. Growing physically very
comfortable, I got largely rid of the queer apprehensions which had
haunted me; I paid less heed to Arsenio, and more to the secret subtle
duel which seemed to be going on between the other two. Arsenio played
more with his topic—birth, death, life, love—all gambles into which
men and women were involuntarily thrown, with no choice but to play
the cards or handle the dice; all true and obvious in a superficial
sort of way, but it seemed rather trifling—a mood in which life can be
regarded, but one in which few men or women really live it. That he was
one of the few himself, however, I was quite prepared to concede; the
magnitude of his gains—and of his loss—as convincing.

Louis and Amedeo served us with coffee and Louis set a decanter of
brandy in front of Arsenio.

Then they left us alone. Arsenio poured himself out a glass of brandy,
and handed the decanter round. Holding his glass in his hand, he turned
to Lucinda. “Will you drink with me—to show that you forgive my sins?”

Her eyes widened a little at the suddenness of the appeal; but she
smiled still, and answered lightly, “Oh, I’ll drink with you——” She
sipped her brandy—“in memory of old days, Arsenio!”

“I see,” he said, nodding his head at her gravely. She had refused
to drink with him on his terms; she would do it only on her own.
“Still—you shall forgive,” he persisted with one of his cunning smiles.
Then he turned suddenly to Godfrey Frost with a change of manner—with
a cold malice that I had never seen in him before, a malice with
no humor in it, a straightforward viciousness. “Then let us drink
together, my friend!” he said. “It was with that object that I brought
you here to-night. We’ll drink together, as we have failed together,
Godfrey Frost! A business risk you spoke of just now! It wasn’t a bad
speculation! A couple of hundred or so—Oh, I had more from your cousin,
but her motives were purely charitable, eh?—just a beggarly couple of
hundred for a chance at that!” A gesture indicated Lucinda. His voice
rose; it took on its rhetorical note, and the words fell into harmony
with it. “To buy a man’s honor and beauty like that for a couple of
hundred—not a bad risk!”

Godfrey looked as if he had been suddenly hit in the face; he turned
a deep red and leant forward towards his host—his very queer host. He
was too shaken up to be ready with a reply. Lucinda sat motionless,
apparently aloof from the scene. But a very faint smile was still on
her lips.

“What the devil’s the use of this sort of thing?” I expostulated—in
a purely conventional spirit, with one’s traditional reprobation
of “scenes.” My feeling somehow went no deeper. It seemed then an
inevitable thing that these three should have it out, before they went
their several ways; the conventions were all broken between them.

“Because the truth’s good for him—and for me; for both of us who
trafficked in her.”

Lucinda suddenly interposed, in a delicate scorn, an unsparing
truthfulness. “It’s only because you’ve failed yourself that you’re
angry with him, Arsenio. Let him alone; he’s had enough truth from me
this afternoon—and a lot of good advice. I told him to go home—to Nina
Dundrannan. And for Heaven’s sake don’t talk about ‘trafficking,’ as if
you were some kind of a social reformer!”

She turned to me, actually laughing; and I began to laugh too. Well,
Godfrey looked absurd—like a dog being whipped by two people at once,
not knowing which he most wanted to bite, not sure whether he dared
bite either—possibly thinking also of a third whipping which would
certainly befall him if he followed Lucinda’s good advice. And Arsenio,
cruelly let down from his heroics, looked funnily crestfallen too. He
was not allowed to be picturesquely, rhetorically indignant—not with
Godfrey, not even with himself!

“Besides,” she added, “he did offer to stick to his engagement to lunch
with me that day at Cimiez!”

The mock admiration and gratitude with which she recalled this
valiant deed—to which she might, in my opinion, well have dedicated
a friendlier tone, since it was no slight exploit for him to beard
his Nina in that fashion—put a limit to poor Godfrey’s tongue-tied
endurance.

“Yes, you were ready enough to take my lunches, and what else you could
get!” he sneered.

Lucinda gave me just a glance; here was a business reckoner indeed!
Of course he had some right on his side, but he saw his right so
carnally; why couldn’t he have told her that they’d been friends—and
who could be only a friend to her? That was what, I expect, he meant in
his heart; but his instincts were blunt, and he had been lashed into
soreness.

Still, though I was feeling for him to that extent, I could not help
returning Lucinda’s glance with a smile, while Arsenio chuckled in an
exasperating fashion. It was small wonder really that he pushed back
his chair from the table and, looking round at the company, groaned
out, “Oh, damn the lot of you!”

The simplicity of this retort went home. I felt guilty myself, and
Lucinda was touched to remorse, if not to shame. “I told you not to
come to-night,” she murmured. “I told you that he only wanted to tease
you. You’d better go away, perhaps.” She looked at him, and his glance
obeyed hers instantly; she put out her hand and laid it on one of his
for just a moment. “And, after all, I did like the lunches. You’re
quite right there! Arsenio, can’t we part friends to-night—since we
must part, all of us?”

“Oh, as you like!” said Arsenio impatiently. A sudden and deep
depression seemed to fall upon him; he sat back, staring dejectedly
at the table. He reminded one of a comedian whose jokes do not carry.
This banquet was to have been a great, grim joke. But it had fallen
flat—sunk now into just a wrangle. And at last his buoyant malice
failed to lift it—failed him indeed completely. We three men sat in a
dull silence; I saw Lucinda’s eyes grow dim with tears.

Godfrey broke the silence by rising to his feet, clumsily, almost with
a stumble; I think that he caught his foot in the tablecloth, which
hung down almost to the floor.

“I’ll go,” he said. “I’m sorry for all this. I’ve made a damned fool of
myself.”

Nobody else spoke, or rose.

“If it’s any excuse”—he almost stumbled in his speech, as he had almost
stumbled with his feet—“I love Lucinda. And you’ve used her damnably,
Valdez.”

“For what I’ve done, I pay. For you—go and learn what love is.” This,
though as recorded it sounds like his theatrical manner, was not so
delivered. It came from him in a low, dreary voice, as though he were
totally dispirited. He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece; it had
gone ten o’clock; he seemed to shiver as he noted the hour. He looked
across at me with a helpless appeal in his eyes. He looked like an
animal in a trap; a trap bites no less deeply for being of one’s own
devising.

Godfrey was staring at him now in a dull, uncomprehending bewilderment.
Lucinda put her elbows on the table, and supported her chin in her
hands, her eyes set inquiringly on his face. I myself stretched out
my hand and clasped one of his. But he shook off my grasp, raised
his hands in the air and let them fall with a thud on the table; all
the things on it rattled; even the heavy plate that he had bought or
hired—I didn’t know which—for his futile banquet. Then he blurted out,
in the queerest mixture of justification, excuse, defiance, bravado:
“Oh, you don’t understand, but to me it means damnation! And I can’t
do it; now—now the time’s come, I can’t!” There was no doubt about his
actual, physical shuddering now.

Lucinda did not move; she just raised her eyes from where he sat to
where Godfrey stood. “You’d better go,” she said. “Julius and I must
manage this.” Her tone was contemptuous still.

I got up and took Godfrey’s arm. He let me lead him out of the room
without resistance, and, while I was helping him on with his hat and
coat, asked in a bewildered way, “What does it mean?”

“He meant to go out in a blaze of glory—with a _beau geste_! But he
hasn’t got the pluck for it at the finish. That’s about the size of it.”

“My God, what a chap! What a queer chap!” he mumbled, as he began to go
downstairs. He turned his head back. “See you to-morrow?”

“Lord, I don’t know! I’ve got him to look after. He might find his
courage again! I can’t leave him alone. Good-night.” I watched him down
to the next landing, and then went back towards the _salon_. I did not
think of shutting the outer door behind me.

Just on the threshold of the _salon_ I met Arsenio himself in the act
of walking out of the room, rather unsteadily. “Where are you going?” I
demanded angrily.

“Only to get some whisky. I’ve a bottle in my room. I want a
whisky-and-soda. It’s all right; it really is now, old fellow.”

“I shall come with you.” I knew of a certain thing that he had in his
own room upstairs, and was not going to trust him alone.

He shrugged his shoulders slightly, but made no further objection.
“We’ll be back in a minute,” I called out to Lucinda, who was still
sitting at the table, her attitude unchanged. Then Arsenio and I passed
through the open door and went up the stairs together. As we started on
our way, he said, with a curious splutter that was half a sob in his
voice, “Lucinda knows me best, and you see she’s not afraid. She didn’t
try to stop me.”

“She’s never believed you meant it at all; but I did,” I answered.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MASCOT


ARSENIO opened the door of the apartment with his latchkey and stood
aside to let me pass in first. The door of his sitting room, the long,
narrow room which I have described before, stood slightly ajar, and a
light shone through it. I advanced across the passage—the hall could
hardly be called more—and flung the door wide open as I entered,
Arsenio following just behind.

There, in the middle of the room, two or three paces from the big
bureau, one side of which flapped open, showing shelves and drawers,
stood Louis the valet, the waiter from that “establishment” of
Arsenio’s at Nice, the seller of the winning ticket, the author of
Arsenio’s luck. In his left hand he held, clasped against his body,
a large black leather portfolio or letter case; in his right was the
revolver which his master had given him to clean.

He stood quite still, frightened, as it seemed, into immobility,
glaring at us with a terrified face. He had thought that we were safely
bestowed, round the table downstairs, for some time to come. Our
footsteps on the stairs had disturbed him when his work was almost
finished; our entrance cut off his retreat. Even if he had had the
presence of mind to bar the door, it would have given him only a brief
respite; escape by the window was impossible; but he did not look as if
he were capable of reckoning up the situation, or his chances, at all.
He was numb with fear.

“Drop that thing, you scoundrel!” I cried; and it is my belief to this
day that he would have obeyed me, put down his weapon, and meekly
surrendered, if he had been let alone. He was certainly not built for
a burglar or for deeds of violence, though I suppose the possession of
the revolver had nerved him to this enterprise of his.

But Arsenio did not let him alone, or wait to see the effect of my
order. Even as I spoke, he dashed forward in front of me, uttering
a wild cry; it did not sound like fear—either for his money or for
his life—or even like rage; really, it sounded more like triumph
than anything else. And he made straight for the armed man, utterly
regardless of the weapon that he held.

Thus put to it, Louis fired—once, twice. Arsenio ran, as it were, right
on to the first bullet. I had darted forward to support his attempt
to rush the thief—if that really was what he had in his mind—and he
fell back plump into my arms, just as the second bullet whizzed past
my head. Then with a yell of sheer horror—at what he had done, I
suppose—Louis dropped the revolver with a bang on the floor, dropped
the fat portfolio too with a flop, and, before I, cumbered with
Arsenio’s helpless body, could do anything to stop him, bolted out of
the room like a scared rabbit. I heard his feet pattering down the
stairs at an incredible pace.

Arsenio was groaning and clutching at his chest. I supported him to his
shabby old sofa, and laid him down there. Then I violently rang the
bell which communicated with the ground floor where Amedeo abode.

The next moment Lucinda came into the room—very quickly, but calmly.
“Did he do it himself, after all?”

“No, Louis; he’d been rifling the bureau; and the revolver——”

“Ah, it was Louis that I heard running downstairs! I’ll look after him.
Go for a doctor.” There were no telephones in the old _palazzo_; the
owner had not spent his precarious gains in that fashion!

“I thought of sending Amedeo——”

“You’ll be quicker. Go, Julius.” She knelt down by Arsenio’s sofa.

As I went on my errand—I knew of a doctor who lived quite close—I met
old Amedeo, lumbering upstairs, half-dressed, and told him what had
happened. “He looks very bad,” I added.

Amedeo flung up his hands with pious ejaculations. “As I go by the
_piano nobile_ I’ll call Father Garcia, and take him up with me. Don
Arsenio’s a good Catholic.”

Yes! That fact perhaps had something to do with the course which events
had ultimately taken that night!

When I got back with the doctor—he had gone to bed, and kept me
waiting—Arsenio had been moved into his bedroom. The priest was still
with him, but, when he was informed of the doctor’s arrival, he came
out and Amedeo took the doctor in to the patient, on whom Lucinda was
attending.

Father Garcia was a tall, imposing old ecclesiastic, of Spanish
extraction, and apparently a friend of the Valdez family, for he spoke
of “Arsenio” without prefix. “I have done my office. The doctor can
do nothing—Oh, I’ve seen many men die in the war, and I can tell!
He’s just conscious, but he can hardly speak—it hurts him to try.
Poor Arsenio! His father was a very worthy man, and this poor boy
was a good son of the Church. For the rest——!” He shrugged his ample
shoulders; he was probably reflecting the opinions of the aristocratic
and antiquated coterie which Arsenio had been in the habit of laying
under requisitions when he was in Venice. “But a curious event, a
curious event, just after his prodigious luck!” Father Garcia’s eyes
bulged rather, and they seemed to grow bulgier still as, between sniffs
at a pinch of snuff, he exclaimed slowly, “Three million francs! Donna
Lucinda will be rich!”

The old fellow seemed disposed to gossip; there was nothing else to do,
while we awaited the verdict.

“A gamester, I’m afraid, yes. His father feared as much for him—and a
good many of my friends had reason to suspect the same. You’re a friend
of his, Mr.—er——?”

“My name’s Rillington, sir,” I said.

He raised his brows above his bulging eyes. “Oh!—er—let me see! Wasn’t
Donna Lucinda herself a Rillington—or am I making a mistake?”

“Only just,” said I. I couldn’t help smiling. “Donna Lucinda all but
became a Rillington——”

“Ah!” he interrupted. “Now I remember the story. Some visitors from
London brought it over in the early days of the war—I think they were
propaganda agents of your nation, in fact. It was before Italy made the
mis——it was before Italy joined in the war.”

“Donna Lucinda’s maiden name was Knyvett. Her mother and she once
rented this very apartment from Arsenio, I believe.”

“Yes, and I think I remember that too.” However, he did not seem
to remember too much about it, for he went on. “And so the romance
started, I suppose! She’s a very beautiful woman, Mr. Rillington.”

The expression in his eyes justified my next remark. “Whatever else one
may say about the poor fellow, he was a devoted lover to his wife, and
she was—absolutely true to him.”

“I’m old-fashioned enough to think that that covers a multitude of
sins. She’s not, I gather, a Catholic?”

“No, I believe not.”

“A pity!” he said meditatively; whether he was thinking of Lucinda’s
soul or of her money, I didn’t know—and I will forbear from
speculating. If he was thinking about the money, it was, of course,
only with an eye—a bulging eye—on other people’s souls—as well as
Lucinda’s.

“Pray, sir,” I asked, on a sudden impulse, “do you know anything of a
friend of Arsenio’s here—Signor Alessandro Panizzi?”

“I know what everybody knows,” he replied with a sudden
fierceness—“that he’s a pestilent fellow—a radical, a freemason, an
atheist! Was he a friend of Arsenio’s?”

“Oh, well, I really don’t know. I happened to meet them walking
together on the Piazza this afternoon, and Arsenio introduced me.”

“Then he kept worse company than any of us suspected,” the old priest
sternly pronounced. If the opinion thus indicated was a just one,
Signor Panizzi must be a very bad man indeed! I was just adding hastily
that I knew nothing of the man myself (he had looked the acme of
respectability) when Lucinda opened the door of the room and beckoned
to me. With a low bow to Father Garcia, who was still looking outraged
at the thought of Signor Panizzi, I obeyed her summons.

“He has only a few minutes to live,” she whispered hurriedly, as we
crossed the passage. “He seems peaceful in mind, and suffers little
pain, except when he tries to speak. Still I’m sure there’s something
he wants to say to you; I saw it in his eyes when I mentioned your
name.”

He was in bed, partly undressed. The end was obviously very near.
The doctor was standing a yard or two from the bed, not attempting
any further ministration. I bent over Arsenio, low down, nearly to
his pale face, and laid my hand gently on one of his. He did look
peaceful; and, as he saw me, the ghost of his monkeyish smile formed
itself on his lips. He spoke, with a groan and an effort: “I told
you—Julius—that fellow would—bring me luck. But you never believed—you
never believed—in my——” His voice choked, his words ended, and his
eyes closed. It was only a few minutes more before we left him to the
offices of old Amedeo and the old wife whom he summoned from their
cupboard of a place on the ground floor.

By this time the police were on the scene; there is no need to detail
their formalities, though they took some time. The case appeared a
simple one, but Lucinda and I were told that we must stay where we
were, pending investigations, and the arrest and trial of Louis; we
knew him by no other name, and knew about him no more than what Arsenio
had told me. They let Lucinda retire to her apartment soon after
midnight, and me to mine half an hour later; one of them remained
on duty in the hall of the _palazzo_; and, of course, they took that
portfolio away with them.

In the end the formalities proved to be just that, and no more. Two
days later a body was found in the Grand Canal, having been in the
water apparently about thirty hours. Amedeo and I identified it. The
inference was that, although Louis had no stomach for fighting, he had
that form of courage in which his master had at the last moment failed;
it is probable that he was not a good Catholic. I felt indebted to him
for the manner of his end; it saved us a vast deal of trouble. Poor
wretch! I do not believe that he had any more intention of killing
Arsenio than I had myself. The knowledge of all that money overcame his
cupidity; perhaps he felt some proprietary right in it! The possession
of the revolver probably screwed him up to the enterprise. But the
actual shooting was, I dare swear, an instinctive act of self-defense;
Arsenio’s furious, seemingly exultant, rush terrified him. Anyhow,
there was an end of him; the mascot had brought the luck and, having
fulfilled its function, went its appointed way.

But by no means yet an end of Don Arsenio Valdez! That remarkable
person had prepared posthumous effects, so characteristic of him
in their essence, yet so over-characteristic, that he seemed to be
skillfully burlesquing or travestying himself: in those last days
he must have been in a state of excitement almost amounting to
light-headedness (he had seemed barely sane at the banquet), a complete
prey to his own vanity and posturing, showing off on the brink of the
grave, contriving how to show off even after it had closed over him;
and speculating—I do not in the least doubt—how all the business would
impress Lucinda. One thing fails to be said about it: he succeeded in
stamping it with that vinegary comedy which was the truest hall mark of
Monkey Valdez.

Quite early on the morning after the catastrophe—if that be the right
word to use—I was sitting in my room, musing over it and awaiting
a summons from Lucinda, when I was favored with a call from that
eminently respectable (?), most pestilent (?) person, Signor Alessandro
Panizzi. After elaborate lamentations and eulogies (it would have
warmed Arsenio’s heart to hear them), and explanations of how he, in
his important position, was in close touch with the police authorities,
and so heard of everything directly it happened, and consequently had
heard of this atrocious crime as soon as he was out of his bed—he
approached the object of his visit. I was, he had understood from the
deceased gentleman, his confidential friend; also an intimate family
friend of Donna Lucinda; was I aware that Don Arsenio had made a
disposition of his property on the afternoon of the very day of his
death?—“a thing which might impress foolish and superstitious people,”
Signor Panizzi remarked with a sad but superior smile. He himself, as
a notary, had drawn up the document, which Don Arsenio had executed
in due form; it was in his custody; he produced from his pocket a
copy, or rather an abstract, of the operative part of it. To sum up
this instrument as briefly as possible, Arsenio bequeathed: First, ten
thousand lire to the Reverend Father Garcia, in trust to cause masses
to be said for his soul, should Holy Church so permit (it sounded
as if Arsenio had his doubts, whether well-founded or not, I do not
know, and, as things had turned out, immaterial); secondly, the entire
residue of his estate to his wife, the most excellent Signora Donna
Lucinda Valdez, his sole surviving near relative; but, thirdly, should
the said most excellent Lady, being already fully provided for (!),
accept only the _palazzo_—as it was his earnest wish that she should
accept it, his ancestral residence—and renounce the inheritance of his
personal estate, then and in that case, he bequeathed the whole of that
personal estate to Signor Alessandro Panizzi and two other gentlemen
(I forgot their names, but they were both, I subsequently learnt from
Father Garcia, “pestilent” friends of Panizzi’s, one may suppose, and
naturally pestilent), on a trust to apply the same, in such ways as the
law permitted, to the use and benefit of the City of Venice and its
inhabitants, which and who were so dear to the heart of the adopted but
devoted son of the said City, Arsenio Valdez.

“It is prodigious!” said Signor Alessandro Panizzi. He handed me the
abstract, adding, “You will perhaps like to show it to the Excellent
Lady?” He paused. “It is, of course, a question what course she will
adopt. The sum is a large one, I understand.”

The anxiety that showed itself in his voice was natural and creditable
to a Venetian patriot—and quite intelligible too in a gentleman who
saw himself with the chance of handling an important public trust.
There would be _kudos_ to be got out of that! But I did not pay much
attention to his anxiety.

“You’re right. It is prodigious,” I said, smiling broadly in spite of
myself. How Arsenio must have enjoyed giving those instructions! No
wonder he had looked complacent when I met him with Panizzi on the
Piazza; and no wonder that Panizzi had been so deferential. A foretaste
for Arsenio of the posthumous praise which he was engineering—the talk
of him after his death, the speculation about him! Because, of course,
he was quite safe with Lucinda—and he knew it. He was obliged, I
believe, though I do not profess to know the law, to leave her part of
his property. But it was handsome, more gallant and chivalrous, to give
it all to her—in the sure and certain knowledge that she would not take
the money brought by the winning ticket! And, next to her in his heart
came his dear City of Venice! If not beloved Lucinda, then beloved
Venice! The two Queens of his heart! What a fine flourish! What an exit
for himself he had prepared! The plaudits would sound loud and long
after he had left the stage.

“It is, of course, possible,” I found Signor Panizzi saying, “that our
lamented friend had discussed the matter with his wife and that they
had——”

“Well, that’s not at all unlikely. You’d like me to tell her about
this?”

“It would, no doubt, be convenient to have, as soon as possible, an
indication of her——”

“Naturally. I’ll speak to her, and let you know her views as soon as
possible. It is a large sum, as you say. She may desire to take time
for consideration.” I knew that she would not take five minutes.

“I may tell you—without breach of confidence, I think—that our lamented
friend was at first disposed to confine his benefaction, in the event
of its becoming operative by his wife’s renunciation, to distinctly
ecclesiastical charities. I allowed myself the liberty—the honor—of
suggesting to him a wider scope. ‘Why be sectional?’ I suggested. ‘The
gratitude, the remembrance, of all your fellow citizens—that would be
a greater thing, Don Arsenio,’ I permitted myself to say. And the idea
appealed to him.”

“Really, then,” I remarked, “Venice is hardly less indebted to
you—Venice as a whole, I mean—than to poor Arsenio himself!”

“No, no, I couldn’t allow that to be said. But I’m proud if I, in any
way, had a humble——”

“Exactly. And if that comes out—and surely why shouldn’t it?—everybody
will be very grateful to you—except perhaps the distinctly
ecclesiastical charities! By the way, do you know this Father Garcia?
He’s living in this house, on the first floor, and we called him in to
see Arsenio—last night, you know,—before he died.”

“I don’t know Father Garcia personally,” he said stiffly, “but very
well by repute.” He paused; I waited to see what he would say of Father
Garcia. “An utter reactionary, a black reactionary, and none too good
an Italian.” He lowered his voice and whispered, “Strongly suspected of
Austrian sympathies!”

“I see,” I replied gravely. He had almost got even with the old
priest’s “pestilent.”

He rose and bade me a ceremonious farewell. As he went out, he
said, “This bequest—and whether it comes into operation or not, it
must receive publicity—coming from a member of the old reactionary
nobility—from a Spanish Catholic—may well be considered to mark a stage
in the growing solidarity of Italy.”

That seemed as much as even Arsenio himself could have expected of it!



CHAPTER XXV

HOMAGE


LUCINDA’S mental idiosyncrasy resisted any attempt at idealization; for
all that she had accused me of making the attempt. Though she would
not persist in cruelty, and would remove herself from the temptation
to it when once she had realized what it was, yet she could be, and
had been, cruel. In like manner she could be hard and callous, very
inaccessible to sentimentality, to that obvious appeal to the emotions
which takes its strength from our common humanity, with its common
incidents—its battle, murder, and sudden death—and so on. She did not
accept these things at their face value, or in what one may call their
universal aspect. In her inner mind—she was not very articulate, or at
all theoretical, about it—but in her inner mind she seemed to re-value
each of such incidents by an individual and personal standard which,
in its coolness and intellectual detachment, certainly approached what
most of us good human creatures—so ready to cry, as we are so ready
to laugh—would call a degree of callousness. There was a considerable
clear-sightedness in this disposition of hers, but also fully that
amount of error which (as I suppose) our own personality always
introduces into our judgments of people. We see them through our own
spectacles, which sometimes harden and sometimes soften the outlines
of the objects regarded—among which is included the wearer of the
spectacles.

She had loved Arsenio once; she had cleaved unto him with a fidelity to
which—in these days—her own word “primitive” must be allowed to be the
most obviously applicable; remorse had smitten her over her cruelty to
him. All the same, in a measure she erred about him, judging his love
solely by the standard of his conduct, his romance in the light of his
frivolity and shamelessness, his sensibility by his failure adequately
to understand a subtle and specialized sensibility in herself. That, at
least, was the attitude to which her years of association with him—now
intimate, now distant and aloof—had brought her. It was not, of course,
to be attributed in anything like its entirety to the girl whom he had
kissed at Cragsfoot, or whom he had loved at Venice, or carried off
from Waldo. Her final judgment of him was the result of what is called,
in quite another connection, a progressive revelation.

Thus it happened that his tragic death was—to put it moderately—no more
tragic to her than it was to me his friend rather by circumstances than
choice or taste, by interest and amusement more than by affection.
She took him at his word, so to say, and accepted the note of
ironical comedy which he himself was responsible for importing into
the occurrence. Keen-eyed for that aspect, and in a bitter way keenly
appreciative of it, she was blind to any other, and indeed reluctant to
try to see it—almost afraid that, even dead, he might befool her again,
still irremediably suspicious that he was deceiving her by lies and
posturings. As a result, she was really and truly—in the depths of her
soul—unmoved by the catastrophe, and not unamused by the trappings with
which Arsenio had be-draped it—or, rather, his previously rehearsed but
never actually presented, version of it.

For the outside observer—comparatively outside, anyhow—and for
the amateur of comedy and its material—human foibles, prejudices,
ambitions—there was amusement to be had. As soon as Lucinda’s decision
to renounce the inheritance—except the _palazzo_ which, as she
observed to me, had been honestly come by, and honestly preserved by
being let out in lodgings—Arsenio’s last will and testament became
an animated topic of the day—and a rather controversial one. The
clericals and their journals—Signor Panizzi’s black reactionaries and
pro-Austrians—paid lip-service to the ten thousand lire for masses,
but could not refrain from some surprise at the choice of trustees
which the lamented Don Arsenio—a good Catholic and of old noble
stock—had made (the trustees were all pestilent, as I had suspected);
while the other side—the patriots, the enlightened, the radicals,
the pestilents, while most gratefully acknowledging his munificence,
and belauding the eminent gentlemen to whom he had confided his
trust, pointed out with satisfaction how the spirit of progress and
enlightenment had proved too strong in the end even for a man of Don
Arsenio’s clerical antecedents and proclivities. As for Signor Panizzi,
both sides agreed that his finger had been in the pie; his position as
first and dominating trustee was for the one a formidable menace to,
and for the other a sufficient guarantee of, a wise, beneficial, and
honest administration of the fund.

Under the spur of this public interest and discussion, Don Arsenio’s
funeral assumed considerable dimensions, and was in fact quite
an affair—with a sprinkling of “Blacks,” a larger sprinkling of
“pestilents,” a big crowd of curious Venetian citizens, a religious
service of much pomp conducted by Father Garcia, followed at the
graveside (the priests and the “Blacks” having withdrawn with
significant ceremony) by a fiery panegyric from Signor Panizzi.
Altogether, when I next go to Venice, I shall not be surprised to see a
statue of Arsenio there; I hope that the image will wear a smile on its
face—a smile of his old variety.

Lucinda did not attend the ceremony; it would have been too much
for her feelings—for some of her feelings, at all events. But to my
surprise I saw Godfrey Frost there. I had been thrust, against my
will, into the position of one of the chief mourners; he kept himself
more in the background, and did not join me until the affair was
finished. Then we extricated ourselves from the crowd as soon as we
could, and made our way back together, ending up by sitting down to a
cup of coffee on the Piazza. I had seen and heard nothing of him since
his disordered exit from my apartment, just before the catastrophe. I
had indeed been inclined to conclude that he had left Venice and, not
thinking that his condolences would be well received, had left none
behind him. But here he was—and in a gloomy and disgruntled state of
mind, as it seemed. He had been thinking things over, no doubt—with the
natural conclusion that he had not got much profit or pleasure out of
the whole business, out of that acquaintance with the Valdez’s, which
he had once pursued so ardently.

“I didn’t choose to seem to run away,” he told me, “in case there was
any investigation, or a trial, or anything of that kind. Besides”—he
added this rather reluctantly—“I had a curiosity to see the last of the
fellow. But they tell me I shan’t be wanted, as things have turned out,
and I’m off to-morrow—going home, Julius.”

There was evidently more that he wanted to say. I smoked in silence.

“I don’t want to see Lucinda—Madame Valdez,” he blurted out, after a
pause. “But I wish you’d just say that I’m sorry if I annoyed her. I’ve
made a fool of myself; I’m pretty good at business; but a fool outside
it—so far, at least. I don’t understand what she was up to, but—well,
I’m willing to suppose——”

I helped him out. “You’re willing to give a lady the benefit of the
doubt? It’s usual, you know. I’ve very little doubt that she’ll make
friends with you now, if you like.”

He turned to me with a smile, rather sour, yet shrewd. “Would you think
that good enough yourself?”

At first I thought that he was questioning me as to the state of my own
affections. But the words which he immediately added—in a more precise
definition of his question—showed that he was occupied with his own
more important case. “In my place—situated as I am, you know?”

As a result of shock, or of meditation thereupon, or of contemplation
of the lamentable life and death of Arsenio Valdez, Mr. Godfrey Frost
was becoming himself again! I do not think that the Wesleyan strain
had anything to do with the matter at this stage. It was the Frost
business instinct that had revived, the business view. Godfrey might
have counted the world well lost for Lucinda’s love—at all events, well
risked; business-risked, so to put it. But not for the mere friendship,
the hope of which I had held out to him. “In my place—situated as I
am.” The phrases carried a good deal to me, a tremendous lot to him.
The world—such a world as his—was not to be lost, or bartered, for
less than a full recompense. After all, whoever did talk of losing
his world for friendship? Most people think themselves meritorious
if they lose a hundred pounds on that score. And Godfrey had in all
likelihood—the precise figures were unknown—already dropped a good
deal more than that, and had taken in return little but hard words and
buffeting. No wonder the Frost instinct looked suspiciously at any
further venture! Not of actual money, of course; that stood only as a
symbol; and to be even an adequate symbol would have required immense
multiplication. If a symbol were to be used in any seriousness, the old
one served best—the old personification of all that he, in an hour of
urgent impulse, had been willing to lose or to risk for Lucinda.

“Well, my dear fellow,” I said urbanely, “there were always
circumstances, to which we needn’t refer in detail, that made any
intimate acquaintance between you and the Valdez’s—well, difficult.
Affectation to deny it! I’ve even felt it myself; of course in a minor
degree.”

“Why a minor degree?” he asked rather aggressively. “If I’m Nina’s
cousin, you’re Waldo’s!”

“There’s all the difference,” I said decisively, though I was not at
all prepared to put the difference into words. However, I made a weak
and conventional effort: “Old Waldo’s so happy now that he can’t bear
any malice——”

He cut across the lame inadequacy of this explanation (not that there
wasn’t a bit of truth in it).

“I’m damned rich,” he observed moodily, “and everybody behaves to me as
if I was damned important—except you and the Valdez’s, of course. But
I’m not free. Let’s have a liqueur to wash down that coffee, shall we?”

I agreed, and we had one. It was not a moment to refuse him creature
comforts.

“I’m part of the concern,” he resumed, after a large sip. “And jolly
lucky to be, of course—I see that. But it limits what one may call
one’s independence. It doesn’t matter a hang what you do, Julius (This
to me, London representative of Coldston’s!)—Oh, privately, I mean,
of course. But with me, private life—well, family life, I mean—and
business are so infernally mixed up together. Nina can’t absolutely
give me the sack, but it would be infernally inconvenient not to be on
terms with her.” He paused, and added impressively: “It might in the
end break up the business.”

One might as well think of breaking up the great Pyramid or Mount
Popocatepetl! Too large an order even for an age of revolution!

“But you and Nina have nothing to quarrel about,” I
expostulated—dishonestly.

He eyed me, again smiling sourly. “Oh, come, you know better than
that!” his smile said, though his tongue didn’t. “And, besides, it
would upset that idea that she and I talked over, and that rather
particularly attracted me. I think I spoke to you about it? About
Cragsfoot, you know.”

“Have you heard from Lady Dundrannan lately?” I inquired.

“No—not since I left the Villa.” He made this admission rather sulkily.

“Ah, then you’re not up-to-date! Cragsfoot’s all arranged. I’m to have
it.” And I told him about the family arrangement.

Here I must confess to a bit of malicious triumph. The things envisaged
itself to me as a fight between Rillington and Frost, and Rillington
had won. Waldo’s old allegiance had resisted complete absorption. But
my feeling was—at the moment—rather ungenerous; he was a good deal
humbled already.

He took the disappointment very well. “Well, it was a fancy of mine,
but of course you ought to have the first call, if Waldo sells out. So
you’ll be living at Cragsfoot after Sir Paget’s death?” He appeared to
ruminate over this prospect.

“Yes—and I hope to be there a good deal of my time, even before that.”

“With Nina and Waldo for your neighbors at Briarmount?”

“Of course. Why not? What do you mean? I shall see you there too
sometimes, I hope.”

“I hope you’ll get on well with her.” He was smiling still, though in
a moody, malicious way—as one is apt to smile when contemplating the
difficulties or vexations of others. “You and your family,” he added
the next moment. And with that he rose from his chair. “No good asking
you to dine to-night, I suppose?” I shook my head. “No, you’ll have to
be on hand, of course! Well, good-by, then. I’m off early to-morrow.”
He held out his hand. “It’ll interest Nina to hear about all this.” He
waved his hand round Venice, but no doubt he referred especially to the
death and burial of the eminent Don Arsenio Valdez.

“Pray give her my best regards. Pave the way for me as a neighbor,
Godfrey!”

“Taking everything together, it’ll need a bit of smoothing, perhaps.”
He nodded to me, and strolled away across the Piazza.

His words had given me material for a half-amused, half-scared
reflection—the mood which the neighborhood of Lady Dundrannan—and
much more the possibility of any conflict with Lady Dundrannan—always
aroused in me. Sir Paget’s letter had reflected—in a humor slightly
spiced with restiveness—the present relations between Cragsfoot and
Briarmount. What would they be with me in residence, and presently in
possession? With me and my family there, as Godfrey Frost said? My
family which did not exist at present!

But I did not sit there reflecting. I paid for our
refreshments—Godfrey, in his preoccupation, had omitted even to offer
to do so—and went back to the _palazzo_. Old Amedeo waylaid me in
the hall and told me that Donna Lucinda had requested me to pay her
a visit as soon as I returned from the funeral; but he prevented me
from obeying her invitation for a few minutes. He was in a state of
exultation that had to find expression.

“Ah, what a funeral! You saw me there? No! But I was, of course. A
triumph! The name of Valdez will stand high in Venice henceforth! Oh, I
don’t like Panizzi and that lot, any more than Father Garcia does. My
sympathies are clerical. None the less, it was remarkable! Alas, what
wouldn’t Don Arsenio have done if he hadn’t been cut off in his youth!”

That was a question which I felt—and feel—quite incapable of answering,
save in the most general and non-committal terms. “Something
astonishing!” I said with a nod, as I dodged past the broad barrier of
Amedeo’s figure and succeeded in reaching the staircase.

Right up to the top of the tall old house I had to go this time—past
Father Garcia and his noble “Black” friends, past the scene of the
banquet and the scene of the catastrophe. I think that Lucinda must
have been listening for my steps; she opened the door herself before I
had time to knock on it.

She was back in the needlewoman’s costume now—her black frock, with
her shawl about her shoulders. Perhaps this attire solved the problem
of mourning in the easiest way; or perhaps it was a declaration of
her intentions. I did not wait to ask myself that; the expression of
her face caught my immediate attention. It was one of irrepressible
amusement—of the eager amusement which seeks to share itself with
another appreciative soul. She caught me by the hand, and drew me
in, leading me through the narrow passage to the door of her sitting
room—much of a replica of Arsenio’s on the floor below, though the
ceiling was less lofty and the windows narrower.

Then I saw what had evoked the expression on her face. Between the
windows, propped up against the discolored old hangings on the wall,
stood the largest wreath of _immortelles_ which I have ever seen on or
off a grave, in or out of a shop window; and, occupying about half of
the interior of the circle, there was a shield, or plaque, of purple
velvet—Oh, very sumptuous!—bearing an inscription in large letters of
gold:

“To the Illustrious Donna Lucinda Valdez and to the Immortal Memory
of the Illustrious Señor Don Arsenio Valdez, the City and Citizens of
Venice offer Gratitude and Homage.”

“Isn’t it—tremendous?” whispered Lucinda, her arm now in mine.

“It certainly is some size,” I admitted, eyeing the creation ruefully.

“No, no! The whole thing, I mean! Arsenio himself! Oh, how I should
like to tell them the truth!”

“The funeral too was—tremendous,” I remarked. “But I suppose Amedeo’s
told you?”

“Yes, he has! Also Father Garcia, who paid me a visit of condolence.
And a number of Arsenio’s noble friends have sent condolences by
stately, seedy menservants. Oh, and those trustees have left their
cards, of course! Panizzi and the others!”

All this time we had been standing arm in arm, opposite the portentous
monument of grief, gratitude, and homage. Now Lucinda withdrew her hand
from my arm, and sank into a chair.

“I’m having fame thrust upon me! I’m being immortalized. The munificent
widow of the munificent Arsenio Valdez! I’m becoming a public
character! Oh, he is having his revenge on me, isn’t he? Julius, I
can’t stand it! I must fly from Venice!”

My attention stuck on the monstrous wreath. “What are you going to do
with that?”

“I wonder if there would ever be a dark enough night to tie a flat-iron
to it, steal out with it round our necks, and drop it in the Grand
Canal!” Lucinda speculated wistfully.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE AIR ON THE COAST


“AND did a dark enough night ever come, Julius?” Sir Paget asked with a
chuckle.

It was late summer. I had arrived that day to pay him a visit and,
incidentally, to complete the transaction by which Waldo was to convey
to me the reversion to Cragsfoot. My uncle and I sat late together
after dinner, while I regaled him with the story of the last days of
Arsenio Valdez—of his luck, his death, and his glorification.

“Alas, sir, such things can’t actually happen in this world. They’re
dreams—Platonic ideas laid up in heaven—inward dispositions towards
things which can’t be literally translated into action! We did it in
our souls. But, no; the wreath doesn’t, in bare and naked fact, lie at
the bottom of the Grand Canal. It hangs proudly in the hall of Palazzo
Valdez, the apple of his eye to fat old Amedeo, with whom Lucinda left
it in charge—a pledge never likely to be demanded back—when she leased
the _palazzo_ to him. He undertakes the upkeep and expenses, pays her
about two hundred a year for it, and expects to do very well by letting
out the apartments. He considers that the wreath will add prestige to
the place and enhance its letting value. Besides, he’s genuinely very
proud of it, and the Valdez legend loses nothing in his hands, I assure
you.”

“It’s a queer story. And that’s the end of it, is it? Because it’s
nearly six months since our friend the Monkey, as you boys used to call
him, played his last throw—and won!”

“There’s very little more to tell. As you know, Sir Ezekiel’s death
sent me on my travels once again—to the States and South America;
I was appointed Managing Director, and had to go inspecting, and
reorganizing, and so forth. That’s all settled. I’m established now in
town—and here, thank God, I am—at old Cragsfoot again!”

“You’ve certainly been a good deal mixed up in the affair—by fate or
choice,” he said, smiling, “but you’re not the hero, are you? Arsenio
claims that _rôle_! Or the heroine! What of her, Julius?”

“She came back to England four or five months ago. She’s living in
rooms at Hampstead. She’s got the _palazzo_ rent, and she still does
her needlework; she gets along pretty comfortably.”

“You’ve seen her since you came back, I suppose?”

“Yes, pretty nearly every day,” I answered. “She was the first person
I went to see when I got back to London; she was the last person I saw
before I left London this morning.”

He sat rubbing his hands together, and looking into the bright fire of
logs that his old body found pleasant now, even on summer evenings; the
wind blows cold off the sea very often at Cragsfoot.

“You’re telling me the end of the story now, aren’t you, Julius?”

“Yes, I hope and think so. Indeed, why shouldn’t I say that I know it?
I think that we both knew from the hour of Arsenio’s death. We had
been too much together—too close in spirit through it all—for anything
else. How could we say good-by and go our separate ways after all that?
It would have seemed to us both utterly unnatural. First, my head had
grown full of her—in those talks at Ste. Maxime that I told you we’d
had; and, when a woman’s concerned, the heart’s apt to follow the head,
isn’t it?”

“I don’t wonder at either head or heart. She was a delightful child;
she seems to have grown into a beautiful woman—yes, she would have—and
one that might make a man think about her. There was nothing between
you while he lived? No, I don’t ask that question, I’ve no right
to—and, I think, no need to.”

“With her there couldn’t have been; it was as impossible as it proved
in the end for her to marry Waldo. For her it was a virtue in me that I
knew it.”

“She wasn’t married to Arsenio Valdez when she ran away from Waldo?”

“In her own eyes she was, and when he called her—called her back—well,
she had to go.”

“Ah, I’ve sometimes fancied that there might have been some untold
history like that.”

“She now wishes that you and Waldo—just you two—should know that there
was. Will you tell him, sir? I’d rather not. She thinks it may make you
and him feel more gently to her; she’s proud herself, you know, and was
sorry to wound others in their pride.”

“It’s generous of her. I’ll tell him—what I must; and you need tell me
no more than you have. I shouldn’t wonder if the idea isn’t quite new
to him either. There are—quarters—from which something of the sort may
have been suggested, eh, Julius?”

“I know nothing as to that, but, as you say, it’s very possible. You’ll
have gathered how the feelings of these two ladies towards one another
runs through the whole business. And we’re not finished with them yet.
Before Waldo sets his hand to that agreement, he must know that the
arrangement which is to bring me to Cragsfoot will bring Lucinda there
too.”

“Yes, as its mistress; even in my lifetime, if she so pleases; after
me, in any case.” He looked across to me, smiling. “And the moment so
difficult—the more difficult because it’s otherwise so triumphant!
The Heir-Apparent is born—a month ago—I wrote you about it. The
dynasty is assured; Her Majesty is at her grandest and—I will add—her
most gracious. I saw her about again for the first time the day
before yesterday, and she said to me, ‘Now I’m really content, Sir
Paget!’—implying, as it seemed to me, that the subject world ought
to be content also. All the Court was there—the Heir itself, our
dear old Prince Consort, the Grand Vizier—forgive me mixing East and
West, but that seems to be the sort of position which she assigns
to young Godfrey Frost; an exalted but precarious position, with a
throne on one hand, and a bowstring on the other! Oh, yes, and there
was a Lady-in-Waiting into the bargain, a pretty girl called Eunice
Something-or-other.”

“Oh, yes, she was at Villa San Carlo—Eunice Unthank,” said I, smiling.
Nina—pertinacious as a limpet!

“And now we’re to come breaking in on this benevolent despotism! Our
schemes border on conspiracy, don’t they?” He grew graver, though he
still smiled whimsically. “A reconciliation possible?” he suggested
doubtfully.

I laughed. “There’s a crowning task for your diplomacy, Sir Paget!”

“If I could change the hearts of women, I should be a wizard, not a
diplomatist. Their feuds have a grand implacability beside which the
quarrels of nations are trivial and transient affairs. In this matter,
I’m a broken reed—don’t lean upon me, Julius! And could you answer for
your side—for your fair belligerent?”

“Lucinda makes war by laughing,” said I, laughing myself. “But—well, I
think she would go on laughing, you know.”

“Just what my Lady Dundrannan always hates, and occasionally
suspects—even in me!”

“I wish to blazes that Waldo would have one of his old rages, and tell
her it’s not her business!”

“I daresay he may wish you hadn’t taken so much interest in his runaway
_fiancée_,” was Sir Paget’s pertinent retort. “No, he’ll have no rages;
like you, I sometimes regret it. If she vetoes, he’ll submit.” He shook
his head. “Here are we poor men up against these grand implacabilities;
they transcend our understanding and mock our efforts. Even Arsenio,
the great Arsenio, though he made use of them, tripped up over them
in the end! What can you and I, and poor Waldo, do?” He got up. “I’ll
write a line to Waldo on the point—on the two points—to-night; and
send it up by the car to-morrow; he can let us know his answer before
Stannard is due here, with the deeds, in the afternoon. There might
even be time to telephone and stop him from starting, if the answer’s a
veto!”

Diplomatist though Sir Paget was, man of affairs as I must assume
myself to be—or where stands the firm of Coldston’s?—our judgments were
clumsy, our insight at fault; we did no justice to the fine quality
of Lady Dundrannan’s pride. It was not to be outdone by the pride
of the needlewoman of Cimiez—outwardly, at all events; and do not
many tell us that wholly to conquer, or even conceal, such emotions
as fear and self-distrust is a moral triumph, where not to feel them
is a mere fluke of nature—just the way one happens to be concocted?
The only answer that came to Sir Paget’s no doubt very delicately,
diplomatically expressed note, came over the telephone (Sir Paget had
not trusted its secrecy!), from butler to butler. Marsden at Briarmount
told Critcher at Cragsfoot that he was to inform Sir Paget that Colonel
Rillington said it was all right about this afternoon. Critcher
delivered the message as Sir Paget and I were sitting in the garden
before lunch—on that bench by the garden door whereon Lucinda had once
sat, listening fearfully to the quarrel of angry youths.

“Very well, Critcher,” said Sir Paget indifferently. But when the man
had gone, he turned to me and said, with a tremor in his voice, “So you
can come, you see—you and Lucinda, Julius.” I had not known till then
how much he wanted us. “I say, what would poor old Aunt Bertha have
said? She went over, bag and baggage!”

“She’d have come back—with the same _impedimenta_,” I declared,
laughing.

There was a stateliness in Lady Dundrannan’s assent, given by her
presence and countenance to the arrangement which the allied family
of the Rillingtons had—well, I suppose Waldo had—submitted to her
approval. The big Briarmount car—even bigger, more newly yellow, than
the car of Cimiez—brought down the whole bunch—all the Court, as Sir
Paget had called it. Briarmount’s approval was almost overwhelmingly
signified. It was not, of course, the thing to mention Lucinda—that
was unofficial; perhaps, moreover, slightly shameful. Godfrey, at
least, wore an embarrassed air which the ostensible character of the
occasion did not warrant; and little Lady Eunice—I suspected that
the information had filtered down to her through the other three of
them—seemed to look at me with something of the reproachful admiration
one reserves for a dare-devil. Waldo, for his part, gave my hand a
hard, though surreptitious, squeeze, smiling into my eyes with his
old kindness, somehow conveying an immense deal to me about how he
for his part felt about the implacabilities, and the way they had
affected his life—and now mine. Of course I was myself in the mood
to perceive—to exaggerate, or even to imagine—such thoughts in him;
but there it was—his eyes traveled from my face to his lady’s shapely
back (she was putting Mr. Stannard, the lawyer, at his ease—he was a
cadet of an old county family, and one of the best known sportsmen
in the neighborhood), and back to my face again, and—well, certainly
the situation was not lost on Waldo. But it was only after our
business was finished—a short recital of the effect of the deeds from
Stannard—didn’t we know more than he did about that? But no doubt it
was proper—and then the signatures (“Dundrannan” witnessing in a fine,
bold, decisive hand!)—that he said a word to me. “God give you and
yours happiness with the old place, Julius!” The pang of parting from
it spoke there, as well as kindliness and forgiveness for us.

Sir Paget insisted—certainly not to the displeasure of Mr. Stannard—on
“wetting the signatures” with a bottle of his Pommery 1900. Nina just
wetted her lips—even to that vintage she could condescend. Then we all
strolled out into the garden, while tea was preparing. There was the
old place—the high cliffs above it, one narrow wooded ledge fronting
the sea; scant acres, but, as it were, with all our blood in them. I
felt like a usurper (in spite of the honest money that I was paying),
the younger branch ousting the elder, even through an abdication. But I
was a usurper happy and content—as, I daresay, they often are, in spite
of the poets and the dramatists. Sir Paget and Stannard paired off;
Godfrey and Eunice; Waldo sat down on the bench by the door and lit
his pipe; I found myself left with Nina Dundrannan. With the slightest
motion of her hand she invited me to accompany her along the walk
towards the shrubbery. At once I knew that she meant to say something
to me, though I had not the least idea on what lines her speech might
run. She could be very candid—had she not been once, long ago, she the
“skeleton at the feast”? She could also put the truth very decisively
in its proper place—a remote one. Fires burnt in her—I knew that; but
who could tell when the flames would show?

There was a seat placed where a gap in the trees gave a view of the
sea; here we sat down together. With her usual resoluteness she began
at once with what she had made up her mind to say.

“Waldo didn’t show me Sir Paget’s note, but he told me a piece of news
about you which it gave him; he gave me to understand that you and Sir
Paget thought that I, as well as he himself, should know it. He told
me that the arrangement was no longer repugnant to his own feelings,
although it once would have been; he felt both able and willing to
ignore the past, and start afresh on terms of friendship with Madame
Valdez—with Lucinda. He asked me what my feelings were. I said that in
my view that was hardly the question; I had married into the Rillington
family; any lady whom Sir Paget and he, the heads of the family, were
prepared to accept and welcome as a member of it, would, as a matter of
course, be accepted by me; I should treat her, whenever we met, with
courtesy, as I should no doubt be treated by her; a great degree of
affection, I reminded Waldo, was not essential or invariable between
relations-in-law.” Here Lady Dundrannan smiled for a moment. “Least of
all should I desire that any supposed feelings of mine should interfere
with the family arrangement about Cragsfoot which you all three felt
to be desirable; the more so as it had in a way originated with myself,
since, if I had wished to make this place our principal residence, the
present plan would never have been thought of at all. So I told him to
put me entirely out of the question; he would be quite safe in feeling
sure that I should accept the situation with a good grace.”

She paused, and I took occasion to say: “I think we’re all much
indebted to you—and myself most of all. Any other attitude on your part
would have upset an arrangement which I have come to have very much at
heart. I’m grateful to you, Nina.”

“You know a great deal—indeed, you probably know pretty well
everything—that has happened between Lucinda and me. You wouldn’t
defend all that she did; I don’t defend all I did. When I’m challenged,
I fight, and I suppose Jonathan Frost’s daughter isn’t dainty as to her
weapons—that’s your point of view about me, anyhow, isn’t it? You’ve
always been in her camp. You’ve always been a critic of me.”

“Really I’ve regretted the whole—er—difficulty and—well, difference,
very much.”

“You’ve laughed at it even more than you’ve regretted it, I think,” she
remarked drily. “But I’ve liked you better than you’ve liked me—though
you did laugh at me—and I’m not going to make things difficult or
uncomfortable for you. When I accept a state of things, I accept it
without reservation. I don’t want to go on digging pins in.”

“If I have ever smiled—as you accuse me of having done—as well as
regretted, it was because I saw your qualities as well as hers.
The battle was well joined. You’ve both had your defeats and your
victories. I should like you to be friends now.”

“Yes, I believe you would; that’s why I’m talking like this to
you. But”—her voice took on a sudden ring of strong feeling—“it’s
impossible. There are such memories between us.”

I did not urge the point; it would be useless with her, very likely
also with Lucinda. I let it go with a shrug.

She sat for a moment in the stately composed silence that so well
became her.

“It’s probable that we shall divide our time mainly between London,
Dundrannan, and Villa San Carlo in future. It’s even likely that if
Godfrey settles matters with Eunice Unthank, as I think he will, he’ll
take a lease of Briarmount. That would not be disagreeable to you,
would it?”

“Not the least in the world,” I answered, smiling. “I like them both
very much.”

She turned to me with a bland and simple sincerity of manner. “The
doctor thinks that the air on this coast is too strong for baby.”

I seemed to be hearing an official bulletin—or _communiqué_, as for
some occult reason—or pure love of jargon—they used to call it. There
was no question of a reverse at the hands of the enemy; but climatic
conditions rendered further operations undesirable; the withdrawal
was being effected voluntarily, in perfect order, and without loss.
That the enemy was taking possession of the evacuated territory was a
circumstance of no military significance whatever—though, to be sure,
it might make some little difference to the inhabitants.

“It won’t do to run any risks with that precious boy!” I observed, with
an approving smile, and (as I flatter myself) with just the artistic
shade of jocosity—as if I were gently chaffing her on a genuine but
exaggerated maternal solicitude.

“Well, when the doctor says that, what can one do?” asked Lady
Dundrannan.

“Oh, one must follow his advice, of course!” I murmured, with a nod of
my head.

The bark of our conversation (another metaphor may well be employed to
illustrate her skill) being thus piloted through the shoals of truth
into the calm deep waters of humbug, its voyage ended prosperously. “I
should never forgive myself, and Waldo would never forgive me, if I
took the slightest risk,” Nina concluded, as she rose from the seat.

But as we stood there, facing one another—before we began to stroll
back to the house—as we stood facing one another, all alone, we allowed
ourselves one little relapse into reality.

“Do you think of being off soon?” I asked, with a smile.

She gave me one sharp glance and a contemptuous smile. “Before your
wedding—whenever that may be, Julius!”



CHAPTER XXVII

IN FIVE YEARS


WINTER had set in again when Lucinda and I came together to Cragsfoot.
The picture of her on her first evening there stands out vivid in my
memory.

Sir Paget had received her with affectionate, but perhaps somewhat
ceremonious, courtesy; there was a touch of ratifying a treaty of peace
in his manner. She was minded to come closer in intimacy; for in these
recent days—before and just after our wedding—a happy confidence seemed
to possess her. Self-defense and the hardness it has to carry with it
were necessary to her no longer; she reached out more freely for love
and friendship, and broke the bounds of that thoughtful isolation which
had so often served to keep the woman herself apart from all about her.
She was not on guard now; that was the meaning of the change which had
come over her; not on guard and not fighting.

After dinner she drew a low stool up beside the old man’s big armchair
before the fire, and sat down beside him, laying one arm across his
knees; I sat smoking on the other side of the hearth. Sir Paget laid
his hand on hers for a moment, as though to welcome her bodily presence
thus in touch with him.

“You’ll be wondering how it happened,” she began, “and Julius won’t
have been able to tell you. Probably it never occurred to him to try,
though I suppose he’s told you all the actual happenings—the outward
things, I mean, you know. It was at Ste. Maxime that we—began to be
‘we’ to one another. I knew it in him then—perhaps sooner than he
did—but I don’t know; he’s still rather secretive about himself, though
intolerably inquisitive about other people. But I did know it in him;
and I searched, and found it in myself—not love then, but a feeling of
partnership, of alliance. I was very lonely then. Well, I can stand
that. I was standing it; and I could have gone on—perhaps! I wonder if
I could! No, not after I found out about Arsenio’s taking that money!
That would have broken me—if it hadn’t been for Ste. Maxime.”

She paused for a moment; when she spoke again, she addressed me—on the
other side of the fireplace.

“You went away for a long while; but you remembered and you wrote. I’m
not a letter-writer, and that was really the reason I didn’t answer.
I have to be with people—to feel them—if I’m to talk with them to any
purpose—to ask then questions and get answers, even though they don’t
say anything.” (I saw her fingers bend in a light pressure on old Sir
Paget’s knee.) “I should have sounded stupid in my letters. Or said too
much! Because the only thing was to say nothing about it, wasn’t it?
You knew that as well as I did, didn’t you? If once we had talked—in
letters or when you came back——! I did nearly talk when you suddenly
appeared there on the Piazza at Venice. It was pretty nearly as good as
a declaration, wasn’t it, Julius?”

She gave a low merry laugh; but then her eyes wandered from my face to
the blaze of the fire, and took on their self-questioning look.

“I think it’s rare to be able to see the humor of things all by
yourself—I mean, of course, of close things, things very near to
you, things that hurt, although they’re really funny. You want a
sympathizer—somebody to laugh with. Oh, well, it goes deeper than that!
You want to feel that there’s another world outside the miserable
little one you’re living in—outside it, different from it—a place
where you yourself can be different from the sort of creature which
the life you’re leading forces you to be—at least, unless you’re a
saint, I suppose; and I never was that! You want a City of Refuge for
your heart, don’t you, Sir Paget? For your heart, and your feelings;
yes, and your humor; for everything that you are or that you’ve got,
and want to go on being or having. Because the worst thing that
anybody or any state of things can do to you, or threaten you with,
is the destruction of yourself—whether it’s done by assault or by
starvation! In the world I lived in—the actual one as it had come to
be for Arsenio and me—I was done for! There was hardly anything left
of me!” She suddenly turned her face up to Sir Paget, with a murmur of
laughter. “It was like the Cheshire cat! Nothing left but a grin and
claws! A grin for his antics, claws to protect myself. That’s what I
had come to in my own world—the little world of Arsenio and me! Claws
and a grin—wasn’t I, Julius?”

“I would not hear your enemy say so, but——”

“You know it’s true; I knew at the time that you felt it, but I
couldn’t alter myself. Well, I told you something about it at
Venice—trying to change, not succeeding! Even his love for me had
become one more offense in him—and that was bad. The only thing that
carried me through was the other world you gave me—outside my own;
where you were, where he wasn’t—though we looked at him from it, and
had to!—where I could take refuge!”

She went on slowly, reflectively, as though she were compelled
reluctantly to render an account to herself. “I have escaped; I have
gained my City of Refuge. But I bear the marks of my imprisonment—even
as my hands here bear the marks of my work—of my sewing and washing and
ironing. I’m marked and scarred!”

Sir Paget laid his hand on hers again. “We keep a salve for those
wounds at Cragsfoot,” he said gently. “We’ve stored it up abundantly
for you, Lucinda.”

She turned to him, now clasping his arms with her hands. “You! Yet I
put you to shame; I betrayed you; I was false—Oh, and cruel to Waldo!”
For the first time in all my knowledge of her I saw tears running down
her cheeks. Sir Paget took her hands into his and kissed her upturned
face.

“Waldo’s as happy as a king—or, at least, a Prince Consort,” he said,
smiling, though I think that his voice shook a little. “And, since
it’s an evening of penitence and confession, I’ll make my confession
too. I’ve always been a bit of a traitor, or a rebel, myself. You know
it well enough, Julius!” He smiled. “Sitting here, under the sway of
Briarmount, I’m afraid that I have, before now, drunk a silent toast
to the Queen over the Water. Because I remembered you in old days, my
dear.”

The mention of Briarmount brought the smiles back to Lucinda’s face.
She rose from her stool and stood on the hearthrug between us, looking
from one to the other. She gave a defiant toss of her fair head.
“Guilty, my lords! I can’t abide her. And I’m glad—yes, I am—that she’s
not here at Cragsfoot!”

“Moreover, she has retreated even from Briarmount before you,” chuckled
Sir Paget.

“When I advanced in strength, she always retreated,” said Lucinda with
another toss. “The fact is—I had the least bit more effrontery. I could
bluff her, whatever was in my heart. She couldn’t bluff me.”

“Reconciliation, I suppose, impossible?” hazarded the diplomatist _en
ratraite_, not able to resist the temptation of plying his trade, of
getting round the grand implacability; what a feather in his cap it
would be!

“Looking down the vista of years,” said Lucinda, now gayly triumphant
in her mastery over the pair of us, “a thing I used to do, Julius,
oftener than I need now—I see two old ladies, basking somewhere in the
sun—perchance at Villa San Carlo—which I have not, up to now, visited,
though I know the surrounding district. From under their wigs, in old
squeaky voices——”

“I thank God for my mortality,” murmured old Sir Paget as he looked at
her.

“They’re telling one another that they must both of them have been very
wonderful, clever, attractive, beautiful! Or else they’d never have
made so much trouble, and never squabbled so much. And I shouldn’t
wonder if they said—both of them—that nothing in the whole business was
their fault at all; it was only the men who were so silly. But then
they made the men silly. What men wouldn’t they make silly, when they
were young and beautiful so long ago?”

“How much of this is Lady Dundrannan—and how much more is you?”

“Mostly me, Julius. Because I have, as I told you, the least bit more
effrontery. But her ladyship agrees, and the two old gossips sip their
tea and mumble their toast, with all the harmony and happiness of
superannuated sinners. I’m sure I needn’t explain that feeling to
men—they knew all about it!”

“This picture, distant though it is, saps my conception of Lady
Dundrannan,” I protested. “Perhaps of you too; do you mind if I call
you a good hater?”

A smile hung about her lips; but her voice passed from the gay to the
gentle, and the old inward-looking gaze took possession of her eyes.
“No, I don’t mind, I like my hatreds; even for me there never failed to
be something amusing in them. I wonder if I do myself too much credit
in saying—something unreal? Did I play parts—like poor Arsenio? But
still they seemed very real, and they kept my courage up. I suppose
it’s funny to think that one behaves well—honorably—sometimes, just to
spite somebody else. I’m afraid it is so, though—isn’t it, Sir Paget?”

“The Pharisee in the Temple comes somewhere near your notion.”

She came and sat herself down on the arm of my chair, and threw her arm
round my neck. “Yes, hatreds serve their turn. But they ought to die;
being of the earth earthy, they ought to, oughtn’t they? And they do.
Do any of us here hate poor Arsenio now?” Suddenly she kissed me. “You
never did, because you’re so ridiculously understanding—and I thank you
for that now, because it helped me to try not to, to try to remember
that he loved me, and that he couldn’t help being what he was. But
where’s all my anger gone? Why, you and I often talk of him, and enjoy
his tricks, don’t we? They can’t hurt us now; they’re just amusing, and
we’re grateful to the poor man, and don’t feel hard to him any more, do
we?” She fell silent for a moment, and then, with a broader smile, and
with one hand uplifted in the air, she said, “And so, Sir Paget, very,
very dear Sir Paget, I back myself to make friends with Nina in—well,
say five years!”

The prudently calculated audacity of this undertaking made us laugh.
“And with Waldo—how soon?” asked Sir Paget.

“Oh, to-morrow! But if I do that, I must take ten years, instead of
five, for Nina!”

“You’d better arrange the time-table in your own way, my dear,” Sir
Paget admitted discreetly. “Now I’ll go off to bed and leave you to
have a talk together.”

He rose from his chair and advanced towards her, to give her his
good-night greeting. Quicker than he was, she met him almost before he
had taken a step. Catching his hands in hers, she fell on her knees
before him. “Have you a blessing left for the sinner that repenteth—for
your prodigal daughter?”

She was not in tears now, nor near them. She was just wonderfully and
exultantly coaxing.

The old man disengaged his hands, clasped her face with them, turned
it up to him, and gallantly kissed it. “Your sunshine warms my old
bones,” he said. “I’m glad you’re back at Cragsfoot, Lucinda.” He
turned away quickly and left us.

I went to her and raised her from her knees.

“That’s all right!” she said, with a tremulous but satisfied little
laugh. “And I love him even more than I’ve tried to make him love
me—and that’s saying a good deal to you, who’ve seen me practice my
wiles! Are the tricks stale to you, Julius?”

“Yes. Try some new ones!”

“Ah, you’re cunning! The old ones are, I believe—I do believe—good
enough for you.”

“The new ones had better be for Nina!”

“In five years, Julius, as sure as I live—and love you!”

“How do you propose to begin?” I asked skeptically. I knew my Nina! I
knew Lucinda. It seemed, at the best, a very even bet whether she could
bring it off.

Lucinda laughed in merry confidence and mockery. “Why, by giving her
to understand that you make me thoroughly unhappy, of course. How else
would you do it?”


                                THE END





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