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Title: The Outcry
Author: James, Henry
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 "The Outcry" ***

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THE OUTCRY

By Henry James

1911


BOOK FIRST



I

“NO, my lord,” Banks had replied, “no stranger has yet arrived. But
I’ll see if any one has come in--or who has.” As he spoke, however, he
observed Lady Sandgate’s approach to the hall by the entrance giving
upon the great terrace, and addressed her on her passing the threshold.
“Lord John, my lady.” With which, his duty majestically performed, he
retired to the quarter--that of the main access to the spacious centre
of the house--from which he had ushered the visitor.

This personage, facing Lady Sandgate as she paused there a moment framed
by the large doorway to the outer expanses, the small pinkish paper of
a folded telegram in her hand, had partly before him, as an immediate
effect, the high wide interior, still breathing the quiet air and the
fair pannelled security of the couple of hushed and stored centuries, in
which certain of the reputed treasures of Dedborough Place beautifully
disposed themselves; and then, through ample apertures and beyond
the stately stone outworks of the great seated and supported
house--uplifting terrace, balanced, balustraded steps and containing
basins where splash and spray were at rest--all the rich composed
extension of garden and lawn and park. An ancient, an assured elegance
seemed to reign; pictures and preserved “pieces,” cabinets and
tapestries, spoke, each for itself, of fine selection and high
distinction; while the originals of the old portraits, in more or less
deserved salience, hung over the happy scene as the sworn members of a
great guild might have sat, on the beautiful April day, at one of their
annual feasts.

Such was the setting confirmed by generous time, but the handsome woman
of considerably more than forty whose entrance had all but coincided
with that of Lord John either belonged, for the eye, to no such
complacent company or enjoyed a relation to it in which the odd twists
and turns of history must have been more frequent than any dull avenue
or easy sequence. Lady Sandgate was shiningly modern, and perhaps at no
point more so than by the effect of her express repudiation of a mundane
future certain to be more and more offensive to women of real quality
and of formed taste. Clearly, at any rate, in her hands, the clue to
the antique confidence had lost itself, and repose, however founded, had
given way to curiosity--that is to speculation--however disguised. She
might have consented, or even attained, to being but gracefully stupid,
but she would presumably have confessed, if put on her trial for
restlessness or for intelligence, that she _was_, after all, almost
clever enough to be vulgar. Unmistakably, moreover, she had still, with
her fine stature, her disciplined figure, her cherished complexion, her
bright important hair, her kind bold eyes and her large constant smile,
the degree of beauty that might pretend to put every other question by.

Lord John addressed her as with a significant manner that he might have
had--that of a lack of need, or even of interest, for any explanation
about herself: it would have been clear that he was apt to discriminate
with sharpness among possible claims on his attention. “I luckily find
_you_ at least, Lady Sandgate--they tell me Theign’s off somewhere.”

She replied as with the general habit, on her side, of bland
reassurance; it mostly had easier consequences--for herself--than the
perhaps more showy creation of alarm. “Only off in the park--open to-day
for a school-feast from Dedborough, as you may have made out from the
avenue; giving good advice, at the top of his lungs, to four hundred and
fifty children.”

It was such a scene, and such an aspect of the personage so accounted
for, as Lord John could easily take in, and his recognition familiarly
smiled. “Oh he’s so great on such occasions that I’m sorry to be missing
it.”

“I’ve _had_ to miss it,” Lady Sandgate sighed--“that is to miss the
peroration. I’ve just left them, but he had even then been going on for
twenty minutes, and I dare say that if you care to take a look you’ll
find him, poor dear victim of duty, still _at_ it.”

“I’ll warrant--for, as I often tell him, he makes the idea of one’s duty
an awful thing to his friends by the extravagance with which he always
overdoes it.” And the image itself appeared in some degree to prompt
this particular edified friend to look at his watch and consider. “I
should like to come in for the grand _finale_, but I rattled over in a
great measure to meet a party, as he calls himself--and calls, if you
please, even me!--who’s motoring down by appointment and whom I think I
should be here to receive; as well as a little, I confess, in the hope
of a glimpse of Lady Grace: if you can perhaps imagine _that!_”

“I can imagine it perfectly,” said Lady Sandgate, whom evidently no
perceptions of that general order ever cost a strain. “It quite sticks
out of you, and every one moreover has for some time past been waiting
to see. But you haven’t then,” she added, “come from town?”

“No, I’m for three days at Chanter with my mother; whom, as she kindly
lent me her car, I should have rather liked to bring.”

Lady Sandgate left the unsaid, in this connection, languish no
longer than was decent. “But whom you doubtless had to leave, by her
preference, just settling down to bridge.”

“Oh, to sit down would imply that my mother at some moment of the day
gets up----!”

“Which the Duchess never does?”--Lady Sand-gate only asked to be allowed
to show how she saw it. “She fights to the last, invincible; gathering
in the spoils and only routing her friends?” She abounded genially in
her privileged vision. “Ah yes--we know something of that!”

Lord John, who was a young man of a rambling but not of an idle eye,
fixed her an instant with a surprise that was yet not steeped in
compassion. “You too then?”

She wouldn’t, however, too meanly narrow it down. “Well, in this house
generally; where I’m so often made welcome, you see, and where----”

“Where,” he broke in at once, “your jolly good footing quite sticks out
of _you_, perhaps you’ll let me say!”

She clearly didn’t mind his seeing her ask herself how she should deal
with so much rather juvenile intelligence; and indeed she could only
decide to deal quite simply. “You can’t say more than I feel--and am
proud to feel!--at being of comfort when they’re worried.”

This but fed the light flame of his easy perception--which lighted for
him, if she would, all the facts equally. “And they’re worried now,
you imply, because my terrible mother is capable of heavy gains and of
making a great noise if she isn’t paid? I ought to mind speaking of
that truth,” he went on as with a practised glance in the direction of
delicacy; “but I think I should like you to know that I myself am not a
bit ignorant of why it has made such an impression here.”

Lady Sandgate forestalled his knowledge. “Because poor Kitty Imber--who
should either never touch a card or else learn to suffer in silence, as
I’ve had to, goodness knows!--has thrown herself, with her impossible
big debt, upon her father? whom she thinks herself entitled to ‘look to’
even more as a lovely young widow with a good jointure than she formerly
did as the mere most beautiful daughter at home.”

She had put the picture a shade interrogatively, but this was as nothing
to the note of free inquiry in Lord John’s reply. “You mean that our
lovely young widows--to say nothing of lovely young wives--ought by this
time to have made out, in predicaments, how to turn round?”

His temporary hostess, even with his eyes on her, appeared to decide
after a moment not wholly to disown his thought. But she smiled for it.
“Well, in that set----!”

“My mother’s set?” However, if she could smile he could laugh. “I’m much
obliged!”

“Oh,” she qualified, “I don’t criticise her Grace; but the ways and
traditions and tone of this house----”

“Make it”--he took her sense straight from her--“the house in England
where one feels most the false note of a dishevelled and bankrupt elder
daughter breaking in with a list of her gaming debts--to say nothing of
others!--and wishing to have at least those wiped out in the interest of
her reputation? Exactly so,” he went on before she could meet it with a
diplomatic ambiguity; “and just that, I assure you, is a large part of
the reason I like to come here--since I personally don’t come with any
such associations.”

“Not the association of bankruptcy--no; as you represent the payee!”

The young man appeared to regard this imputation for a moment almost
as a liberty taken. “How do you know so well, Lady Sandgate, what I
represent?”

She bethought herself--but briefly and bravely. “Well, don’t you
represent, by your own admission, certain fond aspirations? Don’t
you represent the belief--very natural, I grant--that more than _one_
perverse and extravagant flower will be unlikely on such a fine healthy
old stem; and, consistently with that, the hope of arranging with our
admirable host here that he shall lend a helpful hand to your commending
yourself to dear Grace?”

Lord John might, in the light of these words, have felt any latent
infirmity in such a pretension exposed; but as he stood there facing
his chances he would have struck a spectator as resting firmly enough on
some felt residuum of advantage: whether this were cleverness or luck,
the strength of his backing or that of his sincerity. Even with the
young woman to whom our friends’ reference thus broadened still a
vague quantity for us, you would have taken his sincerity as quite
possible--and this despite an odd element in him that you might have
described as a certain delicacy of brutality. This younger son of
a noble matron recognised even by himself as terrible enjoyed in
no immediate or aggressive manner any imputable private heritage
or privilege of arrogance. He would on the contrary have irradiated
fineness if his lustre hadn’t been a little prematurely dimmed. Active
yet insubstantial, he was slight and short and a trifle too punctually,
though not yet quite lamentably, bald. Delicacy was in the arch of his
eyebrow, the finish of his facial line, the economy of “treatment”
 by which his negative nose had been enabled to look important and his
meagre mouth to smile its spareness away.

He had pleasant but hard little eyes--they glittered, handsomely,
without promise--and a neatness, a coolness and an ease, a clear
instinct for making point take, on his behalf, the place of weight and
immunity that of capacity, which represented somehow the art of living
at a high pitch and yet at a low cost. There was that in his satisfied
air which still suggested sharp wants--and this was withal the
ambiguity; for the temper of these appetites or views was certainly,
you would have concluded, not such as always to sacrifice to form. If he
really, for instance, wanted Lady Grace, the passion or the sense of his
interest in it would scarce have been considerately irritable.

“May I ask what you mean,” he inquired of Lady Sandgate, “by the
question of my ‘arranging’?”

“I mean that you’re the very clever son of a very clever mother.”

“Oh, I’m less clever than you think,” he replied--“if you really think
it of me at all; and mamma’s a good sight cleverer!”

“Than I think?” Lady Sandgate echoed. “Why, she’s the person in all our
world I would gladly most resemble--for her general ability to put what
she wants through.” But she at once added: “That is _if_--!” pausing on
it with a smile.

“If what then?”

“Well, if I could be absolutely certain to have all in her kinds of
cleverness without exception--and to have them,” said Lady Sandgate, “to
the very end.”

He definitely, he almost contemptuously declined to follow her. “The
very end of what?”

She took her choice as amid all the wonderful directions there might be,
and then seemed both to risk and to reserve something. “Say of her so
wonderfully successful _general_ career.”

It doubtless, however, warranted him in appearing to cut insinuations
short. “When you’re as clever as she you’ll be as good.” To which he
subjoined: “You don’t begin to have the opportunity of knowing how good
she is.” This pronouncement, to whatever comparative obscurity it might
appear to relegate her, his interlocutress had to take--he was so prompt
with a more explicit challenge. “What is it exactly that you suppose
yourself to know?”

Lady Sandgate had after a moment, in her supreme good humour, decided
to take everything. “I always proceed on the assumption that I know
everything, because that makes people tell me.”

“It wouldn’t make we,” he quite rang out, “if I didn’t want to! But as
it happens,” he allowed, “there’s a question it would be convenient
to me to put to you. You must be, with your charming unconventional
relation with him, extremely in Theign’s confidence.”

She waited a little as for more. “Is that your question--_whether_ I
am?”

“No, but if you are you’ll the better answer it”

She had no objection then to answering it beautifully. “We’re the best
friends in the world; he has been really my providence, as a lone woman
with almost nobody and nothing of her own, and I feel my footing here,
as so frequent and yet so discreet a visitor, simply perfect But I’m
happy to say that--for my pleasure when I’m really curious--this doesn’t
close to me the sweet resource of occasionally guessing things.”

“Then I hope you’ve ground for believing that if I go the right way
about it he’s likely to listen to me.”

Lady Sandgate measured her ground--which scarce seemed extensive. “The
person he most listens to just now--and in fact at any time, as you must
have seen for yourself--is that arch-tormentor, or at least beautiful
wheedler, his elder daughter.”

“Lady Imber’s _here?_” Lord John alertly asked.

“She arrived last night and--as we’ve other visitors--seems to have set
up a side-show in the garden.”

“Then she’ll ‘draw’ of course immensely, as she always does. But her
sister won’t be in that case with her,” the young man supposed.

“Because Grace feels herself naturally an independent show? So she well
may,” said Lady Sandgate, “but I must tell you that when I last noticed
them there Kitty was in the very act of leading her away.”

Lord John figured it a moment. “Lady Imber”--he ironically enlarged the
figure--“_can_ lead people away.”

“Oh, dear Grace,” his companion returned, “happens fortunately to be
firm!”

This seemed to strike him for a moment as equivocal. “Not against
_me_, however--you don’t mean? You don’t think she has a beastly
prejudice----?”

“Surely you can judge about it; as knowing best what may--or what
mayn’t--have happened between you.”

“Well, I try to judge”--and such candour as was possible to Lord John
seemed to sit for a moment on his brow. “But I’m in fear of seeing her
too much as I want to see her.”

There was an appeal in it that Lady Sandgate might have been moved to
meet “Are you absolutely in earnest about her?”

“Of course I am--why shouldn’t I be? But,” he said with impatience, “I
want help.”

“Very well then, that’s what Lady Imber’s giving you.” And as it
appeared to take him time to read into these words their full sense,
she produced others, and so far did help him--though the effort was in
a degree that of her exhibiting with some complacency her own unassisted
control of stray signs and shy lights. “By telling her, by bringing it
home to her, that if she’ll make up her mind to accept you the Duchess
will do the handsome thing. Handsome, I mean, by Kitty.”

Lord John, appropriating for his convenience the truth in this, yet
regarded it as open to a becoming, an improving touch from himself.
“Well, and by _me_.” To which he added with more of a challenge in it:
“But you really know what my mother will do?”

“By my system,” Lady Sandgate smiled, “you see I’ve guessed. What your
mother will do is what brought you over!”

“Well, it’s that,” he allowed--“and something else.”

“Something else?” she derisively echoed. “I should think ‘that,’ for an
ardent lover, would have been enough.”

“Ah, but it’s all one Job! I mean it’s one idea,” he hastened to
explain--“if you think Lady Imber’s really acting on her.”

“Mightn’t you go and see?”

“I would in a moment if I hadn’t to look out for another matter too.”
 And he renewed his attention to his watch. “I mean getting straight at
my American, the party I just mentioned------”

But she had already taken him up. “You too have an American and a
‘party,’ and yours also motors down----?”

“Mr. Breckenridge Bender.” Lord John named him with a shade of elation.

She gaped at the fuller light “You _know_ my Breckenridge?--who I hoped
was coming for me!”

Lord John as freely, but more gaily, wondered. “Had he told you so?”

She held out, opened, the telegram she had kept folded in her hand since
her entrance. “He has sent me that--which, delivered to me ten minutes
ago out there, has brought me in to receive him.”

The young man read out this missive. “‘Failing to find you in Bruton
Street, start in pursuit and hope to overtake you about four.’” It did
involve an ambiguity. “Why, he has been engaged these three days
to coincide with myself, and not to fail of him has been part of my
business.”

Lady Sandgate, in her demonstrative way, appealed to the general rich
scene. “Then why does he say it’s me he’s pursuing?”

He seemed to recognise promptly enough in her the sense of a menaced
monopoly. “My dear lady, he’s pursuing expensive works of art.”

“By which you imply that I’m one?” She might have been wound up by her
disappointment to almost any irony.

“I imply--or rather I affirm--that every handsome woman is! But what he
arranged with me about,” Lord John explained, “was that he should
see the Dedborough pictures in general and the great Sir Joshua in
particular--of which he had heard so much and to which I’ve been thus
glad to assist him.”

This news, however, with its lively interest, but deepened the
listener’s mystification. “Then why--this whole week that I’ve been in
the house--hasn’t our good friend here mentioned to me his coming?”

“Because our good friend here has had no reason”--Lord John could treat
it now as simple enough. “Good as he is in all ways, he’s so best of
all about showing the house and its contents that I haven’t even thought
necessary to write him that I’m introducing Breckenridge.”

“I should have been happy to introduce him,” Lady Sandgate just
quavered--“if I had at all known he wanted it.”

Her companion weighed the difference between them and appeared to
pronounce it a trifle he didn’t care a fig for. “I surrender you that
privilege then--of presenting him to his host--if I’ve seemed to you
to snatch it from you.” To which Lord John added, as with liberality
unrestricted, “But I’ve been taking him about to see what’s worth
while--as only last week to Lady Lappington’s Longhi.”

This revelation, though so casual in its form, fairly drew from Lady
Sandgate, as she took it in, an interrogative wail. “Her Longhi?”

“Why, don’t you know her great Venetian family group, the
What-do-you-call-’ems?--seven full-length figures, each one a gem, for
which he paid her her price before he left the house.”

She could but make it more richly resound--almost stricken, lost in her
wistful thought: “Seven full-length figures? Her price?”

“Eight thousand--slap down. Bender knows,” said Lord John, “what he
wants.”

“And does he want only”--her wonder grew and grew--

“What-do-you-call-’ems’?”

“He most usually wants what he can’t have.” Lord John made scarce more
of it than that. “But, awfully hard up as I fancy her, Lady Lappington
went _at_ him.”

It determined in his friend a boldly critical attitude. “How
horrible--at the rate things are leaving us!” But this was far from the
end of her interest. “And is that the way he pays?”

“Before he leaves the house?” Lord John lived it amusedly over. “Well,
_she_ took care of that.”

“How incredibly vulgar!” It all had, however, for Lady Sandgate, still
other connections--which might have attenuated Lady Lappington’s
case, though she didn’t glance at this. “He makes the most scandalous
eyes--the ruffian!--at my great-grandmother.” And then as richly to
enlighten any blankness: “My tremendous Lawrence, don’t you know?--in
her wedding-dress, down to her knees; with such extraordinarily
speaking eyes, such lovely arms and hands, such wonderful flesh-tints:
universally considered the masterpiece of the artist.”

Lord John seemed to look a moment not so much at the image evoked, in
which he wasn’t interested, as at certain possibilities lurking behind
it. “And are you going to _sell_ the masterpiece of the artist?”

She held her head high. “I’ve indignantly refused--for all his pressing
me so hard.”

“Yet that’s what he nevertheless pursues you to-day to keep up?”

The question had a little the ring of those of which the occupant of a
witness-box is mostly the subject, but Lady Sandgate was so far as this
went an imperturbable witness. “I need hardly fear it perhaps if--in
the light of what you tell me of your arrangement with him--his pursuit
becomes, where I am concerned, a figure of speech.”

“Oh,” Lord John returned, “he kills two birds with one stone--he sees
both Sir Joshua and you.”

This version of the case had its effect, for the moment, on his fair
associate. “Does he want to buy _their_ pride and glory?”

The young man, however, struck on his own side, became at first but the
bright reflector of her thought. “Is that wonder for sale?”

She closed her eyes as with the shudder of hearing such words. “Not,
surely, by _any_ monstrous chance! Fancy dear, proud Theign------!”

“I can’t fancy him--no!” And Lord John appeared to renounce the effort.
“But a cat may look at a king and a sharp funny Yankee at anything.”

These things might be, Lady Sandgate’s face and gesture apparently
signified; but another question diverted her. “You’re clearly a
wonderful showman, but do you mind my asking you whether you’re on such
an occasion a--well, a closely interested one?”

“‘Interested’?” he echoed; though it wasn’t to gain time, he showed, for
he would in that case have taken more. “To the extent, you mean, of my
little percentage?” And then as in silence she but kept a slightly grim
smile on him: “Why do you ask if--with your high delicacy about your
great-grandmother--you’ve nothing to place?”

It took her a minute to say, while her fine eye only rolled; but when
she spoke that organ boldly rested and the truth vividly appeared.
“I ask because people like you, Lord John, strike me as dangerous to
the--how shall I name it?--the common weal; and because of my general
strong feeling that we don’t want any more of our national treasures
(for I regard my great-grandmother as national) to be scattered about
the world.”

“There’s much in this country and age,” he replied in an off-hand
manner, “to be said about _that_,” The present, however, was not the
time to say it all; so he said something else instead, accompanying it
with a smile that signified sufficiency. “To my friends, I need scarcely
remark to you, I’m all the friend.”

She had meanwhile seen the butler reappear by the door that opened to
the terrace, and though the high, bleak, impersonal approach of this
functionary was ever, and more and more at every step, a process to defy
interpretation, long practice evidently now enabled her to suggest, as
she turned again to her fellow-visitor a reading of it. “It’s the friend
then clearly who’s wanted in the park.”

She might, by the way Banks looked at her, have snatched from his hand
a missive addressed to another; though while he addressed himself to her
companion he allowed for her indecorum sufficiently to take it up where
she had left it. “By her ladyship, my lord, who sends to hope you’ll
join them below the terrace.”

“Ah, Grace hopes,” said Lady Sandgate for the young man’s encouragement.
“There you are!”

Lord John took up the motor-cap he had lain down on coming in. “I rush
to Lady Grace, but don’t demoralise Bender!” And he went forth to the
terrace and the gardens.

Banks looked about as for some further exercise of his high function.
“Will you have tea, my lady?”

This appeared to strike her as premature. “Oh, thanks--when they all
come in.”

“They’ll scarcely _all_, my lady”--he indicated respectfully that he
knew what he was talking about. “There’s tea in her ladyship’s tent;
but,” he qualified, “it has also been ordered for the saloon.”

“Ah then,” she said cheerfully, “Mr. Bender will be glad--!” And she
became, with this, aware of the approach of another visitor. Banks
considered, up and down, the gentleman ushered in, at the left, by the
footman who had received him at the main entrance to the house. “Here
he must be, my lady.” With which he retired to the spacious opposite
quarter, where he vanished, while the footman, his own office performed,
retreated as he had come, and Lady Sandgate, all hospitality, received
the many-sided author of her specious telegram, of Lord John’s
irritating confidence and of Lady Lappington’s massive cheque.



II

Having greeted him with an explicitly gracious welcome and both hands
out, she had at once gone on: “You’ll of course have tea?--in the
saloon.”

But his mechanism seemed of the type that has to expand and revolve
before sounding. “Why; the very first thing?”

She only desired, as her laugh showed, to accommodate. “Ah, have it the
last if you like!”

“You see your English teas--!” he pleaded as he looked about him, so
immediately and frankly interested in the place and its contents that
his friend could only have taken this for the very glance with which he
must have swept Lady Lappington’s inferior scene.

“They’re too much for you?”

“Well, they’re too many. I think I’ve had two or three on the road--at
any rate my man did. I like to do business before--” But his sequence
dropped as his eye caught some object across the wealth of space.

She divertedly picked it up. “Before tea, Mr. Bender?”

“Before everything, Lady Sandgate.” He was immensely genial, but a
queer, quaint, rough-edged distinctness somehow kept it safe--for
himself.

“Then you’ve _come_ to do business?” Her appeal and her emphasis melted
as into a caress--which, however, spent itself on his large high person
as he consented, with less of demonstration but more of attention, to
look down upon her. She could therefore but reinforce it by an intenser
note. “To tell me you _will_ treat?”

Mr. Bender had six feet of stature and an air as of having received
benefits at the hands of fortune. Substantial, powerful, easy, he shone
as with a glorious cleanness, a supplied and equipped and appointed
sanity and security; aids to action that might have figured a pair of
very ample wings--wide pinions for the present conveniently folded, but
that he would certainly on occasion agitate for great efforts and spread
for great flights. These things would have made him quite an admirable,
even a worshipful, image of full-blown life and character, had not
the affirmation and the emphasis halted in one important particular.
Fortune, felicity, nature, the perverse or interfering old fairy at his
cradle-side--whatever the ministering power might have been--had simply
overlooked and neglected his vast wholly-shaven face, which thus showed
not so much for perfunctorily scamped as for not treated, as for neither
formed nor fondled nor finished, at all. Nothing seemed to have been
done for it but what the razor and the sponge, the tooth-brush and
the looking-glass could officiously do; it had in short resisted
any possibly finer attrition at the hands of fifty years of offered
experience. It had developed on the lines, if lines they could be
called, of the mere scoured and polished and initialled “mug” rather
than to any effect of a composed physiognomy; though we must at the
same time add that its wearer carried this featureless disk as with the
warranted confidence that might have attended a warning headlight or
a glaring motor-lamp. The object, however one named it, showed you at
least where he was, and most often that he was straight upon you. It
was fearlessly and resistingly across the path of his advance that Lady
Sandgate had thrown herself, and indeed with such success that he
soon connected her demonstration with a particular motive. “For your
grandmother, Lady Sandgate?” he then returned.

“For my grandmother’s _mother_, Mr. Bender--the most beautiful woman
of her time and the greatest of all Lawrences, no matter whose; as you
quite acknowledged, you know, in our talk in Bruton Street.”

Mr. Bender bethought himself further--yet drawing it out; as if the
familiar fact of his being “made up to” had never had such special
softness and warmth of pressure. “Do you want very, _very_ much----?”

She had already caught him up. “‘Very, very much’ for her? Well, Mr.
Bender,” she smilingly replied, “I think I should like her full value.”

“I mean”--he kindly discriminated--“do you want so badly to work her
off?”

“It would be an intense convenience to me--so much so that your telegram
made me at once fondly hope you’d be arriving to conclude.”

Such measure of response as he had good-naturedly given her was the
mere frayed edge of a mastering detachment, the copious, impatient range
elsewhere of his true attention. Somehow, however, he still seemed kind
even while, turning his back upon her, he moved off to look at one of
the several, the famous Dedborough pictures--stray specimens, by every
presumption, lost a little in the whole bright bigness. “‘Conclude’?” he
echoed as he approached a significantly small canvas. “You ladies want
to get there before the road’s so much as laid or the country’s safe! Do
you know what this _here_ is?” he at once went on.

“Oh, you can’t have _that!_” she cried as with full authority--“and
you must really understand that you can’t have everything. You mustn’t
expect to ravage Dedborough.”

He had his nose meanwhile close to the picture. “I guess it’s a bogus
Cuyp--but I know Lord Theign _has_ things. He won’t do business?”

“He’s not in the least, and can never be, in my tight place,” Lady
Sandgate replied; “but he’s as proud as he’s kind, dear man, and
as solid as he’s proud; so that if you came down under a different
impression--!” Well, she could only exhale the folly of his error with
an unction that represented, whatever he might think of it, all her
competence to answer for their host.

He scarce thought of it enough, on any side, however, to be diverted
from prior dispositions. “I came on an understanding that I should find
my friend Lord John, and that Lord Theign would, on his introduction,
kindly let me look round. But being before lunch in Bruton Street I
knocked at your door----”

“For another look,” she quickly interposed, “at my Lawrence?”

“For another look at _you_, Lady Sandgate--your great-grandmother wasn’t
required. Informed you were here, and struck with the coincidence of my
being myself presently due,” he went on, “I despatched you my wire, on
coming away, just to keep up your spirits.”

“You _don’t_ keep them up, you depress them to anguish,” she almost
passionately protested, “when you don’t tell me you’ll treat!”

He paused in his preoccupation, his perambulation, conscious evidently
of no reluctance that was worth a scene with so charming and so hungry
a woman. “Well, if it’s a question of your otherwise suffering torments,
may I have another interview with the old lady?”

“Dear Mr. Bender, she’s in the flower of her youth; she only yearns for
interviews, and you may have,” Lady Sandgate earnestly declared, “as
many as you like.”

“Oh, you must be there to protect me!”

“Then as soon as I return----!”

“Well,”--it clearly cost him little to say--“I’ll come right round.”

She joyously registered the vow. “Only meanwhile then, please, never a
word!”

“Never a word, certainly. But where all this time,” Mr. Bender asked,
“is Lord John?”

Lady Sandgate, as he spoke, found her eyes meeting those of a young
woman who, presenting herself from without, stood framed in the doorway
to the terrace; a slight fair grave young woman, of middle, stature and
simply dressed, whose brow showed clear even under the heavy shade of
a large hat surmounted with big black bows and feathers. Her eyes
had vaguely questioned those of her elder, who at once replied to the
gentleman forming the subject of their inquiry: “Lady Grace must know.”
 At this the young woman came forward, and Lady Sandgate introduced the
visitor. “My dear Grace, this is Mr. Breckenridge Bender.”

The younger daughter of the house might have arrived in preoccupation,
but she had urbanity to spare. “Of whom Lord John has told me,” she
returned, “and whom I’m glad to see. Lord John,” she explained to his
waiting friend, “is detained a moment in the park, open to-day to a big
Temperance school-feast, where our party is mostly gathered; so that if
you care to go out--!” She gave him in fine his choice.

But this was clearly a thing that, in the conditions, Mr. Bender wasn’t
the man to take precipitately; though his big useful smile disguised his
prudence. “Are there any pictures in the park?”

Lady Grace’s facial response represented less humour perhaps, but more
play. “We find our park itself rather a picture.”

Mr. Bender’s own levity at any rate persisted. “With a big Temperance
school-feast?”

“Mr. Bender’s a great judge of pictures,” Lady Sandgate said as to
forestall any impression of excessive freedom.

“Will there be more tea?” he pursued, almost presuming on this.

It showed Lady Grace for comparatively candid and literal. “Oh, there’ll
be plenty of tea.”

This appeared to determine Mr. Bender. “Well, Lady Grace, I’m after
pictures, but I take them ‘neat.’ May I go right round here?”

“Perhaps, love,” Lady Sandgate at once said, “you’ll let me show him.”

“A moment, dear”--Lady Grace gently demurred. “Do go round,” she
conformably added to Mr. Bender; “take your ease and your time.
Everything’s open and visible, and, with our whole company dispersed,
you’ll have the place to yourself.”

He rose, in his genial mass, to the opportunity. “I’ll be in
clover--sure!” But present to him was the richest corner of the pasture,
which he could fluently enough name. “And I’ll find ‘The Beautiful
Duchess of Waterbridge’?”

She indicated, off to the right, where a stately perspective opened, the
quarter of the saloon to which we have seen Mr. Banks retire. “At the
very end of _those_ rooms.”

He had wide eyes for the vista. “About thirty in a row, hey?” And he was
already off. “I’ll work right through!”



III

Left with her friend, Lady Grace had a prompt question. “Lord John
warned me he was ‘funny’--but you already know him?”

There might have been a sense of embarrassment in the way in which, as
to gain time, Lady Sandgate pointed, instead of answering, to the small
picture pronounced upon by Mr. Bender. “He thinks your little Cuyp a
fraud.”

“That one?” Lady Grace could but stare. “The wretch!” However, she made,
without alarm, no more of it; she returned to her previous question.
“You’ve met him before?”

“Just a little--in town. Being ‘after pictures’” Lady Sandgate
explained, “he has been after my great-grandmother.”

“She,” said Lady Grace with amusement, “must have found him funny! But
he can clearly take care of himself, while Kitty takes care of Lord
John, and while you, if you’ll be so good, go back to support father--in
the hour of his triumph: which he wants you so much to witness that
he complains of your desertion and goes so far as to speak of you as
sneaking away.”

Lady Sandgate, with a slight flush, turned it over. “I delight in
his triumph, and whatever I do is at least above board; but if it’s a
question of support, aren’t you yourself failing him quite as much?”

This had, however, no effect on the girl’s confidence. “Ah, my dear, I’m
not at all the same thing, and as I’m the person in the world he least
misses--” Well, such a fact spoke for itself.

“You’ve been free to return and wait for Lord John?”--that was the
sense in which the elder woman appeared to prefer to understand it as
speaking.

The tone of it, none the less, led her companion immediately, though
very quietly, to correct her. “I’ve not come back to wait for Lord
John.”

“Then he hasn’t told you--if you’ve talked--with what idea he has come?”

Lady Grace had for a further correction the same shade of detachment.
“Kitty has told me--what it suits her to pretend to suppose.”

“And Kitty’s pretensions and suppositions always go with what
happens--at the moment, among all her wonderful happenings--to suit
her?”

Lady Grace let that question answer itself--she took the case up further
on. “What I can’t make out is why this _should_ so suit her!”

“And what _I_ can’t!” said Lady Sandgate without gross honesty and
turning away after having watched the girl a moment. She nevertheless
presently faced her again to follow this speculation up. “Do you like
him enough to risk the chance of Kitty’s being for once right?”

Lady Grace gave it a thought--with which she moved away. “I don’t know
how much I like him!”

“Nor how little!” cried her friend, who evidently found amusement in the
tone of it. “And you’re not disposed to take the time to find out? He’s
at least better than the others.”

“The ‘others’?”--Lady Grace was blank for them.

“The others of his set.”

“Oh, his set! That wouldn’t be difficult--by what I imagine of some of
them. But he means well enough,” the girl added; “he’s very charming and
does me great honour.”

It determined in her companion, about to leave her, another brief
arrest. “Then may I tell your father?”

This in turn brought about in Lady Grace an immediate drop of the
subject. “Tell my father, please, that I’m expecting Mr. Crimble; of
whom I’ve spoken to him even if he doesn’t remember, and who bicycles
this afternoon ten miles over from where he’s staying--with some people
we don’t know--to look at the pictures, about which he’s awfully keen.”

Lady Sandgate took it in. “Ah, like Mr. Bender?”

“No, not at all, I think, like Mr. Bender.”

This appeared to move in the elder woman some deeper thought “May I ask
then--if one’s to meet him--who he is?”

“Oh, father knows--or ought to--that I sat next him, in London, a month
ago, at dinner, and that he then told me he was working, tooth and
nail, at what he called the wonderful modern science of
Connoisseurship--which is upsetting, as perhaps you’re not aware, all
the old-fashioned canons of art-criticism, everything we’ve stupidly
thought right and held dear; that he was to spend Easter in these parts,
and that he should like greatly to be allowed some day to come over and
make acquaintance with our things. I told him,” Lady Grace wound
up, “that nothing would be easier; a note from him arrived before
dinner----”

Lady Sandgate jumped the rest “And it’s for him you’ve come in.”

“It’s for him I’ve come in,” the girl assented with serenity.

“Very good--though he sounds most detrimental! But will you first just
tell me _this_--whether when you sent in ten minutes ago for Lord John
to come out to you it was wholly of your own movement?” And she followed
it up as her young friend appeared to hesitate. “Was it because you knew
why he had arrived?”

The young friend hesitated still. “‘Why ‘?”

“So particularly to speak to you.”

“Since he was expected and mightn’t know where I was,” Lady Grace said
after an instant, “I wanted naturally to be civil to him.”

“And had he time there to tell you,” Lady Sand-gate asked, “how very
civil he wants to be to you?”

“No, only to tell me that his friend--who’s off there--was coming; for
Kitty at once appropriated him and was still in possession when I came
away.” Then, as deciding at last on perfect frankness, Lady Grace went
on: “If you want to know, I sent for news of him because Kitty insisted
on my doing so; saying, so very oddly and quite in her own way, that she
herself didn’t wish to ‘appear in it.’ She had done nothing but say to
me for an hour, rather worryingly, what you’ve just said--that it’s
me he’s what, like Mr. Bender, she calls ‘after’; but as soon as
he appeared she pounced on him, and I left him--I assure you quite
resignedly--in her hands.”

“She wants”--it was easy for Lady Sandgate to remark--“to talk of you to
him.”

“I don’t know _what_ she wants,” the girl replied as with rather a tired
patience; “Kitty wants so many things at once. She always wants money,
in quantities, to begin with--and all to throw so horribly away; so that
whenever I see her ‘in’ so very deep with any one I always imagine her
appealing for some new tip as to how it’s to be come by.”

“Kitty’s an abyss, I grant you, and with my disinterested devotion to
your father--in requital of all his kindness to me since Lord Sandgate’s
death and since your mother’s--I can never be too grateful to you, my
dear, for your being so different a creature. But what is she going to
gain financially,” Lady Sand-gate pursued with a strong emphasis on
her adverb, “by working up our friend’s confidence in your listening to
him--if you _are_ to listen?”

“I haven’t in the least engaged to listen,” said Lady Grace--“it will
depend on the music he makes!” But she added with light cynicism:
“Perhaps she’s to gain a commission!”

“On his fairly getting you?” And then as the girl assented by silence:
“Is he in a position to pay her one?” Lady Sandgate asked.

“I dare say the Duchess is!”

“But do you see the Duchess _producing_ money--with all that Kitty, as
we’re not ignorant, owes her? Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds!”--Lady
Sandgate piled them up.

Her young friend’s gesture checked it. “Ah, don’t tell me how many--it’s
too sad and too ugly and too wrong!” To which, however, Lady Grace
added: “But perhaps that will be just her way!” And then as her
companion seemed for the moment not quite to follow: “By letting Kitty
off her debt.”

“You mean that Kitty goes free if Lord John wins your promise?”

“Kitty goes free.”

“She has her creditor’s release?”

“For every shilling.”

“And if he only fails?”

“Why then of course,” said now quite lucid Lady Grace, “she throws
herself more than ever on poor father.”

“Poor father indeed!”--Lady Sandgate richly sighed it

It appeared even to create in the younger woman a sense of excess.
“Yes--but he after all and in spite of everything adores her.”

“To the point, you mean”--for Lady Sandgate could clearly but
wonder--“of really sacrificing you?”

The weight of Lady Grace’s charming deep eyes on her face made her
pause while, at some length, she gave back this look and the interchange
determined in the girl a grave appeal. “You think I _should_ be
sacrificed if I married him?”

Lady Sandgate replied, though with an equal emphasis, indirectly.
“_Could_ you marry him?”

Lady Grace waited a moment “Do you mean for Kitty?”

“For himself even--if they should convince you, among them, that he
cares for you.”

Lady Grace had another delay. “Well, he’s his awful mother’s son.”

“Yes--but you wouldn’t marry his mother.”

“No--but I should only be the more uncomfortably and intimately
conscious of her.”

“Even when,” Lady Sandgate optimistically put it, “she so markedly likes
you?”

This determined in the girl a fine impatience. “She doesn’t ‘like’ me,
she only _wants_ me--which is a very different thing; wants me for
my father’s so particularly beautiful position, and my mother’s so
supremely great people, and for everything we have been and have done,
and still are and still have: except of course poor not-at-all-model
Kitty.”

To this luminous account of the matter Lady Sand-gate turned as to a
genial sun-burst. “I see indeed--for the general immaculate connection.”

The words had no note of irony, but Lady Grace, in her great
seriousness, glanced with deprecation at the possibility. “Well, we
_haven’t_ had false notes. We’ve scarcely even had bad moments.”

“Yes, you’ve been beatific!”--Lady Sandgate enviously, quite ruefully,
felt it. But any further treatment of the question was checked by the
re-entrance of the footman--a demonstration explained by the concomitant
appearance of a young man in eyeglasses and with the ends of his
trousers clipped together as for cycling. “This must be your friend,”
 she had only time to say to the daughter of the house; with which, alert
and reminded of how she was awaited elsewhere, she retreated before her
companion’s visitor, who had come in with his guide from the vestibule.
She passed away to the terrace and the gardens, Mr. Hugh Crimble’s
announced name ringing in her ears--to some effect that we are as yet
not qualified to discern.



IV

Lady Grace had turned to meet Mr. Hugh Crimble, whose pleasure in at
once finding her lighted his keen countenance and broke into easy words.
“So awfully kind of you--in the midst of the great doings I noticed--to
have found a beautiful minute for me.”

“I left the great doings, which are almost over, to every one’s relief,
I think,” the girl returned, “so that your precious time shouldn’t be
taken to hunt for me.”

It was clearly for him, on this bright answer, as if her white hand
were holding out the perfect flower of felicity. “You came in from your
revels on purpose--with the same charity you showed me from that first
moment?” They stood smiling at each other as in an exchange of sympathy
already confessed--and even as if finding that their relation had grown
during the lapse of contact; she recognising the effect of what they had
originally felt as bravely as he might name it. What the fine, slightly
long oval of her essentially quiet face--quiet in spite of certain vague
depths of reference to forces of the strong high order, forces involved
and implanted, yet also rather spent in the process--kept in range
from under her redundant black hat was the strength of expression, the
directness of communication, that her guest appeared to borrow from
the unframed and unattached nippers unceasingly perched, by their
mere ground-glass rims, as she remembered, on the bony bridge of his
indescribably authoritative (since it was at the same time decidedly
inquisitive) young nose. She must, however, also have embraced in this
contemplation, she must more or less again have interpreted, his main
physiognomic mark, the degree to which his clean jaw was underhung
and his lower lip protruded; a lapse of regularity made evident by a
suppression of beard and moustache as complete as that practised by Mr.
Bender--though without the appearance consequent in the latter’s case,
that of the flagrantly vain appeal in the countenance for some other
exhibition of a history, of a process of production, than this so
superficial one. With the interested and interesting girl sufficiently
under our attention while we thus try to evoke her, we may even make out
some wonder in her as to why the so perceptibly protrusive lower lip of
this acquaintance of an hour or two should positively have contributed
to his being handsome instead of much more logically interfering with
it. We might in fact in such a case even have followed her into another
and no less refined a speculation--the question of whether the surest
seat of his good looks mightn’t after all be his high, fair, if somewhat
narrow, forehead, crowned with short crisp brown hair and which, after
a fashion of its own, predominated without overhanging. He spoke after
they had stood just face to face almost long enough for awkwardness. “I
haven’t forgotten one item of your kindness to me on that rather bleak
occasion.”

“Bleak do you call it?” she laughed. “Why I found it, rather,
tropical--‘lush.’ My neighbour on the other side wanted to talk to me of
the White City.”

“Then you made it doubtless bleak for _him_, let us say. _I_ couldn’t
let you alone, I remember, about _this_--it was like a shipwrecked
signal to a sail on the horizon.” “This” obviously meant for the young
man exactly what surrounded him; he had begun, like Mr. Bender, to be
conscious of a thick solicitation of the eye--and much more
than he, doubtless, of a tug at the imagination; and he
broke--characteristically, you would have been sure--into a great free
gaiety of recognition.

“Oh, we’ve nothing particular in the hall,” Lady Grace amiably objected.

“Nothing, I see, but Claudes and Cuyps! I’m an ogre,” he said--“before a
new and rare feast!”

She happily took up his figure. “Then won’t you begin--as a first
course--with tea after your ride? If the other, that is--for there has
been an ogre before you--has left any.”

“Some tea, with pleasure”--he looked all his longing; “though when you
talk of a fellow-feaster I should have supposed that, on such a day
as this especially, you’d find yourselves running a continuous _table
d’hôte_.”

“Ah, we can’t work sports in our gallery and saloon--the banging or
whacking and shoving amusements that are all most people care for;
unless, perhaps,” Lady Grace went on, “your own peculiar one, as I
understand you, of playing football with the old benighted traditions
and attributions you everywhere meet: in fact I think you said the old
idiotic superstitions.”

Hugh Crimble went more than half-way to meet this description of his
fondest activity; he indeed even beckoned it on. “The names and stories
and styles--the so often vain legend, not to be too invidious--of author
or subject or school?” But he had a drop, no less, as from the sense of a
cause sometimes lost. “Ah, that’s a game at which we _all_ can play!”

“Though scarcely,” Lady Grace suggested, “at which we all can score.”

The words appeared indeed to take meaning from his growing impression
of the place and its charm--of the number of objects, treasures of art,
that pressed for appreciation of their importance. “Certainly,” he said,
“no one can ever have scored much on sacred spots of _this_ order--which
express so the grand impunity of their pride, their claims, their
assurance!”

“We’ve had great luck,” she granted--“as I’ve just been reminded;
but ever since those terrible things you told me in town--about the
tremendous tricks of the whirligig of time and the aesthetic fools’
paradise in which so many of us live--I’ve gone about with my heart in
my mouth. Who knows that while I talk Mr. Bender mayn’t be pulling us to
pieces?”

Hugh Crimble had a shudder of remembrance. “Mr. Bender?”

“The rich American who’s going round.”

It gave him a sharper shock. “The wretch who bagged Lady Lappington’s
Longhi?”

Lady Grace showed surprise. “Is he a wretch?”

Her visitor but asked to be extravagant. “Rather--the scoundrel. He
offered his infernal eight thousand down.”

“Oh, I thought you meant he had played some trick!”

“I wish he had--he could then have been collared.”

“Well,” Lady Grace peacefully smiled, “it’s no use his offering _us_
eight thousand--or eighteen or even eighty!”

Hugh Crimble stared as at the odd superfluity of this reassurance,
almost crude on exquisite lips and contradicting an imputation no one
would have indecently made. “Gracious goodness, I hope not! The man
surely doesn’t _suppose_ you’d traffic.”

She might, while she still smiled at him, have been fairly enjoying the
friendly horror she produced. “I don’t quite know what he supposes. But
people _have_ trafficked; people do; people are trafficking all round.”

“Ah,” Hugh Crimble cried, “that’s what deprives me of my rest and, as
a lover of our vast and beneficent art-wealth, poisons my waking hours.
That art-wealth is at the mercy of a leak there appears no means of
stopping.” She had tapped a spring in him, clearly, and the consequent
flood might almost at any moment become copious. “Precious things are
going out of our distracted country at a quicker rate than the very
quickest--a century and more ago--of their ever coming in.”

She was sharply struck, but was also unmistakably a person in whom
stirred thought soon found connections and relations. “Well, I suppose
our art-wealth came in--save for those awkward Elgin Marbles!--mainly
by purchase too, didn’t it? We ourselves largely took it away from
somewhere, didn’t we? We didn’t _grow_ it all.”

“We grew some of the loveliest flowers--and on the whole to-day the most
exposed.” He had been pulled up but for an instant. “Great Gainsboroughs
and Sir Joshuas and Romneys and Sargents, great Turners and Constables
and old Cromes and Brabazons, form, you’ll recognise, a vast garden in
themselves. What have we ever for instance more successfully grown than
your splendid ‘Duchess of Waterbridge’?”

The girl showed herself ready at once to recognise under his eloquence
anything he would. “Yes--it’s our Sir Joshua, I believe, that Mr. Bender
has proclaimed himself particularly ‘after.’”

It brought a cloud to her friend’s face. “Then he’ll be capable of
anything.”

“Of anything, no doubt, but of making my father capable--! And you
haven’t at any rate,” she said, “so much as seen the picture.”

“I beg your pardon--I saw it at the Guildhall three years ago; and am
almost afraid of getting again, with a fresh sense of its beauty, a
livelier sense of its danger.”

Lady Grace, however, was so far from fear that she could even afford
pity. “Poor baffled Mr. Bender!”

“Oh, rich and confident Mr. Bender!” Crimble cried. “Once given his
money, his confidence is a horrid engine in itself--there’s the rub!
I dare say”--the young man saw it all--“he has brought his poisonous
cheque.”

She gave it her less exasperated wonder. “One has heard of that, but
only in the case of some particularly pushing dealer.”

“And Mr. Bender, to do him justice, isn’t a particularly pushing
dealer?”

“No,” Lady Grace judiciously returned; “I think he’s not a dealer at
all, but just what you a moment ago spoke of yourself as being.”

He gave a glance at his possibly wild recent past. “A fond true lover?”

“As we _all_ were in our lucky time--when we rum-aged Italy and Spain.”

He appeared to recognise this complication--of Bender’s voracious
integrity; but only to push it away. “Well, I don’t know whether the
best lovers are, or ever were, the best buyers--but I feel to-day that
they’re the best keepers.”

The breath of his emphasis blew, as her eyes showed, on the girl’s
dimmer fire. “It’s as if it were suddenly in the air that you’ve brought
us some light or some help--that you may do something really good for
us.”

“Do you mean ‘mark down,’ as they say at the shops, all your greatest
claims?”

His chord of sensibility had trembled all gratefully into derision, and
not to seem to swagger he had put his possible virtue at its lowest.
This she beautifully showed that she beautifully saw. “I dare say that
if you did even that we should have to take it from you.”

“Then it may very well be,” he laughed back, “the reason why I feel,
under my delightful, wonderful impression, a bit anxious and nervous and
afraid.”

“That shows,” she returned, “that you suspect us of horrors hiding from
justice, and that your natural kindness yet shrinks from handing us
over!”

Well, clearly, she might put it as she liked--it all came back to his
being more charmed. “Heaven knows I’ve wanted a chance at you, but what
should you say if, having then at last just taken you in in your so
apparent perfection, I should feel it the better part of valour simply
to mount my ‘bike’ again and spin away?”

“I should be sure that at the end of the avenue you’d turn right round
and come back. You’d think again of Mr. Bender.”

“Whom I don’t, however, you see--if he’s prowling off there--in the
least want to meet.” Crimble made the point with gaiety. “I don’t
know what I mightn’t do to him--and yet it’s not of my temptation to
violence, after all, that I’m most afraid. It’s of the brutal mistake
of one’s breaking--with one’s priggish, precious modernity and
one’s possibly futile discriminations--into a _general_ situation or
composition, as we say, so serene and sound and right. What should one
do here, out of respect for that felicity, but hold one’s breath and
walk on tip-toe? The very celebrations and consecrations, as you tell
me, instinctively stay outside. I saw that all,” the young man went on
with more weight in his ardour, “I saw it, while we talked in London,
as your natural setting and your native air--and now ten minutes on the
spot have made it sink into my spirit. You’re a case, all together, of
enchanted harmony, of perfect equilibrium--there’s nothing to be done or
said.”

His friend listened to this eloquence with her eyes lowered, then
raising them to meet, with a vague insistence, his own; after which
something she had seen there appeared to determine in her another
motion. She indicated the small landscape that Mr. Bender had, by Lady
Sandgate’s report, rapidly studied and denounced. “For what do you take
that little picture?”

Hugh Crimble went over and looked. “Why, don’t you know? It’s a jolly
little Vandermeer of Delft.”

“It’s not a base imitation?”

He looked again, but appeared at a loss. “An imitation of Vandermeer?”

“Mr. Bender thinks of Cuyp.”

It made the young man ring out: “Then Mr. Bender’s doubly dangerous!”

“Singly is enough!” Lady Grace laughed. “But you see you _have_ to
speak.”

“Oh, to _him_, rather, after that--if you’ll just take me to him.”

“Yes then,” she said; but even while she spoke Lord John, who had
returned, by the terrace, from his quarter of an hour passed with Lady
Imber, was there practically between them; a fact that she had to notice
for her other visitor, to whom she was hastily reduced to naming him.

His lordship eagerly made the most of this tribute of her attention,
which had reached his ear; he treated it--her “Oh Lord John!”--as a
direct greeting. “Ah Lady Grace! I came back particularly to find you.”

She could but explain her predicament. “I was taking Mr. Crimble to see
the pictures.” And then more pointedly, as her manner had been virtually
an introduction of that gentleman, an introduction which Lord John’s
mere noncommittal stare was as little as possible a response to: “Mr.
Crimble’s one of the quite new connoisseurs.”

“Oh, I’m at the very lowest round of the ladder. But I aspire!” Hugh
laughed.

“You’ll mount!” said Lady Grace with friendly confidence.

He took it again with gay deprecation. “Ah, if by that time there’s
anything left here to mount _on!_”

“Let us hope there will be at least what Mr. Bender, poor man, won’t
have been able to carry off.” To which Lady Grace added, as to strike a
helpful spark from the personage who had just joined them, but who had
the air of wishing to preserve his detachment: “It’s to Lord John that
we owe Mr. Bender’s acquaintance.”

Hugh looked at the gentleman to whom they were so indebted. “Then do you
happen to know, sir, what your friend means to _do_ with his spoil?”

The question got itself but dryly treated, as if it might be a
commercially calculating or interested one. “Oh, not sell it again.”

“Then ship it to New York?” the inquirer pursued, defining himself
somehow as not snubbed and, from this point, not snubbable.

That appearance failed none the less to deprive Lord John of a betrayed
relish for being able to displease Lady Grace’s odd guest by large
assent. “As fast as ever he can--and you can land things there _now_,
can’t you? in three or four days.”

“I dare say. But can’t he be induced to have a little mercy?” Hugh
sturdily pursued.

Lord John pushed out his lips. “A ‘little’? How much do you want?”

“Well, one wants to be able somehow to stay his hand.”

“I doubt if you can any more stay Mr. Bender’s hand than you can empty
his purse.”

“Ah, the Despoilers!” said Crimble with strong expression. “But it’s
_we_,” he added, “who are base.”

“‘Base’?”--and Lord John’s surprise was apparently genuine.

“To want only to ‘do business,’ I mean, with our treasures, with our
glories.”

Hugh’s words exhaled such a sense of peril as to draw at once Lady
Grace. “Ah, but if we’re above that _here_, as you know------!”

He stood smilingly corrected and contrite. “Of course I know--but you
must forgive me if I have it on the brain. And show me first of all,
won’t you? the Moretto of Brescia.”

“You know then about the Moretto of Brescia?”

“Why, didn’t you tell me yourself?” It went on between them for the
moment quite as if there had been no Lord John.

“Probably, yes,” she recalled; “so how I must have swaggered!” After
which she turned to the other visitor with a kindness strained clear of
urgency. “Will you also come?”

He confessed to a difficulty--which his whole face begged her also to
take account of. “I hoped you’d be at leisure--for something I’ve so at
heart!”

This had its effect; she took a rapid decision and turned persuasively
to Crimble--for whom, in like manner, there must have been something in
_her_ face. “Let Mr. Bender himself then show you. And there are things
in the library too.”

“Oh yes, there are things in the library.” Lord John, happy in his
gained advantage and addressing Hugh from the strong ground of an
initiation already complete, quite sped him on the way.

Hugh clearly made no attempt to veil the penetration with which he was
moved to look from one of these counsellors to the other, though with a
ready “Thank-you!” for Lady Grace he the next instant started in pursuit
of Mr. Bender.



V

“Your friend seems remarkably hot!” Lord John remarked to his young
hostess as soon as they had been left together.

“He has cycled twenty miles. And indeed,” she smiled, “he does appear to
care for what he cares for!”

Her companion then, during a moment’s silence, might have been noting
the emphasis of her assent. “Have you known him long?”

“No--not long.”

“Nor seen him often?”

“Only once--till now.”

“Oh!” said Lord John with another pause. But he soon proceeded. “Let us
leave him then to cool! I haven’t cycled twenty miles, but I’ve motored
forty very much in the hope of _this_, Lady Grace--the chance of being
able to assure you that I too care very much for what I care for.” To
which he added on an easier note, as to carry off a slight awkwardness
while she only waited: “You certainly mustn’t let yourself--between us
all--be worked to death.”

“Oh, such days as this--I” She made light enough of her burden.

“They don’t come often to _me_ at least, Lady Grace! I hadn’t grasped
in advance the scale of your fête,” he went on; “but since I’ve the
great luck to find you alone--!” He paused for breath, however, before
the full sequence.

She helped him out as through common kindness, but it was a trifle
colourless. “Alone or in company, Lord John, I’m always very glad to see
you.”

“Then that assurance helps me to wonder if you don’t perhaps gently
guess what it is I want to say.” This time indeed she left him to
his wonder, so that he had to support himself. “I’ve tried, all
considerately--these three months--to let you see for yourself how
I feel. I feel very strongly, Lady Grace; so that at last”--and his
impatient sincerity took after another instant the jump--“well, I
regularly worship you. You’re my absolute ideal. I think of you the
whole time.”

She measured out consideration as if it had been a yard of pretty
ribbon. “Are you sure you _know_ me enough?”

“I think I know a perfect woman when I see one!” Nothing now at least
could have been more prompt, and while a decent pity for such a mistake
showed in her smile he followed it up. “Isn’t what you rather mean that
you haven’t cared sufficiently to know _me?_ If so, that can be little
by little mended, Lady Grace.” He was in fact altogether gallant about
it. “I’m aware of the limits of what I have to show or to offer, but I
defy you to find a limit to my possible devotion.”

She deferred to that, but taking it in a lower key. “I believe you’d be
very good to me.”

“Well, isn’t _that_ something to start with?”--he fairly pounced on it.
“I’ll do any blest thing in life you like, I’ll accept any condition you
impose, if you’ll only tell me you see your way.”

“Shouldn’t I have a little more first to see yours?” she asked. “When
you say you’ll do anything in life I like, isn’t there anything you
yourself want strongly enough to do?”

He cast a stare about on the suggestions of the scene. “Anything that
will make money, you mean?”

“Make money or make reputation--or even just make the time pass.”

“Oh, what I have to look to in the way of a career?” If that was her
meaning he could show after an instant that he didn’t fear it. “Well,
your father, dear delightful man, has been so good as to give me to
understand that he backs me for a decent deserving creature; and I’ve
noticed, as you doubtless yourself have, that when Lord Theign backs a
fellow----!”

He left the obvious moral for her to take up--which she did, but all
interrogatively. “The fellow at once comes in for something awfully
good?”

“I don’t in the least mind your laughing at me,” Lord John returned,
“for when I put him the question of the lift he’d give me by speaking
to you first he bade me simply remember the complete personal liberty in
which he leaves you, and yet which doesn’t come--take my word!” said the
young man sagely--“from his being at all indifferent.”

“No,” she answered--“father isn’t indifferent. But father’s ‘great’”

“Great indeed!”--her friend took it as with full comprehension. This
appeared not to prevent, however, a second and more anxious thought.
“Too great for _you?_”

“Well, he makes me feel--even as his daughter--my extreme comparative
smallness.”

It was easy, Lord John indicated, to see what she meant “He’s a _grand
seigneur_, and a serious one--that’s what he is: the very type and model
of it, down to the ground. So you can imagine,” the young man said,
“what he makes me feel--most of all when he’s so awfully good-natured
to me. His being as ‘great’ as you say and yet backing me--such as I
am!--doesn’t _that_ strike you as a good note for me, the best you could
possibly require? For he really _would_ like what I propose to you.”

She might have been noting, while she thought, that he had risen to
ingenuity, to fineness, on the wings of his argument; under the effect
of which her reply had the air of a concession. “Yes--he would like it.”

“Then he _has_ spoken to you?” her suitor eagerly asked.

“He hasn’t needed--he has ways of letting one know.”

“Yes, yes, he has ways; all his own--like everything else he has. He’s
wonderful.”

She fully agreed. “He’s wonderful.”

The tone of it appeared somehow to shorten at once for Lord John the
rest of his approach to a conclusion. “So you do see your way?”

“Ah--!” she said with a quick sad shrinkage.

“I mean,” her visitor hastened to explain, “if he does put it to you as
the very best idea he has for you. When he does that--as I believe him
ready to do--will you really and fairly listen to him? I’m certain,
honestly, that when you know me better--!” His confidence in short
donned a bravery.

“I’ve been feeling this quarter of an hour,” the girl returned, “that I
do know you better.”

“Then isn’t that all I want?--unless indeed I ought perhaps to ask
rather if it isn’t all _you_ do! At any rate,” said Lord John, “I may
see you again here?”

She waited a moment. “You must have patience with me.”

“I _am_ having it But _after_ your father’s appeal.”

“Well,” she said, “that must come first.”

“Then you won’t dodge it?”

She looked at him straight “I don’t dodge, Lord John.”

He admired the manner of it “You look awfully handsome as you say
so--and you see what _that_ does to me.” As to attentuate a little the
freedom of which he went on: “May I fondly hope that if Lady Imber too
should wish to put in another word for me----?”

“Will I listen to her?”--it brought Lady Grace straight down. “No, Lord
John, let me tell you at once that I’ll do nothing of the sort Kitty’s
quite another affair, and I never listen to her a bit more than I can
help.”

Lord John appeared to feel, on this, that he mustn’t too easily, in
honour, abandon a person who had presented herself to him as an ally.
“Ah, you strike me as a little hard on her. Your father himself--in his
looser moments!--takes pleasure in what she says.”

Our young woman’s eyes, as they rested on him after this remark, had
no mercy for its extreme feebleness. “If you mean that she’s the most
reckless rattle one knows, and that she never looks so beautiful as when
she’s at her worst, and that, always clever for where she makes out her
interest, she has learnt to ‘get round’ him till he only sees through
her eyes--if you mean _that_ I understand you perfectly. But even if you
think me horrid for reflecting so on my nearest and dearest, it’s not on
the side on which he has most confidence in his elder daughter that his
youngest is moved to have most confidence in _him_.”

Lord John stared as if she had shaken some odd bright fluttering
object in his face; but then recovering himself: “He hasn’t perhaps an
absolutely boundless confidence--”

“In any one in the world but himself?”--she had taken him straight up.
“He hasn’t indeed, and that’s what we must come to; so that even if he
likes you as much as you doubtless very justly feel, it won’t be because
you are right about your being nice, but because _he_ is!”

“You mean that if I were wrong about it he would still insist that he
isn’t?”

Lady Grace was indeed sure. “Absolutely--if he had begun so! He began so
with Kitty--that is with allowing her everything.”

Lord John appeared struck. “Yes--and he still allows her two thousand.”

“I’m glad to hear it--she has never told me how much!” the girl
undisguisedly smiled.

“Then perhaps I oughtn’t!”--he glowed with the light of contrition.

“Well, you can’t help it now,” his companion remarked with amusement.

“You mean that he ought to allow _you_ as much?” Lord John inquired.
“I’m sure you’re right, and that he will,” he continued quite as in good
faith; “but I want you to understand that I don’t care in the least what
it may be!”

The subject of his suit took the longest look at him she had taken yet.
“You’re very good to say so!”

If this was ironic the touch fell short, thanks to his perception that
they had practically just ceased to be alone. They were in presence of
a third figure, who had arrived from the terrace, but whose approach to
them was not so immediate as to deprive Lord John of time for another
question. “Will you let _him_ tell you, at all events, how good he
thinks me?--and then let me come back and have it from you again?”

Lady Grace’s answer to this was to turn, as he drew nearer, to the
person by whom they were now joined. “Lord John desires you should tell
me, father, how good you think him.”

“‘Good,’ my dear?--good for what?” said Lord Theign a trifle absurdly,
but looking from one of them to the other.

“I feel I must ask _him_ to tell you.”

“Then I shall give him a chance--as I should particularly like you to go
back and deal with those overwhelming children.”

“Ah, they don’t overwhelm _you_, father!”--the girl put it with some
point.

“If you mean to say I overwhelmed _them_, I dare say I did,” he
replied--“from my view of that vast collective gape of six hundred
painfully plain and perfectly expressionless faces. But that was only
for the time: I pumped advice--oh _such_ advice!--and they held the
large bucket as still as my pet pointer, when I scratch him, holds his
back. The bucket, under the stream--”

“Was bound to overflow?” Lady Grace suggested.

“Well, the strong recoil of the wave of intelligence has been not
unnaturally followed by the formidable break. You must really,” Lord
Theign insisted, “go and deal with it.”

His daughter’s smile, for all this, was perceptibly cold. “You work
people up, father, and then leave others to let them down.”

“The two things,” he promptly replied, “require different natures.” To
which he simply added, as with the habit of authority, though not of
harshness, “Go!”

It was absolute and she yielded; only pausing an instant to look as with
a certain gathered meaning from one of the men to the other. Faintly and
resignedly sighing she passed away to the terrace and disappeared.

“The nature that _can_ let you down--I rather like it, you know!” Lord
John threw off. Which, for an airy elegance in them, were perhaps just
slightly rash words--his companion gave him so sharp a look as the two
were left together.



VI

Face to face with his visitor the master of Dedborough betrayed the
impression his daughter appeared to have given him. “She didn’t want
to go?” And then before Lord John could reply: “What the deuce is the
matter with her?”

Lord John took his time. “I think perhaps a little Mr. Crimble.”

“And who the deuce is a little Mr. Crimble?”

“A young man who was just with her--and whom she appears to have
invited.”

“Where is he then?” Lord Theign demanded.

“Off there among the pictures--which he seems partly to have come for.”

“Oh!”--it made his lordship easier. “Then he’s all right--on such a
day.”

His companion could none the less just wonder. “Hadn’t Lady Grace told
you?”

“That he was coming? Not that I remember.” But Lord Theign, perceptibly
preoccupied, made nothing of this. “We’ve had other fish to fry, and you
know the freedom I allow her.”

His friend had a vivid gesture. “My dear man, I only ask to profit by
it!” With which there might well have been in Lord John’s face a light
of comment on the pretension in such a quarter to allow freedom.

Yet it was a pretension that Lord Theign sustained--as to show himself
far from all bourgeois narrowness. “She has her friends by the score--at
this time of day.” There was clearly a claim here also--to _know_ the
time of day. “But in the matter of friends where, by the way, is your
own--of whom I’ve but just heard?”

“Oh, off there among the pictures too; so they’ll have met and taken
care of each other.” Accounting for this inquirer would be clearly the
least of Lord John’s difficulties. “I mustn’t appear to Bender to have
failed him; but I must at once let you know, before I join him, that,
seizing my opportunity, I have just very definitely, in fact very
pressingly, spoken to Lady Grace. It hasn’t been perhaps,” he continued,
“quite the pick of a chance; but that seemed never to come, and if
I’m not too fondly mistaken, at any rate, she listened to me without
abhorrence. Only I’ve led her to expect--for our case--that you’ll be
so good, without loss of time, as to say the clinching word to her
yourself.”

“Without loss, you mean, of--a--my daughter’s time?” Lord Theign,
confessedly and amiably interested, had accepted these intimations--yet
with the very blandness that was not accessible to hustling and was
never forgetful of its standing privilege of criticism. He had come in
from his public duty, a few minutes before, somewhat flushed and blown;
but that had presently dropped--to the effect, we should have guessed,
of his appearing to Lord John at least as cool as the occasion required.
His appearance, we ourselves certainly should have felt, was in all
respects charming--with the great note of it the beautiful restless,
almost suspicious, challenge to you, on the part of deep and mixed
things in him, his pride and his shyness, his conscience, his taste and
his temper, to deny that he was admirably simple. Obviously, at this
rate, he had a passion for simplicity--simplicity, above all, of
relation with you, and would show you, with the last subtlety of
displeasure, his impatience of your attempting anything more with
himself. With such an ideal of decent ease he would, confound you,
“sink” a hundred other attributes--or the recognition at least and the
formulation of them--that you might abjectly have taken for granted in
him: just to show you that in a beastly vulgar age you had, and small
wonder, a beastly vulgar imagination. He sank thus, surely, in defiance
of insistent vulgarity, half his consciousness of his advantages,
flattering himself that mere facility and amiability, a true effective,
a positively ideal suppression of reference in any one to anything that
might complicate, alone floated above. This would be quite his religion,
you might infer--to cause his hands to ignore in whatever contact any
opportunity, however convenient, for an unfair pull. Which habit it was
that must have produced in him a sort of ripe and radiant fairness; if
it be allowed us, that is, to figure in so shining an air a nobleman of
fifty-three, of an undecided rather than a certified frame or outline,
of a head thinly though neatly covered and not measureably massive, of
an almost trivial freshness, of a face marked but by a fine inwrought
line or two and lighted by a merely charming expression. You might
somehow have traced back the whole character so presented to an ideal
privately invoked--that of his establishing in the formal garden of his
suffered greatness such easy seats and short perspectives, such winding
paths and natural-looking waters, as would mercifully break up the
scale. You would perhaps indeed have reflected at the same time that the
thought of so much mercy was almost more than anything else the thought
of a great option and a great margin--in fine of fifty alternatives.
Which remarks of ours, however, leave his lordship with his last
immediate question on his hands.

“Well, yes--_that_, of course, in all propriety,” his companion has
meanwhile replied to it. “But I was thinking a little, you understand,
of the importance of our own time.”

Divinably Lord Theign put himself out less, as we may say, for
the comparatively matter-of-course haunters of his garden than for
interlopers even but slightly accredited. He seemed thus not at all to
strain to “understand” in this particular connection--it would be his
familiarly amusing friend Lord John, clearly, who must do most of the
work for him. “‘Our own’ in the sense of yours and mine?”

“Of yours and mine and Lady Imber’s, yes--and a good bit, last not
least, in that of my watching and waiting mother’s.” This struck no
prompt spark of apprehension from his listener, so that Lord John went
on: “The last thing she did this morning was to remind me, with her fine
old frankness, that she would like to learn without more delay where, on
the whole question, she _is_, don’t you know? What she put to me”--the
younger man felt his ground a little, but proceeded further--“what she
put to me, with her rather grand way of looking _all_ questions straight
in the face, you see, was: Do we or don’t we, decidedly, take up
practically her very handsome offer--‘very handsome’ being, I mean,
what _she_ calls it; though it strikes even me too, you know, as rather
decent.”

Lord Theign at this point resigned himself to know. “Kitty has of course
rubbed into me how decent she herself finds it. She hurls herself again
on me--successfully!--for everything, and it suits her down to the
ground. She pays her beastly debt--that is, I mean to say,” and he took
himself up, though it was scarce more than perfunctory, “discharges
her obligations--by her sister’s fair hand; not to mention a few other
trifles for which I naturally provide.”

Lord John, a little unexpectedly to himself on the defensive, was yet
but briefly at a loss. “Of course we take into account, don’t we? not
only the fact of my mother’s desire (intended, I assure you, to be most
flattering) that Lady Grace shall enter our family with all honours, but
her expressed readiness to facilitate the thing by an understanding over
and above----”

“Over and above Kitty’s release from her damnable payment?”--Lord Theign
reached out to what his guest had left rather in the air. “Of course
we take _everything_ into account--or I shouldn’t, my dear fellow, be
discussing with you at all a business one or two of whose aspects so
little appeal to me: especially as there’s nothing, you easily conceive,
that a daughter of mine can come in for by entering even your family,
or any other (as a family) that she wouldn’t be quite as sure of by just
staying in her own. The Duchess’s idea, at any rate, if I’ve followed
you, is that if Grace does accept you she settles on you twelve
thousand; with the condition--”

Lord John was already all there. “Definitely, yes, of your settling the
equivalent on Lady Grace.”

“And what do you call the equivalent of twelve thousand?”

“Why, tacked on to a value so great and so charming as Lady Grace
herself, I dare say such a sum as nine or ten would serve.”

“And where the mischief, if you please, at this highly inconvenient
time, am I to pick up nine or ten thousand?”

Lord John declined, with a smiling, a fairly irritating eye for his
friend’s general resources, to consider that question seriously. “Surely
you can have no difficulty whatever--!”

“Why not?--when you can see for yourself that I’ve had this year to
let poor dear old Hill Street! Do you call it the moment for me to have
_liked_ to see myself all but cajoled into planking down even such a
matter as the very much lower figure of Kitty’s horrid incubus?”

“Ah, but the inducement and the _quid pro quo_,” Lord John brightly
indicated, “are here much greater! In the case you speak of you will
only have removed the incubus--which, I grant you, she must and you must
feel as horrid. In this other you pacify Lady Imber _and_ marry Lady
Grace: marry her to a man who has set his heart on her and of whom she
has just expressed--to himself--a very kind and very high opinion.”

“She has expressed a very high opinion of you?”--Lord Theign scarce
glowed with credulity.

But the younger man held his ground. “She has told me she thoroughly
likes me and that--though a fellow feels an ass repeating such
things--she thinks me perfectly charming.”

“A tremendous creature, eh, all round? Then,” said Lord Theign, “what
does she want more?”

“She very possibly wants nothing--but I’m to that beastly degree,
you see,” his visitor patiently explained, “in the cleft stick of my
fearfully positive mother’s wants. Those are her ‘terms,’ and I don’t
mind saying that they’re most disagreeable to me--I quite hate ‘em:
there! Only I think it makes a jolly difference that I wouldn’t
touch ‘em with a long pole if my personal feeling--in respect to Lady
Grace--wasn’t so immensely enlisted.”

“I assure you I’d chuck ‘em out of window, my boy, if I didn’t believe
you’d be really good to her,” Lord Theign returned with the properest
spirit.

It only encouraged his companion. “You _will_ just tell her then, now
and here, how good you honestly believe I shall be?”

This appeal required a moment--a longer look at him. “You truly hold
that that friendly guarantee, backed by my parental weight, will do your
job?”

“That’s the conviction I entertain.”

Lord Theign thought again. “Well, even if your conviction’s just, that
still doesn’t tell me into which of my very empty pockets it will be of
the least use for me to fumble.”

“Oh,” Lord John laughed, “when a man has such a tremendous assortment
of breeches--!” He pulled up, however, as, in his motion, his eye caught
the great vista of the open rooms. “If it’s a question of pockets--and
what’s _in_ ‘em--here precisely is my man!” This personage had come back
from his tour of observation and was now, on the threshold of the hall,
exhibited to Lord Theign as well. Lord John’s welcome was warm. “I’ve
had awfully to fail you, Mr. Bender, but I was on the point of joining
you. Let me, however, still better, introduce you to our host.”



VII

Mr. Bender indeed, formidably advancing, scarce had use for this
assistance. “Happy to meet you--especially in your beautiful home,
Lord Theign.” To which he added while the master of Dedborough stood
good-humouredly passive to his approach: “I’ve been round, by your kind
permission and the light of nature, and haven’t required support; though
if I had there’s a gentleman there who seemed prepared to allow me any
amount.” Mr. Bender, out of his abundance, evoked as by a suggestive
hand this contributory figure. “A young, spare, nervous gentleman with
eye-glasses--I guess he’s an author. A friend of yours too?” he asked of
Lord John.

The answer was prompt and emphatic. “No, the gentleman is no friend at
all of mine, Mr. Bender.”

“A friend of my daughter’s,” Lord Theign easily explained. “I hope
they’re looking after him.”

“Oh, they took care he had tea and bread and butter to any extent; and
were so good as to move something,” Mr. Bender conscientiously added,
“so that he could get up on a chair and see straight into the Moretto.”

This was a touch, however, that appeared to affect Lord John
unfavourably. “Up on a chair? I say!”

Mr. Bender took another view. “Why, I got right up myself--a little more
and I’d almost have begun to paw it! He got me quite interested”--the
proprietor of the picture would perhaps care to know--“in that Moretto.”
 And it was on these lines that Mr. Bender continued to advance. “I take
it that your biggest value, however, Lord Theign, is your splendid Sir
Joshua. Our friend there has a great deal to say about that too--but it
didn’t lead to our moving any more furniture.” On which he paused as to
enjoy, with a show of his fine teeth, his host’s reassurance. “It _has_
yet, my impression of that picture, sir, led to something else. Are you
prepared, Lord Theign, to entertain a proposition?”

Lord Theign met Mr. Bender’s eyes while this inquirer left these few
portentous words to speak for themselves. “To the effect that I part to
you with ‘The Beautiful Duchess of Waterbridge’? No, Mr. Bender, such a
proposition would leave me intensely cold.”

Lord John had meanwhile had a more headlong cry. “My dear Bender, I
_envy_ you!”

“I guess you don’t envy me,” his friend serenely replied, “as much as I
envy Lord Theign.” And then while Mr. Bender and the latter continued to
face each other searchingly and firmly: “What I allude to is an overture
of a strong and simple stamp--such as perhaps would shed a softer light
on the difficulties raised by association and attachment. I’ve had some
experience of first shocks, and I’d be glad to meet you as man to man.”

Mr. Bender was, quite clearly, all genial and all sincere; he intended
no irony and used, consciously, no great freedom. Lord Theign, not less
evidently, saw this, and it permitted him amusement. “As rich man to
poor man is how I’m to understand it? For me to meet _you_,” he added,
“I should have to be tempted--and I’m not even temptable. So there we
are,” he blandly smiled.

His blandness appeared even for a moment to set an example to Lord John.
“‘The Beautiful Duchess of Waterbridge,’ Mr. Bender, is a golden apple
of one of those great family trees of which respectable people don’t lop
off the branches whose venerable shade, in this garish and denuded age,
they so much enjoy.”

Mr. Bender looked at him as if he had cut some irrelevant caper. “Then
if they don’t sell their ancestors where in the world are all the
ancestors bought?”

“Doesn’t it for the moment sufficiently answer your question,” Lord
Theign asked, “that they’re definitely not bought at Dedborough?”

“Why,” said Mr. Bender with a wealthy patience, “you talk as if it were
my interest to be _reasonable_--which shows how little you understand.
I’d be ashamed--with the lovely ideas I have--if I didn’t make you
kick.” And his sturdy smile for it all fairly proclaimed his faith.
“Well, I guess I can wait!”

This again in turn visibly affected Lord John: marking the moment from
which he, in spite of his cultivated levity, allowed an intenser and
more sustained look to keep straying toward their host. “Mr. Bender’s
bound to _have_ something!”

It was even as if after a minute Lord Theign had been reached by his
friend’s mute pressure. “‘Something’?”

“Something, Mr. Bender?” Lord John insisted.

It made their visitor rather sharply fix him. “Why, have _you_ an
interest, Lord John?”

This personage, though undisturbed by the challenge, if such it was,
referred it to Lord Theign. “Do you authorise me to speak--a little--as
if I have an interest?”

Lord Theign gave the appeal--and the speaker--a certain attention, and
then appeared rather sharply to turn away from them. “My dear fellow,
you may amuse yourself at my expense as you like!”

“Oh, I don’t mean at your expense,” Lord John laughed--“I mean at Mr.
Bender’s!”

“Well, go ahead, Lord John,” said that gentleman, always easy, but
always too, as you would have felt, aware of everything--“go ahead, but
don’t sweetly hope to create me in any desire that doesn’t already exist
in the germ. The attempt has often been made, over here--has in fact
been organised on a considerable scale; but I guess I’ve got some
peculiarity, for it doesn’t seem as if the thing could be done. If the
germ is there, on the other hand,” Mr. Bender conceded, “it develops
independently of all encouragement.”

Lord John communicated again as in a particular sense with Lord Theign.
“He thinks I really mean to _offer_ him something!”

Lord Theign, who seemed to wish to advertise a degree of detachment from
the issue, or from any other such, strolled off, in his restlessness,
toward the door that opened to the terrace, only stopping on his way
to light a cigarette from a matchbox on a small table. It was but after
doing so that he made the remark: “Ah, Mr. Bender may easily be too much
for you!”

“That makes me the more sorry, sir,” said his visitor, “not to have been
enough for _you!_”

“I risk it, at any rate,” Lord John went on--“I put you, Bender, the
question of whether you wouldn’t Move,’ as you say, to acquire that
Moretto.”

Mr. Bender’s large face had a commensurate gaze. “As I say? I haven’t
said anything of the sort!”

“But you do ‘love’ you know,” Lord John slightly overgrimaced.

“I don’t when I don’t want to. I’m different from most people--I can
love or not as I like. The trouble with that Moretto,” Mr. Bender
continued, “is that it ain’t what I’m after.”

His “after” had somehow, for the ear, the vividness of a sharp whack
on the resisting surface of things, and was concerned doubtless in Lord
John’s speaking again across to their host. “The worst he can do for me,
you see, is to refuse it.”

Lord Theign, who practically had his back turned and was fairly dandling
about in his impatience, tossed out to the terrace the cigarette he had
but just lighted. Yet he faced round to reply: “It’s the very first time
in the history of this house (a long one, Mr. Bender) that a picture, or
anything else in it, has been offered----!”

It was not imperceptible that even if he hadn’t dropped Mr. Bender
mightn’t have been markedly impressed. “Then it must be the very first
time such an offer has failed.”

“Oh, it isn’t that we in the least press it!” Lord Theign quite
naturally laughed.

“Ah, I beg your pardon--I press it very hard!” And Lord John, as taking
from his face and manner a cue for further humorous license, went so far
as to emulate, though sympathetically enough, their companion’s native
form. “You don’t mean to say you don’t feel the interest of that
Moretto?”

Mr. Bender, quietly confident, took his time to reply. “Well, if you had
seen me up on that chair you’d have thought I did.”

“Then you must have stepped down from the chair properly impressed.”

“I stepped down quite impressed with that young man.”

“Mr. Crimble?”--it came after an instant to Lord John. “With _his_
opinion, really? Then I hope he’s aware of the picture’s value.”

“You had better ask him,” Mr. Bender observed.

“Oh, we don’t depend here on the Mr. Crimbles!” Lord John returned.

Mr. Bender took a longer look at him. “Are you aware of the value
yourself?”

His friend resorted again, as for the amusement of the thing, to their
entertainer. “Am I aware of the value of the Moretto?”

Lord Theign, who had meanwhile lighted another cigarette, appeared,
a bit extravagantly smoking, to wish to put an end to his effect of
hovering aloof.

“That question needn’t trouble us--when I see how much Mr. Bender
himself knows about it.”

“Well, Lord Theign, I only know what that young man puts it at.” And
then as the others waited, “Ten thousand,” said Mr. Bender.

“Ten thousand?” The owner of the work showed no emotion.

“Well,” said Lord John again in Mr. Bender’s style, “what’s the matter
with ten thousand?”

The subject of his gay tribute considered. “There’s nothing the matter
with ten thousand.”

“Then,” Lord Theign asked, “is there anything the matter with the
picture?”

“Yes, sir--I guess there is.”

It gave an upward push to his lordship’s eyebrows. “But what in the
world----?”

“Well, that’s just the question!”

The eyebrows continued to rise. “Does he pretend there’s a question of
whether it _is_ a Moretto?”

“That’s what he was up there trying to find out.”

“But if the value’s, according to himself, ten thousand----?”

“Why, of course,” said Mr. Bender, “it’s a fine work anyway.”

“Then,” Lord Theign brought good-naturedly out, “what’s the matter with
_you_, Mr. Bender?”

That gentleman was perfectly clear. “The matter with me, Lord Theign, is
that I’ve no use for a ten thousand picture.”

“‘No use?’”--the expression had an oddity. “But what’s it your idea to
do with such things?”

“I mean,” Mr. Bender explained, “that a picture of that rank is not what
I’m after.”

“The figure,” said his noble host--speaking thus, under pressure,
commercially--“is beyond what you see your way to?”

But Lord John had jumped at the truth. “The matter with Mr. Bender is
that he sees his way much further.”

“Further?” their companion echoed.

“The matter with Mr. Bender is that he wants to give millions.”

Lord Theign sounded this abyss with a smile. “Well, there would be no
difficulty about _that_, I think!”

“Ah,” said his guest, “you know the basis, sir, on which I’m ready to
pay.”

“On the basis then of the Sir Joshua,” Lord John inquired, “how far
would you go?”

Mr. Bender indicated by a gesture that on a question reduced to a moiety
by its conditional form he could give but semi-satisfaction. “Well, I’d
go all the way.”

“He wants, you see,” Lord John elucidated, “an _ideally_ expensive
thing.”

Lord Theign appeared to decide after a moment to enter into the pleasant
spirit of this; which he did by addressing his younger friend. “Then why
shouldn’t I make even the Moretto as expensive as he desires?”

“Because you can’t do violence to _that_ master’s natural modesty,” Mr.
Bender declared before Lord John had time to speak. And conscious at
this moment of the reappearance of his fellow-explorer, he at once
supplied a further light. “I guess this gentleman at any rate can tell
you.”



VIII

Hugh Crimble had come back from his voyage of discovery, and it was
visible as he stood there flushed and quite radiant that he had caught
in his approach Lord Theign’s last inquiry and Mr. Bender’s reply to it.
You would have imputed to him on the spot the lively possession of a new
idea, the sustaining sense of a message important enough to justify his
irruption. He looked from one to the other of the three men, scattered
a little by the sight of him, but attached eyes of recognition then
to Lord Theign’s, whom he remained an instant longer communicatively
smiling at. After which, as you might have gathered, he all confidently
plunged, taking up the talk where the others had left it. “I should say,
Lord Theign, if you’ll allow me, in regard to what you appear to have
been discussing, that it depends a good deal on just that question--of
what your Moretto, at any rate, may be presumed or proved to ‘be.’ Let
me thank you,” he cheerfully went on, “for your kind leave to go over
your treasures.”

The personage he so addressed was, as we know, nothing if not generally
affable; yet if that was just then apparent it was through a shade of
coolness for the slightly heated familiarity of so plain, or at least
so free, a young man in eye-glasses, now for the first time definitely
apprehended. “Oh, I’ve scarcely ‘treasures’--but I’ve some things of
interest.”

Hugh, however, entering the opulent circle, as it were, clearly took
account of no breath of a chill. “I think possible, my lord, that
you’ve a great treasure--if you’ve really so high a rarity as a splendid
Manto-vano.”

“A ‘Mantovano’?” You wouldn’t have been sure that his lordship didn’t
pronounce the word for the first time in his life.

“There have been supposed to be only _seven_ real examples about the
world; so that if by an extraordinary chance you find yourself the
possessor of a magnificent eighth----”

But Lord John had already broken in. “Why, there you _are_, Mr. Bender!”

“Oh, Mr. Bender, with whom I’ve made acquaintance,” Hugh returned, “was
there as it began to work in me--”

“That your Moretto, Lord Theign”--Mr. Bender took their informant
up--“isn’t, after all, a Moretto at all.” And he continued amusedly to
Hugh: “It began to work in you, sir, like very strong drink!”

“Do I understand you to suggest,” Lord Theign asked of the startling
young man, “that my precious picture isn’t genuine?”

Well, Hugh knew exactly what he suggested. “As a picture, Lord Theign,
as a great portrait, one of the most genuine things in Europe. But it
strikes me as probable that from far back--for reasons!--there has
been a wrong attribution; that the work has been, in other words,
traditionally, obstinately miscalled. It has passed for a Moretto, and
at first I quite took it for one; but I suddenly, as I looked and looked
and saw and saw, began to doubt, and now I know _why_ I doubted.”

Lord Theign had during this speech kept his eyes on the ground; but he
raised them to Mr. Crimble’s almost palpitating presence for the remark:
“I’m bound to say that I hope you’ve some very good grounds!”

“I’ve three or four, Lord Theign; they seem to me of the best--as yet.
They made me wonder and wonder--and then light splendidly broke.”

His lordship didn’t stint his attention. “Reflected, you mean, from
_other_ Mantovanos--that I don’t know?”

“I mean from those I know myself,” said Hugh; “and I mean from fine
analogies with one in particular.”

“Analogies that in all these years, these centuries, have so remarkably
not been noticed?”

“Well,” Hugh competently explained, “they’re a sort of thing the very
sense of, the value and meaning of, are a highly modern--in fact a quite
recent growth.”

Lord John at this professed with cordiality that he at least quite
understood. “Oh, we know a lot more about our pictures and things than
ever our ancestors did!”

“Well, I guess it’s enough for _me_,” Mr. Bender contributed, “that your
ancestors knew enough to get ‘em!”

“Ah, that doesn’t go so far,” cried Hugh, “unless we ourselves know
enough to keep ‘em!”

The words appeared to quicken in a manner Lord Theign’s view of the
speaker. “Were _your_ ancestors, Mr. Crimble, great collectors?”

Arrested, it might be, in his general assurance, Hugh wondered and
smiled. “Mine--collectors? Oh, I’m afraid I haven’t any--to speak of.
Only it has seemed to me for a long time,” he added, “that on that head
we should all feel together.”

Lord Theign looked for a moment as if these were rather large
presumptions; then he put them in their place a little curtly. “It’s one
thing to keep our possessions for ourselves--it’s another to keep them
for other people.”

“Well,” Hugh good-humouredly returned, “I’m perhaps not so absolutely
sure of myself, if you press me, as that I sha’n’t be glad of a higher
and wiser opinion--I mean than my own. It would be awfully interesting,
if you’ll allow me to say so, to have the judgment of one or two of the
great men.”

“You’re not yourself, Mr. Crimble, one of the great men?” his host asked
with tempered irony.

“Well, I guess he’s going to be, anyhow,” Mr. Bender cordially struck
in; “and this remarkable exhibition of intelligence may just let him
loose on the world, mayn’t it?”

“Thank you, Mr. Bender!”--and Hugh obviously tried to look neither
elated nor snubbed. “I’ve too much still to learn, but I’m learning
every day, and I shall have learnt immensely this afternoon.”

“Pretty well at my expense, however,” Lord Theign laughed, “if you
demolish a name we’ve held for generations so dear.”

“You may have held the name dear, my lord,” his young critic answered;
“but my whole point is that, if I’m right, you’ve held the picture
itself cheap.”

“Because a Mantovano,” said Lord John, “is so much greater a value?”

Hugh met his eyes a moment “Are you talking of values pecuniary?”

“What values are _not_ pecuniary?”

Hugh might, during his hesitation, have been imagined to stand off a
little from the question. “Well, some things have in a higher degree
that one, and some have the associational or the factitious, and some
the clear artistic.”

“And some,” Mr. Bender opined, “have them _all_--in the highest degree.
But what you mean,” he went on, “is that a Mantovano would come higher
under the hammer than a Moretto?”

“Why, sir,” the young man returned, “there aren’t any, as I’ve just
stated, _to_ ‘come.’ I account--or I easily can--for every one of the
very small number.”

“Then do you consider that you account for this one?”

“I believe I shall if you’ll give me time.”

“Oh, time!” Mr. Bender impatiently sighed. “But we’ll give you all we’ve
got--only I guess it isn’t much.” And he appeared freely to invite their
companions to join in this estimate. They listened to him, however, they
watched him, for the moment, but in silence, and with the next he had
gone on: “How much higher--if your idea is correct about it--would Lord
Theign’s picture come?”

Hugh turned to that nobleman. “Does Mr. Bender mean come to _him_, my
lord?”

Lord Theign looked again hard at Hugh, and then harder than he had done
yet at his other invader. “I don’t know _what_ Mr. Bender means!” With
which he turned off.

“Well, I guess I mean that it would come higher to me than to any one!
But how _much_ higher?” the American continued to Hugh.

“How much higher to _you?_”

“Oh, I can size _that_. How much higher as a Mantovano?”

Unmistakably--for us at least--our young man was gaining time; he had
the instinct of circumspection and delay. “To any one?”

“To any one.”

“Than as a Moretto?” Hugh continued.

It even acted on Lord John’s nerves. “That’s what we’re talking
about--really!”

But Hugh still took his ease; as if, with his eyes first on Bender
and then on Lord Theign, whose back was practically presented, he were
covertly studying signs. “Well,” he presently said, “in view of the very
great interest combined with the very great rarity, more than--ah more
than can be estimated off-hand.”

It made Lord Theign turn round. “But a fine Moretto has a very great
rarity and a very great interest.”

“Yes--but not on the whole the same amount of either.”

“No, not on the whole the same amount of either!”--Mr. Bender
judiciously echoed it. “But how,” he freely pursued, “are you going to
find out?”

“Have I your permission, Lord Theign,” Hugh brightly asked, “to attempt
to find out?”

The question produced on his lordship’s part a visible, a natural
anxiety. “What would it be your idea then to _do_ with my property?”

“Nothing at all here--it could all be done, I think, at Verona. What
besets, what quite haunts me,” Hugh explained, “is the vivid image of a
Mantovano--one of the glories of the short list--in a private collection
in that place. The conviction grows in me that the two portraits must
be of the same original. In fact I’ll bet my head,” the young man quite
ardently wound up, “that the wonderful subject of the Verona picture, a
very great person clearly, is none other than the very great person of
yours.”

Lord Theign had listened with interest. “Mayn’t he be that and yet from
another hand?”

“It isn’t another hand”--oh Hugh was quite positive. “It’s the hand of
the very same painter.”

“How can you prove it’s the same?”

“Only by the most intimate internal evidence, I admit--and evidence that
of course has to be estimated.”

“Then who,” Lord Theign asked, “is to estimate it?”

“Well,”--Hugh was all ready--“will you let Pap-pendick, one of the first
authorities in Europe, a good friend of mine, in fact more or less my
master, and who is generally to be found at Brussels? I happen to know
he knows your picture--he once spoke to me of it; and he’ll go and look
again at the Verona one, he’ll go and judge our issue, if I apply to
him, in the light of certain new tips that I shall be able to give him.”

Lord Theign appeared to wonder. “If you ‘apply’ to him?”

“Like a shot, I believe, if I ask it of him--as a service.”

“A service to _you?_ He’ll be very obliging,” his lordship smiled.

“Well, I’ve obliged _him!_” Hugh readily retorted.

“The obligation will be to we”--Lord Theign spoke more formally.

“Well, the satisfaction,” said Hugh, “will be to all of us. The things
Pappendick has seen he intensely, ineffaceably keeps in mind, to every
detail; so that he’ll tell me--as no one else really can--if the Verona
man is _your_ man.”

“But then,” asked Mr. Bender, “we’ve got to believe anyway what he
says?”

“The market,” said Lord John with emphasis, “would have to believe
it--that’s the point.”

“Oh,” Hugh returned lightly, “the market will have nothing to do with
it, I hope; but I think you’ll feel when he has spoken that you really
know where you are.”

Mr. Bender couldn’t doubt of that. “Oh, if he gives us a bigger thing we
won’t complain. Only, how long will it take him to get there? I want him
to start right away.”

“Well, as I’m sure he’ll be deeply interested----”

“We _may_”--Mr. Bender took it straight up--“get news next week?”

Hugh addressed his reply to Lord Theign; it was already a little too
much as if he and the American between them were snatching the case from
that possessor’s hands. “The day I hear from Pappendick you shall have a
full report. And,” he conscientiously added, “if I’m proved to have been
unfortunately wrong----!”

His lordship easily pointed the moral. “You’ll have caused me some
inconvenience.”

“Of course I shall,” the young man unreservedly agreed--“like a wanton
meddling ass!” His candour, his freedom had decidedly a note of their
own. “But my conviction, after those moments with your picture, was too
strong for me not to speak--and, since you allow it, I face the danger
and risk the test.”

“I allow it of course in the form of business.” This produced in Hugh a
certain blankness. “‘Business’?” “If I consent to the inquiry I pay for
the inquiry.” Hugh demurred. “Even if I turn out mistaken?” “You make me
in any event your proper charge.” The young man thought again, and then
as for vague accommodation: “Oh, my charge won’t be high!”

“Ah,” Mr. Bender protested, “it ought to be handsome if the thing’s
marked _up_!” After which he looked at his watch. “But I guess I’ve got
to go, Lord Theign, though your lovely old Duchess--for it’s to _her_
I’ve lost my heart--does cry out for me again.”

“You’ll find her then still there,” Lord John observed with emphasis,
but with his eyes for the time on Lord Theign; “and if you want another
look at her I’ll presently come and take one too.”

“I’ll order your car to the garden-front,” Lord Theign added to this;
“you’ll reach it from the saloon, but I’ll see you again first.”

Mr. Bender glared as with the round full force of his pair of motor
lamps. “Well, if you’re ready to talk about anything, I am. Good-bye,
Mr. Crimble.”

“Good-bye, Mr. Bender.” But Hugh, addressing their host while his
fellow-guest returned to the saloon, broke into the familiarity of
confidence. “As if you _could_ be ready to ‘talk’!”

This produced on the part of the others present a mute exchange that
could only have denoted surprise at all the irrepressible young outsider
thus projected upon them took for granted. “I’ve an idea,” said Lord
John to his friend, “that you’re quite ready to talk with _me_.”

Hugh then, with his appetite so richly quickened, could but rejoice.
“Lady Grace spoke to me of things in the library.”

“You’ll find it _that_ way”--Lord Theign gave the indication.

“Thanks,” said Hugh elatedly, and hastened away.

Lord John, when he had gone, found relief in a quick comment. “Very
sharp, no doubt--but he wants taking down.”

The master of Dedborough wouldn’t have put it so crudely, but the young
expert did bring certain things home. “The people my daughters, in the
exercise of a wild freedom, do pick up----!”

“Well, don’t you see that all you’ve got to do--on the question we’re
dealing with--is to claim your very own wild freedom? Surely I’m right
in feeling you,” Lord John further remarked, “to have jumped at once
to my idea that Bender is heaven-sent--and at what they call the
psychologic moment, don’t they?--to point that moral. Why look anywhere
else for a sum of money that--smaller or greater--you can find with
perfect ease in that extraordinarily bulging pocket?”

Lord Theign, slowly pacing the hall again, threw up his hands. “Ah, with
‘perfect ease’ can scarcely be said!”

“Why not?--when he absolutely thrusts his dirty dollars down your
throat.”

“Oh, I’m not talking of ease to _him_,” Lord Theign returned--“I’m
talking of ease to myself. I shall have to make a sacrifice.”

“Why not then--for so great a convenience--gallantly make it?”

“Ah, my dear chap, if you want me to sell my Sir Joshua----!”

But the horror in the words said enough, and Lord John felt its chill.
“I don’t make a point of that--God forbid! But there are other things to
which the objection wouldn’t apply.”

“You see how it applies--in the case of the Moret-to--for _him_. A mere
Moretto,” said Lord Theign, “is too cheap--for a Yankee ‘on the spend.’”

“Then the Mantovano wouldn’t be.”

“It remains to be proved that it _is_ a Mantovano.”

“Well,” said Lord John, “go into it.”

“Hanged if I won’t!” his friend broke out after a moment. “It _would_
suit me. I mean”--the explanation came after a brief intensity of
thought--“the possible size of his cheque would.”

“Oh,” said Lord John gaily, “I guess there’s no limit to the possible
size of his cheque!”

“Yes, it would suit me, it would suit me!” the elder man, standing
there, audibly mused. But his air changed and a lighter question came
up to him as he saw his daughter reappear at the door from the terrace.
“Well, the infant horde?” he immediately put to her.

Lady Grace came in, dutifully accounting for them. “They’ve marched
off--in a huge procession.”

“Thank goodness! And our friends?”

“All playing tennis,” she said--“save those who are sitting it out.” To
which she added, as to explain her return: “Mr. Crimble has gone?”

Lord John took upon him to say. “He’s in the library, to which you
addressed him--making discoveries.”

“Not then, I hope,” she smiled, “to our disadvantage!”

“To your very great honour and glory.” Lord John clearly valued the
effect he might produce.

“Your Moretto of Brescia--do you know what it really and spendidly
is?” And then as the girl, in her surprise, but wondered: “A Mantovano,
neither more nor less. Ever so much more swagger.”

“A Mantovano?” Lady Grace echoed. “Why, how tremendously jolly!”

Her father was struck. “Do you know the artist--of whom I had never
heard?”

“Yes, something of the little that _is_ known.” And she rejoiced as her
knowledge came to her. “He’s a tremendous swell, because, great as he
was, there are but seven proved examples----”

“With this of yours,” Lord John broke in, “there are eight.”

“Then why haven’t I known about him?” Lord Theign put it as if so many
other people were guilty for this.

His daughter was the first to plead for the vague body. “Why, I suppose
in order that you should have exactly this pleasure, father.”

“Oh, pleasures not desired are like acquaintances not sought--they
rather bore one!” Lord Theign sighed. With which he moved away from her.

Her eyes followed him an instant--then she smiled at their guest. “Is he
bored at having the higher prize--if you’re sure it _is_ the higher?”

“Mr. Crimble is sure--because if he isn’t,” Lord John added, “he’s a
wretch.”

“Well,” she returned, “as he’s certainly not a wretch it must be true.
And fancy,” she exclaimed further, though as more particularly for
herself, “our having suddenly incurred this immense debt to him!”

“Oh, I shall pay Mr. Crimble!” said her father, who had turned round.

The whole question appeared to have provoked in Lord John a rise of
spirits and a flush of humour. “Don’t you let him stick it on.”

His host, however, bethinking himself, checked him. “Go _you_ to Mr.
Bender straight!”

Lord John saw the point. “Yes--till he leaves. But I shall find you
here, shan’t I?” he asked with all earnestness of Lady Grace.

She had an hesitation, but after a look at her father she assented.
“I’ll wait for you.”

“Then _à tantôt!_” It made him show for happy as, waving his hand at
her, he proceeded to seek Mr. Bender in presence of the object that most
excited that gentleman’s appetite--to say nothing of the effect involved
on Lord John’s own.



IX

Lord Theign, when he had gone, revolved--it might have been
nervously--about the place a little, but soon broke ground. “He’ll have
told you, I understand, that I’ve promised to speak to you for him. But
I understand also that he has found something to say for himself.”

“Yes, we talked--a while since,” the girl said. “At least _he_ did.”

“Then if you listened I hope you listened with a good grace.”

“Oh, he speaks very well--and I’ve never disliked him.”

It pulled her father up. “Is that _all_--when I think so much of him?”

She seemed to say that she had, to her own mind, been liberal and gone
far; but she waited a little. “Do you think very, _very_ much?”

“Surely I’ve made my good opinion clear to you!”

Again she had a pause. “Oh yes, I’ve seen you like him and believe in
him--and I’ve found him pleasant and clever.”

“He has never had,” Lord Theign more or less ingeniously explained,
“what I call a real show.” But the character under discussion could
after all be summed up without searching analysis. “I consider
nevertheless that there’s plenty in him.”

It was a moderate claim, to which Lady Grace might assent. “He strikes
me as naturally quick and--well, nice. But I agree with you than he
hasn’t had a chance.”

“Then if you can see your way by sympathy and confidence to help him to
one I dare say you’ll find your reward.”

For a third time she considered, as if a certain curtness in her
companion’s manner rather hindered, in such a question, than helped.
Didn’t he simplify too much, you would have felt her ask, and wasn’t
his visible wish for brevity of debate a sign of his uncomfortable and
indeed rather irritated sense of his not making a figure in it? “Do you
desire it very particularly?” was, however, all she at last brought out.

“I should like it exceedingly--if you act from conviction. Then of
course only; but of one thing I’m myself convinced--of what he thinks of
yourself and feels for you.”

“Then would you mind my waiting a little?” she asked. “I mean to be
absolutely sure of myself.” After which, on his delaying to agree, she
added frankly, as to help her case: “Upon my word, father, I should like
to do what would please you.”

But it determined in him a sharper impatience. “Ah, what would please
_me!_ Don’t put it off on ‘me’! Judge absolutely for yourself”--he
slightly took himself up--“in the light of my having consented to do for
him what I always _hate_ to do: deviate from my normal practice of never
intermeddling. If I’ve deviated now you can judge. But to do so all
round, of course, take--in reason!--your time.”

“May I ask then,” she said, “for still a little more?”

He looked for this, verily, as if it was not in reason. “You know,” he
then returned, “what he’ll feel that a sign of.”

“Well, I’ll tell him what I mean.”

“Then I’ll send him to you.”

He glanced at his watch and was going, but after a “Thanks, father,” she
had stopped him. “There’s one thing more.” An embarrassment showed in
her manner, but at the cost of some effect of earnest abruptness she
surmounted it. “What does your American--Mr. Bender--want?”

Lord Theign plainly felt the challenge. “‘My’ American? He’s none of
mine!”

“Well then Lord John’s.”

“He’s none of his either--more, I mean, than any one else’s. He’s every
one’s American, literally--to all appearance; and I’ve not to tell
_you_, surely, with the freedom of your own visitors, how people stalk
in and out here.”

“No, father--certainly,” she said. “You’re splendidly generous.”

His eyes seemed rather sharply to ask her then how he could improve on
that; but he added as if it were enough: “What the man must by this time
want more than anything else is his car.”

“Not then anything of ours?” she still insisted.

“Of ‘ours’?” he echoed with a frown. “Are you afraid he has an eye to
something of _yours?_”

“Why, if we’ve a new treasure--which we certainly have if we possess
a Mantovano--haven’t we all, even I, an immense interest in it?” And
before he could answer, “Is _that_ exposed?” she asked.

Lord Theign, a little unready, cast about at his storied halls; any
illusion to the “exposure” of the objects they so solidly sheltered was
obviously unpleasant to him. But then it was as if he found at a
stroke both his own reassurance and his daughter’s. “How can there be a
question of it when he only wants Sir Joshuas?”

“He wants ours?” the girl gasped.

“At absolutely any price.”

“But you’re not,” she cried, “discussing it?”

He hesitated as between chiding and contenting her--then he handsomely
chose. “My dear child, for what do you take me?” With which he
impatiently started, through the long and stately perspective, for the
saloon.

She sank into a chair when he had gone; she sat there some moments in a
visible tension of thought, her hands clasped in her lap and her dropped
eyes fixed and unperceiving; but she sprang up as Hugh Crimble, in
search of her, again stood before her. He presented himself as with
winged sandals.

“What luck to find you! I must take my spin back.”

“You’ve seen everything as you wished?”

“Oh,” he smiled, “I’ve seen wonders.”

She showed her pleasure. “Yes, we’ve got some things.”

“So Mr. Bender says!” he laughed. “You’ve got five or six--”

“Only five or six?” she cried in bright alarm.

“‘Only’?” he continued to laugh. “Why, that’s enormous, five or six
things of the first importance! But I think I ought to mention to you,”
 he added, “a most barefaced ‘Rubens’ there in the library.”

“It isn’t a Rubens?”

“No more than I’m a Ruskin.”

“Then you’ll brand us--expose us for it?”

“No, I’ll let you off--I’ll be quiet if you’re good, if you go straight.
I’ll only hold it _in terrorem_. One can’t be sure in these dreadful
days--that’s always to remember; so that if you’re not good I’ll come
down on you with it. But to balance against that threat,” he went on,
“I’ve made the very grandest find. At least I believe I have!”

She was all there for this news. “Of the Manto-vano--hidden in the other
thing?”

Hugh wondered--almost as if she had been before him. “You don’t mean to
say _you’ve_ had the idea of that?”

“No, but my father has told me.”

“And is your father,” he eagerly asked, “really gratified?”

With her conscious eyes on him--her eyes could clearly be very conscious
about her father--she considered a moment. “He always prefers old
associations and appearances to new; but I’m sure he’ll resign himself
if you see your way to a certainty.”

“Well, it will be a question of the weight of expert opinion that I
shall invoke. But I’m not afraid,” he resolutely said, “and I shall
make the thing, from its splendid rarity, the crown and flower of your
glory.”

Her serious face shone at him with a charmed gratitude. “It’s awfully
beautiful then your having come to us so. It’s awfully beautiful your
having brought us this way, in a flash--as dropping out of a chariot
of fire--more light and what you apparently feel with myself as more
honour.”

“Ah, the beauty’s in your having yourself done it!” he returned. He
gave way to the positive joy of it. “If I’ve brought the ‘light’ and the
rest--that’s to say the very useful information--who in the world was it
brought _me?_”

She had a gesture of protest “You’d have come in some other way.”

“I’m not so sure! I’m beastly shy--little as I may seem to show it: save
in great causes, when I’m horridly bold and hideously offensive. Now
at any rate I only know what _has_ been.” She turned off for it, moving
away from him as with a sense of mingled things that made for unrest;
and he had the next moment grown graver under the impression. “But does
anything in it all,” he asked, “trouble you?”

She faced about across the wider space, and there was a different note
in what she brought out. “I don’t know what forces me so to _tell_ you
things.”

“‘Tell’ me?” he stared. “Why, you’ve told me nothing more monstrous than
that I’ve been welcome!”

“Well, however that may be, what did you mean just now by the chance of
our not ‘going straight’? When you said you’d expose our bad--or is it
our false?--Rubens in the event of a certain danger.”

“Oh, in the event of your ever being bribed”--he laughed again as with
relief. And then as her face seemed to challenge the word: “Why, to let
anything--of your best!--ever leave Dedborough. By which I mean really
of course leave the country.” She turned again on this, and something
in her air made him wonder. “I hope you don’t feel there _is_ such a
danger? I understood from you half an hour ago that it was unthinkable.”

“Well, it _was_, to me, half an hour ago,” she said as she came nearer.
“But if it has since come up?”

“‘If’ it has! But _has_ it? In the form of that monster? What Mr. Bender
wants is the great Duchess,” he recalled.

“And my father won’t sell _her_? No, he won’t sell the great
Duchess--there I feel safe. But he greatly needs a certain sum of
money--or he thinks he does--and I’ve just had a talk with him.”

“In which he has told you that?”

“He has told me nothing,” Lady Grace said--“or else told me quite other
things. But the more I think of them the more it comes to me that he
feels urged or tempted--”

“To despoil and denude these walls?” Hugh broke in, looking about in his
sharper apprehension.

“Yes, to satisfy, to save my sister. _Now_ do you think our state so
ideal?” she asked--but without elation for her hint of triumph.

He had no answer for this save “Ah, but you terribly interest me. May I
ask what’s the matter with your sister?”

Oh, she wanted to go on straight now! “The matter is--in the first
place--that she’s too dazzlingly, dreadfully beautiful.”

“More beautiful than you?” his sincerity easily risked.

“Millions of times.” Sad, almost sombre, she hadn’t a shade of coquetry.
“Kitty has debts--great heaped-up gaming debts.”

“But to such amounts?”

“Incredible amounts it appears. And mountains of others too. She throws
herself all on our father.”

“And he _has_ to pay them? There’s no one else?” Hugh asked.

She waited as if he might answer himself, and then as he apparently
didn’t, “He’s only afraid there _may_ be some else--that’s how she makes
him do it,” she said. And “Now do you think,” she pursued, “that I don’t
tell you things?”

He turned them over in his young perception and pity, the things she
told him. “Oh, oh, oh!” And then, in the great place, while as, just
spent by the effort of her disclosure, she moved from him again, he
took them all in. “That’s the situation that, as you say, may force his
hand.”

“It absolutely, I feel, does force it.” And the renewal of her appeal
brought her round. “Isn’t it too lovely?”

His frank disgust answered. “It’s too damnable!”

“And it’s you,” she quite terribly smiled, “who--by the ‘irony of
fate’!--have given him help.”

He smote his head in the light of it. “By the Mantovano?”

“By the possible Mantovano--as a substitute for the impossible Sir
Joshua. You’ve made him aware of a value.”

“Ah, but the value’s to be fixed!”

“Then Mr. Bender will fix it!”

“Oh, but--as he himself would say--I’ll fix Mr. Bender!” Hugh declared.
“And he won’t buy a pig in a poke.”

This cleared the air while they looked at each other; yet she had
already asked: “What in the world can you do, and how in the world can
you do it?”

Well, he was too excited for decision. “I don’t quite see now, but give
me time.” And he took out his watch as already to measure it. “Oughtn’t
I before I go to say a word to Lord Theign?”

“Is it your idea to become a lion in his path?”

“Well, say a cub--as that’s what I’m afraid he’ll call me! But I think I
should speak to him.”

She drew a conclusion momentarily dark. “He’ll have to learn in that
case that I’ve told you of my fear.”

“And is there any good reason why he shouldn’t?”

She kept her eyes on him and the darkness seemed to clear. “No!” she at
last replied, and, having gone to touch an electric bell, was with him
again. “But I think I’m rather sorry for you.”

“Does that represent a reason why I should be so for you?”

For a little she said nothing; but after that: “None whatever!”

“Then is the sister of whom you speak Lady Imber?”

Lady Grace, at this, raised her hand in caution: the butler had arrived,
with due gravity, in answer to her ring; to whom she made known her
desire. “Please say to his lordship--in the saloon or wherever--that
Mr. Crimble must go.” When Banks had departed, however, accepting the
responsibility of this mission, she answered her friend’s question. “The
sister of whom I speak is Lady Imber.”

“She loses then so heavily at bridge?”

“She loses more than she wins.”

Hugh gazed as with interest at these oddities of the great. “And yet she
still plays?”

“What else, in her set, should she do?”

This he was quite unable to say; but he could after a moment’s
exhibition of the extent to which he was out of it put a question
instead. “So _you’re_ not in her set?”

“I’m not in her set.”

“Then decidedly,” he said, “I don’t want to save her. I only want--”

He was going on, but she broke in: “I know what you want!”

He kept his eyes on her till he had made sure--and this deep exchange
between them had a beauty. “So you’re now _with_ me?”

“I’m now _with_ you!”

“Then,” said Hugh, “shake hands on it”

He offered her his hand, she took it, and their grasp became, as you
would have seen in their fine young faces, a pledge in which they stood
a minute locked. Lord Theign came upon them from the saloon in the midst
of the process; on which they separated as with an air of its having
consisted but of Hugh’s leave-taking. With some such form of mere
civility, at any rate, he appeared, by the manner in which he addressed
himself to Hugh, to have supposed them occupied.

“I’m sorry my daughter can’t keep you; but I must at least thank you for
your interesting view of my picture.”

Hugh indulged in a brief and mute, though very grave, acknowledgment of
this expression; presently speaking, however, as on a resolve taken with
a sense of possibly awkward consequences: “May I--before you’re sure of
your indebtedness--put you rather a straight question, Lord Theign?” It
sounded doubtless, and of a sudden, a little portentous--as was in fact
testified to by his lordship’s quick stiff stare, full of wonder at
so free a note. But Hugh had the courage of his undertaking. “If I
contribute in ny modest degree to establishing the true authorship of
the work you speak of, may I have from you an assurance that my success
isn’t to serve as a basis for any peril--or possibility--of its leaving
the country?”

Lord Theign was visibly astonished, but had also, independently of this,
turned a shade pale. “You ask of me an ‘assurance’?”

Hugh had now, with his firmness and his strained smile, quite the look
of having counted the cost of his step. “I’m afraid I _must_, you see.”

It pressed at once in his host the spring of a very grand manner. “And
pray by what right here do you do anything of the sort?”

“By the right of a person from whom you, on your side, are accepting a
service.”

Hugh had clearly determined in his opponent a rise of what is called
spirit. “A service that you half an hour ago thrust on me, sir--and
with which you may take it from me that I’m already quite prepared to
dispense.”

“I’m sorry to appear indiscreet,” our young man returned; “I’m sorry to
have upset you in any way. But I can’t overcome my anxiety--”

Lord Theign took the words from his lips. “And you therefore invite
me--at the end of half an hour in this house!--to account to you for my
personal intentions and my private affairs and make over my freedom to
your hands?”

Hugh stood there with his eyes on the black and white pavement that
stretched about him--the great loz-enged marble floor that might have
figured that ground of his own vision which he had made up his mind to
“stand.” “I can only see the matter as I see it, and I should be ashamed
not to have seized any chance to appeal to you.” Whatever difficulty he
had had shyly to face didn’t exist for him now. “I entreat you to think
again, to think _well_, before you deprive us of such a source of just
envy.”

“And you regard your entreaty as helped,” Lord Theign asked, “by the
beautiful threat you are so good as to attach to it?” Then as his
monitor, arrested, exchanged a searching look with Lady Grace, who,
showing in her face all the pain of the business, stood off at the
distance to which a woman instinctively retreats when a scene turns to
violence as precipitately as this one appeared to strike her as having
turned: “I ask you that not less than I should like to know whom you
speak of as ‘deprived’ of property that happens--for reasons that I
don’t suppose you also quarrel with!--to be mine.”

“Well, I know nothing about threats, Lord Theign,” Hugh said, “but I
speak of _all_ of us--of all the people of England; who would deeply
deplore such an act of alienation, and whom, for the interest they bear
you, I beseech you mercifully to consider.”

“The interest they bear me?”--the master of Dedborough fairly bristled
with wonder. “Pray how the devil do they show it?”

“I think they show it in all sorts of ways”--and Hugh’s critical smile,
at almost any moment hovering, played over the question in a manner
seeming to convey that he meant many things.

“Understand then, please,” said Lord Theign with every inch of his
authority, “that they’ll show it best by minding their own business
while I very particularly mind mine.”

“You simply do, in other words,” Hugh explicitly concluded, “what
happens to be convenient to you.”

“In very distinct preference to what happens to be convenient to _you!_
So that I need no longer detain you,” Lord Theign added with the last
dryness and as if to wind up their brief and thankless connection.

The young man took his dismissal, being able to do no less, while,
unsatisfied and unhappy, he looked about mechanically for the
cycling-cap he had laid down somewhere in the hall on his arrival.
“I apologise, my lord, if I seem to you to have ill repaid your
hospitality. But,” he went on with his uncommended cheer, “my interest
in your picture remains.”

Lady Grace, who had stopped and strayed and stopped again as a mere
watchful witness, drew nearer hereupon, breaking her silence for the
first time. “And please let me say, father, that mine also grows and
grows.”

It was obvious that this parent, surprised and disconcerted by her tone,
judged her contribution superfluous. “I’m happy to hear it, Grace--but
yours is another affair.”

“I think on the contrary that it’s quite the same one,” she
returned--“since it’s on my hint to him that Mr. Crimble has said to
you what he has.” The resolution she had gathered while she awaited her
chance sat in her charming eyes, which met, as she spoke, the straighter
paternal glare. “I let him know that I supposed you to think of
profiting by the importance of Mr. Bender’s visit.”

“Then you might have spared, my dear, your--I suppose and hope
well-meant--interpretation of my mind.” Lord Theign showed himself at
this point master of the beautiful art of righting himself as without
having been in the wrong. “Mr. Bender’s visit will terminate--as soon
as he has released Lord John--without my having profited in the smallest
particular.”

Hugh meanwhile evidently but wanted to speak for his friend. “It was
Lady Grace’s anxious inference, she will doubtless let me say for her,
that my idea about the Moretto would add to your power--well,” he pushed
on not without awkwardness, “of ‘realising’ advantageously on such a
prospective rise.”

Lord Theign glanced at him as for positively the last time, but spoke to
Lady Grace. “Understand then, please, that, as I detach myself from any
association with this gentleman’s ideas--whether about the Moretto or
about anything else--his further application of them ceases from this
moment to concern us.”

The girl’s rejoinder was to address herself directly to Hugh, across
their companion. “Will you make your inquiry for _me_ then?”

The light again kindled in him. “With all the pleasure in life!” He
had found his cap and, taking them together, bowed to the two, for
departure, with high emphasis of form. Then he marched off in the
direction from which he had entered.

Lord Theign scarce waited for his disappearance to turn in wrath to
Lady Grace. “I denounce the indecency, wretched child, of your public
defiance of me!”

They were separated by a wide interval now, and though at her distance
she met his reproof so unshrinkingly as perhaps to justify the terms
into which it had broken, she became aware of a reason for his not
following it up. She pronounced in quick warning “Lord John!”--for
their friend, released from among the pictures, was rejoining them, was
already there.

He spoke straight to his host on coming into sight. “Bender’s at last
off, but”--he indicated the direction of the garden front--“you may
still find him, out yonder, prolonging the agony with Lady Sand-gate.”

Lord Theign remained a moment, and the heat of his resentment remained.
He looked with a divided discretion, the pain of his indecision, from
his daughter’s suitor and his approved candidate to that contumacious
young woman and back again; then choosing his course in silence he had
a gesture of almost desperate indifference and passed quickly out by the
door to the terrace.

It had left Lord John gaping. “What on earth’s the matter with your
father?”

“What on earth indeed?” Lady Grace unaidingly asked. “Is he discussing
with that awful man?”

“Old Bender? Do you think him so awful?” Lord John showed
surprise--which might indeed have passed for harmless amusement; but he
shook everything off in view of a nearer interest. He quite waved old
Bender away. “My dear girl, what do _we_ care--?”

“I care immensely, I assure you,” she interrupted, “and I ask of you,
please, to tell me!”

Her perversity, coming straight and which he had so little expected,
threw him back so that he looked at her with sombre eyes. “Ah, it’s not
for such a matter I’m here, Lady Grace--I’m here with that fond question
of my own.” And then as she turned away, leaving him with a vehement
motion of protest: “I’ve come for your kind answer--the answer your
father instructed me to count on.”

“I’ve no kind answer to give you!”--she raised forbidding hands. “I
entreat you to leave me alone.”

There was so high a spirit and so strong a force in it that he stared as
if stricken by violence. “In God’s name then what has happened--when you
almost gave me your word?”

“What has happened is that I’ve found it impossible to listen to you.”
 And she moved as if fleeing she scarce knew whither before him.

He had already hastened around another way, however, as to meet her in
her quick circuit of the hall. “That’s all you’ve got to say to me after
what has passed between us?”

He had stopped her thus, but she had also stopped him, and her
passionate denial set him a limit. “I’ve got to say--sorry as I am--that
if you _must_ have an answer it’s this: that never, Lord John, never,
can there be anything more between us.” And her gesture cleared her
path, permitting her to achieve her flight. “Never, no, never,” she
repeated as she went--“never, never, never!” She got off by the door at
which she had been aiming to some retreat of her own, while aghast and
defeated, left to make the best of it, he sank after a moment into a
chair and remained quite pitiably staring before him, appealing to the
great blank splendour.



BOOK SECOND



I

LADY SANDGATE, on a morning late in May, entered her drawing-room by
the door that opened at the right of that charming retreat as a person
coming in faced Bruton Street; and she met there at this moment Mr.
Gotch, her butler, who had just appeared in the much wider doorway
forming opposite the Bruton Street windows an apartment not less ample,
lighted from the back of the house and having its independent connection
with the upper floors and the lower. She showed surprise at not
immediately finding the visitor to whom she had been called.

“But Mr. Crimble------?”

“Here he is, my lady.” And he made way for that gentleman, who
emerged from the back room; Gotch observing the propriety of a prompt
withdrawal.

“I went in for a minute, with your servant’s permission,” Hugh
explained, “to see your famous Lawrence--which is splendid; he was so
good as to arrange the light.” The young man’s dress was of a form less
relaxed than on the occasion of his visit to Dedborough; yet the soft
felt hat that he rather restlessly crumpled as he talked marked the
limit of his sacrifice to vain appearances.

Lady Sandgate was at once interested in the punctuality of his reported
act. “Gotch thinks as much of my grandmother as I do--and even seems to
have ended by taking her for his very own.”

“One sees, unmistakably, from her beauty, that you at any rate are of
her line,” Hugh allowed himself, not without confidence, the amusement
of replying; “and I must make sure of another look at her when I’ve a
good deal more time.”

His hostess heard him as with a lapse of hope. “You hadn’t then come
_for_ the poor dear?” And then as he obviously hadn’t, but for something
quite else: “I thought, from so prompt an interest, that she might be
coveted--!” It dropped with a yearning sigh.

“You imagined me sent by some prowling collector?” Hugh asked. “Ah, I
shall never do their work--unless to betray them: _that_ I shouldn’t in
the least mind!--and I’m here, frankly, at this early hour, to ask your
consent to my seeing Lady Grace a moment on a particular business, if
she can kindly give me time.”

“You’ve known then of her being with me?”

“I’ve known of her coming to you straight on leaving Dedborough,”
 he explained; “of her wishing not to go to her sister’s, and of Lord
Theign’s having proceeded, as they say, or being on the point of
proceeding, to some foreign part.”

“And you’ve learnt it from having seen her--these three or four weeks?”

“I’ve met her--but just barely--two or three times: at a ‘private view’
at the opera, in the lobby, and that sort of thing. But she hasn’t told
you?”

Lady Sandgate neither affirmed nor denied; she only turned on him her
thick lustre. “I wanted to see how much _you’d_ tell.” She waited even
as for more, but this not coming she helped herself. “Once again at
dinner?”

“Yes, but alas not near her!”

“Once then at a private view?--when, with the squash they usually are,
you might have been very near her indeed!”

The young man, his hilarity quickened, took but a moment for the truth.
“Yes--it _was_ a squash!”

“And once,” his hostess pursued, “in the lobby of the opera?”

“After ‘Tristan’--yes; but with some awful grand people I didn’t know.”

She recognised; she estimated the grandeur. “Oh, the Pennimans are
nobody! But now,” she asked, “you’ve come, you say, on ‘business’?”

“Very important, please--which accounts for the hour I’ve ventured and
the appearance I present.”

“I don’t ask you too much to ‘account,’” Lady Sandgate kindly said; “but
I can’t not wonder if she hasn’t told you what things have happened.”

He cast about. “She has had no chance to tell me anything--beyond the
fact of her being here.”

“Without the reason?”

“‘The reason’?” he echoed.

She gave it up, going straighter. “She’s with me then as an old firm
friend. Under my care and protection.”

“I see”--he took it, with more penetration than enthusiasm, as a hint in
respect to himself. “She puts you on your guard.”

Lady Sandgate expressed it more graciously. “She puts me on my
honour--or at least her father does.”

“As to her seeing _me_”

“As to _my_ seeing at least--what may happen to her.”

“Because--you say--things _have_ happened?”

His companion fairly sounded him. “You’ve only talked--when you’ve
met--of ‘art’?”

“Well,” he smiled, “‘art is long’!”

“Then I hope it may see you through! But you should know first that Lord
Theign is presently due--”

“_Here_, back already from abroad?”--he was all alert.

“He has not yet gone--he comes up this morning to start.”

“And stops here on his way?”

“To take the _train de luxe_ this afternoon to his annual Salsomaggiore.
But with so little time to spare,” she went on reassuringly, “that,
to simplify--as he wired me an hour ago from Dedborough--he has given
rendezvous here to Mr. Bender, who is particularly to wait for him.”

“And who may therefore arrive at any moment?”

She looked at her bracelet watch. “Scarcely before noon. So you’ll just
have your chance--”

“Thank the powers then!”--Hugh grasped at it. “I shall have it best if
you’ll be so good as to tell me first--well,” he faltered, “what it is
that, to my great disquiet, you’ve further alluded to; what it is that
has occurred.”

Lady Sandgate took her time, but her good-nature and other sentiments
pronounced. “Haven’t you at least guessed that she has fallen under her
father’s extreme reprobation?”

“Yes, so much as that--that she must have greatly annoyed him--I have
been supposing. But isn’t it by her having asked me to act for her? I
mean about the Mantovano--which I _have_ done.”

Lady Sandgate wondered. “You’ve ‘acted’?”

“It’s what I’ve come to tell her at last--and I’m all impatience.”

“I see, I see”--she had caught a clue. “He hated that--yes; but you
haven’t really made out,” she put to him, “the _other_ effect of your
hour at Dedborough?” She recognised, however, while she spoke, that
his divination had failed, and she didn’t trouble him to confess it.
“Directly you had gone she ‘turned down’ Lord John. Declined, I mean,
the offer of his hand in marriage.”

Hugh was clearly as much mystified as anything else. “He proposed
there--?”

“He had spoken, that day, _before_--before your talk with Lord Theign,
who had every confidence in her accepting him. But you came, Mr.
Crimble, you went; and when her suitor reappeared, just after you _had_
gone, for his answer--”

“She wouldn’t have him?” Hugh asked with a precipitation of interest.

But Lady Sandgate could humour almost any curiosity. “She wouldn’t look
at him.”

He bethought himself. “But had she said she would?”

“So her father indignantly considers.”

“That’s the _ground_ of his indignation?”

“He had his reasons for counting on her, and it has determined a painful
crisis.”

Hugh Crimble turned this over--feeling apparently for something he
didn’t find. “I’m sorry to hear such things, but where’s the connection
with me?”

“Ah, you know best yourself, and if you don’t see any---!” In that case,
Lady Sandgate’s motion implied, she washed her hands of it.

Hugh had for a moment the air of a young man treated to the sweet chance
to guess a conundrum--which he gave up. “I really don’t see any, Lady
Sandgate. But,” he a little inconsistently said, “I’m greatly obliged to
you for telling me.”

“Don’t mention it!--though I think it _is_ good of me,” she smiled, “on
so short an acquaintance.” To which she added more gravely: “I leave you
the situation--but I’m willing to let you know that I’m all on Grace’s
side.”

“So am I, _rather!_--please let me frankly say.”

He clearly refreshed, he even almost charmed her. “It’s the very least
you can say!--though I’m not sure whether you say it as the simplest
or as the very subtlest of men. But in case you don’t know as I do how
little the particular candidate I’ve named----”

“Had a right or a claim to succeed with her?” he broke in--all quick
intelligence here at least. “No, I don’t perhaps know as well as you
do--but I think I know as well as I just yet require.”

“There you are then! And if you did prevent,” his hostess maturely
pursued, “what wouldn’t have been--well, good or nice, I’m quite on your
side too.”

Our young man seemed to feel the shade of ambiguity, but he reached at
a meaning. “You’re with me in my plea for our defending at any cost of
effort or ingenuity--”

“The precious picture Lord Theign exposes?”--she took his presumed sense
faster than he had taken hers. But she hung fire a moment with her reply
to it. “Well, will you keep the secret of everything I’ve said or say?”

“To the death, to the stake, Lady Sandgate!”

“Then,” she momentously returned, “I only want, too, to make Bender
impossible. If you ask me,” she pursued, “how I arrange that with my
deep loyalty to Lord Theign----”

“I don’t ask you anything of the sort,” he interrupted--“I wouldn’t ask
you for the world; and my own bright plan for achieving the _coup_ you
mention------”

“You’ll have time, at the most,” she said, consulting afresh her
bracelet watch, “to explain to Lady Grace.” She reached an electric
bell, which she touched--facing then her visitor again with an abrupt
and slightly embarrassed change of tone. “You do think _my_ great
portrait splendid?”

He had strayed far from it and all too languidly came back. “Your
Lawrence there? As I said, magnificent.”

But the butler had come in, interrupting, straight from the lobby; of
whom she made her request. “Let her ladyship know--Mr. Crimble.”

Gotch looked hard at Hugh and the crumpled hat--almost as if having an
option. But he resigned himself to repeating, with a distinctness that
scarce fell short of the invidious, “Mr. Crimble,” and departed on his
errand.

Lady Sandgate’s fair flush of diplomacy had meanwhile not faded.
“Couldn’t you, with your immense cleverness and power, get the
Government to do something?”

“About your picture?” Hugh betrayed on this head a graceless detachment.
“You too then want to sell?”

Oh she righted herself. “Never to a private party!”

“Mr. Bender’s not after it?” he asked--though scarce lighting his
reluctant interest with a forced smile.

“Most intensely after it. But never,” cried the proprietress, “to a
bloated alien!”

“Then I applaud your patriotism. Only why not,” he asked, “carrying
that magnanimity a little further, set us all an example as splendid as
the object itself?”

“Give it you for nothing?” She threw up shocked hands. “Because I’m an
aged female pauper and can’t make _every_ sacrifice.”

Hugh pretended--none too convincingly--to think. “Will you let them have
it very cheap?”

“Yes--for less than such a bribe as Bender’s.”

“Ah,” he said expressively, “that might be, and still----!”

“Well,” she had a flare of fond confidence. “I’ll find out what he’ll
offer--if you’ll on your side do what you can--and then ask them a third
less.” And she followed it up--as if suddenly conceiving him a prig.
“See here, Mr. Crimble, I’ve been--and this very first time I--charming
to you.”

“You have indeed,” he returned; “but you throw back on it a lurid light
if it has all been for _that!_”

“It has been--well, to keep things as I want them; and if I’ve given you
precious information mightn’t you on your side--”

“Estimate its value in cash?”--Hugh sharply took her up. “Ah, Lady
Sandgate, I _am_ in your debt, but if you really bargain for your
precious information I’d rather we assume that I haven’t enjoyed it.”

She made him, however, in reply, a sign for silence; she had heard Lady
Grace enter the other room from the back landing, and, reaching the
nearer door, she disposed of the question with high gay bravery. “I
won’t bargain with the Treasury!”--she had passed out by the time Lady
Grace arrived.



II

As Hugh recognised in this friend’s entrance and face the light of
welcome he went, full of his subject, straight to their main affair. “I
haven’t been able to wait, I’ve wanted so much to tell you--I mean how
I’ve just come back from Brussels, where I saw Pappen-dick, who was free
and ready, by the happiest chance, to start for Verona, which he must
have reached some time yesterday.”

The girl’s responsive interest fairly broke into rapture. “Ah, the dear
sweet thing!”

“Yes, he’s a brick--but the question now hangs in the balance. Allowing
him time to have got into relation with the picture, I’ve begun to
expect his wire, which will probably come to my club; but my fidget,
while I wait, has driven me”--he threw out and dropped his arms in
expression of his soft surrender--“well, just to do _this_: to come to
you here, in my fever, at an unnatural hour and uninvited, and at least
let you know I’ve ‘acted.’”

“Oh, but I simply rejoice,” Lady Grace declared, “to be acting _with_
you.”

“Then if you are, if you are,” the young man cried, “why everything’s
beautiful and right!”

“It’s all I care for and think of now,” she went on in her bright
devotion, “and I’ve only wondered and hoped!”

Well, Hugh found for it all a rapid, abundant lucidity. “He was away
from home at first, and I had to wait--but I crossed last week, found
him and settled incoming home by Paris, where I had a grand four days’
jaw with the fellows there and saw _their_ great specimen of our master:
all of which has given him time.”

“And now his time’s up?” the girl eagerly asked.

“It _must_ be--and we shall see.” But Hugh postponed that question to a
matter of more moment still. “The thing is that at last I’m able to tell
you how I feel the trouble I’ve brought you.”

It made her, quickly colouring, rest grave eyes on him. “What do you
know--when I haven’t told you--about my ‘trouble’?”

“Can’t I have guessed, with a ray of intelligence?”--he had his answer
ready. “You’ve sought asylum with this good friend from the effects of
your father’s resentment.”

“‘Sought asylum’ is perhaps excessive,” Lady Grace returned--“though
it wasn’t pleasant with him after that hour, no,” she allowed. “And I
couldn’t go, you see, to Kitty.”

“No indeed, you couldn’t go to Kitty.” He smiled at her hard as he
added: “I should have liked to see you go to Kitty! Therefore exactly is
it that I’ve set you adrift--that I’ve darkened and poisoned your days.
You’re paying with your comfort, with your peace, for having joined so
gallantly in my grand remonstrance.”

She shook her head, turning from him, but then turned back again--as if
accepting, as if even relieved by, this version of the prime cause of
her state. “Why do you talk of it as ‘paying’--if it’s all to come back
to my _being_ paid? I mean by your blest success--if you really do what
you want.”

“I have your word for it,” he searchingly said, “that our really pulling
it off together will make up to you----?”

“I should be ashamed if it didn’t, for everything!”--she took the
question from his mouth. “I believe in such a cause exactly as you
do--and found a lesson, at Dedborough, in your frankness and your
faith.”

“Then you’ll help me no end,” he said all simply and sincerely.

“You’ve helped _me_ already”--that she gave him straight back. And on it
they stayed a moment, their strenuous faces more intensely communing.

“You’re very wonderful--for a girl!” Hugh brought out.

“One _has_ to be a girl, naturally, to be a daughter of one’s house,”
 she laughed; “and that’s all I am of ours--but a true and a right and a
straight one.”

He glowed with his admiration. “You’re splendid!”

That might be or not, her light shrug intimated; she gave it, at any
rate, the go-by and more exactly stated her case. “I see our situation.”

“So do I, Lady Grace!” he cried with the strongest emphasis. “And your
father only doesn’t.”

“Yes,” she said for intelligent correction--“he sees it, there’s nothing
in life he sees so much. But unfortunately he sees it all wrong.”

Hugh seized her point of view as if there had been nothing of her that
he wouldn’t have seized. “He sees it all wrong then! My appeal the other
day he took as a rude protest. And any protest----”

“Any protest,” she quickly and fully agreed, “he takes as an offence,
yes. It’s his theory that he still has rights,” she smiled, “though he
_is_ a miserable peer.”

“How should he not have rights,” said Hugh, “when he has really
everything on earth?”

“Ah, he doesn’t even _know_ that--he takes it so much for granted.” And
she sought, though as rather sadly and despairingly, to explain. “He
lives all in his own world.”

“He lives all in his own, yes; but he does business all in ours--quite
as much as the people who come up to the city in the Tube.” With which
Hugh had a still sharper recall of the stiff actual. “And he must be
here to do business to-day.”

“You know,” Lady Grace asked, “that he’s to meet Mr. Bender?”

“Lady Sandgate kindly warned me, and,” her companion saw as he glanced
at the clock on the chimney, “I’ve only ten minutes, at best. The
‘Journal’ won’t have been good for him,” he added--“you doubtless have
seen the ‘Journal’?”

“No”--she was vague. “We live by the ‘Morning Post.’”

“That’s why our friend here didn’t speak then,” Hugh said with a better
light--“which, out of a dim consideration for her, I didn’t do, either.
But they’ve a leader this morning about Lady Lappington and her Longhi,
and on Bender and his hauls, and on the certainty--if we don’t do
something energetic--of more and more Benders to come: such a conquering
horde as invaded the old civilisation, only armed now with huge
cheque-books instead of with spears and battle-axes. They refer to the
rumour current--as too horrific to believe--of Lord Theign’s putting up
his Moretto; with the question of how properly to qualify any such
sad purpose in him should the further report prove true of a new and
momentous opinion about the picture entertained by several eminent
authorities.”

“Of whom,” said the girl, intensely attached to this recital, “you’re of
course seen as not the least.”

“Of whom, of course, Lady Grace, I’m as yet--however I’m ‘seen’--the
whole collection. But we’ve time”--he rested on that “The fat, if you’ll
allow me the expression, is on the fire--which, as I see the matter, is
where this particular fat _should_ be.”

“Is the article, then,” his companion appealed, “very severe?”

“I prefer to call it very enlightened and very intelligent--and the
great thing is that it immensely ‘marks,’ as they say. It will have made
a big public difference--from this day; though it’s of course aimed not
so much at persons as at conditions; which it calls upon us all somehow
to tackle.”

“Exactly”--she was full of the saving vision; “but as the conditions are
directly embodied in persons----”

“Oh, of course it here and there bells the cat; which means that it
bells three or four.”

“Yes,” she richly brooded--“Lady Lappington _is_ a cat!”

“She will have been ‘belled,’ at any rate, with your father,” Hugh
amusedly went on, “to the certainty of a row; and a row can only be good
for us--I mean for _us_ in particular.” Yet he had to bethink himself.
“The case depends a good deal of course on how your father _takes_ such
a resounding rap.”

“Oh, I know how he’ll take it!”--her perception went all the way.

“In the very highest and properest spirit?”

“Well, you’ll see.” She was as brave as she was clear. “Or at least I
shall!”

Struck with all this in her he renewed his homage. “You _are_, yes,
splendid!”

“I even,” she laughed, “surprise myself.”

But he was already back at his calculations. “How early do the papers
get to you?”

“At Dedborough? Oh, quite for breakfast--which isn’t, however, very
early.”

“Then that’s what has caused his wire to Bender.”

“But how will such talk strike _him_?” the girl asked.

Hugh meanwhile, visibly, had not only followed his train of thought,
he had let it lead him to certainty. “It will have moved Mr. Bender to
absolute rapture.”

“Rather,” Lady Grace wondered, “than have put him off?”

“It will have put him prodigiously _on!_ Mr. Bender--as he said to me
at Dedborough of his noble host there,” Hugh pursued--“is ‘a very nice
man’; but he’s a product of the world of advertisment, and advertisement
is all he sees and aims at. He lives in it as a saint in glory or a fish
in water.”

She took it from him as half doubting. “But mayn’t advertisement, in so
special a case, turn, on the whole, against him?”

Hugh shook a negative forefinger with an expression he might have caught
from foreign comrades. “He rides the biggest whirlwind--he has got it
saddled and bitted.”

She faced the image, but cast about “Then where does our success come
in?”

“In our making the beast, all the same, bolt with him and throw him.”
 And Hugh further pointed the moral. “If in such proceedings all he
knows is publicity the thing is to give him publicity, and it’s only a
question of giving him enough. By the time he has enough for himself,
you see, he’ll have too much for every one else--so that we shall ‘up’
in a body and slay him.”

The girl’s eyebrows, in her wondering face, rose to a question. “But if
he has meanwhile got the picture?”

“We’ll slay him before he gets it!” He revelled in the breadth of his
view. “Our own policy must be to _organise_ to that end the inevitable
outcry. Organise Bender himself--organise him to scandal.” Hugh had
already even pity to spare for their victim. “He won’t know it from a
boom.”

Though carried along, however, Lady Grace could still measure. “But that
will be only if he wants and decides for the picture.”

“We must make him then want and decide for it--decide, that is, for
‘ours.’ To save it we must work him up--he’ll in that case want it so
indecently much. Then _we_ shall have to want it more!”

“Well,” she anxiously felt it her duty to remind him, “you can take a
horse to water----!”

“Oh, trust me to make him drink!”

There appeared a note in this that convinced her. “It’s you, Mr.
Crimble, who are ‘splendid’!”

“Well, I shall be--with my jolly wire!” And all on that scent again,
“May I come back to you from the club with Pappendick’s news?” he asked.

“Why, rather, of course, come back!”

“Only not,” he debated, “till your father has left.”

Lady Grace considered too, but sharply decided. “Come when you _have_
it. But tell me first,” she added, “one thing.” She hung fire a little
while he waited, but she brought it out. “Was it you who got the
‘Journal’ to speak?”

“Ah, one scarcely ‘gets’ the ‘Journal’!”

“Who then gave them their ‘tip’?”

“About the Mantovano and its peril?” Well, he took a moment--but only
not to say; in addition to which the butler had reappeared, entering
from the lobby. “I’ll tell you,” he laughed, “when I come back!”

Gotch had his manner of announcement while the visitor was mounting the
stairs. “Mr. Breckenridge Bender!”

“Ah then I go,” said Lady Grace at once.

“I’ll stay three minutes.” Hugh turned with her, alertly, to the easier
issue, signalling hope and cheer from that threshold as he watched her
disappear; after which he faced about with as brave a smile and as ready
for immediate action as if she had there within kissed her hand to him.
Mr. Bender emerged at the same instant, Gotch withdrawing and closing
the door behind him; and the former personage, recognising his young
friend, threw up his hands for friendly pleasure.



III

“Ah, Mr. Crimble,” he cordially inquired, “you’ve come with your great
news?”

Hugh caught the allusion, it would have seemed, but after a moment.
“News of the Moretto? No, Mr. Bender, I haven’t news _yet_.” But he
added as with high candour for the visitor’s motion of disappointment:
“I think I warned you, you know, that it would take three or four
weeks.”

“Well, in _my_ country,” Mr. Bender returned with disgust, “it would
take three or four minutes! Can’t you make ‘em step more lively?”

“I’m expecting, sir,” said Hugh good-humouredly, “a report from hour to
hour.”

“Then will you let me have it right off?”

Hugh indulged in a pause; after which very frankly: “Ah, it’s scarcely
for you, Mr. Bender, that I’m acting!”

The great collector was but briefly checked. “Well, can’t you just act
for Art?”

“Oh, you’re doing that yourself so powerfully,” Hugh laughed, “that I
think I had best leave it to you!”

His friend looked at him as some inspector on circuit might look at a
new improvement. “Don’t you want to go round acting _with_ me?”

“Go ‘on tour,’ as it were? Oh, frankly, Mr. Bender,” Hugh said, “if I
had any weight----!”

“You’d add it to your end of the beam? Why, what have I done that _you_
should go back on me--after working me up so down there? The worst I’ve
done,” Mr. Bender continued, “is to refuse that Moretto.”

“Has it deplorably been _offered_ you?” our young man cried,
unmistakably and sincerely affected. After which he went on, as his
fellow-visitor only eyed him hard, not, on second thoughts, giving
the owner of the great work away: “Then why are you--as if you were a
banished Romeo--so keen for news from Verona?” To this odd mixture of
business and literature Mr. Bender made no reply, contenting himself
with but a large vague blandness that wore in him somehow the mark of
tested utility; so that Hugh put him another question: “Aren’t you here,
sir, on the chance of the Mantovano?”

“I’m here,” he then imperturbably said, “because Lord Theign has wired
me to meet him. Ain’t you here for that yourself?”

Hugh betrayed for a moment his enjoyment of a “big” choice of answers.
“Dear, no! I’ve but been in, by Lady Sandgate’s leave, to see that grand
Lawrence.”

“Ah yes, she’s very kind about it--one does go ‘in.’” After which Mr.
Bender had, even in the atmosphere of his danger, a throb of curiosity.
“Is any one _after_ that grand Lawrence?”

“Oh, I hope not,” Hugh laughed, “unless you again dreadfully are:
wonderful thing as it is and so just in its right place there.”

“You call it,” Mr. Bender impartially inquired, “a _very_ wonderful
thing?”

“Well, as a Lawrence, it has quite bowled me over”--Hugh spoke as for
the strictly aesthetic awkwardness of that. “But you know I take my
pictures hard.” He gave a punch to his hat, pressed for time in this
connection as he was glad truly to appear to his friend. “I must make my
little _rapport_.” Yet before it he did seek briefly to explain. “We’re
a band of young men who care--and we watch the great things. Also--for I
must give you the real truth about myself--we watch the great people.”

“Well, I guess I’m used to being watched--if that’s the worst you can
do.” To which Mr. Bender added in his homely way: “But you know, Mr.
Crimble, what I’m _really_ after.”

Hugh’s strategy on this would again have peeped out for us. “The man in
this morning’s ‘Journal’ appears at least to have discovered.”

“Yes, the man in this morning’s ‘Journal’ has discovered three or four
weeks--as it appears to take you here for everything--after my beginning
to talk. Why, they knew I was talking _that_ time ago on the other
side.”

“Oh, they know things in the States,” Hugh cheerfully agreed, “so
independently of their happening! But you must have talked loud.”

“Well, I haven’t so much talked as raved,” Mr. Bender conceded--“for I’m
afraid that when I do want a thing I rave till I get it. You heard me
at Ded-borough, and your enterprising daily press has at last caught the
echo.”

“Then they’ll make up for lost time! But have you done it,” Hugh asked,
“to prepare an alibi?”

“An alibi?”

“By ‘raving,’ as you say, the saddle on the wrong horse. I don’t think
you at all believe you’ll get the Sir Joshua--but meanwhile we shall
have cleared up the question of the Moretto.”

Mr. Bender, imperturbable, didn’t speak till he had done justice to this
picture of his subtlety. “Then, why on earth do you want to boom the
Moretto?”

“You ask that,” said Hugh, “because it’s the boomed thing that’s most in
peril.”

“Well, it’s the big, the bigger, the biggest things, and if you drag
their value to the light why shouldn’t we want to grab them and carry
them off--the same as all of _you_ originally did?”

“Ah, not quite the same,” Hugh smiled--“that I _will_ say for you!”

“Yes, you stick it on now--you _have_ got an eye for the rise in values.
But I grant you your unearned increment, and you ought to be mighty glad
that, to such a time, I’ll pay it you.”

Our young man kept, during a moment’s thought, his eyes on his
companion, and then resumed with all intensity and candour: “You may
easily, Mr. Bender, be too much for me--as you appear too much for far
greater people. But may I ask you, very earnestly, for your word on
_this_, as to any case in which that happens--that when precious things,
things we are to lose here, _are_ knocked down to you, you’ll let us at
least take leave of them, let us have a sight of them in London, before
they’re borne off?”

Mr. Bender’s big face fell almost with a crash. “Hand them over, you
mean, to the sandwich men on Bond Street?”

“To one or other of the placard and poster men--I don’t insist on the
inserted human slice! Let the great values, as a compensation to us, be
on view for three or four weeks.”

“You ask me,” Mr. Bender returned, “for a _general_ assurance to that
effect?”

“Well, a particular one--so it be particular enough,” Hugh said--“will
do just for now. Let me put in my plea for the issue--well, of the value
that’s actually in the scales.”

“The Mantovano-Moretto?”

“The Moretto-Mantovano!”

Mr. Bender carnivorously smiled. “Hadn’t we better know which it is
first?”

Hugh had a motion of practical indifference for this. “The public
interest--playing so straight on the question--may help to settle it.
By which I mean that it will profit enormously--the question of
probability, of identity itself will--by the discussion it will create.
The discussion will promote certainty----”

“And certainty,” Mr. Bender massively mused, “will kick up a row.”

“_Of course_ it will kick up a row!”--Hugh thoroughly guaranteed that.
“You’ll be, for the month, the best-abused man in England--if you
venture to remain here at all; except, naturally, poor Lord Theign.”

“Whom it won’t be my interest, at the same time, to worry into backing
down.”

“But whom it will be exceedingly _mine_ to practise on”--and Hugh
laughed as at the fun before them--“if I may entertain the sweet hope
of success. The only thing is--from my point of view,” he went on--“that
backing down before what he will call vulgar clamour isn’t in the least
in his traditions, nothing less so; and that if there should be really
too much of it for his taste or his nerves he’ll set his handsome face
as a stone and never budge an inch. But at least again what I appeal to
you for will have taken place--the picture will have been seen by a lot
of people who’ll care.”

“It will have been seen,” Mr. Bender amended--“on the mere contingency
of my acquisition of it--only if its present owner consents.”

“‘Consents’?” Hugh almost derisively echoed; “why, he’ll propose it
himself, he’ll insist on it, he’ll put it through, once he’s angry
enough--as angry, I mean, as almost any public criticism of a personal
act of his will be sure to make him; and I’m afraid the striking
criticism, or at least animadversion, of this morning, will have blown
on his flame of bravado.”

Inevitably a student of character, Mr. Bender rose to the occasion.
“Yes, I guess he’s pretty mad.”

“They’ve imputed to him”--Hugh but wanted to abound in that sense--“an
intention of which after all he isn’t guilty.”

“So that”--his listener glowed with interested optimism--“if they don’t
look out, if they impute it to him again, I guess he’ll just go and be
guilty!”

Hugh might at this moment have shown to an initiated eye as fairly
elated by the sense of producing something of the effect he had hoped.
“You entertain the fond vision of lashing them up to that mistake, oh
fisher in troubled waters?” And then with a finer art, as his companion,
expansively bright but crudely acute, eyed him in turn as if to sound
_him_: “The strongest thing in such a type--one does make out--is his
resentment of a liberty taken; and the most natural furthermore is
quite that he should feel almost anything you do take uninvited from the
groaning board of his banquet of life to _be_ such a liberty.”

Mr. Bender participated thus at his perceptive ease in the exposed
aristocratic illusion. “Yes, I guess he has always lived as he likes,
the way those of you who have got things fixed for them _do_, over here;
and to have to quit it on account of unpleasant remark--”

But he gave up thoughtfully trying to express what this must be; reduced
to the mere synthetic interjection “My!”

“That’s it, Mr. Bender,” Hugh said for the consecration of such a moral;
“he won’t quit it without a hard struggle.”

Mr. Bender hereupon at last gave himself quite gaily away as to his high
calculation of impunity. “Well, I guess he won’t struggle too hard for
me to hold on to him if I _want_ to!”

“In the thick of the conflict then, however that may be,” Hugh returned,
“don’t forget what I’ve urged on you--the claim of our desolate
country.”

But his friend had an answer to this. “My natural interest, Mr.
Crimble--considering what I do for it--is in the claim of ours. But I
wish you were on my side!”

“Not so much,” Hugh hungrily and truthfully laughed, “as I wish you were
on mine!” Decidedly, none the less, he had to go. “Good-bye--for another
look here!”

He reached the doorway of the second room, where, however, his
companion, freshly alert at this, stayed him by a gesture. “How much is
she really worth?”

“‘She’?” Hugh, staring a moment, was miles at sea. “Lady Sandgate?”

“Her great-grandmother.”

A responsible answer was prevented--the butler was again with them; he
had opened wide the other door and he named to Mr. Bender the personage
under his convoy. “Lord John!”

Hugh caught this from the inner threshold, and it gave him his escape.
“Oh, ask _that_ friend!” With which he sought the further passage to the
staircase and street, while Lord John arrived in charge of Mr. Gotch,
who, having remarked to the two occupants of the front drawing-room that
her ladyship would come, left them together.



IV

“Then Theign’s not yet here!” Lord John had to resign himself as he
greeted his American ally. “But he told me I should find you.”

“He has kept me waiting,” that gentleman returned--“but what’s the
matter with him anyway?”

“The matter with him”--Lord John treated such ignorance as
irritating--“must of course be this beastly thing in the ‘Journal.’”

Mr. Bender proclaimed, on the other hand, his incapacity to seize such
connections. “What’s the matter with the beastly thing?”

“Why, aren’t you aware that the stiffest bit of it is a regular dig at
you?”

“If you call _that_ a regular dig you can’t have had much experience of
the Papers. I’ve known them to dig much deeper.”

“I’ve had _no_ experience of such horrid attacks, thank goodness; but do
you mean to say,” asked Lord John with the surprise of his own delicacy,
“that you don’t unpleasantly feel it?”

“Feel it where, my dear sir?”

“Why, God bless me, such impertinence, everywhere!”

“All over me at once?”--Mr. Bender took refuge in easy humour. “Well,
I’m a large man--so when I want to feel so much I look out for something
good. But what, if he suffers from the blot on his ermine--ain’t that
what you wear?--does our friend propose to do about it?”

Lord John had a demur, which was immediately followed by the
apprehension of support in his uncertainty. Lady Sandgate was before
them, having reached them through the other room, and to her he at once
referred the question. “What _will_ Theign propose, do you think, Lady
Sandgate, to do about it?”

She breathed both her hospitality and her vagueness. “To ‘do’----?”

“Don’t you know about the thing in the ‘Journal’--awfully offensive all
round?”

“There’d be even a little pinch for _you_ in it,” Mr. Bender said to
her--“if you were bent on fitting the shoe!”

Well, she met it all as gaily as was compatible with a firm look at her
elder guest while she took her place with them. “Oh, the shoes of such
monsters as that are much too big for poor _me!_” But she was more
specific for Lord John. “I know only what Grace has just told me; but
since it’s a question of footgear dear Theign will certainly--what you
may call--take his stand!”

Lord John welcomed this assurance. “If I know him he’ll take it
splendidly!”

Mr. Bender’s attention was genial, though rather more detached. “And
what--while he’s about it--will he take it particularly _on?_”

“Oh, we’ve plenty of things, thank heaven,” said Lady Sandgate, “for a
man in Theign’s position to hold fast by!”

Lord John freely confirmed it. “Scores and scores--rather! And I will
say for us that, with the rotten way things seem going, the fact may
soon become a real convenience.”

Mr. Bender seemed struck--and not unsympathetic. “I see that your system
would be rather a fraud if you hadn’t pretty well fixed _that!_”

Lady Sandgate spoke as one at present none the less substantially warned
and convinced. “It doesn’t, however, alter the fact that we’ve thus in
our ears the first growl of an outcry.”

“Ah,” Lord John concurred, “we’ve unmistakably the first growl of an
outcry!”

Mr. Bender’s judgment on the matter paused at sight of Lord Theign,
introduced and announced, as Lord John spoke, by Gotch; but with the
result of his addressing directly the person so presenting himself.
“Why, they tell me that what this means, Lord Theign, is the first growl
of an outcry!”

The appearance of the most eminent figure in the group might have been
held in itself to testify to some such truth; in the sense at least
that a certain conscious radiance, a gathered light of battle in his
lordship’s aspect would have been explained by his having taken the
full measure--an inner success with which he glowed--of some high
provocation. He was flushed, but he bore it as the ensign of his house;
he was so admirably, vividly dressed, for the morning hour and for his
journey, that he shone as with the armour of a knight; and the whole
effect of him, from head to foot, with every jerk of his unconcern and
every flash of his ease, was to call attention to his being utterly
unshaken and knowing perfectly what he was about. It was at this happy
pitch that he replied to the prime upsetter of his peace.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what anything means to _you_, Mr. Bender--but
it’s exactly to find out that I’ve asked you, with our friend John,
kindly to meet me here. For a very brief conference, dear lady, by your
good leave,” he went on to Lady Sandgate; “at which I’m only too pleased
that you yourself should assist. The ‘first growl’ of any outcry, I may
mention to you all, affects me no more than the last will----!”

“So I’m delighted to gather”--Lady Sandgate took him straight up--“that
you don’t let go your inestimable Cure.”

He at first quite stared superior--“‘Let go’?”--but then treated it with
a lighter touch. “Upon my honour I might, you know--that dose of the
daily press has made me feel so fit! I arrive at any rate,” he pursued
to the others and in particular to Mr. Bender, “I arrive with my
decision taken--which I’ve thought may perhaps interest you. If that
tuppeny rot _is_ an attempt at an outcry I simply nip it in the bud.”

Lord John rejoicingly approved. “Absolutely the only way--with the least
self-respect--to treat it!”

Lady Sandgate, on the other hand, sounded a sceptical note. “But are you
sure it’s so easy, Theign, to hush up a _real_ noise?”

“It ain’t what I’d call a real one, Lady Sandgate,” Mr. Bender said;
“you can generally distinguish a real one from the squeak of two
or three mice! But granted mice do affect you, Lord Theign, it will
interest me to hear what sort of a trap--by what you say--you propose to
set for them.”

“You must allow me to measure, myself, Mr. Bender,” his lordship
replied, “the importance of a gross freedom publicly used with my
absolutely personal proceedings and affairs; to the cause and origin
of any definite report of which--in such circles!--I’m afraid I rather
wonder if you yourself can’t give me a clue.”

It took Mr. Bender a minute to do justice to these stately remarks. “You
rather wonder if I’ve talked of how I feel about your detaining in your
hands my Beautiful Duchess----?”

“Oh, if you’ve already published her as ‘yours’--with your _power_
of publication!” Lord Theign coldly laughed,--“of course I trace the
connection!”

Mr. Benders acceptance of responsibility clearly cost him no shade of
a pang. “Why, I haven’t for quite a while talked of a blessed other
thing--and I’m capable of growing more profane over my _not_ getting her
than I guess any one would dare to be if I did.”

“Well, you’ll certainly not ‘get’ her, Mr. Bender,” Lady Sandgate, as
for reasons of her own, bravely trumpeted; “and even if there were a
chance of it don’t you see that your way wouldn’t be publicly to abuse
our noble friend?”

Mr. Bender but beamed, in reply, upon that personage. “Oh, I guess
our noble friend knows I _have_ to talk big about big things. You
understand, sir, the scream of the eagle!”

“I’ll forgive you,” Lord Theign civilly returned, “all the big talk
you like if you’ll now understand _me_. My retort to that hireling pack
shall be at once to dispose of a picture.”

Mr. Bender rather failed to follow. “But that’s what you wanted to do
before.”

“Pardon me,” said his lordship--“I make a difference. It’s what you
wanted me to do.”

The mystification, however, continued. “And you were _not_--as you
seemed then--willing?”

Lord Theign waived cross-questions. “Well, I’m willing _now_--that’s all
that need concern us. Only, once more and for the last time,” he added
with all authority, “you can’t have our Duchess!”

“You can’t have our Duchess!”--and Lord John, as before the altar of
patriotism, wrapped it in sacrificial sighs.

“You can’t have our Duchess!” Lady Sandgate repeated, but with a grace
that took the sting from her triumph. And she seemed still all sweet
sociability as she added: “I wish he’d tell you too, you dreadful rich
thing, that you can’t have anything at all!”

Lord Theign, however, in the interest of harmony, deprecated that
rigour. “Ah, what then would become of my happy retort?”

“And what--as it _is_,” Mr. Bender asked--“becomes of my unhappy
grievance?”

“Wouldn’t a really great capture make up to you for that?”

“Well, I take more interest in what I want than in what I have--and it
depends, don’t you see, on how you measure the size.”

Lord John had at once in this connection a bright idea. “Shouldn’t you
like to go back there and take the measure yourself?”

Mr. Bender considered him as through narrowed eyelids. “Look again at
that tottering Moretto?”

“Well, its size--as you say--isn’t in _any_ light a negligible
quantity.”

“You mean that--big as it is--it hasn’t yet stopped growing?”

The question, however, as he immediately showed, resided in what Lord
Theign himself meant “It’s more to the purpose,” he said to Mr. Bender,
“that I should mention to you the leading feature, or in other words
the very essence, of my plan of campaign--which is to put the picture at
once on view.” He marked his idea with a broad but elegant gesture. “On
view as a thing definitely disposed of.”

“I say, I say, I say!” cried Lord John, moved by this bold stroke to
high admiration.

Lady Sandgate’s approval was more qualified. “But on view, dear Theign,
how?”

“With one of those pushing people in Bond Street.” And then as for the
crushing climax of his policy: “As a Mantovano pure and simple.”

“But my dear man,” she quavered, “if it _isn’t_ one?”

Mr. Bender at once anticipated; the wind had suddenly risen for him
and he let out sail. “Lady Sand-gate, it’s going, by all that’s--well,
interesting, to _be_ one!”

Lord Theign took him up with pleasure. “You seize me? We _treat_ it as
one!”

Lord John eagerly borrowed the emphasis. “We _treat_ it as one!”

Mr. Bender meanwhile fed with an opened appetite on the thought--he even
gave it back larger. “As the long-lost Number Eight!”

Lord Theign happily seized _him_. “That will be it--to a charm!”

“It will make them,” Mr. Bender asked, “madder than anything?”

His patron--if not his client--put it more nobly. “It will markedly
affirm my attitude.”

“Which will in turn the more markedly create discussion.”

“It may create all it will!”

“Well, if _you_ don’t mind it, _I_ don’t!” Mr. Bender concluded. But
though bathed in this high serenity he was all for the rapid application
of it elsewhere. “You’ll put the thing on view right off?”

“As soon as the proper arrangement----”

“You put off your journey to _make_ it?” Lady Sand-gate at once broke in.

Lord Theign bethought himself--with the effect of a gracious confidence
in the others. “Not if these friends will act.”

“Oh, I guess we’ll _act!_” Mr. Bender declared.

“Ah, _won’t_ we though!” Lord John re-echoed.

“You understand then I have an interest?” Mr. Bender went on to Lord
Theign.

His lordship’s irony met it. “I accept that complication--which so much
simplifies!”

“And yet also have a liberty?”

“Where else would be those you’ve taken? The point is,” said Lord
Theign, “that _I_ have a show.”

It settled Mr. Bender. “Then I’ll _fix_ your show.” He snatched up his
hat. “Lord John, come right round!”

Lord John had of himself reached the door, which he opened to let the
whirlwind tremendously figured by his friend pass out first. Taking
leave of the others he gave it even his applause. “The fellow can do
anything anywhere!” And he hastily followed.



V

Lady Sandgate, left alone with Lord Theign, drew the line at their
companion’s enthusiasm. “That may be true of Mr. Bender--for it’s
dreadful how he bears one down. But I simply find him a terror.”

“Well,” said her friend, who seemed disposed not to fatigue the
question, “I dare say a terror will help me.” He had other business to
which he at once gave himself. “And now, if you please, for that girl.”

“I’ll send her to you,” she replied, “if you can’t stay to luncheon.”

“I’ve three or four things to do,” he pleaded, “and I lunch with Kitty
at one.”

She submitted in that case--but disappointedly. “With Berkeley
Square then you’ve time. But I confess I don’t quite grasp the so odd
inspiration that you’ve set those men to carry out.”

He showed surprise and regret, but even greater decision. “Then it
needn’t trouble you, dear--it’s enough that I myself go straight.”

“Are you so very convinced it’s straight?”--she wouldn’t be a bore to
him, but she couldn’t not be a blessing.

“What in the world else is it,” he asked, “when, having good reasons,
one acts on ‘em?”

“You must have an immense array,” she sighed, “to fly so in the face of
Opinion!”

“‘Opinion’?” he commented--“I fly in its face? Why, the vulgar thing,
as I’m taking my quiet walk, flies in mine! I give it a whack with my
umbrella and send it about its business.” To which he added with more
reproach: “It’s enough to have been dished by Grace--without _your_
falling away!”

Sadly and sweetly she defended herself. “It’s only my great
affection--and all that these years have been for us: _they_ it is that
make me wish you weren’t so proud.”

“I’ve a perfect sense, my dear, of what these years have been for us--a
very charming matter. But ‘proud’ is it you find me of the daughter who
does her best to ruin me, or of the one who does her best to humiliate?”

Lady Sandgate, not undiscernibly, took her choice of ignoring the point
of this. “Your surrenders to Kitty are your own affair--but are you sure
you can really bear to see Grace?”

“I seem expected indeed to bear much,” he said with more and more of his
parental bitterness, “but I don’t know that I’m yet in a funk before
my child. Doesn’t she _want_ to see me, with any contrition, after the
trick she has played me?” And then as his companion’s answer failed: “In
spite of which trick you suggest that I should leave the country with no
sign of her explaining--?”

His hostess raised her head. “She does want to see you, I know; but you
must recall the sequel to that bad hour at Dedborough--when it was you
who declined to see _her_.”

“Before she left the house with you, the next day, for this?”--he
was entirely reminiscent. “What I recall is that even if I had
condoned--that evening--her deception of _me_ in my folly, I still
loathed, for my friend’s sake, her practical joke on poor John.”

Lady Sandgate indulged in the shrug conciliatory. “It was your very
complaint that your own appeal to her _became_ an appeal from herself.”

“Yes,” he returned, so well he remembered, “she was about as civil to
me then--picking a quarrel with me on such a trumped-up ground!--as that
devil of a fellow in the newspaper; the taste of whose elegant remarks,
for that matter, she must now altogether enjoy!”

His good friend showily balanced and might have been about to reply with
weight; but what she in fact brought out was only: “I see you’re right
about it: I must let her speak for herself.”

“That I shall greatly prefer to her speaking--as she did so
extraordinarily, out of the blue, at Dedborough, upon my honour--for the
wonderful friends she picks up: the picture-man introduced by her (what
was his name?) who regularly ‘cheeked’ me, as I suppose he’d call it,
in my own house, and whom I hope, by the way, that under this roof she’s
not able to be quite so thick with!”

If Lady Sandgate winced at that vain dream she managed not to betray
it, and she had, in any embarrassment on this matter, the support, as we
know, of her own tried policy. “She leads her life under this roof
very much as under yours; and she’s not of an age, remember, for me
to pretend either to watch her movements or to control her contacts.”
 Leaving him however thus to perform his pleasure the charming woman had
before she went an abrupt change of tone. “Whatever your relations with
others, dear friend, don’t forget that _I’m_ still here.”

Lord Theign accepted the reminder, though, the circumstances being such,
it scarce moved him to ecstasy. “That you’re here, thank heaven, is of
course a comfort--or would be if you understood.”

“Ah,” she submissively sighed, “if I don’t always ‘understand’ a spirit
so much higher than mine and a situation so much more complicated,
certainly, I at least always defer, I at least always--well, what can I
say but worship?” And then as he remained not other than finely passive,
“The old altar, Theign,” she went on--“and a spark of the old fire!”

He had not looked at her on this--it was as if he shrank, with his
preoccupations, from a tender passage; but he let her take his left
hand. “So I feel!” he was, however, kind enough to answer.

“Do feel!” she returned with much concentration. She raised the hand
to her pressed lips, dropped it and with a rich “Good-bye!” reached the
threshold of the other room.

“May I smoke?” he asked before she had disappeared.

“Dear, yes!”

He had meanwhile taken out his cigarette case and was looking about
for a match. But something else occurred to him. “You must come to
Victoria.”

“Rather!” she said with intensity; and with that she passed away.



VI

Left alone he had a moment’s meditation where he stood; it found issue
in an articulate “Poor dear thing!”--an exclamation marked at once with
patience and impatience, with resignation and ridicule. After which,
waiting for his daughter, Lord Theign slowly and absently roamed,
finding matches at last and lighting his cigarette--all with an air
of concern that had settled on him more heavily from the moment of his
finding himself alone. His luxury of gloom--if gloom it was--dropped,
however, on his taking heed of Lady Grace, who, arriving on the scene
through the other room, had had just time to stand and watch him in
silence.

“Oh!” he jerked out at sight of her--which she had to content herself
with as a parental greeting after separation, his next words doing
little to qualify its dryness. “I take it for granted that you know
I’m within a couple of hours of leaving England under a necessity of
health.” And then as drawing nearer, she signified without speaking her
possession of this fact: “I’ve thought accordingly that before I go I
should--on this first possible occasion since that odious occurrence at
Dedborough--like to leave you a little more food for meditation, in my
absence, on the painfully false position in which you there placed me.”
 He carried himself restlessly even perhaps with a shade of awkwardness,
to which her stillness was a contrast; she just waited, wholly
passive--possibly indeed a trifle portentous. “If you had plotted and
planned it in advance,” he none the less firmly pursued, “if you had
acted from some uncanny or malignant motive, you couldn’t have arranged
more perfectly to incommode, to disconcert and, to all intents and
purposes, make light of me and insult me.” Even before this charge
she made no sign; with her eyes now attached to the ground she let him
proceed. “I had practically guaranteed to our excellent, our charming
friend, your favourable view of his appeal--which you yourself too,
remember, had left him in so little doubt of!--so that, having by your
performance so egregiously failed him, I have the pleasure of their
coming down on me for explanations, for compensations, and for God knows
what besides.”

Lady Grace, looking up at last, left him in no doubt of the rigour of
her attention. “I’m sorry indeed, father, to have done you any wrong;
but may I ask whom, in such a connection, you refer to as ‘they’?”

“‘They’?” he echoed in the manner of a man who has had handed back to
his more careful eye, across the counter, some questionable coin that he
has tried to pass. “Why, your own sister to begin with--whose interest
in what may make for your happiness I suppose you decently recognise;
and _his_ people, one and all, the delightful old Duchess in particular,
who only wanted to be charming to you, and who are as good people, and
as pleasant and as clever, damn it, when all’s said and done, as any
others that are likely to come your way.” It clearly did his lordship
good to work out thus his case, which grew more and more coherent to
him and glowed with irresistible colour. “Letting alone gallant John
himself, most amiable of men, about whose merits and whose claims you
appear to have pretended to agree with me just that you might, when he
presumed, poor chap, ardently to urge them, deal him with the more cruel
effect that calculated blow on the mouth!”

It was clear that in the girl’s great gravity embarrassment had no
share. “They so come down on you I understand then, father, that you’re
obliged to come down on _me?_”

“Assuredly--for some better satisfaction than your just moping here
without a sign!”

“But a sign of what, father?” she asked--as helpless as a lone islander
scanning the horizon for a sail.

“Of your appreciating, of your in some degree dutifully considering, the
predicament into which you’ve put me!”

“Hasn’t it occurred to you in the least that you’ve rather put _me_ into
one?”

He threw back his head as from exasperated nerves. “I put you certainly
in the predicament of your receiving by my care a handsome settlement
in life--which all the elements that would make for your enjoying it
had every appearance of successfully commending to you.” The perfect
readiness of which on his lips had, like a higher wave, the virtue
of lifting and dropping him to still more tangible ground. “And if I
understand you aright as wishing to know whether I apologise for that
zeal, why you take a most preposterous view of our relation as father
and daughter.”

“You understand me no better than I fear I understand you,” Lady Grace
returned, “if what you expect of me is really to take back my words to
Lord John.” And then as he didn’t answer, while their breach gaped like
a jostled wound, “Have you seriously come to propose--and from _him_
again,” she added--“that I shall reconsider my resolute act and lend
myself to your beautiful arrangement?”

It had so the sound of unmixed ridicule that he could only, for his
dignity, not give way to passion. “I’ve come, above all, for _this_, I
may say, Grace: to remind you of whom you’re addressing when you jibe at
me, and to make of you assuredly a plain demand--exactly as to whether
you judged us to have actively _incurred_ your treatment of our unhappy
friend, to have brought it upon us, he and I, by my refusal to discuss
with you at such a crisis the question of my disposition of a particular
item of my property. I’ve only to look at you, for that matter,” Lord
Theign continued--always with a finer point and a higher consistency as
his rehearsal of his wrongs broadened--“to have my inquiry, as it seems
to me, eloquently answered. You flounced away from poor John, you took,
as he tells me, ‘his head off,’ just to repay me for what you chose to
regard as my snub on the score of your challenging my entertainment of
a possible purchaser; a rebuke launched at me, practically, in the
presence of a most inferior person, a stranger and an intruder, from
whom you had all the air of taking your cue for naming me the great
condition on which you’d gratify my hope. Am I to understand, in other
words,”--and his lordship mounted to a climax--“that you sent us
about our business because I failed to gratify _your_ hope: that of my
knocking under to your sudden monstrous pretension to lay down the law
for my choice of ways and means of raising, to my best convenience, a
considerable sum of money? You’ll be so good as to understand, once
for all, that I recognise there no right of interference from any
quarter--and also to let that knowledge govern your behaviour in my
absence.”

Lady Grace had thus for some minutes waited on his words--waited even as
almost with anxiety for the safe conduct he might look to from some of
the more extravagant of them. But he at least felt at the end--if it
was an end--all he owed them; so that there was nothing for her but to
accept as achieved his dreadful felicity. “You’re very angry with
me, and I hope you won’t feel me simply ‘aggravating’ if I say that,
thinking everything over, I’ve done my best to allow for that. But I
_can_ answer your question if I do answer it by saying that my discovery
of your possible sacrifice of one of our most beautiful things didn’t
predispose me to decide in favour of a person--however ‘backed’ by
you--for whose benefit the sacrifice was to take place. Frankly,” the
girl pushed on, “I did quite hate, for the moment, everything that might
make for such a mistake; and took the darkest view, let me also confess,
of every one, without exception, connected with it I interceded with
you, earnestly, for our precious picture, and you wouldn’t on any terms
_have_ my intercession. On top of that Lord John blundered in, without
timeliness or tact--and I’m afraid that, as I hadn’t been the least in
love with him even before, he did have to take the consequence.”

Lord Theign, with an elated swing of his person, greeted this as all
he could possibly want. “You recognise then that your reception of him
_was_ purely vindictive!--the meaning of which is that unless my conduct
of my private interests, of which you know nothing whatever, happens to
square with your superior wisdom you’ll put me under boycott all round!
While you chatter about mistakes and blunders, and about our charming
friend’s lack of the discretion of which you yourself set so grand an
example, what account have you to offer of the scene you made me
there before that fellow--your confederate, as he had all the air of
being!--by giving it me with such effrontery that, if I had eminently
done with him after his remarkable display, you at least were but the
more determined to see him keep it up?”

The girl’s justification, clearly, was very present to her, and not
less obviously the truth that to make it strong she must, avoiding every
side-issue, keep it very simple, “The only account I can give you, I
think, is that I could but speak at such a moment as I felt, and that I
felt--well, how can I say how deeply? If you can really bear to know,
I feel so still I care in fact more than ever that we shouldn’t do such
things. I care, if you like, to indiscretion--I care, if you like, to
offence, to arrogance, to folly. But even as my last word to you before
you leave England on the conclusion of such a step, I’m ready to cry out
to you that you oughtn’t, you oughtn’t, you oughtn’t!”

Her father, with wonder-moved, elevated brows and high commanding hand,
checked her as in an act really of violence--save that, like an inflamed
young priestess, she had already, in essence, delivered her message.
“Hallo, hallo, hallo, my distracted daughter--no ‘crying out,’ if you
please!” After which, while arrested but unabashed, she still kept her
lighted eyes on him, he gave back her conscious stare for a minute,
inwardly and rapidly turning things over, making connections, taking,
as after some long and lamentable lapse of observation, a new strange
measure of her: all to the upshot of his then speaking with a difference
of tone, a recognition of still more of the odious than he had supposed,
so that the case might really call for some coolness. “You keep bad
company, Grace--it pays the devil with your sense of proportion. If you
make this row when I sell a picture, what will be left to you when I
forge a cheque?”

“If you had arrived at the necessity of forging a cheque,” she answered,
“I should then resign myself to that of your selling a picture.”

“But not short of that!”

“Not short of that. Not one of ours.”

“But I couldn’t,” said his lordship with his best and coldest amusement,
“sell one of somebody else’s!”

She was, however, not disconcerted. “Other people do other things--they
appear to have done them, and to be doing them, all about us. But _we_
have been so decently different--always and ever. We’ve never done
anything disloyal.”

“‘Disloyal’?”--he was more largely amazed and even interested now.

Lady Grace stuck to her word. “That’s what it seems to _me!_”

“It seems to you”--and his sarcasm here was easy--“more disloyal to sell
a picture than to buy one? Because we didn’t paint ‘em all ourselves,
you know!”

She threw up impatient hands. “I don’t ask you either to paint or to
buy----!”

“Oh, _that’s_ a mercy!” he interrupted, riding his irony hard; “and
I’m glad to hear you at least let me off _such_ efforts! However, if it
strikes you as gracefully filial to apply to your father’s conduct so
invidious a word,” he went on less scathingly, “you must take
from him, in your turn, his quite other view of what makes
disloyalty--understanding distinctly, by the same token, that he enjoins
on you not to give an odious illustration of it, while he’s away, by
discussing and deploring with any _one_ of your extraordinary
friends any aspect or feature whatever of his walk and conversation.
That--pressed as I am for time,” he went on with a glance at his watch
while she remained silent--“is the main sense of what I have to say to
you; so that I count on your perfect conformity. When you have told me
that I _may_ so count”--and casting about for his hat he espied it and
went to take it up--“I shall more cordially bid you good-bye.”

His daughter looked as if she had been for some time expecting the law
thus imposed upon her--had been seeing where he must come out; but
in spite of this preparation she made him wait for his reply in such
tension as he had himself created. “To Kitty I’ve practically said
nothing--and she herself can tell you why: I’ve in fact scarcely seen
her this fortnight. Putting aside then Amy Sandgate, the only person to
whom I’ve spoken--of your ‘sacrifice,’ as I suppose you’ll let me
call it?--is Mr. Hugh Crimble, whom you talk of as my ‘confederate’ at
Dedborough.”

Lord Theign recovered the name with relief. “Mr. Hugh Crimble--that’s
it!--whom you so amazingly caused to be present, and apparently invited
to be active, at a business that so little concerned him.”

“He certainly took upon himself to be interested, as I had hoped he
would. But it was because I had taken upon _my_ self--”

“To act, yes,” Lord Theign broke in, “with the grossest want of
delicacy! Well, it’s from that exactly that you’ll now forbear;
and ‘interested’ as he may be--for which I’m deucedly obliged to
him!--you’ll not speak to Mr. Crimble again.”

“Never again?”--the girl put it as for full certitude.

“Never of the question that I thus exclude. You may chatter your fill,”
 said his lordship curtly, “about any others.”

“Why, the particular question you forbid,” Grace returned with great
force, but as if saying something very reasonable--“that question is
_the_ question we care about: it’s our very ground of conversation.”

“Then,” her father decreed, “your conversation will please to _dispense_
with a ground; or you’ll perhaps, better still--if that’s the only
way!--dispense with your conversation.”

Lady Grace took a moment as if to examine this more closely. “You
require of me not to communicate with Mr. Crimble at all?”

“Most assuredly I require it--since it’s to that you insist on
reducing me.” He didn’t look reduced, the master of Dedborough, as he
spoke--which was doubtless precisely because he held his head so high
to affirm what he suffered. “Is it so essential to your comfort,” he
demanded, “to hear him, or to make him, abuse me?”

“‘Abusing’ you, father dear, has nothing whatever to do with it!”--his
daughter had fairly lapsed, with a despairing gesture, to the tenderness
involved in her compassion for his perversity. “We look at the thing in
a much larger way,” she pursued, not heeding that she drew from him
a sound of scorn for her “larger.” “It’s of our Treasure itself we
talk--and of what can be _done_ in such cases; though with a close
application, I admit, to the case that you embody.”

“Ah,” Lord Theign asked as with absurd curiosity, “I embody a case?”

“Wonderfully, father--as you do everything; and it’s the fact of its
being exceptional,” she explained, “that makes it so difficult to deal
with.”

His lordship had a gape for it. “‘To deal with’? You’re undertaking to
‘deal’ with me?”

She smiled more frankly now, as for a rift in the gloom. “Well, how can
we help it if you _will_ be a case?” And then as her tone but visibly
darkened his wonder: “What we’ve set our hearts on is saving the
picture.”

“What you’ve set your hearts on, in other words, is working straight
against me?”

But she persisted without heat. “What we’ve set our hearts on is working
for England.”

“And pray who in the world’s ‘England,’” he cried in his stupefaction,
“unless I am?”

“Dear, dear father,” she pleaded, “that’s all we _want_ you to be! I
mean”--she didn’t fear firmly to force it home--“in the real, the right,
the grand sense; the sense that, you see, is so intensely ours.”

“‘Ours’?”--he couldn’t but again throw back her word at her. “Isn’t it,
damn you, just _in_ ours--?”

“No, no,” she interrupted--“not in _ours!_” She smiled at him still,
though it was strained, as if he really ought to perceive.

But he glared as at a senseless juggle. “What and who the devil are you
talking about? What are ‘we,’ the whole blest lot of us, pray, but
the best and most English thing in the country: people walking--and
riding!--straight; doing, disinterestedly, most of the difficult and all
the thankless jobs; minding their own business, above all, and expecting
others to mind theirs?” So he let her “have” the stout sound truth, as
it were--and so the direct force of it clearly might, by his view, have
made her reel. “You and I, my lady, and your two decent brothers, God be
thanked for them, and mine into the bargain, and all the rest, the jolly
lot of us, take us together--make us numerous enough without any foreign
aid or mixture: if that’s what I understand you to mean!”

“You don’t understand me at all--evidently; and above all I see you
don’t want to!” she had the bravery to add, “By ‘our’ sense of what’s
due to the nation in such a case I mean Mr. Crimble’s and mine--and
nobody’s else at all; since, as I tell you, it’s only with him I’ve
talked.”

It gave him then, every inch of him showed, the full, the grotesque
measure of the scandal he faced. “So that ‘you and Mr. Crimble’
represent the standard, for me, in your opinion, of the proprieties and
duties of our house?”

Well, she was too earnest--as she clearly wished to let him see--to mind
his perversion of it. “I express to you the way we feel.”

“It’s most striking to hear, certainly, what you express”--he
had positively to laugh for it; “and you speak of him, with your
insufferable ‘we,’ as if you were presenting him as your--God knows
what! You’ve enjoyed a large exchange of ideas, I gather, to have
arrived at such unanimity.” And then, as if to fall into no trap he
might somehow be laying for her, she dropped all eagerness and rebutted
nothing: “You must see a great deal of your fellow-critic not to be able
to speak of yourself without him!”

“Yes, we’re fellow-critics, father”--she accepted this opening. “I
perfectly adopt your term.” But it took her a minute to go further. “I
saw Mr. Crim-ble here half an hour ago.”

“Saw him ‘here’?” Lord Theign amazedly asked. “He _comes_ to you
here--and Amy Sandgate has been silent?”

“It wasn’t her business to tell you--since, you see, she could leave it
to me. And I quite expect,” Lady Grace then produced, “that he’ll come
again.”

It brought down with a bang all her father’s authority. “Then I simply
exact of you that you don’t see him.”

The pause of which she paid it the deference was charged like a brimming
cup. “Is that what you _really_ meant by your condition just now--that
when I do see him I shall not speak to him?”

“What I ‘really meant’ is what I really mean--that you bow to the law I
lay upon you and drop the man altogether.”

“Have nothing to do with him at all?”

“Have nothing to do with him at all.”

“In fact”--she took it in--“give him wholly up.”

He had an impatient gesture. “You sound as if I asked you to give up
a fortune!” And then, though she had phrased his idea without
consternation--verily as if it had been in the balance for her--he
might have been moved by something that gathered in her eyes. “You’re
so wrapped up in him that the precious sacrifice is like _that_ sort of
thing?”

Lady Grace took her time--but showed, as her eyes continued to hold him,
what _had_ gathered. “I like Mr. Crimble exceedingly, father--I think
him clever, intelligent, good; I want what he wants--I want it, I think,
really, as much; and I don’t at all deny that he has helped to make me
so want it. But that doesn’t matter. I’ll wholly cease to see him, I’ll
give him up forever, if--if--!” She faltered, however, she hung fire
with a smile that anxiously, intensely appealed. Then she began
and stopped again, “If--if--!” while her father caught her up with
irritation.

“‘If,’ my lady? If _what_, please?”

“If you’ll withdraw the offer of our picture to Mr. Bender--and never
make another to any one else!”

He stood staring as at the size of it--then translated it into his own
terms. “If I’ll obligingly announce to the world that I’ve made an ass
of myself you’ll kindly forbear from your united effort--the charming
pair of you--to show me up for one?”

Lady Grace, as if consciously not caring or attempting to answer this,
simply gave the first flare of his criticism time to drop. It wasn’t
till a minute passed that she said: “You don’t agree to my compromise?”

Ah, the question but fatally sharpened at a stroke the stiffness of his
spirit. “Good God, I’m to ‘compromise’ on top of everything?--I’m to
let you browbeat me, haggle and bargain with me, over a thing that I’m
entitled to settle with you as things have ever _been_ settled among us,
by uttering to you my last parental word?”

“You don’t care enough then for what you name?”--she took it up as
scarce heeding now what he said.

“For putting an end to your odious commerce--? I give you the measure,
on the contrary,” said Lord Theign, “of how much I care: as you give me,
very strangely indeed, it strikes me, that of what it costs you--!” But
his other words were lost in the hard long look at her from which he
broke off in turn as for disgust.

It was with an effect of decently shielding herself--the unuttered
meaning came so straight--that she substituted words of her own. “Of
what it costs me to redeem the picture?”

“To lose your tenth-rate friend”--he spoke without scruple now.

She instantly broke into ardent deprecation, pleading at once and
warning. “Father, father, oh--! You hold the thing in your hands.”

He pulled up before her again as to thrust the responsibility straight
back. “My orders then are so much rubbish to you?”

Lady Grace held her ground, and they remained face to face in opposition
and accusation, neither making the other the sign of peace. But the girl
at least _had_, in her way, held out the olive-branch, while Lord Theign
had but reaffirmed his will. It was for her acceptance of this that he
searched her, her last word not having yet come. Before it had done so,
however, the door from the lobby opened and Mr. Gotch had regained
their presence. This appeared to determine in Lady Grace a view of the
importance of delay, which she signified to her companion in a “Well--I
must think!” For the butler positively resounded, and Hugh was there.

“Mr. Crimble!” Mr. Gotch proclaimed--with the further extravagance of
projecting the visitor straight upon his lordship.



VII

Our young man showed another face than the face his friend had lately
seen him carry off, and he now turned it distressfully from that source
of inspiration to Lord Theign, who was flagrantly, even from this first
moment, no such source at all, and then from his noble adversary back
again, under pressure of difficulty and effort, to Lady Grace, whom he
directly addressed. “Here I am again, you see--and I’ve got my news,
worse luck!” But his manner to her father was the next instant more
brisk. “I learned you were here, my lord; but as the case is important I
told them it was all right and came up. I’ve been to my club,” he
added for the girl, “and found the tiresome thing--!” But he broke down
breathless.

“And it isn’t good?” she cried with the highest concern.

Ruefully, yet not abjectly, he confessed, “Not so good as I hoped. For I
assure you, my lord, I counted--”

“It’s the report from Pappendick about the picture at Verona,” Lady
Grace interruptingly explained.

Hugh took it up, but, as we should well have seen, under embarrassment
dismally deeper; the ugly particular defeat he had to announce showing
thus, in his thought, for a more awkward force than any reviving
possibilities that he might have begun to balance against them. “The man
I told _you_ about also,” he said to his formidable patron; “whom I
went to Brussels to talk with and who, most kindly, has gone for us to
Verona. He has been able to get straight at _their_ Mantovano, but the
brute horribly wires me that he doesn’t quite see the thing; see, I
mean”--and he gathered his two hearers together now in his overflow
of chagrin, conscious, with his break of the ice, more exclusively of
that--“my vivid vital point, the absolute screaming identity of the two
persons represented. I still hold,” he persuasively went on, “that
our man is their man, but Pappendick decides that he isn’t--and as
Pappendick has so _much_ to be reckoned with of course I’m awfully
abashed.”

Lord Theign had remained what he had begun by being, immeasurably and
inaccessibly detached--only with his curiosity more moved than he
could help and as, on second thought, to see what sort of a still more
offensive fool the heated youth would really make of himself. “Yes--you
seem indeed remarkably abashed!”

Hugh clearly was thrown again, by the cold “cut” of this, colder than
any mere social ignoring, upon a sense of the damnably poor figure he
did offer; so that, while he straightened himself and kept a mastery of
his manner and a control of his reply, we should yet have felt his cheek
tingle. “I backed my own judgment strongly, I know--and I’ve got my
snub. But I don’t in the least knock under.”

“Only the first authority in Europe doesn’t care, I suppose, whether you
do or not!”

“He isn’t _the_ first authority in Europe, thank God,” the young man
returned--“though he is, I admit, one of the three or four first. And
I mean to appeal--I’ve another shot in my locker,” he went on with his
rather painfully forced smile to Lady Grace. “I had already written, you
see, to dear old Bardi.”

“Bardi of Milan?”--she recognised, it was admirably manifest, the appeal
of his directness to her generosity, awkward as their predicament was
also for her herself, and spoke to him as she might have spoken without
her father’s presence.

It would have shown for beautiful, on the spot, had there been any one
to perceive it, that he devoutly recorded her intelligence. “You know of
him?--how delightful of you! For the Italians, I now feel,” he quickly
explained, “he must have _most_ the instinct--and it has come over me
since that he’d have been more our man. Besides of course his so knowing
the Verona picture.”

She had fairly hung on his lips. “But does he know ours?”

“No--not ours yet. That is”--he consciously and quickly took himself
up--“not yours! But as Pap-pendick went to Verona for us I’ve asked
Bardi to do us the great favour to come here--if Lord Theign will be so
good,” he said, bethinking himself with a turn, “as to let him examine
the Moretto.” He faced again to the personage he mentioned, who,
simply standing off and watching, in concentrated interest as well as
detachment, this interview of his cool daughter and her still cooler
guest, had plainly “elected,” as it were, to give them rope to hang
themselves. Staring very hard at Hugh he met his appeal, but in a
silence clearly calculated; against which, however, the young man,
bearing up, made such head as he could. He offered his next word, that
is, equally to the two companions. “It’s not at all impossible--for such
curious effects have been!--that the Dedborough picture seen _after_
the Verona will point a different moral from the Verona seen after the
Dedborough.”

“And so awfully _long_ after--wasn’t it?” Lady Grace asked.

“Awfully long after--it was years ago that Pappen-dick, being in this
country for such purposes, was kindly admitted to your house when none
of you were there, or at least visible.”

“Oh of course we don’t see _every one!_”--she heroically kept it up.

“You don’t see every one,” Hugh bravely laughed, “and that makes it all
the more charming that you did, and that you still do, see me. I shall
really get Bardi,” he pursued, “to go again to Verona----”

“The last thing before coming here?”--she had guessed before he could
say it; and still she sustained it, so that he could shine at her for
assent. “How happy they should like so to work for you!”

“Ah, we’re a band of brothers,” he returned--“‘we few, we happy
few’--from country to country”; to which he added, gaining more ease for
an eye at Lord Theign: “though we do have our little rubs and disputes,
like Pappendick and me now. The thing, you see, is the ripping
_interest_ of it all; since,” he developed and explained, for his elder
friend’s benefit, with pertinacious cheer and an assurance superficially
at least recovered, “when we’re really ‘hit’ over a case we’ll do almost
anything in life.”

Lady Grace, recklessly throbbing in the breath of it all, immediately
appropriated what her father let alone. “It must be so lovely to _feel_
so hit!”

“It does spoil one,” Hugh laughed, “for milder joys. Of course what I
have to consider is the chance--putting it at the _merest_ chance--of
Bardi’s own wet blanket! But that’s again so very small--though,” he
pulled up with a drop to the comparative dismal, which he offered as an
almost familiar tribute to Lord Theign, “you’ll retort upon me naturally
that I promised you the possibility of Pappendick’s veto would be: all
on the poor dear old basis, you’ll claim, of the wish father to the
thought. Well, I do wish to be right as much as I believe I am. Only
give me time!” he sublimely insisted.

“How can we prevent your using it?” Lady Grace again interrupted; “or
the fact either that if the worst comes to the worst--”

“The thing”--he at once pursued--“will always be at the least the
greatest of Morettos? Ah,” he cried so cheerily that there was still a
freedom in it toward any it might concern, “the worst sha’n’t come to
the worst, but the best to the best: my conviction of which it is that
supports me in the deep regret I have to express”--and he faced Lord
Theign again--“for any inconvenience I may have caused you by my
abortive undertaking. That, I vow here before Lady Grace, I will yet
more than make up!”

Lord Theign, after the longest but the blankest contemplation of
him, broke hereupon, for the first time, that attitude of completely
sustained and separate silence which he had yet made compatible with his
air of having deeply noted every element of the scene--so that it was of
this full view his participation had effectively consisted, “I haven’t
the least idea, sir, what you’re talking about!” And he squarely turned
his back, strolling toward the other room, the threshold of which he the
next moment had passed, remaining scantily within, however, and in
sight of the others, not to say of ourselves; even though averted and
ostensibly lost in some scrutiny that might have had for its object the
great enshrined Lawrence.

There ensued upon his words and movement a vivid mute passage, the
richest of commentaries, between his companions; who, deeply divided by
the width of the ample room, followed him with their eyes and then used
for their own interchange these organs of remark, eloquent now over
Hugh’s unmistakable dismissal at short order, on which obviously he must
at once act. Lady Grace’s young arms conveyed to him by a despairing
contrite motion of surrender that she had done for him all she could do
in his presence and that, however sharply doubtful the result, he was to
leave the rest to herself. They communicated thus, the strenuous pair,
for their full moment, without speaking; only with the prolonged,
the charged give and take of their gaze and, it might well have
been imagined, of their passion. Hugh had for an instant a show of
hesitation--of the arrested impulse, while he kept her father within
range, to launch at that personage before going some final remonstrance.
It was the girl’s raised hand and gesture of warning that waved away
for him such a mistake; he decided, under her pressure, and after a last
searching and answering look at her reached the door and let himself
out. The stillness was then prolonged a minute by the further wait of
the two others, Lord Theign where he had been standing and his daughter
on the spot from which she had not moved. It presently ended in his
lordship’s turn about as if inferring by the silence that the intruder
had withdrawn.

“Is that young man your lover?” he said as he drew again near.

Lady Grace waited a little, but spoke as quietly as if she had been
prepared. “Has the question a bearing on the promise you a short time
ago demanded of me?”

“It has a bearing on the so extraordinary appearance of your intimacy
with him!”

“You mean that if he _should_ be--what you ask me about--your exaction
would then be modified?”

“My request that you break it short off? That request would, on the
contrary,” Lord Theign pronounced, “rest on an immense new ground.
Therefore I insist on your telling me the truth.”

“Won’t the truth be before you, father, if you’ll _think_ a
moment--without extravagance?” After which, while, as stiffly as
ever--and it probably seemed to her impatience as stupidly--he didn’t
rise to it, she went on: “If I _offered_ you not again to see him, does
that make for you the appearance--?”

“If you offered it, you mean, on your condition--my promising not to
sell? I promised,” said Lord Theign, “absolutely nothing at all!”

She took him up with all expression. “So I promised as little! But
that I should have been able to say what I did sufficiently meets your
curiosity.”

She might, wronged as she held herself, have felt him stupid not to see
_how_ wronged; but he was in any case acute for an evasion. “You risked
your offer for the great equivalent over which you’ve so wildly worked
yourself up.”

“Yes, I’ve worked myself--that, I grant you and don’t blush for! But
hardly so much as to renounce my ‘lover’--if,” she prodigiously smiled,
“I were so fortunate as to have one!”

“You renounced poor John mightily easily--whom you were so fortunate as
to have!”

Her brows rose as high as his own had ever done. “Do you call Lord John
my lover?”

“He was your suitor most assuredly,” Lord Theign inimitably said,
though without looking at her; “and as strikingly encouraged as he was
respectfully ardent!”

“Encouraged by _you_, dear father, beyond doubt!”

“Encouraged--er--by every one: because you were (yes, you _were!_)
encouraging. And what I ask of you now is a word of common candour as
to whether you didn’t, on your honour, turn him off because of your just
then so stimulated views on the person who has been with us.”

Grace replied but after an instant, as moved by more things than she
could say--moved above all, in her trouble and her pity for him, by
other things than harshness: “Oh father, father, father----!”

He searched her through all the compassion of her cry, but appeared to
give way to her sincerity. “Well then if I _have_ your denial I take
it as answering my whole question--in a manner that satisfies me. If
there’s nothing, on your word, of that sort between you, you can all the
more drop him.”

“But you said a moment ago that I should all the more in the other
case--that of there _being_ something!”

He brushed away her logic-chopping. “If you’re so keen then for past
remarks I take up your own words--I accept your own terms for your
putting an end to Mr. Crimble.” To which, while, turning pale, she said
nothing, he added: “You recognise that you profess yourself ready----”

“Not again to see him,” she now answered, “if you tell me the picture’s
safe? Yes, I recognise that I _was_ ready--as well as how scornfully
little you then were!”

“Never mind what I then was--the question’s of what I actually am, since
I close with you on it The picture’s therefore as safe as you please,”
 Lord Theign pursued, “if you’ll do what you just now engaged to.”

“I engaged to do nothing,” she replied after a pause; and the face she
turned to him had grown suddenly tragic. “I’ve no word to take back, for
none passed between us; but I _won’t_ do what I mentioned and what you
at once laughed at Because,” she finished, “the case is different.”

“Different?” he almost shouted--“_how_, different?”

She didn’t look at him for it, but she was none the less strongly
distinct “He has _been_ here--and that has done it He knows,” she
admirably emphasised.

“Knows what I think of him, no doubt--for a brazen young prevaricator!
But what else?”

She still kept her eyes on a far-off point. “What he will have
seen--that I feel we’re too good friends.”

“Then your denial of it’s false,” her father fairly thundered--“and you
_are_ infatuated?”

It made her the more quiet. “I like him very much.”

“So that your row about the picture,” he demanded with passion, “has
been all a blind?” And then as her quietness still held her: “And his a
blind as much--to help him to get _at_ you?”

She looked at him again now. “He must speak for himself. I’ve said what
I mean.”

“But what the devil _do_ you mean?” Lord Theign, taking in the hour, had
reached the door as in supremely baffled conclusion and with a sense of
time lamentably lost.

Their eyes met upon it all dreadfully across the wide space, and,
hurried and incommoded as she saw him, she yet made him still stand a
minute. Then she let everything go. “Do what you like with the picture!”

He jerked up his arm and guarding hand as before a levelled blow at his
face, and with the other hand flung open the door, having done with her
now and immediately lost to sight. Left alone she stood a moment looking
before her; then with a vague advance, held apparently by a quickly
growing sense of the implication of her act, reached a table where she
remained a little, deep afresh in thought--only the next thing to fall
into a chair close to it and there, with her elbows on it, yield to the
impulse of covering her flushed face with her hands.



BOOK THIRD



I

HUGH CRIMBLE waited again in the Bruton Street drawing-room--this time
at the afternoon hour; he restlessly shifted his place, looked at things
about him without seeing them; all he saw, all he outwardly studied,
was his own face and figure as he stopped an instant before a long glass
suspended between two windows. Just as he turned from that brief and
perhaps not wholly gratified inspection Lady Grace--that he had sent
up his name to whom was immediately apparent--presented herself at
the entrance from the other room. These young persons had hereupon no
instant exchange of words; their exchange was mute--they but paused
where they were; while the silence of each evidently tested the other
for full confidence. A measure of this comfort came first, it would have
appeared, to Hugh; though he then at once asked for confirmation of it.

“Am I right, Lady Grace, am I right?--to have _come_, I mean, after so
many days of not hearing, not knowing, and perhaps, all too stupidly,
not trying.” And he went on as, still with her eyes on him, she didn’t
speak; though, only, we should have guessed, from her stress of emotion.
“Even if I’m wrong, let me tell you, I don’t care--simply because,
whatever new difficulty I may have brought about for you here a
fortnight ago, there’s something that to-day adds to my doubt and my
fear too great a pang, and that has made me feel I can scarce bear the
suspense of them as they are.”

The girl came nearer, and if her grave face expressed a pity it yet
declined a dread. “Of what suspense do you speak? Your still being
without the other opinion--?”

“Ah, that worries me, yes; and all the more, at this hour, as I say,
that--” He dropped it, however: “I’ll tell you in a moment! My _real_
torment, all the while, has been not to know, from day to day, what
situation, what complication that last scene of ours with your father
here has let you in for; and yet at the same time--having no sign nor
sound from you!--to see the importance of not making anything possibly
worse by approaching you again, however discreetly. I’ve been in the
dark,” he pursued, “and feeling that I must leave _you_ there; so that
now--just brutally turning up once more under personal need and at any
cost--I don’t know whether I most want or most fear what I may learn
from you.”

Lady Grace, listening and watching, appeared to choose between different
ways of meeting this appeal; she had a pacifying, postponing gesture,
marked with a beautiful authority, a sign of the value for her of what
she gave precedence to and which waved off everything else. “Have you
had--first of all--any news yet of Bardi?”

“That I have is what has driven me straight _at_ you again--since I’ve
shown you before how I turn to you at a crisis. He has come as I hoped
and like a regular good ‘un,” Hugh was able to state; “I’ve just met
him at the station, but I pick him up again, at his hotel in Clifford
Street, at five. He stopped, on his way from Dover this morning, to my
extreme exasperation, to ‘sample’ Canterbury, and I leave him to a
bath and a change and tea. Then swooping down I whirl him round to Bond
Street, where his very first apprehension of the thing (an apprehension,
oh I guarantee you, so quick and clean and fine and wise) will be the
flash-light projected--well,” said the young man, to wind up handsomely,
but briefly and reasonably, “over the whole field of our question.”

She panted with comprehension. “That of the two portraits being but the
one sitter!”

“That of the two portraits being but the one sitter. With everything so
to the good, more and more, that bangs in, up to the head, the golden
nail of authenticity, and”--he quite glowed through his gloom for
it--“we take our stand in glory on the last Mantovano in the world.”

It was a presumption his friend visibly yearned for--but over which,
too, with her eyes away from him, she still distinguished the shadow of
a cloud. “That is if the flash-light comes!”

“That is if it comes indeed, confound it!”--he had to enlarge a little
under the recall of past experience. “So now, at any rate, you see my
tension!”

She looked at him again as with a vision too full for a waste of words.
“While you on your side of course keep well in view Mr. Bender’s.”

“Yes, while I keep well in view Mr. Bender’s; though he doesn’t know,
you see, of Bardi’s being at hand.”

“Still,” said the girl, always all lucid for the case, “if the
‘flash-light’ does presently break----!”

“It will first take him in the eye?” Hugh had jumped to her idea, but he
adopted it only to provide: “It might if he didn’t now wear goggles, so
to say!--clapped on him too hard by Pappendick’s so damnably perverse
opinion.” With which, however, he quickly bethought himself. “Ah, of
course, these wretched days, you haven’t known of Pappendick’s personal
visit. After that wire from Verona I wired him back defiance--”

“And that brought him?” she cried.

“To do the honest thing, yes--I _will_ say for him: to renew, for full
assurance, his early memory of our picture.”

She hung upon it. “But only to stick then to what he had telegraphed?”

“To declare that for _him_, lackaday! our thing’s a pure Moretto--and
to declare as much, moreover, with all the weight of his authority, to
Bender himself, who of course made a point of seeing him.”

“So that Bender”--she followed and wondered--“is, as a consequence,
wholly off?”

It made her friend’s humour play up in his acute-ness. “Bender,
Lady Grace, is, by the law of his being, never ‘wholly’ off--or
on!--anything. He lives, like the moon, in mid-air, shedding his silver
light on earth; never quite gone, yet never _all_ there--save for
inappreciable moments. He _would_ be in eclipse as a peril, I grant,”
 Hugh went on--“if the question had struck him as really closed. But
luckily the blessed Press--which is a pure heavenly joy and now quite
immense on it--keeps it open as wide as Piccadilly.”

“Which makes, however,” Lady Grace discriminated, “for the danger of a
grab.”

“Ah, but all the more for the shame of a surrender! Of course I admit
that when it’s a question of a life spent, like his, in waiting,
acquisitively, for the cat to jump, the only thing for one, at a given
moment, as against that signal, is to be found one’s self by the animal
in the line of its trajectory. That’s exactly,” he laughed, “where we
are!”

She cast about as intelligently to note the place. “Your great idea, you
mean, _has_ so worked--with the uproar truly as loud as it has seemed to
come to us here?”

“All beyond my wildest hope,” Hugh returned; “since the sight of the
picture, flocked to every day by thousands, so beautifully _tells_. That
we must at any cost keep it, that the nation must, and hang on to it
tight, is the cry that fills the air--to the tune of ten letters a day
in the Papers, with every three days a gorgeous leader; to say nothing
of more and more passionate talk all over the place, some of it awfully
wild, but all of it wind in our sails.”

“I suppose it was that wind then that blew me round there to see the
thing in its new light,” Lady Grace said. “But I couldn’t stay--for
tears!”

“Ah,” Hugh insisted on his side for comfort, “we’ll crow loudest yet!
And don’t meanwhile, just _don’t_, those splendid strange eyes of the
fellow seem consciously to plead? The women, bless them, adore him,
cling to him, and there’s talk of a ‘Ladies’ League of Protest’--all of
which keeps up the pitch.”

“Poor Amy and I are a ladies’ league,” the girl joylessly joked--“as we
now take in the ‘Journal’ regardless of expense.”

“Oh then you practically _have_ it all--since,” Hugh, added after
a brief hesitation, “I suppose Lord Theign himself doesn’t languish
uninformed.”

“At far-off Salsomaggiore--by the papers? No doubt indeed he isn’t
spared even the worst,” said Lady Grace--“and no doubt too it’s a drag
on his cure.”

Her companion seemed struck with her lack of assurance. “Then you
don’t--if I may ask--hear from him?”

“I? Never a word.”

“He doesn’t write?” Hugh allowed himself to insist.

“He doesn’t write. And I don’t write either.”

“And Lady Sandgate?” Hugh once more ventured.

“Doesn’t _she_ write?”

“Doesn’t _she_ hear?” said the young man, treating the other form of the
question as a shade evasive.

“I’ve asked her not to tell me,” his friend replied--“that is if he
simply holds out.”

“So that as she doesn’t tell you”--Hugh was clear for the inference--“he
of course does hold out.” To which he added almost accusingly while his
eyes searched her: “But your case is really bad.”

She confessed to it after a moment, but as if vaguely enjoying it. “My
case is really bad.”

He had a vividness of impatience and contrition. 197

“And it’s I who--all too blunderingly!--have made it so?”

“I’ve made it so myself,” she said with a high head-shake, “and you, on
the contrary--!” But here she checked her emphasis.

“Ah, I’ve so _wanted_, through our horrid silence, to help you!” And he
pressed to get more at the truth. “You’ve so quite fatally displeased
him?”

“To the last point--as I tell you. But it’s not to that I refer,” she
explained; “it’s to the ground of complaint I’ve given _you_.” And then
as this but left him blank, “It’s time--it was at once time--that you
should know,” she pursued; “and yet if it’s hard for me to speak, as you
see, it was impossible for me to write. But there it is.” She made her
sad and beautiful effort. “The last thing before he left us I let the
picture go.”

“You mean--?” But he could only wonder--till, however, it glimmered upon
him. “You gave up your protest?”

“I gave up my protest. I told him that--so far as I’m concerned!--he
might do as he liked.”

Her poor friend turned pale at the sharp little shock of it; but if his
face thus showed the pang of too great a surprise he yet wreathed the
convulsion in a gay grimace. “You leave me to struggle alone?”

“I leave you to struggle alone.”

He took it in bewilderingly, but tried again, even to the heroic,
for optimism. “Ah well, you decided, I suppose, on some new personal
ground.”

“Yes; a reason came up, a reason I hadn’t to that extent looked for
and which of a sudden--quickly, before he went--I _had_ somehow to deal
with. So to give him my word in the dismal sense I mention was my only
way to meet the strain.” She paused; Hugh waited for something further,
and “I gave him my word I wouldn’t help you,” she wound up.

He turned it over. “To _act_ in the matter--I see.”

“To act in the matter”--she went through with it--“after the high stand
I had taken.”

Still he studied it. “I see--I see. It’s between you and your father.”

“It’s between him and me--yes. An engagement not again to trouble him.”

Hugh, from his face, might have feared a still greater complication; so
he made, as he would probably have said, a jolly lot of this. “Ah, that
was nice of you. And natural. _That’s_ all right!”

“No”--she spoke from a deeper depth--“it’s altogether wrong. For
whatever happens I must now accept it.”

“Well, say you must”--he really declined not to treat it almost as
rather a “lark”--“if we can at least go on talking.”

“Ah, we _can_ at least go on talking!” she perversely sighed. “I can say
anything I like so long as I don’t say it to _him_” she almost wailed.
But she added with more firmness: “I can still hope--and I can still
pray.”

He set free again with a joyous gesture all his confidence. “Well, what
more _could_ you do, anyhow? So isn’t that enough?”

It took her a moment to say, and even then she didn’t. “Is it enough for
_you_, Mr. Crimble?”

“What _is_ enough for me”--he could for his part readily name it--“is
the harm done you at our last meeting by my irruption; so that if you
got his consent to see me----!”

“I didn’t get his consent!”--she had turned away from the searching
eyes, but she faced them again to rectify: “I see you against his
express command.”

“Ah then thank God I came!”--it was like a bland breath on a _feu de
joie_: he flamed so much higher.

“Thank God you’ve come, yes--for my deplorable exposure.” And to justify
her name for it before he could protest, “I _offered_ him here not to
see you,” she rigorously explained.

“‘Offered him?”--Hugh did drop for it. “Not to see me--ever again?”

She didn’t falter. “Never again.”

Ah then he understood. “But he wouldn’t let that serve----?”

“Not for the price I put on it.”

“His yielding on the picture?”

“His yielding on the picture.”

Hugh lingered before it all. “Your proposal wasn’t ‘good enough’?”

“It wasn’t good enough.”

“I see,” he repeated--“I see.” But he was in that light again mystified.
“Then why are you therefore not free?”

“Because--just after--you came back, and I _did_ see you again!”

Ah, it was all present. “You found you were too sorry for me?”

“I found I was too sorry for you--as he himself found I was.”

Hugh had got hold of it now. “And _that_, you mean, he couldn’t
stomach?”

“So little that when you had gone (and _how_ you had to go you remember)
he at once proposed, rather than that I should deceive you in a way so
different from his own----”

“To do all we want of him?”

“To do all I did at least.”

“And it was _then_,” he took in, “that you wouldn’t deal?”

“Well”--try though she might to keep the colour out, it all came
straighter and straighter now--“those moments had brought you home to
me as they had also brought _him_; making such a difference, I felt, for
what he veered round to agree to.”

“The difference”--Hugh wanted it so adorably definite--“that you didn’t
see your way to accepting----?”

“No, not to accepting the condition he named.”

“Which was that he’d keep the picture for you if you’d treat me as too
‘low’----?”

“If I’d treat you,” said Lady Grace with her eyes on his fine young
face, “as impossible.”

He kept her eyes--he clearly liked so to make her repeat it. “And
not even for the sake of the picture--?” After he had given her time,
however, her silence, with her beautiful look in it, seemed to admonish
him not to force her for his pleasure; as if what she had already told
him didn’t make him throb enough for the wonder of it. He _had_ it, and
let her see by his high flush how he made it his own--while, the next
thing, as it was but part of her avowal, the rest of that illumination
called for a different intelligence. “Your father’s reprobation of me
personally is on the ground that you’re all such great people?”

She spared him the invidious answer to this as, a moment before, his
eagerness had spared her reserve; she flung over the “ground” that his
question laid bare the light veil of an evasion, “‘Great people,’ I’ve
learned to see, mustn’t--to remain great--do what my father’s doing.”

“It’s indeed on the theory of their not so behaving,” Hugh returned,
“that we see them--all the inferior rest of us--in the grand glamour of
their greatness!”

If he had spoken to meet her admirable frankness half-way, that beauty
in her almost brushed him aside to make at a single step the rest of the
journey. “You won’t see them in it for long--if they don’t now, under
such tests and with such opportunities, begin to take care.”

This had given him, at a stroke, he clearly felt, all freedom for the
closer criticism. “Lord Theign perhaps recognises some such canny truth,
but ‘takes care,’ with the least trouble to himself and the finest short
cut--does it, if you’ll let me say so, rather on the cheap--by finding
‘the likes’ of me, as his daughter’s trusted friend, out of the
question.”

“Well, you won’t mind that, will you?” Lady Grace asked, “if he finds
his daughter herself, in any such relation to you, quite as much so.”

“Different enough, from position to position and person to person,” he
brightly brooded, “is the view that gets itself _most_ comfortably taken
of the implications of Honour!”

“Yes,” the girl returned; “my father, in the act of despoiling us
all, all who are interested, without apparently the least unpleasant
consciousness, keeps the balance showily even, to his mostly so fine,
so delicate sense, by suddenly discovering that he’s scandalised at my
caring for your friendship.”

Hugh looked at her, on this, as with the gladness verily of possession
promised and only waiting--or as if from that moment forth he had her
assurance of everything that most concerned him and that might
most inspire. “Well, isn’t the moral of it all simply that what his
perversity of pride, as we can only hold it, will have most done for us
is to bring us--and to keep us--blessedly together?”

She seemed for a moment to question his “simply.” “Do you regard us as
so much ‘together’ when you remember where, in spite of everything, I’ve
put myself?”

“By telling him to do what he likes?” he recalled without embarrassment.
“Oh, that wasn’t in spite of ‘everything’--it was only in spite of the
Manto-vano.”

“‘Only’?” she flushed--“when I’ve given the picture up?”

“Ah,” Hugh cried, “I don’t care a hang for the picture!” And then as she
let him, closer, close to her with this, possess himself of her hands:
“We both only care, don’t we, that we’re given to each other thus? We
both only care, don’t we, that nothing can keep us apart?”

“Oh, if you’ve forgiven me--!” she sighed into his fond face.

“Why, since you gave the thing up _for_ me,” he pleadingly laughed, “it
isn’t as if you had given _me_ up----!”

“For anything, anything? Ah never, never!” she breathed.

“Then why aren’t we all right?”

“Well, if you will----!”

“Oh for ever and ever and ever!”--and with this ardent cry of his
devotion his arms closed in their strength and she was clasped to his
breast and to his lips.

The next moment, however, she had checked him with the warning “Amy
Sandgate!”--as if she had heard their hostess enter the other room. Lady
Sand-gate was in fact almost already upon them--their disjunction had
scarce been effected and she had reached the nearer threshold. They
had at once put the widest space possible between them--a little of
the flurry of which transaction agitated doubtless their clutch at
composure. They gave back a shade awkwardly and consciously, on one side
and the other, the speculative though gracious attention she for a few
moments made them and their recent intimate relation the subject of;
from all of which indeed Lady Grace sought and found cover in a prompt
and responsible address to Hugh. “Mustn’t you go without more delay to
Clifford Street?”

He came back to it all alert “At once!” He had recovered his hat and
reached the other door, whence he gesticulated farewell to the elder
lady. “Please pardon me”--and he disappeared.

Lady Sandgate hereupon stood for a little silently confronted with the
girl. “Have you freedom of mind for the fact that your father’s suddenly
at hand?”

“He has come back?”--Lady Grace was sharply struck.

“He arrives this afternoon and appears to go straight to
Kitty--according to a wire that I find downstairs on coming back
late from my luncheon. He has returned with a rush--as,” said his
correspondent in the elation of triumph, “I was _sure_ he would!”

Her young friend was more at sea. “Brought back, you mean, by the
outcry--even though he so hates it?”

But she was more and more all lucidity--save in so far as she was now
almost all authority. “Ah, hating still more to seem afraid, he has come
back to face the music!”

Lady Grace, turning away as in vague despair for the manner in which
the music might affect him, yet wheeled about again, after thought, to
a positive recognition and even to quite an inconsequent pride.
“Yes--that’s dear old father!”

And what was Lady Sandgate moreover but mistress now of the subject?
“At the point the row has reached he couldn’t stand it another day; so
he has thrown up his cure and--lest we should oppose him!--not even
announced his start.”

“Well,” her companion returned, “now that I’ve _done_ it all I shall
never oppose him again!”

Lady Sandgate appeared to show herself as still under the impression she
might have received on entering. “He’ll only oppose _you!_”

“If he does,” said Lady Grace, “we’re at present two to bear it.”

“Heaven save us then”--the elder woman was quick, was even cordial, for
the sense of this--“your good friend _is_ clever!”

Lady Grace honoured the remark. “Mr. Crim-ble’s remarkably clever.”

“And you’ve arranged----?”

“We haven’t arranged--but we’ve understood. So that, dear Amy, if _you_
understand--!” Lady Grace paused, for Gotch had come in from the hall.

“His lordship has arrived?” his mistress immediately put to him.

“No, my lady, but Lord John has--to know if he’s expected _here_, and in
that case, by your ladyship’s leave, to come up.”

Her ladyship turned to the girl. “May Lord John--as we do await your
father--come up?”

“As suits _you_, please!”

“He may come up,” said Lady Sandgate to Gotch. “His lordship’s
expected.” She had a pause till they were alone again, when she went
on to her companion: “You asked me just now if I understood. Well--I do
understand!”

Lady Grace, with Gotch’s withdrawal, which left the door open, had
reached the passage to the other room. “Then you’ll excuse me!”--she
made her escape.



II

Lord John, reannounced the next instant from the nearest quarter and
quite waiving salutations, left no doubt of the high pitch of his
eagerness and tension as soon as the door had closed behind him. “What
on earth then do you suppose he has come back to _do_--?” To which he
added while his hostess’s gesture impatiently disclaimed conjecture:
“Because when a fellow really finds himself the centre of a
cyclone----!”

“Isn’t it just at the centre,” she interrupted, “that you keep
remarkably still, and only in the suburbs that you feel the rage? I
count on dear Theign’s doing nothing in the least foolish--!”

“Ah, but he can’t have chucked everything for nothing,” Lord John
sharply returned; “and wherever you place him in the rumpus he can’t
not meet somehow, hang it, such an assault on his character as a great
nobleman and good citizen.”

“It’s his luck to have become with the public of the newspapers the
scapegoat-in-chief: for the sins, so-called, of a lot of people!” Lady
Sandgate inconclusively sighed.

“Yes,” Lord John concluded for her, “the mercenary millions on whose
traffic in their trumpery values--when they’re so lucky as to have
any!--_this_ isn’t a patch!”

“Oh, there are cases _and_ cases: situations and responsibilities so
intensely differ!”--that appeared on the whole, for her ladyship, the
moral to be gathered.

“Of course everything differs, all round, from everything,” Lord John
went on; “and who in the world knows anything of his own case but the
victim of circumstances exposing himself, for the highest and purest
motives, to be literally torn to pieces?”

“Well,” said Lady Sandgate as, in her strained suspense, she freshly
consulted her bracelet watch, “I hope he isn’t already torn--if you tell
me you’ve been to Kitty’s.”

“Oh, he was all right so far: he had arrived and gone out again,” the
young man explained, “as Lady Imber hadn’t been at home.”

“Ah cool Kitty!” his hostess sighed again--but diverted, as she spoke,
by the reappearance of her butler, this time positively preceding Lord
Theign, whom she met, when he presently stood before her, his garb
of travel exchanged for consummate afternoon dress, with yearning
tenderness and compassionate curiosity. “At last, dearest friend--what a
joy! But with Kitty not at home to receive you?”

That young woman’s parent made light of it for the indulged creature’s
sake. “Oh I knew my Kitty! I dressed and I find her at five-thirty.”
 To which he added as he only took in further, without expression, Lord
John: “But Bender, who came there before my arrival--he hasn’t tried for
me here?”

It was a point on which Lord John himself could at least be expressive.
“I met him at the club at luncheon; he had had your letter--but for
which chance, my dear man, I should have known nothing. You’ll see him
all right at this house; but I’m glad, if I may say so, Theign,” the
speaker pursued with some emphasis--“I’m glad, you know, to get hold of
you first.”

Lord Theign seemed about to ask for the meaning of this remark, but his
other companion’s apprehension had already overflowed. “You haven’t come
back, have you--to whatever it may be!--for _trouble_ of any sort with
Breckenridge?”

His lordship transferred his penetration to this fair friend, “Have
you become so intensely absorbed--these remarkable days!--in
‘Breckenridge’?”

She felt the shadow, you would have seen, of his claimed right, or at
least privilege, of search--yet easily, after an instant, emerged clear.
“I’ve thought and dreamt but of _you_--suspicious man!--in proportion as
the clamour has spread; and Mr. Bender meanwhile, if you want to know,
hasn’t been near me once!”

Lord John came in a manner, and however unconsciously, to her aid.
“You’d have seen, if he had been, what’s the matter with him, I
think--and what perhaps Theign has seen from his own letter: since,” he
went on to his fellow-visitor, “I understood him a week ago to have been
much taken up with writing you.”

Lord Theign received this without comment, only again with an air of
expertly sounding the speaker; after which he gave himself afresh for
a moment to Lady Sandgate. “I’ve not come home for any clamour, as you
surely know me well enough to believe; or to notice for a minute the
cheapest insolence and aggression--which frankly scarce reached me out
there; or which, so far as it did, I was daily washed clean of by those
blest waters. I returned on Mr. Bender’s letter,” he then vouchsafed
to Lord John--“three extraordinarily vulgar pages about the egregious
Pap-pendick!”

“About his having suddenly turned up in person, yes, and, as
Breckenridge says, marked the picture down?”--the young man was clearly
all-knowing. “That _has_ of course weighed on Bender--being confirmed
apparently, on the whole, by the drift of public opinion.”

Lord Theign took, on this, with a frank show of reaction from some of
his friend’s terms, a sharp turn off; he even ironically indicated the
babbler or at least the blunderer in question to Lady Sandgate. “He too
has known me so long, and he comes here to talk to me of ‘the drift of
public opinion’!” After which he quite charged at his vain informant.
“Am I to tell you again that I snap my fingers at the drift of public
opinion?--which is but another name for the chatter of all the fools one
doesn’t know, in addition to all those (and plenty of ‘em!) one damnably
does.”

Lady Sandgate, by a turn of the hand, dropped oil from her golden cruse.
“Ah, you did _that_, in your own grand way, before you went abroad!”

“I don’t speak of the matter, my dear man, in the light of its effect on
_you_,” Lord John importantly explained--“but in the light of its effect
on Bender; who so consumedly wants the picture, if he _is_ to have it,
to be a Mantovano, but seems unable to get it taken at last for anything
but the fine old Moretto that of course it has always been.”

Lord Theign, in growing disgust at the whole beastly complication,
betrayed more and more the odd pitch of the temper that had abruptly
restored him with such incalculable weight to the scene of action.
“Well, isn’t a fine old Moretto good enough for him; confound him?”

It pulled up not a little Lord John, who yet made his point. “A fine old
Moretto, you know, was exactly what he declined at Dedborough--for its
comparative, strictly comparative, insignificance; and he only thought
of the picture when the wind began to rise for the enormous rarity--”

“That that mendacious young cad who has bamboozled Grace,” Lord Theign
broke in, “tried to befool us, for his beggarly reasons, into claiming
for it?”

Lady Sandgate renewed her mild influence. “Ah, the knowing people
haven’t had their last word--the possible Mantovano isn’t exploded
_yet!_” Her noble friend, however, declined the offered spell. “I’ve
had enough of the knowing people--the knowing people are serpents! My
picture’s to take or to leave--and it’s what I’ve come back, if you
please, John, to say to your man to his face.”

This declaration had a report as sharp and almost as multiplied as the
successive cracks of a discharged revolver; yet when the light smoke
cleared Lady Sand-gate at least was still left standing and smiling.
“Yes, why in mercy’s name can’t he choose _which?_--and why does he
write him, dreadful Breckenridge, such tiresome argumentative letters?”

Lord John took up her idea as with the air of something that had been
working in him rather vehemently, though under due caution too, as a
consequence of this exchange, during which he had apprehensively watched
his elder. “I don’t think I quite see _how_, my dear Theign, the poor
chap’s letter was so offensive.”

In that case his dear Theign could tell him. “Because it was a tissue
of expressions that may pass current--over counters and in awful
newspapers--in _his_ extraordinary world or country, but that I decline
to take time to puzzle out here.”

“If he didn’t make himself understood,” Lord John took leave to laugh,
“it must indeed have been an unusual production for Bender.”

“Oh, I often, with the wild beauty, if you will, of so many of his
turns, haven’t a notion,” Lady Sandgate confessed with an equal gaiety,
“of what he’s talking about.”

“I think I never miss his weird sense,” her younger guest again loyally
contended--“and in fact as a general thing I rather like it!”

“I happen to like nothing that I don’t enjoy,” Lord Theign rejoined with
some asperity--“and so far as I do follow the fellow he assumes on my
part an interest in his expenditure of purchase-money that I neither
feel nor pretend to. He doesn’t want--by what I spell out--the picture
he refused at Dedborough; he may possibly want--if one reads it so--the
picture on view in Bond Street; and he yet appears to make, with great
emphasis, the stupid ambiguous point that these two ‘articles’ (the
greatest of Morettos an ‘article’!) haven’t been ‘by now’ proved
different: as if I engaged with him that I myself would so prove them!”

Lord John indulged in a pause--but also in a suggestion. “He must
allude to your hoping--when you allowed us to place the picture with
Mackintosh--that it would show to all London in the most precious light
conceivable.”

“Well, if it hasn’t so shown”--and Lord Theign stared as if
mystified--“what in the world’s the meaning of this preposterous
racket?”

“The racket is largely,” his young friend explained, “the vociferation
of the people who contradict each other about it.”

On which their hostess sought to enliven the gravity of the question.
“Some--yes--shouting on the housetops that’s a Mantovano of the
Mantovanos, and others shrieking back at them that they’re donkeys if
not criminals.”

“He may take it for whatever he likes,” said Lord Theign, heedless of
these contributions, “he may father it on Michael Angelo himself if
he’ll but clear out with it and let me alone!”

“What he’d _like_ to take it for,” Lord John at this point saw his way
to remark, “is something in the nature of a Hundred Thousand.”

“A Hundred Thousand?” cried his astonished friend.

“Quite, I dare say, a Hundred Thousand”--the young man enjoyed clearly
handling even by the lips so round a sum.

Lady Sandgate disclaimed however with agility any appearance of having
gaped. “Why, haven’t you yet realised, Theign, that those are the
American figures?”

His lordship looked at her fixedly and then did the same by Lord John,
after which he waited a little. “I’ve nothing to do with the American
figures--which seem to me, if you press me, you know, quite intolerably
vulgar.”

“Well, I’d be as vulgar as anybody for a Hundred Thousand!” Lady
Sandgate hastened to proclaim.

“Didn’t he let us know at Dedborough,” Lord John asked of the master of
that seat, “that he had no use, as he said, for lower values?”

“I’ve heard him remark myself,” said their companion, rising to the
monstrous memory, “that he wouldn’t take a cheap picture--even though a
‘handsome’ one--as a present.”

“And does he call the thing round the corner a cheap picture?” the
proprietor of the work demanded.

Lord John threw up his arms with a grin of impatience. “All he wants to
do, don’t you see? is to prevent your _making_ it one!”

Lord Theign glared at this imputation to him of a low ductility. “I
offered the thing, as it was, at an estimate worthy of it--and of _me_.”

“My dear reckless friend,” his young adviser protested, “you named no
figure _at all_ when it came to the point----!”

“It _didn’t_ come to the point! Nothing came to the point but that I put
a Moretto on view; as a thing, yes, perfectly”--Lord Theign accepted the
reminding gesture--“on which a rich American had an eye and in which he
had, so to speak, an interest. That was what I wanted, and so we left
it--parting each of us ready but neither of us bound.”

“Ah, Mr. Bender’s bound, as he’d say,” Lady Sand-gate
interposed--“‘bound’ to make you swallow the enormous luscious plum that
your appetite so morbidly rejects!”

“My appetite, as morbid as you like”--her old friend had shrewdly turned
on her--“is my own affair, and if the fellow must deal in enormities I
warn him to carry them elsewhere!”

Lord John, plainly, by this time, was quite exasperated at the absurdity
of him. “But how can’t you see that it’s only a plum, as she says, for
a plum and an eye for an eye--since the picture itself, with this huge
ventilation, is now quite a different affair?”

“How the deuce a different affair when just what the man himself
confesses is that, in spite of all the chatter of the prigs and pedants,
there’s no really established ground for treating it as anything but
the same?” On which, as having so unanswerably spoken, Lord Theign shook
himself free again, in his high petulance, and moved restlessly to where
the passage to the other room appeared to offer his nerves an issue; all
moreover to the effect of suggesting to us that something still other
than what he had said might meanwhile work in him behind and beneath
that quantity. The spectators of his trouble watched him, for the time,
in uncertainty and with a mute but associated comment on the perversity
and oddity he had so suddenly developed; Lord John giving a shrug of
almost bored despair and Lady Sandgate signalling caution and tact for
their action by a finger flourished to her lips, and in fact at once
proceeding to apply these arts. The subject of her attention had still
remained as in worried thought; he had even mechanically taken up a book
from a table--which he then, after an absent glance at it, tossed down.

“You’re so detached from reality, you adorable dreamer,” she began--“and
unless you stick to _that_ you might as well have done nothing. What
you call the pedantry and priggishness and all the rest of it is exactly
what poor Breckenridge asked almost on his knees, wonderful man, to
be _allowed_ to pay you for; since even if the meddlers and chatterers
haven’t settled anything for those who know--though which of the elect
themselves after all _does_ seem to know?--it’s a great service rendered
him to have started such a hare to run!”

Lord John took freedom to throw off very much the same idea. “Certainly
his connection with the whole question and agitation makes no end for
his glory.”

It didn’t, that remark, bring their friend back to him, but it at least
made his indifference flash with derision. “His ‘glory’--Mr. Bender’s
glory? Why, they quite universally loathe him--judging by the stuff they
print!”

“Oh, here--as a corrupter of our morals and a promoter of our decay,
even though so many are flat on their faces to him--yes! But it’s
another affair over there where the eagle screams like a thousand
steam-whistles and the newspapers flap like the leaves of the forest:
_there_ he’ll be, if you’ll only let him, the biggest thing going; since
sound, in that air, seems to mean size, and size to be all that counts.
If he said of the thing, as you recognise,” Lord John went on, “‘It’s
going to be a Mantovano,’ why you can bet your life that it _is_--that
it has _got_ to be some kind of a one.”

His fellow-guest, at this, drew nearer again, irritated, you would
have been sure, by the unconscious infelicity of the pair--worked up
to something quite openly wilful and passionate. “No kind of a furious
flaunting one, under _my_ patronage, that I can prevent, my boy! The
Dedborough picture in the market--owing to horrid little circumstances
that regard myself alone--is the Dedborough picture at a decent,
sufficient, civilised Dedborough price, and nothing else whatever; which
I beg you will take as my last word on the subject.”

Lord John, trying whether he _could_ take it, momentarily mingled his
hushed state with that of their hostess, to whom he addressed a helpless
look; after which, however, he appeared to find that he could only
reassert himself. “May I nevertheless reply that I think you’ll not be
able to prevent _anything?_--since the discussed object will completely
escape your control in New York!”

“And almost any discussed object”--Lady Sand-gate rose to the occasion
also--“is in New York, by what one hears, easily _worth_ a Hundred
Thousand!”

Lord Theign looked from one of them to the other. “I sell the man a
Hundred Thousand worth of swagger and advertisement; and of fraudulent
swagger and objectionable advertisement at that?”

“Well”--Lord John was but briefly baffled--“when the picture’s his you
can’t help its doing what it can and what it will for him anywhere!”

“Then it isn’t his yet,” the elder man retorted--“and I promise you
never will be if he has _sent_ you to me with his big drum!”

Lady Sandgate turned sadly on this to her associate in patience, as
if the case were now really beyond them. “Yes, how indeed can it ever
_become_ his if Theign simply won’t let him pay for it?”

Her question was unanswerable. “It’s the first time in all my life I’ve
known a man feel insulted, in such a piece of business, by happening
_not_ to be, in the usual way, more or less swindled!”

“Theign is unable to take it in,” her ladyship explained, “that--as I’ve
heard it said of all these money-monsters of the new type--Bender simply
can’t _afford_ not to be cited and celebrated as the biggest buyer who
ever lived.”

“Ah, cited and celebrated at my _expense_--say it at once and have it
over, that I may enjoy what you all want to do to me!”

“The dear man’s inimitable--at his ‘expense’!” It was more than Lord
John could bear as he fairly flung himself off in his derisive impotence
and addressed his wail to Lady Sandgate.

“Yes, at my expense is exactly what I mean,” Lord Theign
asseverated--“at the expense of my modest claim to regulate my behaviour
by my own standards. There you perfectly _are_ about the man, and it’s
precisely what I say--that he’s to hustle and harry me _because_ he’s a
money-monster: which I never for a moment dreamed of, please understand,
when I let you, John, thrust him at me as a pecuniary resource at
Dedborough. I didn’t put my property on view that _he_ might blow about
it------!”

“No, if you like it,” Lady Sandgate returned; “but you certainly didn’t
so arrange”--she seemed to think her point somehow would help--“that
you might blow about it yourself!”

“Nobody wants to ‘blow,’” Lord John more stoutly interposed, “either hot
or cold, I take it; but I really don’t see the harm of Bender’s liking
to be known for the scale of his transactions--actual or merely imputed
even, if you will; since that scale is really so magnificent.”

Lady Sandgate half accepted, half qualified this plea. “The only
question perhaps is why he doesn’t try for some precious work that
somebody--less delicious than dear Theign--_can_ be persuaded on bended
knees to accept a hundred thousand for.”

“‘Try’ for one?”--her younger visitor took it up while her elder more
attentively watched him. “That was exactly what he did try for when he
pressed you so hard in vain for the great Sir Joshua.”

“Oh well, he mustn’t come back to _that_--must he, Theign?” her ladyship
cooed.

That personage failed to reply, so that Lord John went on, unconscious
apparently of the still more suspicious study to which he exposed
himself. “Besides which there _are_ no things of that magnitude knocking
about, don’t you know?--they’ve _got_ to be worked up first if they’re
to reach the grand publicity of the Figure! Would you mind,” he
continued to his noble monitor, “an agreement on some such basis as
_this_?--that you shall resign yourself to the biggest equivalent you’ll
squeamishly consent to take, if it’s at the same time the smallest he’ll
squeamishly consent to offer; but that, that done, you shall leave him
free----”

Lady Sandgate took it up straight, rounding it off, as their companion
only waited. “Leave him free to talk about the sum offered and the sum
taken as practically one and the same?”

“Ah, you know,” Lord John discriminated, “he doesn’t ‘talk’ so much
himself--there’s really nothing blatant or crude about poor Bender. It’s
the rate at which--by the very way he’s ‘fixed’: an awful way indeed, I
grant you!--a perfect army of reporter-wretches, close at his heels, are
always talking for him and of him.”

Lord Theign spoke hereupon at last with the air as of an impulse that
had been slowly gathering force. “_You_ talk for him, my dear chap,
pretty well. You urge his case, my honour, quite as if you were assured
of a commission on the job--on a fine ascending scale! Has he put you
up to that proposition, eh? _Do_ you get a handsome percentage and _are_
you to make a good thing of it?”

The young man coloured under this stinging pleasantry--whether from a
good conscience affronted or from a bad one made worse; but he otherwise
showed a bold front, only bending his eyes a moment on his watch.
“As he’s to come to you himself--and I don’t know why the mischief he
doesn’t come!--he will answer you that graceful question.”

“Will he answer it,” Lord Theign asked, “with the veracity that
the suggestion you’ve just made on his behalf represents him as so
beautifully adhering to?” On which he again quite fiercely turned his
back and recovered his detachment, the others giving way behind him to a
blanker dismay.

Lord John, in spite of this however, pumped up a tone. “I don’t see why
you should speak as if I were urging some abomination.”

“Then I’ll tell you why!”--and Lord Theign was upon him again for the
purpose. “Because I had rather give the cursed thing away outright and
for good and all than that it should hang out there another day in the
interest of such equivocations!”

Lady Sandgate’s dismay yielded to her wonder, and her wonder apparently
in turn to her amusement. “‘Give it away,’ my dear friend, to a man who
only longs to smother you in gold?”

Her dear friend, however, had lost patience with her levity. “Give it
away--just for a luxury of protest and a stoppage of chatter--to some
cause as unlike as possible that of Mr. Bender’s power of sound and
his splendid reputation: to the Public, to the Authorities, to the
Thingumbob, to the Nation!”

Lady Sandgate broke into horror while Lord John stood sombre and
stupefied. “Ah, my dear creature, you’ve flights of extravagance----!”

“One thing’s very certain,” Lord Theign quite heedlessly pursued--“that
the thought of my property on view there does give intolerably on my
nerves, more and more every minute that I’m conscious of it; so that,
hang it, if one thinks of it, why shouldn’t I, for my relief, do again,
damme, _what I like_?--that is bang the door in their faces, have the
show immediately stopped?” He turned with the attraction of this idea
from one of his listeners to the other. “It’s _my_ show--it isn’t
Bender’s, surely!--and I can do just as I choose with it.”

“Ah, but isn’t that the very point?”--and Lady Sandgate put it to Lord
John. “Isn’t it Bender’s show much more than his?”

Her invoked authority, however, in answer to this, made but a motion of
disappointment and disgust at so much rank folly--while Lord Theign, on
the other hand, followed up his happy thought. “Then if it’s Bender’s
show, or if he claims it is, there’s all the more reason!” And it took
his lordship’s inspiration no longer to flower. “See here, John--do
this: go right round there this moment, please, and tell them from me to
shut straight down!”

“‘Shut straight down’?” the young man abhorrently echoed.

“Stop it _to-night_--wind it up and end it: see?” The more the
entertainer of that vision held it there the more charm it clearly
took on for him. “Have the picture removed from view and the incident
closed.”

“You seriously ask _that_ of me!” poor Lord John quavered.

“Why in the world shouldn’t I? It’s a jolly lot less than you asked of
me a month ago at Dedborough.”

“What then am I to say to them?” Lord John spoke but after a long
moment, during which he had only looked hard and--an observer might even
then have felt--ominously at his taskmaster.

That personage replied as if wholly to have done with the matter. “Say
anything that comes into your clever head. I don’t really see that
there’s anything else _for_ you!” Lady Sandgate sighed to the messenger,
who gave no sign save of positive stiffness.

The latter seemed still to weigh his displeasing obligation; then
he eyed his friend significantly--almost portentously. “Those are
absolutely your sentiments?”

“Those are absolutely my sentiments”--and Lord Theign brought this out
as with the force of a physical push.

“Very well then!” But the young man, indulging in a final, a fairly
sinister, study of such a dealer in the arbitrary, made sure of the
extent, whatever it was, of his own wrong. “Not one more day?”

Lord Theign only waved him away. “Not one more hour!”

He paused at the door, this reluctant spokesman, as if for some supreme
protest; but after another prolonged and decisive engagement with the
two pairs of eyes that waited, though differently, on his performance,
he clapped on his hat as in the rage of his resentment and departed on
his mission.



III

“He can’t bear to do it, poor man!” Lady Sand-gate ruefully remarked to
her remaining guest after Lord John had, under extreme pressure, dashed
out to Bond Street.

“I dare say not!”--Lord Theign, flushed with the felicity of
self-expression, made little of that. “But he goes too far, you see,
and it clears the air--pouah! Now therefore”--and he glanced at the
clock--“I must go to Kitty.”

“Kitty--with what Kitty wants,” Lady Sandgate opined--“won’t thank you
for _that!_”

“She never thanks me for anything”--and the fact of his resignation
clearly added here to his bitterness. “So it’s no great loss!”

“Won’t you at any rate,” his hostess asked, “wait for Bender?”

His lordship cast it to the winds. “What have I to do with him now?”

“Why surely if he’ll accept your own price--!”

Lord Theign thought--he wondered; and then as if fairly amused at
himself: “Hanged if I know what _is_ my own price!” After which he went
for his hat. “But there’s one thing,” he remembered as he came back with
it: “where’s my too, _too_ unnatural daughter?”

“If you mean Grace and really want her I’ll send and find out.”

“Not now”--he bethought himself. “But does she _see_ that chatterbox?”

“Mr. Crimble? Yes, she sees him.”

He kept his eyes on her. “Then how far has it gone?”

Lady Sandgate overcame an embarrassment. “Well, not even yet, I think,
so far as they’d like.”

“They’d ‘like’--heaven save the mark!--to marry?”

“I suspect them of it. What line, if it should come to that,” she asked,
“would you then take?”

He was perfectly prompt. “The line that for Grace it’s simply ignoble.”

The force of her deprecation of such language was qualified by tact.
“Ah, darling, as dreadful as _that?_”

He could but view the possibility with dark resentment. “It lets us so
down--from what we’ve always been and done; so down, down, down that I’m
amazed you don’t feel it!”

“Oh, I feel there’s still plenty to keep you up!” she soothingly
laughed.

He seemed to consider this vague amount--which he apparently judged,
however, not so vast as to provide for the whole yearning of his nature.
“Well, my dear,” he thus more blandly professed, “I shall need all the
extra _agrément_ that your affection can supply.”

If nothing could have been, on this, richer response, nothing could
at the same time have bee more pleasing than her modesty. “Ah, my
affectionate Theign, is, as I think you know, a fountain always in
flood; but in any more worldly element than that--as you’ve ever seen
for yourself--a poor strand with my own sad affairs, a broken reed; not
‘great’ as they used so finely to call it! You _are_--with the natural
sense of greatness and, for supreme support, the instinctive grand man
doing and taking things.”

He sighed, none the less, he groaned, with his thoughts of trouble, for
the strain he foresaw on these resolutions. “If you mean that I hold
up my head, on higher grounds, I grant that I always have. But how much
longer possible when my children commit such vulgarities? Why in the
name of goodness are such children? What the devil has got into them,
and is it really the case that when Grace offers as a proof of her
license and a specimen of her taste a son-in-law as you tell me I’m in
danger of helplessly to swallow the dose?”

“Do you find Mr. Crimble,” Lady Sandgate as if there might really be
something to say, “so utterly out of the question?”

“I found him on the two occasions before I went away in the last degree
offensive and outrageous; but even if he charged one and one’s poor dear
decent old defences with less rabid a fury everything about him would
forbid _that_ kind of relation.”

What kind of relation, if any, Hugh’s deficiencies might still render
thinkable Lord Theign was kept from going on to mention by the voice of
Mr. Gotch, who had thrown open the door to the not altogether assured
sound of “Mr. Breckenridge Bender.” The guest in possession gave a cry
of impatience, but Lady Sandgate said “Coming up?”

“If his lordship will see him.”

“Oh, he’s beyond his time,” his lordship pronounced--“I can’t see him
now!”

“Ah, but _mustn’t_ you--and mayn’t _I_ then?” She waited, however, for
no response to signify to her servant “Let him come,” and her companion
could but exhale a groan of reluctant accommodation as if he wondered
at the point she made of it. It enlightened him indeed perhaps a little
that she went on while Gotch did her bidding. “Does the kind of relation
you’d be condemned to with Mr. Crimble let you down, down, down, as you
say, more than the relation you’ve been having with Mr. Bender?”

Lord Theign had for it the most uninforming of stares. “Do you mean
don’t I hate ‘em equally both?”

She cut his further reply short, however, by a “Hush!” of warning--Mr.
Bender was there and his introducer had left them.

Lord Theign, full of his purpose of departure, sacrificed hereupon
little to ceremony. “I’ve but a moment, to my regret, to give you, Mr.
Bender, and if you’ve been unavoidably detained, as you great bustling
people are so apt to be, it will perhaps still be soon enough for
your comfort to hear from me that I’ve just given order to close our
exhibition. From the present hour on, sir”--he put it with the firmness
required to settle the futility of an appeal.

Mr. Bender’s large surprise lost itself, however, promptly enough,
in Mr. Bender’s larger ease. “Why, do you really mean it, Lord
Theign?--removing already from view a work that gives innocent
gratification to thousands?”

“Well,” said his lordship curtly, “if thousands have seen it I’ve done
what I wanted, and if they’ve been gratified I’m content--and invite
_you_ to be.”

Mr. Bender showed more keenness for this richer implication. “In other
words it’s I who may remove the picture?”

“Well--if you’ll take it on my estimate.”

“But what, Lord Theign, all this time,” Mr. Bender almost pathetically
pleaded, “_is_ your estimate?”

The parting guest had another pause, which prolonged itself, after
he had reached the door, in a deep solicitation of their hostess’s
conscious eyes. This brief passage apparently inspired his answer. “Lady
Sandgate will tell you.” The door closed behind him.

The charming woman smiled then at her other friend, whose comprehensive
presence appeared now to demand of her some account of these strange
proceedings. “He means that your own valuation is much too shockingly
high.”

“But how can I know _how_ much unless I find out what he’ll take?”
 The great collector’s spirit had, in spite of its volume, clearly not
reached its limit of expansion. “Is he crazily waiting for the thing to
be proved _not_ what Mr. Crimble claims?”

“No, he’s waiting for nothing--since he holds that claim demolished by
Pappendick’s tremendous negative, which you wrote to tell him of.”

Vast, undeveloped and suddenly grave, Mr. Bender’s countenance showed
like a barren tract under a black cloud. “I wrote to _report_, fair and
square, on Pap-pendick, but to tell him I’d take the picture just the
same, negative and all.”

“Ah, but take it in that way not for what it is but for what it isn’t.”

“We know nothing about what it ‘isn’t,’” said Mr. Bender, “after all
that has happened--we’ve only learned a little better every day what it
is.”

“You mean,” his companion asked, “the biggest bone of artistic
contention----?”

“Yes,”--he took it from her--“the biggest that has been thrown into the
arena for quite a while. I guess I can do with it for _that_.”

Lady Sandgate, on this, after a moment, renewed her personal advance;
it was as if she had now made sure of the soundness of her main bridge.
“Well, if it’s the biggest bone I won’t touch it; I’ll leave it to be
mauled by my betters. But since his lordship has asked me to name a
price, dear Mr. Bender, I’ll name one--and as you prefer big prices I’ll
try to make it suit you. Only it won’t be for the portrait of a person
nobody is agreed about. The whole world is agreed, you know, about my
great-grandmother.”

“Oh, shucks, Lady Sandgate!”--and her visitor turned from her with the
hunch of overcharged shoulders.

But she apparently felt that she held him, or at least that even if such
a conviction might be fatuous she must now put it to the touch. “You’ve
been delivered into my hands--too charmingly; and you won’t really
pretend that you don’t recognise that and in fact rather like it.”

He faced about to her again as to a case of coolness
unparalleled--though indeed with a quick lapse of real interest in the
question of whether he had been artfully practised upon; an indifference
to bad debts or peculation like that of some huge hotel or other
business involving a margin for waste. He could afford, he could work
waste too, clearly--and what was it, that term, you might have felt him
ask, but a mean measure, anyway? quite as the “artful,” opposed to his
larger game, would be the hiding and pouncing of children at play. “Do
I gather that those uncanny words of his were just meant to put me
off?” he inquired. And then as she but boldly and smilingly shrugged,
repudiating responsibility, “Look here, Lady Sandgate, ain’t you
honestly going to help me?” he pursued.

This engaged her sincerity without affecting her gaiety. “Mr. Bender,
Mr. Bender, I’ll help you if you’ll help _me!_”

“You’ll really get me something from him to go on with?”

“I’ll get you something from him to go on with.”

“That’s all I ask--to get _that_. Then I can move the way I want. But
without it I’m held up.”

“You shall have it,” she replied, “if I in turn may look to _you_ for a
trifle on account.”

“Well,” he dryly gloomed at her, “what do you call a trifle?”

“I mean”--she waited but an instant--“what you would feel as one.”

“That won’t do. You haven’t the least idea, Lady Sandgate,” he earnestly
said, “_how_ I feel at these foolish times. I’ve never got used to them
yet.”

“Ah, don’t you understand,” she pressed, “that if I give you an
advantage I’m completely at your mercy?”

“Well, what mercy,” he groaned, “do you deserve?”

She waited a little, brightly composed--then she indicated her inner
shrine, the whereabouts of her precious picture. “Go and look at her
again and you’ll see.”

His protest was large, but so, after a moment, was his compliance--his
heavy advance upon the other room, from just within the doorway of which
the great Lawrence was serenely visible. Mr. Bender gave it his eyes
once more--though after the fashion verily of a man for whom it had now
no freshness of a glamour, no shade of a secret; then he came back to
his hostess. “Do you call giving me an advantage squeezing me by your
sweet modesty for less than I may possibly bear?”

“How can I say fairer,” she returned, “than that, with my backing about
the other picture, which I’ve passed you my word for, thrown in, I’ll
resign myself to whatever you may be disposed--characteristically!--to
give for this one.”

“If it’s a question of resignation,” said Mr. Bender, “you mean of
course what I may be disposed--characteristically!--_not_ to give.”

She played on him for an instant all her radiance. “Yes then, you dear
sharp rich thing!”

“And you take in, I assume,” he pursued, “that I’m just going to lean on
you, for what I want, with the full weight of a determined man.”

“Well,” she laughed, “I promise you I’ll thoroughly obey the direction
of your pressure.”

“All right then!” And he stopped before her, in his unrest, monumentally
pledged, yet still more massively immeasurable. “How’ll you have it?”

She bristled as with all the possible beautiful choices; then she shed
her selection as a heaving fruit-tree might have dropped some round
ripeness. It was for her friend to pick up his plum and his privilege.
“Will you write a cheque?”

“Yes, if you want it right away.” To which, however, he added, clapping
vainly a breast-pocket: “But my cheque-book’s down in my car.”

“At the door?” She scarce required his assent to touch a bell. “I can
easily send for it.” And she threw off while they waited: “It’s so sweet
your ‘flying round’ with your cheque-book!”

He put it with promptitude another way. “It flies round pretty well with
_Mr_----!”

“Mr. Bender’s cheque-book--in his car,” she went on to Gotch, who had
answered her summons.

The owner of the interesting object further instructed him: “You’ll find
in the pocket a large red morocco case.”

“Very good, sir,” said Gotch--but with another word for his mistress.
“Lord John would like to know--”

“Lord John’s there?” she interrupted.

Gotch turned to the open door. “Here he is, my lady.”

She accommodated herself at once, under Mr. Bender’s eye, to the
complication involved in his lordship’s presence. “It’s he who went
round to Bond Street.”

Mr. Bender stared, but saw the connection. “To stop the show?” And then
as the young man was already there: “You’ve stopped the show?”

“It’s ‘on’ more than ever!” Lord John responded while Gotch retired: a
hurried, flurried, breathless Lord John, strikingly different from the
backward messenger she had lately seen despatched. “But Theign should
be here!”--he addressed her excitedly. “I announce you a call from the
Prince.”

“The Prince?”--she gasped as for the burden of the honour. “He follows
you?”

Mr. Bender, with an eagerness and a candour there was no mistaking,
recognised on behalf of his ampler action a world of associational
advantage and auspicious possibility. “Is the Prince _after_ the thing?”

Lord John remained, in spite of this challenge, conscious of nothing
but his message. “He was there with Mackintosh--to see and admire the
picture; which he thinks, by the way, a Mantovano pure and simple!--and
did me the honour to remember me. When he heard me report to Mackintosh
in his presence the sentiments expressed to me here by our noble friend
and of which, embarrassed though I doubtless was,” the young man pursued
to Lady Sandgate, “I gave as clear an account as I could, he was so
delighted with it that he declared they mustn’t think then of taking the
thing off, but must on the contrary keep putting it forward for all it’s
worth, and he would come round and congratulate and thank Theign and
explain him his reasons.”

Their hostess cast about for a sign. “Why Theign is at Kitty’s, worse
luck! The Prince calls on him _here?_”

“He calls, you see, on _you_, my lady--at five-forty-five; and
graciously desired me so to put it you.”

“He’s very kind, but”--she took in her condition--“I’m not even
_dressed!_”

“You’ll have time”--the young man was a comfort--“while I rush to
Berkeley Square. And pardon me, Bender--though it’s so near--if I just
bag your car.”

“That’s, that’s it, take his car!”--Lady Sandgate almost swept him away.

“You may use my car all right,” Mr. Bender contributed--“but what I want
to know is what the man’s _after_.”

“The man? what man?” his friend scarce paused to ask.

“The Prince then--if you allow he _is_ a man! Is he after my picture?”

Lord John vividly disclaimed authority. “If you’ll wait, my dear fellow,
you’ll see.”

“Oh why should he ‘wait’?” burst from their cautious companion--only
to be caught up, however, in the next breath, so swift her gracious
revolution. “Wait, wait indeed, Mr. Bender--I won’t give you up for
any Prince!” With which she appealed again to Lord John. “He wants to
‘congratulate’?”

“On Theign’s decision, as I’ve told you--which I announced to
Mackintosh, by Theign’s extraordinary order, under his Highness’s nose,
and which his Highness, by the same token, took up like a shot.”

Her face, as she bethought herself, was convulsed as by some quick
perception of what her informant must have done and what therefore the
Prince’s interest rested on; all, however, to the effect, given their
actual company, of her at once dodging and covering that issue. “The
decision to remove the picture?”

Lord John also observed a discretion. “He wouldn’t hear of such a
thing--says it must stay stock still. So there you are!”

This determined in Mr. Bender a not unnatural, in fact quite a
clamorous, series of questions. “But _where_ are we, and what has the
Prince to do with Lord Theign’s decision when that’s all _I’m_ here for?
What in thunder _is_ Lord Theign’s decision--what was his ‘extraordinary
order’?”

Lord John, too long detained and his hand now on the door, put off this
solicitor as he had already been put off. “Lady Sandgate, _you_ tell
him! I rush!”

Mr. Bender saw him vanish, but all to a greater bewilderment. “What the
h---- then (I beg your pardon!) is he talking about, and what
‘sentiments’ did he report round there that Lord Theign had been
expressing?”

His hostess faced it not otherwise than if she had resolved not to
recognise the subject of his curiosity--for fear of other recognitions.
“They put everything on _me_, my dear man--but I haven’t the least
idea.”

He looked at her askance. “Then why does the fellow say you have?”

Much at a loss for the moment, she yet found her way. “Because the
fellow’s so agog that he doesn’t know _what_ he says!” In addition
to which she was relieved by the reappearance of Gotch, who bore on
a salver the object he had been sent for and to which he duly called
attention.

“The large red morocco case.”

Lady Sandgate fairly jumped at it. “Your blessed cheque-book. Lay it on
my desk,” she said to Gotch, though waiting till he had departed again
before she resumed to her visitor: “Mightn’t we conclude before he
comes?”

“The Prince?” Mr. Bender’s imagination had strayed from the ground to
which she sought to lead it back, and it but vaguely retraced its steps.
“Will _he_ want your great-grandmother?”

“Well, he may when he sees her!” Lady Sandgate laughed. “And Theign,
when he comes, will give you on his own question, I feel sure, every
information. Shall I fish it out for you?” she encouragingly asked,
beside him by her secretary-desk, at which he had arrived under her
persuasive guidance and where she sought solidly to establish him,
opening out the gilded crimson case for his employ, so that he had but
to help himself. “What enormous cheques! _You_ can never draw one for
two-pound-ten!”

“That’s exactly what you deserve I _should_ do!” He remained after this
solemnly still, however, like some high-priest circled with ceremonies;
in consonance with which, the next moment, both her hands held out to
him the open and immaculate page of the oblong series much as they might
have presented a royal infant at the christening-font.

He failed, in his preoccupation, to receive it; so she placed it before
him on the table, coming away with a brave gay “Well, I leave it to
you!” She had not, restlessly revolving, kept her discreet distance
for many minutes before she found herself almost face to face with the
recurrent Gotch, upright at the door with a fresh announcement.

“Mr. Crimble, please--for Lady Grace.”

“Mr. Crimble _again?_”--she took it discomposedly.

It reached Mr. Bender at the secretary, but to a different effect. “Mr.
Crimble? Why he’s just the man I want to see!”

Gotch, turning to the lobby, had only to make way for him. “Here he is,
my lady.”

“Then tell her ladyship.”

“She has come down,” said Gotch while Hugh arrived and his companion
withdrew, and while Lady Grace, reaching the scene from the other
quarter, emerged in bright equipment--in her hat, scarf and gloves.



IV

These young persons were thus at once confronted across the room, and
the girl explained her preparation. “I was listening hard--for your
knock and your voice.”

“Then know that, thank God, it’s all right!”--Hugh was breathless,
jubilant, radiant.

“A Mantovano?” she delightedly cried.

“A Mantovano!” he proudly gave back.

“A Mantovano!”--it carried even Lady Sandgate away.

“A Mantovano--a sure thing?” Mr. Bender jumped up from his business, all
gaping attention to Hugh.

“I’ve just left our blest Bardi,” said that young man--“who hasn’t the
shadow of a doubt and is delighted to publish it everywhere.”

“Will he publish it right here to _me?_” Mr. Bender hungrily asked.

“Well,” Hugh smiled, “you can try him.”

“But try him how, where?” The great collector, straining to instant
action, cast about for his hat “Where _is_ he, hey?”

“Don’t you wish I’d tell you?” Hugh, in his personal elation, almost
cynically answered.

“Won’t you wait for the Prince?” Lady Sandgate had meanwhile asked of
her friend; but had turned more inspectingly to Lady Grace before he
could reply. “My dear child--though you’re lovely!--are you sure you’re
ready for him?”

“For the Prince!”--the girl was vague. “Is he coming?”

“At five-forty-five.” With which she consulted her bracelet watch, but
only at once to wail for alarm. “Ah, it _is_ that, and I’m not dressed!”
 She hurried off through the other room.

Mr. Bender, quite accepting her retreat, addressed himself again
unabashed to Hugh: “It’s your blest Bardi I want first--I’ll take the
Prince after.”

The young man clearly could afford indulgence now. “Then I left him at
Long’s Hotel.”

“Why, right near! I’ll come back.” And Mr. Bender’s flight was on the
wings of optimism.

But it all gave Hugh a quick question for Lady Grace. “Why does the
Prince come, and what in the world’s happening?”

“My father has suddenly returned--it may have to do with that.”

The shadow of his surprise darkened visibly to that of his fear. “Mayn’t
it be more than anything else to give you and me his final curse?”

“I don’t know--and I think I don’t care. I don’t care,” she said, “so
long as you’re right and as the greatest light of all declares you are.”

“He _is_ the greatest”--Hugh was vividly of that opinion now: “I could
see it as soon as I got there with him, the charming creature! There,
_before_ the holy thing, and with the place, by good luck, for those
great moments, practically to ourselves--without Macintosh to take in
what was happening or any one else at all to speak of--it was but a
matter of ten minutes: he had come, he had seen, and _I_ had conquered.”

“Naturally you had!”--the girl hung on him for it; “and what was
happening beyond everything else was that for your original dear
divination, one of the divinations of genius--with every creature all
these ages so stupid--you were being baptized on the spot a great man.”

“Well, he did let poor Pappendick have it at least-he doesn’t think
_he’s_ one: that that eminent judge couldn’t, even with such a leg up,
rise to my level or seize my point. And if you really want to know,”
 Hugh went on in his gladness, “what for _us_ has most particularly and
preciously taken place, it is that in his opinion, for my career--”

“Your reputation,” she cried, “blazes out and your fortune’s made?”

He did a happy violence to his modesty. “Well, Bardi adores intelligence
and takes off his hat to me.”

“Then you need take off yours to nobody!”--such was Lady Grace’s proud
opinion. “But I should like to take off mine to _him_,” she added;
“which I seem to have put on--to get out and away with you--expressly
for that.”

Hugh, as he looked her over, took it up in bliss. “Ah, we’ll go forth
together to him then--thanks to your happy, splendid impulse!--and
you’ll back him gorgeously up in the good he thinks of me.”

His friend yet had on this a sombre second thought. “The only thing is
that our awful American----!”

But he warned her with a raised hand. “Not to speak of our awful
Briton!”

For the door had opened from the lobby, admitting Lord Theign,
unattended, who, at sight of his daughter and her companion, pulled
up and held them a minute in reprehensive view--all at least till Hugh
undauntedly, indeed quite cheerfully, greeted him.

“Since you find me again in your path, my lord, it’s because I’ve a
small, but precious document to deliver you, if you’ll allow me to do
so; which I feel it important myself to place in your hand.” He drew
from his breast a pocket-book and extracted thence a small unsealed
envelope; retaining the latter a trifle helplessly in his hand while
Lord Theign only opposed to this demonstration an unmitigated blankness.
He went none the less bravely on. “I mentioned to you the last time we
somewhat infelicitously met that I intended to appeal to another and
probably more closely qualified artistic authority on the subject of
your so-called Moretto; and I in fact saw the picture half an hour ago
with Bardi of Milan, who, there in presence of it, did absolute, did
ideal justice, as I had hoped, to the claim I’ve been making. I then
went with him to his hotel, close at hand, where he dashed me off this
brief and rapid, but quite conclusive, Declaration, which, if you’ll be
so good as to read it, will enable you perhaps to join us in regarding
the vexed question as settled.”

His lordship, having faced this speech without a sign, rested on the
speaker a somewhat more confessed intelligence, then looked hard at
the offered note and hard at the floor--all to avert himself actively
afterward and, with his head a good deal elevated, add to his distance,
as it were, from every one and everything so indelicately thrust on
his attention. This movement had an ambiguous makeshift air, yet his
companions, under the impression of it, exchanged a hopeless look. His
daughter none the less lifted her voice. “If you won’t take what he has
for you from Mr. Crimble, father, will you take it from me?” And then as
after some apparent debate he appeared to decide to heed her, “It may be
so long again,” she said, “before you’ve a chance to do a thing I ask.”

“The chance will depend on yourself!” he returned with high dry
emphasis. But he held out his hand for the note Hugh had given her and
with which she approached him; and though face to face they seemed more
separated than brought near by this contact without commerce. She turned
away on one side when he had taken the missive, as Hugh had turned away
on the other; Lord Theign drew forth the contents of the envelope and
broodingly and inexpressively read the few lines; after which, as having
done justice to their sense, he thrust the paper forth again till his
daughter became aware and received it. She restored it to her friend
while her father dandled off anew, but coming round this time, almost as
by a circuit of the room, and meeting Hugh, who took advantage of it to
repeat by a frank gesture his offer of Bardi’s attestation. Lord Theign
passed with the young man on this a couple of mute minutes of the same
order as those he had passed with Lady Grace in the same connection;
their eyes dealt deeply with their eyes--but to the effect of his
lordship’s accepting the gift, which after another minute he had slipped
into his breast-pocket. It was not till then that he brought out a curt
but resonant “Thank you!” While the others awaited his further pleasure
he again bethought himself--then he addressed Lady Grace. “I must let
Mr. Bender know----”

“Mr. Bender,” Hugh interposed, “does know. He’s at the present moment
with the author of that note at Long’s Hotel.”

“Then I must now write him”--and his lordship, while he spoke and from
where he stood, looked in refined disconnectedness out of the window.

“Will you write _there?_”--and his daughter indicated Lady Sandgate’s
desk, at which we have seen Mr. Bender so importantly seated.

Lord Theign had a start at her again speaking to him; but he bent his
view on the convenience awaiting him and then, as to have done with so
tiresome a matter, took advantage of it. He went and placed himself, and
had reached for paper and a pen when, struck apparently with the display
of some incongruous object, he uttered a sharp “Hallo!”

“You don’t find things?” Lady Grace asked--as remote from him in one
quarter of the room as Hugh was in another.

“On the contrary!” he oddly replied. But plainly suppressing any
further surprise he committed a few words to paper and put them into an
envelope, which he addressed and brought away.

“If you like,” said Hugh urbanely, “I’ll carry him that myself.”

“But how do you know what it consists of?”

“I don’t know. But I risk it.”

His lordship weighed the proposition in a high impersonal manner--he
even nervously weighed his letter, shaking it with one hand upon the
finger-tips of the other; after which, as finally to acquit himself
of any measurable obligation, he allowed Hugh, by a surrender of the
interesting object, to redeem his offer of service. “Then you’ll learn,”
 he simply said.

“And may _I_ learn?” asked Lady Grace.

“You?” The tone made so light of her that it was barely interrogative.

“May I go _with_ him?”

Her father looked at the question as at some cup of supreme
bitterness--a nasty and now quite regular dose with which his lips were
familiar, but before which their first movement was always tightly to
close. “_With_ me, my lord,” said Hugh at last, thoroughly determined
they should open and intensifying the emphasis.

He had his effect, and Lord Theign’s answer, addressed to Lady Grace,
made indifference very comprehensive. “You may do what ever you
dreadfully like!”

At this then the girl, with an air that seemed to present her choice as
absolutely taken, reached the door which Hugh had come across to open
for her.

Here she paused as for another, a last look at her father, and her
expression seemed to say to him unaidedly that, much as she would have
preferred to proceed to her act without this gross disorder, she could
yet find inspiration too in the very difficulty and the old faiths
themselves that he left her to struggle with. All this made for depth
and beauty in her serious young face--as it had indeed a force that,
not indistinguishably, after an instant, his lordship lost any wish for
longer exposure to. His shift of his attitude before she went out was
fairly an evasion; if the extent of the levity of one of his daughter’s
made him afraid, what might have been his present strange sense but a
fear of the other from the extent of her gravity? Lady Grace passes from
us at any rate in her laced and pearled and plumed slimness and her pale
concentration--leaving her friend a moment, however, with his hand on
the door.

“You thanked me just now for Bardi’s opinion after all,” Hugh said with
a smile; “and it seems to me that--after all as well--I’ve grounds for
thanking you!” On which he left his benefactor alone.

“Tit for tat!” There broke from Lord Theign, in his solitude, with the
young man out of earshot, that vague ironic comment; which only served
his turn, none the less, till, bethinking himself, he had gone back to
the piece of furniture used for his late scribble and come away from it
again the next minute delicately holding a fair slip that we naturally
recognise as Mr. Bender’s forgotten cheque. This apparently surprising
value he now studied at his ease and to the point of its even drawing
from him an articulate “What in damnation--?” His speculation dropped
before the return of his hostess, whose approach through the other room
fell upon his ear and whom he awaited after a quick thrust of the cheque
into his waistcoat.

Lady Sandgate appeared now in due--that is in the most happily
adjusted--splendour; she had changed her dress for something smarter
and more appropriate to the entertainment of Princes, “Tea will be
downstairs,” she said. “But you’re alone?”

“I’ve just parted,” her friend replied, “with Grace and Mr. Crimble.”

“‘Parted’ with them?”--the ambiguity struck her.

“Well, they’ve gone out together to flaunt their monstrous connection!”

“You speak,” she laughed, “as if it were too gross--I They’re surely
coming back?”

“Back to you, if you like--but not to me.”

“Ah, what are you and I,” she tenderly argued, “but one and the same
quantity? And though you may not as yet absolutely rejoice in--well,
whatever they’re doing,” she cheerfully added, “you’ll get beautifully
used to it.”

“That’s just what I’m afraid of--what such horrid matters make of one!”

“At the worst then, you see”--she maintained her optimism--“the
recipient of royal attentions!”

“Oh,” said her companion, whom his honour seemed to leave comparatively
cold, “it’s simply as if the gracious Personage were coming to condole!”

Impatient of the lapse of time, in any case, she assured herself again
of the hour. “Well, if he only does come!”

“John--the wretch!” Lord Theign returned--“will take care of that: he
has nailed him and will bring him.”

“What was it then,” his friend found occasion in the particular tone of
this reference to demand, “what was it that, when you sent him off, John
spoke of you in Bond Street as specifically intending?”

Oh he saw it now all lucidly--if not rather luridly--and thereby
the more tragically. “He described me in his nasty rage as
consistently--well, heroic!”

“His rage”--she pieced it sympathetically out--“at your destroying his
cherished credit with Bender?”

Lord Theign was more and more possessed of this view of the manner of
it. “I had come between him and some profit that he doesn’t confess to,
but that made him viciously and vindictively serve me up there, as he
caught the chance, to the Prince--and the People!”

She cast about, in her intimate interest, as for some closer conception
of it. “By saying that you had remarked here that you offered the People
the picture--?”

“As a sacrifice--yes!--to morbid, though respectable scruples.” To which
he sharply added, as if struck with her easy grasp of the scene: “But I
hope you’ve nothing to call a memory for any such extravagance?”

Lady Sandgate waited--then boldly took her line. “None whatever! You had
reacted against Bender--but you hadn’t gone so far as _that!_”

He had it now all vividly before him. “I had reacted--like a gentleman;
but it didn’t thereby follow that I acted--or spoke--like a demagogue;
and my mind’s a complete blank on the subject of my having done so.”

“So that there only flushes through your conscience,” she suggested,
“the fact that he has forced your hand?”

Fevered with the sore sense of it his lordship wiped his brow. “He has
played me, for spite, his damned impertinent trick!”

She found but after a minute--for it wasn’t easy--the right word, or the
least wrong, for the situation. “Well, even if he did so diabolically
commit you, you still don’t want--do you?--to back out?”

Resenting the suggestion, which restored all his nobler form, Lord
Theign fairly drew himself up. “When did I ever in all my life back
out?”

“Never, never in all your life of course!”--she dashed a bucketful at
the flare. “And the picture after all----!”

“The picture after all”--he took her up in cold grim gallant
despair--“has just been pronounced definitely priceless.” And then
to meet her gaping ignorance: “By Mr. Crimble’s latest and apparently
greatest adviser, who strongly stamps it a Mantovano and whose practical
affidavit I now possess.”

Poor Lady Sandgate gaped but the more--she wondered and yearned.
“Definitely priceless?”

“Definitely priceless.” After which he took from its place of lurking,
considerately unfolding it, the goodly slip he had removed from her
blotting-book. “Worth even more therefore than what Bender so blatantly
offers.”

Her attention fell with interest, from the distance at which she
stood, on this confirmatory document, her recognition of which was not
immediate. “And is that the affidavit?”

“This is a cheque to your order, my lady, for ten thousand pounds.”

“Ten thousand?”--she echoed it with a shout.

“Drawn by some hand unknown,” he went on quietly.

“Unknown?”--again, in her muffled joy, she let it sound out.

“Which I found there at your desk a moment ago, and thought best, in
your interest, to rescue from accident or neglect; even though it be,
save for the single stroke of a name begun,” he wound up with his look
like a playing searchlight, “unhappily unsigned.”

“Unsigned?”--the exhibition of her design, of her defeat, kept shaking
her. “Then it isn’t good--?”

“It’s a Barmecide feast, my dear!”--he had still, her kind friend, his
note of grimness and also his penetration of eye. “But who is it writes
you colossal cheques?”

“And then leaves them lying about?” Her case was so bad that you
would have seen how she felt she must _do_ something--something quite
splendid. She recovered herself, she faced the situation with all her
bright bravery of expression and aspect; conscious, you might have
guessed, that she had never more strikingly embodied, on such lines, the
elegant, the beautiful and the true. “Why, who can it have been but poor
Breckenridge too?”

“‘Breckenridge’--?” Lord Theign had _his_ smart echoes. “What in the
world does he owe you money for?”

It took her but an instant more--she performed the great repudiation
quite as she might be prepared to sweep, in the Presence impending,
her grandest curtsey. “_Not_, you sweet suspicious thing, for my
great-grandmother!” And then as his glare didn’t fade: “Bender makes my
life a burden--for the love of my precious Lawrence.”

“Which you’re weakly letting him grab?”--nothing could have been
finer with this than Lord Theign’s reprobation unless it had been his
surprise.

She shook her head as in bland compassion for such an idea. “It isn’t
a payment, you goose--it’s a bribe! I’ve withstood him, these trying
weeks, as a rock the tempest; but he wrote that and left it there, the
fiend, to tempt me--to corrupt me!”

“Without putting his name?”--her companion again turned over the cheque.

She bethought herself, clearly with all her genius, as to this anomaly,
and the light of reality broke. “He must have been interrupted in the
artful act--he sprang up with such a bound at Mr. Crimble’s news. At
once then--for his interest in it--he hurried off, leaving the cheque
forgotten and unfinished.” She smiled more intensely, her eyes attached,
as from fascination, to the morsel of paper still handled by her friend.
“But of course on his next visit he’ll _add_ his great signature.”

“The devil he will!”--and Lord Theign, with the highest spirit, tore the
crisp token into several pieces, which fluttered, as worthless now as
pure snowflakes, to the floor.

“Ay, ay, ay!”--it drew from her a wail of which the character, for its
sharp inconsequence, was yet comic.

This renewed his stare at her. “Do _you_ want to back out? I mean from
your noble stand.”

As quickly, however, she had saved herself. “I’d rather do even what
you’re doing--offer my treasure to the Thingumbob!”

He was touched by this even to sympathy. “Will you then _join_ me in
setting the example of a great donation------?”

“To the What-do-you-call-it?” she extravagantly smiled.

“I call it,” he said with dignity, “the ‘National Gallery.’”

She closed her eyes as with a failure of breath. “Ah my dear friend--!”

“It would convince me,” he went on, insistent and persuasive.

“Of the sincerity of my affection?”--she drew nearer to him.

“It would comfort me”--he was satisfied with his own expression. Yet
in a moment, when she had come all rustlingly and fragrantly close, “It
would captivate me,” he handsomely added.

“It would captivate you?” It was for _her_, we should have seen, to be
satisfied with his expression; and, with our more informed observation
of all it was a question of her giving up, she would have struck us as
subtly bargaining.

He gallantly amplified. “It would peculiarly--by which I mean it would
so naturally--unite us!”

Well, that was all she wanted. “Then for a complete union with you--of
fact as well as of fond fancy!” she smiled--“there’s nothing, even to my
one ewe lamb, I’m not ready to surrender.”

“Ah, we don’t surrender,” he urged--“we enjoy!”

“Yes,” she understood: “with the glory of our grand gift thrown in.”

“We quite swagger,” he gravely observed--“though even swaggering would
after this be dull without you.”

“Oh, I’ll _swagger_ with you!” she cried as if it quite settled and made
up for everything; and then impatiently, as she beheld Lord John, whom
the door had burst open to admit: “The Prince?”

“The Prince!”--the young man launched it as a call to arms.

They had fallen apart on the irruption, the pair discovered, but she
flashed straight at her lover: “Then we can swagger now!”

Lord Theign had reached the open door. “I meet him below.”

Demurring, debating, however, she stayed him a moment. “But oughtn’t
I--in my own house?”

His lordship caught her meaning. “You mean he may think--?” But he as
easily pronounced. “He shall think the Truth!” And with a kiss of his
hand to her he was gone.

Lord John, who had gazed in some wonder at these demonstrations, was
quickly about to follow, but she checked him with an authority she
had never before used and which was clearly the next moment to prove
irresistible. “Lord John, be so good as to stop.” Looking about at the
condition of a room on the point of receiving so august a character,
she observed on the floor the fragments of the torn cheque, to which she
sharply pointed. “And please pick up that litter!”

THE END.





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